Bill Fontana. Sonic Projections


In the context of Graz Year of Culture 2020

Curated by: Katrin Bucher Trantow
Venue: Öffentlicher Raum

Info: Following the restrictions imposed by COVID-19, we were unable to open Bill Fontana’s solo exhibition to the public on March 12th as planned. As a result, the Kunsthaus team decided to transmit the Sonic Projections in a reduced form across the quieter city. From 12.03.-31.05.2020 we will be transmitting selected sounds from Sonic Projections from the roof of the Kunsthaus.
When the exhibition opens its doors on July 1st and activities begin returning to normal in the city, the project will take the form originally planned for 2020, transmitting alternating sounds in a dialogue between the clock tower and the Kunsthaus.
Sonic Projections as a sound dialogue between the clock tower, the Kunsthaus and the city, from 01.07.-04.10.2020.

About Sonic Projections - a dialogue for urban space

While Bill Fontana (* 1947, Ohio, USA)  is projecting the sounds of sustainable energy production on the inside of Kunsthaus Graz, his ‘Sonic Projections’ will also be broadcasting sounds of nature and culture from all over the world once every hour into urban space in Graz. This project is an adapted re-enactment of the sound installation he developed for the city as part of the 1988 steirischer herbst festival, which explored the National Socialist seizure of power. Although at the time it was quickly shut down by resistance to the political festival as a whole, Fontana’s work continues to resonate with a melancholic longing in the memory of many local residents.

For the Graz Year of Culture 2020, Fontana has reshaped the Sonic Projections from Schlossberg, using historical and more recent environmental sounds, such as a foghorn or an Australian lyrebird, to create a musical sound dialogue between the Graz clocktower and Kunsthaus. These unfamiliar sounds also call for attentive listening and a brief pause. Recorded in eight places around the city, the sounds blend with everyday noises in public space and are transmitted as a continuous sound pattern on the façade of Kunsthaus.      

Sonic Projections is a sound project for the urban space of Graz. Harmonious sounds of nature and culture gathered from all over the world are broadcast from two central locations – the roof of Kunsthaus and the clocktower on the Schlossberg – into the urban environment. The dialogue includes sounds such as the song of an American nightingale, an Australian lyrebird, or the blast of a foghorn from San Francisco Bay, regularly inviting us to enjoy a brief, private retracing of the ‘overlooked’.

More about Sonic Projections Expand Box

Sonic Projections is the revival of Fontana’s 1988 piece commissioned by Heidi Grundmann (‘Kunstradio – Radiokunst’, Ö1, ORF) and curator Werner Fenz for the steirischer herbst festival. Originally transmitted from the Schlossberg, a hill in the Graz city centre, today it also resounds back from Kunsthaus Graz in a kind of dialogue. The first project, which had originally aimed at fostering harmony, was shut down after just a few days due to its politically charged nature—in 1988, the steirischer herbst festival conducted an unflinching exploration of the city’s fascist past with Bezugspunkte 38/88—and also because of a lack of public information. Nonetheless, the work continues to resonate with a melancholic longing in the memory of many local residents.Since then, not only have the institution and Fontana’s work itself become more participatory, urban structures also call for participation.

As an installative dialogue coupled with art education and an accompanying programme of events, the re-enactment has a compelling focus on exchange, investigating visions of urban coexistence. To this end, Kunsthaus Graz has been collaborating with many local partners and in exchange with broader public. With the local administrative offices, for instance, who are responsible for protecting the urban and natural habitat—in terms of safety, aesthetics, and also the city as a recreational area. An important place of reflection is also represented by the Kultur inklusiv working group accompanying the project, and the extremely committed group of people with visual and hearing impairments with whom we are working in creative exchange on a communication tool for a broad spectrum of perceptions of the city, of noise, of dangers and also local harmonies, or potential harmonisations.  The project has also been developed in partnership with Radio Helsinki and the Soundscapes project, which is working on acoustic cityscapes and planning public walks with us. With the Institute of Electronic Music and the independent, non-commercial network operator FunkFeuer, the sounds of the city are captured and taken into the city centre – to the façade of Kunsthaus (Lendkai) – using the latest digital technology.

The following sounds can be heard once an hour throughout the day, like church bells (from Monday to Saturday, beteuern 8.20am and 11.20am, 14.20pm and 6.20pm) for a few brief moments in urban space: various foghorns from San Francisco Bay (1978, 1984, 2014), the song of the Austrian lyrebird (1978), the call of the cuckoo (Danube wetlands, Austria, 1990), the song of the nightingale (Finland, 1990) and the bellbird (Australia 1976), the melodic sounds of a passing historic steam locomotive (from California) and an American diesel locomotive (1982), various sounds made by buoys (New York, 1991/ Sydney 1978) and water noises of the river Mur.

Live recordings in the urban soundscape become the sound map of the city

Parallel to his sound installation in 1988, Bill Fontana recorded urban sounds in seven locations, and these were woven into the sound projections. All of the recordings were transmitted live into the Landhaushof – and occasionally broadcast live on radio.

For the re-enactment, eight new recording locations were chosen - Schönaugasse, Europaplatz, railway station platforms, the Volksgarten, Mariahilferplatz, the Murinsel, the Stadtpark, and the Augartensteg footbridge – with a view to assembling an acoustic picture of the city at Kunsthaus Graz. Collected from across the world, these natural sounds are embedded into the familiar rhythmic patterns of our daily routine, revealing to us on the threshold of perception the link between local existence and international coexistence.

On Bill Fontanas web page you can dive into the ambisonic recording of the exhibition and its different soundscapes. Tip: Please use headphones. 

Thanks to Mihajlo Mecanovic, Hotel Daniel, Pfarrer Paul G. Nitsche, Evangelische Pfarrgemeinde Graz-Kreuzkirche and Heidrun Primas, FORUM STADTPARK.

If you have questions about the project, please contact

Visit Primal Energies:

Bill Fontana, "Hydro Power Landscape", 2019

Bill Fontana. Primal Energies

01.07.-04.10.2020   >  Kunsthaus Graz, Space01

What does energy sound like? An immersive exhibition and an urban sound project draw attention to the inner connections between nature and culture. more...

Re-enactment Sonic Projections in city space as part of the Graz Year of Culture 2020, in cooperation with the ‘Kultur inklusiv’ Project, Ö1 Kunstradio (ORF), Radio Helsinki,, the University of Art Graz and FunkFeuer Graz 
Supported by AVL Cultural Foundation



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