Uhms and Aghs (or making it, doing it)

William Furlong


"Is it possible, from any given point, to try to reconstruct the conceptual network that makes it possible to conceive of a statement, that causes a painting, or a piece of music to make an impression, that causes reality to appear transformable or inalterable?"

Uhm ...

Michelangelo Buonarroti provided perhaps one of the most simple yet poignant conceptual frameworks to reflect upon artistic practices in terms of "ways of doing and making". "By sculpture I mean that which is made by force of taking away, that which is made by means of laying on is similar to painting".1 Implicit in this argument was the Renaissance rivalry between painting and sculpture, and an attempt to set, for the first time in history, a 'Politic of Aesthetics' that legitimized those modes of making under the status of "intellectual" rather then "mechanical" arts.

To what extent do contemporary art practices working with sound define their "ways of doing and making", their "Politics of Aesthetics"?

In looking at the project Audio Arts, I have entered a "space" or a "context" in which artist William Furlong has been exploring the technical-acoustic possibilities offered by recording technologies, above all developing creative potential by employing the sound of the voice and actuality as the primary medium. Defined by the artist as a "recorded space for contemporary art" and a "living archive", Audio Arts began in 1973 as a magazine on cassette that presents itself as a "space" for artistic intervention and production. Today it comprises a rich and unique body of original recordings, artists' conversations and sound-works that represents one of the most substantial audio archives of contemporary art.

In this extensive work of art whose material medium is recorded sound, the presuppositions of "taking away" and "laying on", share many of the characteristics common to such traditional media as painting and sculpture and to the many procedures of contemporary visual art: montage, collage, addition, contrast, repetition, overlapping, realism, abstraction.

According to Rancière, "in the Renaissance, the reproduction of three-dimensional space was involved in the valorisation of painting and the assertion of its ability to capture an act of living speech" 2 . In Audio Arts this "decisive moment of action and meaning" becomes the moment of recording and the subsequent act of hearing that living speech. As Mel Gooding remarks "Recorded speech is actuality, the voice itself registered".3


Audio Arts addresses the argument for sound recording as an accurate transcription of reality or, as Kevin Concannon puts it, the "ability of sound recording to recreate, even more accurately (than photography), an event displaced from its original time and space". "Both media", observes Concannon, "were created to preserve real-time and subsequently, both have been manipulated by artists to create realities that exist only as reproduction".4

Opposed to ideas of documentation, the very process of physical and critical editing is, for Furlong, analogous to that of the artist in the studio: listening, cutting, selecting, splicing, adding, synthesising, subtracting and repeating. This process involves a different degree of extraction, construction and abstraction in re-assembling and sculpturally re-mapping the sound source gathered through the simple act of interacting and talking to people.

In the piece chosen for "Seconds", Uhms & Aghs (1989), the removal of the pauses for thinking taken from recorded conversations creates an endless litany of uhms and aghs uttered by various people in the course of interviews by Audio Arts. Fragments of speech are not assembled to convey a linear or clearly defined meaning but rather to create, as the artist suggests, "a succinct audio equivalent to thought outside of language." This audio work clearly highlights the way in which Furlong employs the voice as a primary medium, treating recorded speech as an aural, sculptural object.

"Uhms & Aghs", to use the words of Mel Gooding, "is the anarchy of many voices in many rooms" [...] This anarchy is not apolitical: it is a liberation from the authoritative retrospective orderings of written discourses".5

Uhm ...

Lucia Farinati, December 2006


Lucia Farinati is an independent curator based in London. She recently curated two solo exhibitions by William Furlong/Audio Arts, Extraction/Constrcution/Abstraction, SoundArtMuseum, Rome, October 2006, and Hearing Me Hearing You, Plymouth Arts Centre, Nov 2006 - Jan 2007.


  1. "Io intendo scultura, quella che si fa per forza di levare: quella che si fa per via di porre, e' simile alla pittura: basta, che venendo l'una all'altra da una medesima intelligenza, cioe' scultura et pittura, si puo' far fare loro una buona pace insieme, et lasciar tante dispute; perche' vi va piu' tempo, che a far le figure". Michelangelo Buonarroti from a letter to Benedetto Varchi, Rome, 1549, in Gaetano. Milanesi. Le Lettere di Michelangelo Buonarroti. Firenze: Le Monnier, 1875, p. 522. "By sculpture I mean that which is made by force of taking away, that which is made by means of laying on is similar to painting. It is enough that, since each comes from the same intelligence, one can reconcile sculpture and painting and forget so many disputes, for more time is spent on them than in the making of figures." (My translation).

  2. Jacques Rancière. The politics of aesthetics. London: Continuum, 2004, p. 16

  3. Mel Gooding. Other voices, other rooms, in Extraction/Construction/Abstraction, edited by Lucia Farinati. Rome: Sound Art Museum, October 2006

  4. Kevin Concannon. Cut and Paste: Collage and the Art of Sound, in Sound By Artists, edited by Dan Lander and Micah Lexier. Toronto: Art Metropole, Walter Phillips Gallery, 1990, p. 161

  5. Mel Gooding (2006), ibid