The piece depended on the use of a technology known as Ambisonics, developed in the 1970s, which creates a three-dimensional sound field and creates the sensation of sounds that “move” around the visitor. “We had to have speakers of exceptional quality to create the illusion of spatial movement,” Cardiff says, explaining that the subtleties of the shifts in sound could easily be lost to the surrounding ambient noise of the great outdoors.
The technology behind Cardiff and Miller’s work is often paramount to its success. To that end, they are “constantly migrating equipment” and updating their tools. But for curators, the decision to swap out audio equipment isn’t an easy one. “We basically do a traditional condition report before and after an installation of a media work,” said Gebbers, who explains she must make judgement calls about whether the specific device is more important than the sound it helps emit. “If not, then should we adapt the technology? Or is the specific sound created by the recording technology and the playing devices an integral component? It becomes fraught very fast.”
And Gebbers stresses that conserving and collecting sound art is another task that is very different to painting or object-based art works. “There is a huge and growing range of recording mediums and media player devices that need specific maintenance, expert knowledge, and spare parts,” she said.
This is mostly delegated to technical service companies which have to be payed for the installation and maintenance during the exhibition plus the rental of the devices. Perhaps the future holds specialized courses of conservation study, training a new generation who can revive a vintage Walkman or rebuild an MP3 the same way someone might fix faded pigment on a