Sound Art: Scott F. Hall

The sounds that artist Scott F. Hall lures from his various instruments and occasional field recordings resonate with a deeply internal, thoughtful sensibility. The intensity with which he creates, plays, and composes, reveals a freedom of expression and ultimately a real pleasure in making sound. He also works in video and stop motion.

 Interviewed by Peter Hayes, curator of our media partner Pivot Art Gallery, an independent online project that features a new artist every month.

How did you become interested in making sound art?

Answering this one requires a *lot* of words.

I was involved in visual art in extracurricular study by age 5–by 1968, as a tiny kid taking some afternoon art classes at Colorado College.  I lived in Colorado Springs from age 2 to 8.  My earliest artist-formative memories involved me within a rather ideal nuclear family home life punctuated by repeatedly gazing at the sublime beauty of the local landscape: bare desert to red rocks to pale and rounded boulders to grassy rolling hills to the snowcapped Rocky Mountains.  I remember riding in the backseat of my parents’ car: I would observe that romantic landscape while simultaneously hearing the most amazing new progressive rock music playing on the radio—mind bending, sweet, deep, and ultimately timeless pieces like “Close to the Edge” by the British band Yes.  That combined experience of visible beauty encompassing me in the round while also hearing the most artful and positive new electric sounds of the day was something I’ll never forget.

The first instrument I specifically noticed in the mix and obsessed on in the early ‘70s was Chris Squire’s harpsichord-like Rickenbacker bass–specifically in the hit Yes song “Roundabout”.  That was surely the start of sound *as* art for me: I listened not just to the music but also to the subtle tones and nuances lying *within* single notes.  I realized by then that all one needed to express in sound was deep engagement with complex, intricate, and yet minimal timbre.

From 1972 to ‘74, I lived in western Turkey–there, I was amazed on weekends at the sight of ruined ancient Greek cities–not everyone knows that western Turkey held some of numerous city states comprising ancient Greece to the west, east, and the Aegean islands in between.  I often saw Ephesus and Troy in Turkey and Athens, too, over in modern Greece itself.  All the while, I was still listening to Yes–in my head this time. Ruined classical architecture combined with a mental art rock soundtrack and, no doubt, the alien beauty of being awakened each morning by Islamic muazzin chants coming from mosque towers—this was a major step toward my ultimate passion for all things visibly and audibly aesthetic.

By the age of 12, I was back in America and began reading music, playing brass instruments in bands, and ultimately, played rock music in high school and college on electric bass while making visual art on the side.  In time, I quit the ’80s rock music performance scene–it seemed too much like a commercially restricted “folk art” path for me to maintain as my primary focus.  So I returned to college and completed BFA and MFA degrees in sculpture. Sculpture was by the early ‘90s the most open creative field in which to work on (or in) anything: image, sound, material, and performance.  Then and now, anything goes in the expanded field of sculpture.  By the time I had my MFA in 1994, I was building odd acoustic and electronic instruments, working with electronic audio sampling and synthesis, and recording interesting noise that was presented in whole room synaesthetic installations of sound and computer-animated light.  Observers would enter these dimly lit spaces and emerge sometimes 30 minutes later in an altered state—in trance.

Today, my motivation to make art in image, in object, in video, and especially in sound occurs as a summation of these experiences.  At 47, I continue to blend the past with the present—I constantly strive to grow and change.

If you have artistic/creative role models, who are they and how do you relate to them?

I’ve mentioned the band Yes–they are quite important to me. There are many others that influenced me–a lot of rock musicians certainly: Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush.  Also Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart in Rush, for sure.  Sadly, these people are not taken too seriously in academic, critical, and theoretical circles—that is a shame.  They may be part of pop culture, but they have had enormous impact on thousands of creative people who don’t settle for the average but push forward toward excellence and innovation.

Of course, visual artist are also a huge influence on me.  We would be nowhere in contemporary international art these days without Marcel Duchamp–he is absolutely key.  Others I admire are really too numerous to name in full but I’ll cite a few here so you get a sense of my interests: Anish Kapoor, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Damien Hirst, Matthew Barney, Lee Bul, Luigi Russolo, Marina Abramović, Richard Long, Wolfgang Laib, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Wim Delvoye.

What types of music/sound/art influences you?

I’ve mentioned some of my musician interests above.  I haven’t mentioned more classical forms and people yet: I certainly enjoy western European Medieval and Renaissance recordings and the usual list of known characters a bit later in time: Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, etc.  I like some of the more abstract 12-tone stuff circa early 20th century: Schonberg, Berg, Webern.  I like roots electronica: Clara Rockmore in association with Léon Theremin. Much more recently, I like Philip Glass, an innovative 10-string classical guitarist named Dominic Frasca, and lately, a new star violinist from England–Ruth Palmer .  Electric bass players of high merit impress me, of course: Geddy Lee, Stanley Clarke, Michael Manring, and Les Claypool.

What else inspires you?

This might sound rather cheesy but I certainly noticed as a child that hippies and creative people in many fields were avidly promoting love, peace, and kindness.  I think these are still the most important things in life–every person on the planet should work to advance them in some way every day.  In doing so, the same comes back to you–what a great and positive cycle to join into.

