Audio Arts: Professor William Furlong
William Furlong belongs to the generation of British
artists (which includes Gilbert & George, Bruce McLean
and Richard Long) that developed a new concept of
sculpture in the 1970s and 1980s. Furlong’s special
contribution has been in the area of sound and, with the
founding of Audio Arts (with Barry Barker) in 1973, he
began mapping the territory of contemporary art in a
series of cassette editions.
His work engages with, and explores, sound and its
reception and perception. He manipulates, choreographs
and interprets sound, working with a myriad different
sources from conversation, speech and dialogue and its
many individual nuances to the sounds of birds singing.
He has exhibited nationally and internationally, including a
sound installation in Intelligence, New British Art 2000 at
Tate Britain and a solo show at the South London Gallery
(2002). The work Walls of Sound (1998), commissioned
by the Cass Foundation for Sculpture at Goodwood,
has been acquired by the Berardo Foundation in Lisbon.
Furlong is also the coordinator of ‘Venice Agendas’,
Wimbledon College of Art’s symposium series that has
taken place at four Venice Biennales (2001-07).
“I transform not the discipline or style … I try to
metamorphose the whole understanding of art.”
Joseph Beuys, Audio Arts, 1974
Statement: William Furlong
Since its inception in 1972 Audio Arts has grown to become
the largest, most comprehensive and most coherently
focused sound archive of artists’ voices and of sound art
in the world. The cassette-magazine has been in continuous
and regular publication for thirty-five years, resulting
in twenty-four volumes of four issues each, and many
supplements. The archive itself consists of every magazine
issue; an extensive collection of related documents,
correspondence, pamphlets and other autograph
ephemera; many publications related to the artists and
events featured; and, importantly, the unedited master
tapes of all recordings undertaken for the magazine.
When the magazine was first published in the early 1970s
I regarded it as part of the conceptual experimentation then
taking place in international contemporary art. The recently
introduced Philips cassette made possible for the first time
the convenient recording and, more significantly, the wide
dissemination, of the unmediated spoken voice of the artist.
Audio Arts is more than a ‘sound magazine’; it is a cumulative
collaboration, which may be regarded as a unique work
in its own right and whose material medium is sound. In this
respect, as editor, I also considered myself as the artist as
editor-curator, an orchestrator of diverse sound materials.
From the outset Audio Arts featured in-depth recordings
of many of the most important artists in Britain, Europe
and the United States. Many artists have contributed to
the magazine on several occasions over the three decades,
and these recordings have in some cases marked their
progress from early work to international fame. No archive
of recordings so closely represents the personalities,
events and artistic developments of art in the United
Kingdom from the conceptual art and the new sculpture
of the early 1970s, through to the object sculpture of the
1980s, the revival of painting in the early 1980s and the
Young British Artists phenomenon of the late 1990s, and
international art in the opening years of this century.
The archive also contains coverage of all the Venice
Biennales since the late 1970s, all the major Documentas,
and other international exhibitions and events, such as
Zeitgeist (1982) and the Münster Sculpture Projects. In
addition, it is a significant holding of sound art projects
since the early 1970s, containing many original works by
British and American artists, as well as all the original
recordings of my own sound art projects.
It consists of primary materials, unmediated by editorial
comment or editing. It contains the primary trace of the
artist as a person, the voice. In this way it brings, in an
unprecedented critical mass, the sound of the artists
themselves, and provides thereby materials for research
into the significance of the voice in the presentation of
artistic and critical ideas.
A small part of the archive, which currently amounts to
over 200 boxes in total, was shown at Tate Britain from
April to September 2007. Vitrines containing original letters,
documentation and publicity for Audio Arts were shown
alongside related audio material from similar organisations
and like minds. The covers of all the magazines, cassettes
and CDs, together with the changing equipment and
materials required to undertake the recordings, were
displayed to complete the historical presentation. Audio
clips were made accessible from headphones positioned
along the gallery wall; these will be greatly augmented and
will be available on the Tate website in the years to come.