A Note on Sound

It surrounds us every moment. There is no escaping from it. It has the power to frighten. To bring immense joy, or to bring a memory rushing to the front of your mind.

Reflecting on sound is an intriguing journey into a sense that is difficult to illustrate but I want to try to make a visual journey to include sound and so experiment with marks and colours to best describe what I am hearing as I see.

In my research I came across Christine Sun Kim, an artist who was born deaf. While she was on a residency in Berlin, she began exploring ways to make sound a visual experience. When I took an in depth look at Christine Sun Kim’s work it’s so simple and honest. Her use of simple colour, marks and symbols are a pretty ingenious way to describe the sounds she can never hear. Though she uses musical notes, she has never experienced a melody as a sound.

“Sound has always been a ghost to me, but not in the haunting sense. It was more like I knew something was there, I could visualise the reactions sparked by sounds, and then try to determine why A caused B.”

Christine Sun Kim – (Daily Beast 2015)

Fig.1 How to Measure Loudness – Christine Sun Kim (2015)

She describes her experience of sound growing up and how she initially thought her experience of it was only through vibrations.  As she developed as an artist studying sound she realised that from the beginning she was “mostly informed by the way people react and behave around it and then I in turn mirror them, sometimes out of good manners.”

Christine Sun Kim creates pieces through vibrations using speakers and paint. She also makes descriptive drawings on paper using musical notes and pictorial interpretations of the American Sign Language (ASL). So this took me on a journey into the language of hands and I began referring to ASL when I was stuck for a starting point for a visual of sound I am trying to describe. This took me back to looking at the beginnings of ASL and it’s effectiveness today in teaching not only deaf people but babies and animals like chimpanzees and gorillas to communicate. American Sign Language was the idea of Dr. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet who in 1814 realised his neighbours child Alice Cogswell was very intelligent despite being deaf and not being able to speak, while he had little success teaching Alice he realised he needed some expert help in developing this new language. He received support from his community to go to Europe to gain a greater understanding for better educational methods in teaching the deaf. In Europe he met Laurent Clerc and American Sign Language was developed from the language Clerc thought him. He returned to America an set up the American School for the Deaf.


How Christine Sun Kim, Deaf Sound Artist, Hears Everything – Daily beast (2015) https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-christine-sun-kim-deaf-sound-artist-hears-everything

I am a deaf artist redefining sound – Karen Frances 2015 – TED Fellows https://fellowsblog.ted.com/i-am-a-deaf-artist-redefining-sound-4437f20297a3

History of American Sign Language  https://www.startasl.com/history-of-american-sign-language_html

Image – How to Measure Loudness by Christine Sun Kim, courtesy of the artist to the Guardian, (Wednesday 25th November 2015).


One thought on “A Note on Sound

  1. This is really fascinating and ties in with something I saw recently about the use of sign language to interpret music. At some point our senses converge in experience. Exploring how that experience differs from person to person and where the common ground might lie is like a whole new dimension.


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