Like a Seashell Placed To Your Ear- Installation Artist Bill Fontana

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Like a Seashell Placed To Your Ear- Installation Artist Bill Fontana

People walking across the Tongyong Bridge at about 3 p.m. on August 1 had to look around in wonder when they heard the sounds of great waves crashing. The speakers installed on the steel-frame arch had just begun to produce the 'sounds'.

This is the "Sound Bridge", a project by the American installation artist, Bill Fontana (53). The committee promoting the "Year of New Art 2000" and the committee organizing the 39th festival commemorating the great battle of Hansan, an event marking Admiral Yi Sun-shin's great naval victory over the Japanese in 1592, had jointly commissioned the artist for the installation project. Based on time differences, the sounds coming from eight speakers create rhythmical effects similar to the sounds of the undulating waves of the sea.

The artist used a crane to install eight speakers on the great arch of the bridge, and he also listened to the sounds through headphones to adjust the channels in a sound room built at the bridge's entrance. His is of an image totally different from that of a composer bent over music sheets. He is clearly a composer and a performer in that he makes people listen to the soundscapes he constructs.

Bill Fontana explained that the Sound Bridge is an "8-minute collage, reconstructed with sound fragments recorded on beaches and bridges from various places around the world." He also said he wishes to record sounds in North Korea and install them in the South.

Since the installation work period was too brief to allow him to go out into the field i.e. Korea, he could not include the sounds from other regions in Korea in the Sound Bridge. Instead, he used the sounds in his collection to edit the fragments of sounds that he believed best harmonized with Tongyong Bridge, while watching a video on the history of the coastal islands of Tongyong just skirting the southern shores. He also included some of the sounds from a ceramics village in Kyushu, Japan, where many of the residents are descendants of Koreans taken to Japan during the 1400s.

For Fontana, the bridge linking an island with the mainland is a symbol of communication. Aside from the sounds produced by the steel-frame structure and by the cars passing on the surface of the suspension bridge, the sounds of whistles produced by the boats passing beneath the bridge also offer an important source of "soundscapes." In short, the sound installation project on Tongyong Bridge effectively re-places the pleasant sounds of sea in front masking the noise pollution of automobiles.

Bill Fontana was born in the U.S. city of Cleveland, and currently lives in San Francisco. He is a graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Music where he majored in music composition and the New School for Social Research in New York where he studied philosophy.

Fontana is described by many names -sound installation artist, environmental sound musician, sound sculptor. He tries to send a message to humans living with their auditory senses dulled by an inundation of noise, or unnecessary sounds, and to urge them to listen to the sounds surrounding them.

Fontana finds infinite sources for the 'music' he pursues from the natural environment. He 'relocates' the sounds of nature, such as those from beaches, to urban centers -inside train stations, museums, plazas, cathedrals, cafes, zoos and markets.

In 1994, he helped Parisians forget the noise produced by automobiles, for a while at least, by 'installing' the sounds of waves recorded on the beaches of Normandy at the Arc de Triomphe in downtown Paris, a work commissioned to mark the 50th anniversary of the Normandy Landing by the Allied Forces and the freeing of Paris from the Nazis. In effect, the pleasant sounds of rippling waves masked and even blocked out the noise from automobiles spinning their way around the Paris landmark.

Fontana attempts to relocate the sounds containing the image and memories of a specific place to other sites so that they are at odds with the surrounding environment and its sounds. The intentional 'discord' inspires people to think about sounds and inspires images- an aesthetic Fontana pursues in all his work.

His sound installation works to date include those installed at the San Francisco Golden Gate (1987), the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (1991), the Cologne Subway Station (1996), the Venice Biennale, Trafalgar Square in London (1999) and the Lyon Tramway System in France (2000).

The "Sound Bridge" on Tongyong Bridge will 'play' from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. everyday until August 31. Also, the "Great Battle of Hansan Festival" will take place in Tongyong from August 13 to 17.

by Lee Jang-jik

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