The Arts of Sound and Electromagnetism project was a nationally distributed series of masterclasses, performances and talks aimed at developing the understanding and practice of media arts that use sound and/or electromagnetism in New Zealand.

The central figure of the events was Douglas Kahn, theorist of sound arts and electromagnetism in art. He is the coeditor of the seminal text Wireless Imagination: Sound, Radio and the Avant-garde (MIT Press), and the author of the definitive sound art history Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts (MIT Press), and currently working on a number of new books relating to the histories and practices of sound in the arts. In 2009 Kahn gave a speaking tour of Australia at the invitation of ANAT, the Australian Network for Art and Technology, and Art Monthly Australia. Among his engagements on that tour, he was a keynote speaker at the Re:Live conference on New Media Art History in Melbourne. As part of that tour he also guest-edited a special edition of  Art Monthly Australia dedicated to sound arts.

The New Zealand tour coincided with a planned further visit of Kahn to Australia in July and August 2010. Kahn subsequently took up a position in Sydney, as Professor of Innovation and Media at the National Institute of Experimental Arts (NIEA), the University of New South Wales. Having him move to Australia in this context made it more crucial to bring him to New Zealand to meet with artists and theorists here. DouglasKahn_poster

Arts of Sound and Electromagnetism programme took place in December 2010. It was anchored by Douglas Kahn’s keynote presentation and active participation at the ADA Symposium in Whanganui, and this was followed by speaking and performance events in Christchurch and Auckland, and informal time spent meeting with local practitioners.

In Auckland Doug Kahn’s talk ‘A Natural History of Media’ at the Gus Fisher Gallery focused on histories of electromagnetism that precede the intentional radio waves of broadcasting, which was perfectly pitched for the gallery’s location in the original 1YA broadcasting studio, and later TVNZ studio. The presentation was complemented by a radio-based performance by Phil Dadson and Sam Hamilton.

The Christchurch presentation ‘The Sound of the Underground: Earthquakes, Music and Art’ at the Physics Room was a very special one. It was written specifically for the occasion, and will now be integrated into a future publication. In this presentation Kahn discussed the sounds and experiences of earthquakes he has experienced in California, the September 2010 Canterbury earthquake, and ways in which avant garde artists and musicians have engaged with seismic waves. This talk was preceded by a seismically shifting performance by Bruce Russell.

The Arts of Sound and Electromagnetism received substantial funding from Creative New Zealand, with support from The Physics Room, Christchurch and The Gus Fisher Gallery, Auckland.