What do you learn through your work?

Every time I create something new, I realize once again–very much to my complete personal satisfaction–that invention remains quite endless.  I think there is a magic top hat of creativity out there: each time one dips one’s hand down into it through focused, true, and ambitious creative effort, one has great potential to pull out a gem. It happens again and again and again.

How long does it take to create a piece? What is your process like in general?

I do have flash visions sometimes of images and sounds that are complete–simply sketching the proposed work onto a page or writing it down in words or notes is enough to capture it for future reference.  Sometimes, I’ve heard complete sound pieces in overnight sleep–in dreams containing both sound and image.  Upon waking, I immediately record what I’ve heard.  At other times, the process is more mundane and open: I proceed to make sound and record it or I proceed to capture sound in the field like a photographer captures images found before him.

Depending on the medium, pieces can be finished in minutes, in hours, or off-and-on though the protracted labor of days, weeks, and months.  I find that a complete sound series is never longer than an hour.  To complete an hour of sound, it takes me a full year at least.  Sometimes, though, series of sound art I am building are created in parallel: two or three bodies of work may be developed alongside each other.  This means my release time on completed bodies of work might drop to every 6 or 8 months.

What is most satisfying to you about the creative process?

As stated in prior responses here, I am continually satisfied personally by my constant ability to invent new work.  Especially in the sense that these pieces often seem to come to me from a source outside myself–not so much from within–I have a real sense of being *given* each work.  This experience is very much in line with the traditional concept of artistic gift.  For me, then, the lifestyle of chronic creative making provides evidence of the existence of something seemingly conscious and “other” which is outside the self—it’s perhaps best referred to as “spirit”.  No doubt, it is a positive spirit (or spirits) in my view.  Though my latest work in sound has gone quite dark and intense compared to most I produced in past, this darkness is not a reflection of a sense of a deep negative within *me*.  On the contrary, I’m quite satisfied, quite happy—more so every day.  I feel the darkness that pervades my work this year is directly connected to struggle that persists out in the world—to global climate change, to the constancy of people on the planet who pursue an agenda that is evil, and perhaps to the global economic crisis that has lingered on for years now in so many ways.

Do you consider yourself a musician or a sound artist? If there is a difference in these terms for you, could you elaborate?

I usually refer to myself as an “intermedia artist” in order to concisely express to the audience in just two words the notion that I *do* feel free to make creative work in any medium I wish to and often, those mediums and practices intermingle in a hybrid way.  Following behind that two-word term, I sometimes refer to myself as “sound artist” and sometimes simply as “artist”.  When I focus the terminology yet more and refer to myself as a musician, sculptor, or photographer, my intention is to definitely raise in the audience an awareness that I intend them (during a particular exhibition) to see me in the limited context of a particular craft.

How do you feel about the contemporary art world and your contribution to it?

I think we are truly blessed to be living in fairly peaceful, safe, and comfortable times in which so many creative pursuits are honored in the majority worldwide culture–which is a culture that is admittedly still very much descended from the western European tradition of forward-bound progress.  These days, classic and traditional forms of art and craft are revered as are hybrid and experimental forms of all description that emerge and merge and keep everything vital, alive, and fresh.  Work is inhabited now by the free influence of what used to be termed “The Other”–worldwide aesthetic creative culture has benefited so much from embracing difference.  Also, I’m pleased that the breakdown of The High and The Low occurred especially through Postmodernism in the ’80s.  Since then, I’ve observed a grand opening up, validation, and explosion of varieties of venues and levels of art and craft practice, each operating within its own more liberally defined confines of theory and criticism.  Surely, this growth also came as a consequence of the boom in electronic media and communications in the ’90s.  In sum, we live in an age in which an artist or craftsman experiences more freedom than ever to make, to show, and to interact with others and shine brightly within the niche area of her greatest interest.  It’s an excellent time to be alive and to be making and showing work.

But specifically in reference to THE contemporary international art world–the single, highest art world; the one that stands apart as the pinnacle in which perhaps there exists just a handful of significant galleries, museums, and perhaps just 1,000+ major collectors: I am truly pleased that it still exists and basically flourishes in its vast accumulated wealth.  Wouldn’t we all just love to rise to visibility at that highest level?   Fame and fortune–these are wonderful dreams that are definitely still possible here in 2011–hopefully, dreams that are pursued in conjunction with a life lived in love, peace, and kindness.

What is the most important thing you want an audience to come away from your work with?

In the best case, I want them to take home an original physical object which they can cherish and hold onto for life—a signed limited edition sound art CD, for example, a drawing, a print, a sculpture.  If not that, then I hope they take with them a pleasant memory of my work and a pleasant memory of me.

What can you add that would help us understand you and/or your work better?

I’ll simply reitterate in reference to all of us who make, to all of us who both make and observe, and to all of those who do not make work but enjoy seeing and hearing Art:

Fame and fortune–these are wonderful dreams that are definitely still possible here in 2012– hopefully, dreams that are pursued in conjunction with a life lived in love, peace, and kindness.

(Images © Scott F. Hall)

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