Bill Fontana

From 18 July until 11 October 2009, BALTIC will present Tyne Soundings by artist Bill Fontana in its six-storey, metal public staircase. Tyne Soundings is an audio network composed of pre-recorded and live ambient noises projected from a range of landmarks across the north east including Souter Lighthouse, The Sage Gateshead, and the Millenium and Tyne Bridges. Via fibre optic cabling and radio transmissions Fontana will be transmitting sounds from each of these resonate structures into the shaft of BALTIC’s stairwell – transforming this space into a monumental acoustic chamber. Sounds from the footsteps of those climbing and descending the staircase will be distorted as they are incorporated directly into this dynamic and ever changing composition.
For the past thirty years Bill Fontana has made artworks that use live-ambient noise as a sculptural medium to transform the emotional resonance of particular architectural spaces. This artistic interest has led Mr. Fontana to work with the clockworks of Big Ben, the tensile supports of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, and the bells of Buddhist temples in Japan. To create Tyne Soundings Fontana will be using the seldom heard resonant properties implicit to each of these landmark structures such as the noise created by the Tyne Bridge’s expansion joints and the echos reverberating within the hollow steel arch of the Millennium Bridge. These sounds will mix in the stairwell with the footsteps of visitors that are amplified and distorted through the use of vibration sensors. In his Baltic installation Mr. Fontana will be using these devices and microphones to create an immersive sonic experience comprised of ambient noises.
An aesthetic appreciation of noise began with the Futurist composer Luigi Russolo’s 1913 manifesto The Art of Noises. This historic text outlined a new consideration of sound that included the clamour of the Industrial Revolution and heralded the cacophony of the First World War. Russolo’s manifesto had a profound effect on the evolution of music theory and specifically the composer John Cage. Cage, who is recognised as one of the most innovative composers of the 20th century, was an influential teacher to Bill Fontana. Fontana splices this lineage of experimental 20th century composition with an appreciation of Marcel Duchamp’s notion of the readymade to form the theoretical underpinning of his artistic practice.
Bill Fontana is an American artist and composer born in 1947. Since the early 1970’s Fontana has exhibited his work through a range of institutions and broadcasters. He has received numerous awards and fellowships including a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation award, grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a DAAD fellowship in Berlin. He has recently exhibited with Haunch of Venison Gallery, London; Tate Modern; and The Whitney Museum of American Art.

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