A FEW weeks ago when I wrote about Arts Council grants readers may have thought they detected the odour of sour grapes.

Maybe it’s true: the odd fact is that I’ve received more public funding for work as a sound artist than for photography.

This is strange as I’m really only an amateur musician, (any money I’ve earned has been more than offset by that spent on equipment), and as a photographer I have training, qualifications and 30 years’ professional experience.

Just what are sound artists, anyway? Aren’t they simply musicians, making noise that few people will enjoy listening to?

Well, I always try to focus on the musical content because that’s where my interests lie. For one commission I recorded a variety of factory sounds (and faked some others), but the final result was definitely a musical composition, in the key of C minor as it happens.

Not all “sound art” has anything as stuffy as a key signature.

Last year, the Jerwood Prize for Drawing (one I associate with traditional skills) was given for little more than a minute of spoken word.

On the other hand the Turner Prize 2010 was awarded for the singing of proper songs.

Salisbury Arts Centre’s current exhibition features a sound piece and, for me, it steals the show.

The Space Between also contains video, ceramics, word art, and some bits of rope; nothing like drawing or painting, so it’s very contemporary.

I have nothing against any medium, but much of the visual work seems poorly realised.

One promising work is a video recreation of The Girl with the Pearl Earring, but it’s just the sort of thing Bill Viola would make, only not nearly as well-crafted.

None of the work really fulfils the promise in the catalogue to “encourage the viewer to enter into a position, place, idea, space or context about how the space between might exist in our own lives.”

Except for Lee Riley’s work, called ‘Piece for bowed metal container and 16 pints of water’.

It may not sound very promising, especially if you assume the container is a plain old bucket, but it really is quite beguiling. Was Riley mindful of the quote attributed to Claude Debussy, “music is the space between the notes” when he made this?

Possibly not, but there’s no medium like sound to make you aware of its absence, and Riley has used this well.

His work is designed for performance rather than recording, so I will be looking out for his next concert.

Meanwhile, I have funding to add a sound piece to one of my films, so hooray for sound art, say I.

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