Brandon LaBelle engages with sound as an artist and as a writer. Born in California but based in Berlin, he has tackled the relationship between sound and shared space from a social perspective for almost twenty years. Sound art, he has written, “is built around the very notion of context and location.”1 The concept of his installations, site-specific works, and collaborative investigations is to use sound to generate what he calls an “emergent community” that collectively creates an “acoustical imaginary.” Room Tone (2008–12) is one such example, and one of his most accomplished projects to date.
Involving collaborations with architects, designers, and other artists, this interdisciplinary work builds bridges, but it also embraces notions of difference, variation, and interference. Collaborators were asked to listen to three “soundtracks” created by LaBelle, each an acoustic representation of his apartment, and then produce their own models of this space. The results of these collaborations run the gamut from literal translations to imaginative digressions or interpretations. A selection appears below, extending the exhibition presented in the museum’s galleries to the space of this publication.
In filmmaking, the term room tone relates to the practice of making recordings in each shooting location to capture how the space sounds in “silence,” when no intentional sound is heard. Listening to rooms is not only a professional practice but an artistic one, with strong historical references—think of John Cage’s “silence” in 4'33" (1952), Alvin Lucier’s I Am Sitting in a Room (1969), or Robert Morris’s Box with the Sound of Its Own Making (1961), to name just a few. The tradition of listening to space and of making room for sound or music is kept alive in Room Tone, but with a contemporary take. As LaBelle writes below, “[Sound] flows through the environment as temporal material lending dramatically to the experiences we have of being in particular buildings, and with particular people.” In a more abstract vein, the artist refers to sound as “an economy of the between [that] is already shared.”2 LaBelle argues less for a room of one’s own and more for an embrace of the social space of sharing and interacting through sound.
— Rudolf Frieling
- Brandon LaBelle, Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art, 2nd ed. (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), xiv.
- Brandon LaBelle: Overheard and Interrupted (Dijon: Les presses du réel, 2016), 265.