bill fontana

Bill Fontana

Oliver Ranch Installation — Bill Fontana, “Earth Tones”, 1992 (Six Large Bose Acoustic Wave Canons)

Bill Fontana is a composer and artist who developed an international reputation for his pioneering experiments in sound. Since the early 1970s, Fontana has used sound as a sculptural medium to interact with and transform our perceptions of visual and architectural spaces. He has realized sound sculptures and radio projects for museums and broadcast organizations around the world. Fontana regards the physical environment as a living source of musical information, with aesthetic and evocative qualities that can conjure up visual imagery. Fontana has created site-specific sound installations in major cities from San Francisco to Kyoto, in which he relocates ambient sound, from one location, most often away from the city, to a central public, urban space. In the years 1965 through 1967, he attended John Carroll University in Cleveland and the Cleveland Institute of Music. He later went on to receive BA from the New School for Social Research in New York.

Fontana’s work has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, the Post Museum in Frankfurt, the Art History and Natural History Museums in Vienna, both Tate Modern and Tate Britain in London, the 48th Venice Biennale, the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, the Art Gallery of NSE in Sydney and the new Kolumba Museum in Cologne. He has done major radio sound-art projects for the BBC, the European Broadcast Union, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, National Public Radio, West German Radio (WDR), Swedish Radio, Radio France and the Austrian StateRadio.

Some of Fontana’s large-scale sound installations have included Tyne Soundings, Baltic Center for Contemporary Art and Sage Gateshead, Newcastle, 2009; Spiraling Echoes, San Francisco Art Commission, 2009; Speeds to Time, Tate Britain, London, 2008; Tate Modern, London, 2006; Speeds of Time, Palace of Westminster, London, 2004; Falling Echoes, Creative Time, New York, 2002; Acoustical Visions of Venice, 48th Venice Biennale, 1999; Wave Memories, Trafalgar Square, National Maritime Museum, London, 1999; Sound Island, Arc de Triomphe, Paris, 1994; Soundbridge, Cologne, Kyoto, 1993, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1991; Sound Sculptures through the Golden Gate, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1987; Entfernte Züge (Distant Trains), Berliner Künstlerprogramm des DAAD, West Berlin, 1984; Oscillating Steel Grids along the Brooklyn Bridge, World Trade Center and Brooklyn Museum, New York, 1983. Selected Permanent Installations include Sonic Passage, San Antonio River Foundation, San Antonio, Texas, 2009; Acoustic Journey, Cultural Mile Project, Enschede, the Netherlands, 2009; Natural Song Lines, Leeds City Gallery and Contemporary Art Society, 2004, digitally remastered eight-channel installation, collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Wave Trains, 1996, Mülheimer Brücke subway station, Colgone, Germany; Earth Tones, 1992, Oliver Ranch, Sonoma County, CA

Awards / Fellowships
Bay Area Treasure Award, 2009, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Prix Ars Electronica, 2009, Linz, Golden Nica Award in the Digital Music Category for Speeds of Time; Fellowships: Center for Cultural Innovation, Investing in Artists Grant, 2007; Artadia 2005 San Francisco Bay Area Award; Research Fellowship, Arts Council of England, 2004-2005; Artists Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts, 1990-91; John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, 1986-87; US/Japan Fellowship, Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission, 1985-86; Berliner Künstlerprogramm des DAAD, 1983-84; Composers Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts, 1979.

Fontana’s Earth Tones sound-sculpture is permanently installed at the Oliver Ranch. Six large, low frequency loudspeakers (Bose Acoustic Wave Canons) are buried around a lake in a natural landscape. Low frequency sounds from five points around the world are sent to the site, where the Wave Canons couple the low sound to the earth, causing the whole landscape to become activated with sound. A computer is used to slowly move the sounds so that they are always changing their position in the landscape.

Learn more about Bill Fontana’s sound sculptures visit

Photos of Bill Fontana’s Work at Oliver Ranch

(Click to enlarge)

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