This story is over 5 years old.

Introducing: Soundwall, an Audiovisual Experience You Can Touch

Soundwall is an entirely new medium for artists that has to be seen—and heard—to be believed.
Bisco Smith hard at work at 65 Reade St. Photos by Michael Vidoli, courtesy of Soundwall

What do our ears tell our eyes about what we see? Armed with a record player, an MPC drum machine, black and white acrylics, and a new audiovisual medium known as Soundwall, Bisco Smith has created 12 evocative artworks in 12 days, bringing a physicality and a face to his music—and showing the promise of Soundwall projects to come.

When an atmospheric beat begins to boom directly from the surface of one of Smith's black-and-white pieces, it quickly becomes clear that they’re so much more than graphic artworks. Each painting sits on the surface of Soundwall's networked flat-panel speaker, and emanates a piece of music that Smith created specifically for that painting. As the sound reaches out and washes over the viewer, the eye is drawn deeper into the vibrating texture of the paint. The beat has a face, and thus, the painting has a voice.


Aaron Cohen, CEO of Soundwall, makes it clear that Soundwall is a new medium entirely. Cohen tells The Creators Project, “They’re neither paintings, nor songs. They’re integrated artworks in a new medium. You can look at his work and totally enjoy it—or not—but we would argue that you have not experienced the full intent of the artwork until you hear it with sound. That’s the experiment we’re really pushing now.” Like any medium, a Soundwall carries its own unique opportunities and limitations. Cohen explains that one of those opportunities is to bring visual artists and musicians together: “I’m hoping this becomes a collaboration platform as much as anything else. I don’t think we’ll be successful if artists and sound creators don’t come together to work together. This is more like a film than it is a pure painting. Film is the medium of collaboration. I’m hoping we can be a medium for collaborations as well.”


Although Soundwall invites people to collaborate on their platform, multi-disciplinary artists like Smith can definitely use Soundwalls in their individual practices as well. Music is essential to Smith’s visual art—as it is with many artists, from Kandinskiy to Paul Klee—so the union of his art and music feels natural to him. Smith explains, “Music just hits you. You don’t have to understand music, you can just feel music. It’s a feeling, you know? And now the painting has a feeling to it. That same energy.”


Smith chose the timeless record player and MPC drum machine as his tools for making the beats behind his paintings, the tactile sound sources being fitting complements to the physicality of Soundwall. Each day he began by getting some samples off cheap records, then put them together to make a beat. Once the beat felt like it had a life of its own, he would listen to it and paint, trying to capture the energy of the beat in the painting.


There's also a certain subtlety to Soundwall’s unique marriage of painting and music. While some might write it off as merely a good-looking wireless speaker, a kind of synergy strikes you when sound draws your eye into the painting. Smith explains the shift in perception that happens when the sound comes directly from the painting itself: “I think because we’re used to the conversation, we look at each other and we talk.”

GDRMS.04 by Bisco Smith. 36" x 36" Latex, Acrylic, Spray Paint on Soundwall

In addition to being a new medium, Soundwall is positioned to be a way for musicians to connect directly with the segment of their audience that can afford a higher level of financial support. With limited edition prints priced at $1,200 and originals starting at $3,500, Soundwall is undoubtedly a product for an affluent audience of collectors. Even if you can’t afford to own one, though, it's still something to pay attention to. Collectors have historically played an indispensible role in the precariously complex financial ecosystem that professional artists operate within. In a sense, Soundwall proposes a new avenue for artists and musicians to see financial profit. Cohen explains, “What I’d like to think is that every band, or every musician, or combination of band and artist or whatever, has an opportunity to have several thousand units out there—or several hundred units out there, it doesn’t matter—that they do special things for. And now there is a mechanism through which artists can be supported by at least that 10-20% of the fanbase, that wants to be that supporter.”


Getting hands on with @BiscoSmith's art at the @soundwallart event! They uniquely combined art, sound and technology in a way I've never seen or heard before. Worth checking out! #soundwall12

A photo posted by Coco Rocha (@cocorocha) on May 13, 2015 at 5:45pm PDT

Soundwall is a member of the growing networked-art-object ecosystem, distinguishing itself from efforts like Electric Objects through its total lack of a screen. In place of a digital display separating the viewer from the art, sound fills the in-between spaces, drawing you into an endlessly textured work. The immediacy of the medium is tangible, a quality which Smith appreciates: “I feel like we’re in this digital screen glass world where everything is behind glass, and maybe we’re slowly losing this human touch to things. And then to be around somebody that’s like, ‘Let’s bring it digital, but let’s keep the human touch’ is really interesting because I don’t think people are doing that.” Since so much of the power of Soundwall lies in its physicality, Cohen has found that its potential can be hard to communicate. But while its power may be something that has to be seen—and heard—to be believed, the inability to truly reproduce the Soundwall experience may also be the young startup's greatest strength.


Click here to learn more about Soundwall.


These 20 Unorthodox Instruments Are Making the Music of the Future

A Guide To Björk's Custom Biophilia Instruments

Introducing the Yaybahar: an Acoustic Instrument that Makes Space Age Sounds