Blanton Museum’s New Installation Will Immerse Visitors In The ‘Secret Sounds’ Of Texas

“I really want to reveal all this hidden magic that’s kind of there with sound,” says sound artist Bill Fontana.

By Leah Scarpelli, Alexandra Hart & Caroline CovingtonJuly 21, 2021 2:39 pm

What does Texas sound like? That’s what an upcoming installation at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin will explore. The outdoor exhibit will incorporate sound sculptures, and is part of a larger revamp of the Blanton’s grounds.

The future Butler Sound Gallery, designed by sound artist Bill Fontana, will be the first dedicated space of its kind at an art museum in the United States. Fontana, and Blanton Museum Director Simone Wicha, joined Texas Standard to talk about their vision for the permanent exhibit.

Sound artist Bill Fontana. Photo Alexandra Fontana, courtesy Blanton Museum of Art

“We were looking to create a space where, when visitors arrived at the museum or linger around our space, they are interacting in our outdoor spaces with works of art. And we were looking for, in particular, this one area that is next to Ellsworth Kelly’s ‘Austin.’ … For Austin, [there’s] this connection between visual art, music of this town, and to be able to now experiment and explore sound art in our community is thrilling.” – Simone Wicha

“I’m planning for recording expeditions to Austin, in that region of Texas, to really map out really amazing and interesting sounds relating to the natural environments of landscapes of Texas. … My first target of recordings is going to be the Bracken [Preserve] because I’ve got special, very high-tech recording equipment that I want to record the echolocating calls of bats.” – Bill Fontana

“I don’t like the distinction between natural sounds and [sounds] in humans. And I think all sounds obey the laws of physics, and I’m interested in the context in which we hear things. And so I’m really open to kind of exploring all the possibilities of Austin and its surroundings as a potential musical tapestry of sounds that I can work with.” – Fontana

Courtesy Snøhetta and Blanton Museum of Art

Blanton Museum of Art New Grounds Initiative Plan.

“As you walk through this, you’ll be able to wander along our path, [which] will now wrap around the museum, and part of that path will take you through this Butler Sound Gallery on this very now expansive sense of the museum. It’ll change Austin’s perception of the planet. And I feel like it’ll make the Blanton feel three times as large as it was before.” – Wicha

Sound Island, Paris 1994 from Bill Fontana on Vimeo.

“I want my work to create a dialogue with the — ambient sounds that will naturally occur so that I don’t want the presence of my work to just sort of like completely wipe out what’s naturally there, but maybe to establish some kind of dialogue with it.” – Fontana

“There’s also a lot of amazing kind of secret sounds, you know, in the environments there that are underwater, that are vibrations in the aquifers below your feet, in the trees. So I really want to reveal all this hidden magic that’s kind of there with sound.” – Fontana

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