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Contemporary art

Western art

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Acoustic Views



Bill Fontana

United States of America

25 Apr 1947 -


Bill Fontana is a pioneering figure in the history of sound art. He has been exploring the compositional aspects of ambient sound since the mid 1960s and working in the genre of sound sculpture since 1974. His works use the ready-made sounds of urban and natural environments as ‘a living source of musical information’. By relocating then transmitting these sounds, Fontana creates a framework for exploring concepts of ‘acoustic memory, the transformation of the visible (retinal) by the invisible (sound), hearing as far as one can see, the relationship of the speed of sound to the speed of light, and the deconstruction of our perception of time’. [1]

In 1988, Fontana was commissioned by the Biennale of Sydney – in collaboration with the AGNSW and ABC – to create a new sound work for broadcast from the Gallery’s facade. The resulting composition, ‘Acoustic Views’, was derived from live field recordings transmitted via 16 telecom land lines from sites all around Sydney including Audley National Park, Taronga Zoo, a bell bouy in the harbour, Kirribilli wharf, the clock tower of the GPO, the stock exchange and the Harbour Bridge. These 16 live feeds, selected as landmark sounds of Sydney at that moment in time, were relayed to a broadcast van out the back of the Gallery and then to eight speakers situated along the building facade. Fontana designated the work ‘a live sound portrait’ of the harbour and its surrounds.

The original tapes recording the live feeds were recently recovered and their contents digitally remastered – a catalyst for Fontana to transform the ephemeral composition into an enduring ‘sound sculpture’. The re-authored work consequently exists as a rich, sensory account of place translated across time, revealing parallels and divergences between the character of the city then and now.





Media categories

Time-based art , Sculpture

Materials used

eight channel sound recording




duration: 00:32:57

Signature & date

Signed l.c. certificate of authenticity, black ink "Bill Fontana". Not dated.


Gift of the artist 2013


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Bill Fontana

Works in the collection


Referenced in 6 publications


Dan Cameron, Artlink, vol.8, no.3, ‘Showdown at the Southern Cross: Notes on the 1988 Australian Biennale’, pg. 10-14, Adelaide, 1988, 10-14.

Peter Hill, The Australian, ‘Visual arguments on the substance of a world view’, pg.11, Sydney, 08 Jun 1988, 11.

John McDonald, The Sydney Morning Herald, ‘A patchwork triumph’, pg.77, Sydney, 21 May 1988, 77.

Lynne Seear, Eyeline, ‘Australian Biennale 1988 – a view of world art c1940-1988’, pg.14, Brisbane, Sep 1988, 14.

Michael Shmith, The Age, ‘A Bloody Biennale’, Melbourne, 28 May 1988.

Nick Waterlow (Director), The 1988 Australian Biennale: from the Southern Cross: a view of world art c.1940-88, Sydney, 1988, 277.