The relationship between the image track and the sound track in film has a long history.[1] At the start of the twentieth century, the first silent films were accompanied by live piano music, not least to drown out the noise of the cinematograph. The development of optical sound film in the late 1920s marked the establishment of naturalistic cinematic reality, which characterizes commercial film to this day and contributed to film’s learning to talk. Behind the seemingly natural interplay of image and sound that we know from Hollywood cinema, there is a complex, highly artificial production machinery based on division of labor, in which the sound and the image levels are both meticulously constructed. The image track was mostly accompanied by atmospheric mood music that did not derive from the film action. This special form of illusionism seems natural to us today. But this was not always the case. The most famous representatives of the historical film avant-garde in particular focused intensively on its construction. In their Manifesto on Sound Film of 1928, Sergei Eisenstein, Vsevolod Pudovkin and Grigori W. Alexandrov demanded that the sound not correspond at all to the pictures, and described their concept of sound film as an orchestral counterpoint of visual and acoustic images. Peter Kubelka later used the collision between image and sound as a stylistic device in Unsere Afrikareise (1966) to comment on the brutal invasion of African tribal culture by the safari party. The Expanded Cinema movement made an explicit theme of the analysis of cinema as a culturo-technical apparatus and its interplay of image and sound. The spectrum ranges from VALIE EXPORT’s Tonfilm (1969, in which cinema is shifted into the body and extended, to Imogen Stidworthy’s large-scale multi-media installation The Whisper Heard (2003), which includes the listener and viewer in a comprehensively sensual way. With her collages made from separate image and sound tracks, she achieves deliberately destabilizing effects. Placing sound on an equal and independent footing with images is also an objective of the experimental filmmaker and artist Michael Snow. In Rameau’s Nephew by Diderot/Thanx to Dennis Young) by Wilma Schoen (1972–1974), a trick-filled still life about the difficult coexistence of words, objects and their reproduction (Pierre Théberge), Snow does variations in 25 chapters on the different possibilities for relationships between image and sound in cinema. Snow himself calls his film a real talking picture that allows the viewers to experience the fact that the voices they hear are representations and do not come from the mouth, but from the loudspeaker. Sometimes the sound and lighting men enter the picture and besiege the actor speaking at the time. The sound track can indeed guide the images in nearly any direction it wants. It can affirm, destabilize or confuse. In Ed Henderson Suggests Sound Tracks for photographs (1974), John Baldessari has ironically highlighted this fact. The different soundtracks that Baldessari’s pupil, Ed Henderson, suggests make very clear the latent arbitrariness of the audiovisual meaning. Jack Goldstein’s works are concerned with similar questions. Here, commercial Hollywood cinema becomes a reservoir of formal building blocks that he isolates like emblems. For example, the roaring lion of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer becomes a three-minute loop that, like a cracked record, reveals the mercilessly overwrought nature of the Hollywood machinery and accentuates the libidinous charm of this commercial image culture.

Peter Kubelka, Unsere Afrikareise, 1966

VALIE EXPORT, Tonfilm, 1969

Michael Snow, Rameau’s Nephew by Diderot (thanx to Dennis Young) by Wilma Schoen, 1972–74

John Baldessari, Ed Henderson Suggests Soundtracks for Photographs, 1974

Ryszard Waśko, From A to B and back to A, 1974

Jack Goldstein, A Suite of Nine 7-inch Records, 1976

Louise Lawler, A Movie Will Be Shown Without the Picture, 1979

Josef Dabernig, Wisla, 1996

Douglas Gordon, Feature Film, 1999

Imogen Stidworthy, The Whisper Heard, 2003

Constanze Ruhm & Ekkehard Ehlers, blindstorey / Fitzwilliam Version, 2003–2009

Jutta Koether, Unganzheitssymbole: K (Hommage an Kenneth Anger), 2004

Manon de Boer, Presto, Perfect Sound, 2006

Martin Arnold, Coverversion, 2007

See the text by Gabriele Jutz in the exhibition catalog.