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Imaginary Sound Works Strikes A Balance Between The Real And The Impossible

A project from multimedia artist Jamie Allen lets you submit descriptions of the sound art you wish you could create.
September 28, 2011, 5:45pm

Above is Jamie Allen’s piece Speaker Sketch

While plenty of artworks are brought into the world every day, there are also thousands of artistic ideas that remain just that—unrealized concepts, forever relegated to creative purgatory in the mind that conceived them. So it’s nice that projects like Jamie Allen’s Imaginary Sound Works come along every now and again to pay homage to those forgotten ideas, long abandoned and left for dead (for better or worse).

Focusing on sound art, multimedia artist and lecturer Jamie Allen is asking people to submit written descriptions of “sound-based works, acoustic investigations, and signal manipulations” to the website This online piece will then be turned into an exhibition in December at the Klangmanifeste sound festival in Vienna, which this year will showcase works that “deal with the materiality of sound in the border zone of visual and sculptural art, music, conceptual works and research.”

The resulting submissions are a mix of elaborate sounding set ups—such as one involving placing hydrophones in the middle of the Atlantic ocean—to more playful ideas like capturing the sound of bacon sizzling, or the esoteric: a dubstep remix of John Cage’s silent classic 4'33". It’s an intriguing idea and a great place for people to let their imaginations unfold. We emailed Allen a few questions about the project to find out his motivations for starting it:

The Creators Project: Since none of the pieces will actually get made, what was the idea behind the project? To see where people’s imaginations might take them? To inspire?
Jamie Allen: comes out of often unintended intersections of media and conceptual art. Sometimes you get the feeling that, for certain pieces, actual experience of the artwork is superfluous, unnecessary or reasonably impossible—but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The internet is the main channel through which people find out about and understand creative work these days, and this is a fact that reconfigures what counts as the “experience” of art works. Post-internet phenomena and practices, including the surfing-as-curating we all do when digging around with a web browser, strengthen our ability to synthesise and interpolate. Skimming an assortment of descriptions, images, media files and commentaries is a different and interesting experience of an actual or “real artwork,” whatever we each might think this latter phrase means.

So why not invite people to make pieces that are solely composed of metadata (i.e.: descriptions) of pieces we’re too poor, lazy, uncertain or uninformed to actually make? For me this works particularly well for sound art, as the descriptions of these often instantaneously create a whole acoustic world in your head—even if you never actually hear the recording, visit the installation or encounter the performer. The title and idea for—now a collaborative, online invitational—came (with permission) from a piece Christof Migone did in 2010 called As Palestine As Possible, which (when I stumbled upon it online) seemed to crystallise a lot of this thinking for me.

What sort of people were you hoping to get contributing ideas? Artists or general members of the public? Or both?
Anyone who wants to can contribute—it’s completely open. So far the link has been circulating (via email, Tumblr, Facebook, Google+, etc) amongst a loosely-interlinked group of sound artists and musicians, but I’d love for it to branch out to anyone who comes across it and finds it interesting.

What is it that appeals to you about the method of creating art by crowdsourcing?
I don’t think of it as “creating art”—as this brings up the whole problem of farming people for their ideas and then using them in “my work.” The project is as light-weight as they come, both in terms of implementation and in terms of the way that whose-ideas-are-whose is becoming less and less important for myself and others, online and off. is just a Tumblr blog I set up in less than five minutes—during what turned out to be a somewhat inspired bout of sound-art-related internetting… It’s really just intended to complement and create interest for anyone else doing the same sort of thing.

What do you hope to achieve by producing a gallery version?
The idea of rendering the online contributions, momentarily, into an exhibition came via an invitation from the lovely people putting together Klangmanifeste 2011 in Vienna in December. For me, its mostly a way of getting even more people to contribute. And, as we’re making printed versions of the works that will be sent to any signed contributors from the site, it’s a way of acknowledging people who’ve become involved.

What are some of your favorite submissions so far?
I love the ideas that seem to strike a perfect balance between the realistic and the impossible—the ones that are seriously impractical but still allow you to conceive of the sonic world being hinted at, e.g. ‘dots and line—a 6760 miles string telephone between Tokyo and NYC using huge cans – sawako

If you’d like to submit something, do so at