Daniel Tovar — Artist Statement

As an artist, I make sound sculptures, soundscapes, and sound collages constructed from synthesized sounds, field recordings, and human voice. Using these materials, I explore how our auditory experience goes far beyond mere frequencies and tones. Hearing, I maintain, gives us access to the contours of the physical objects (real or imagined) that cause the sounds that we experience. My practice is driven by my academic research, teaching, and public workshops, all of which have explored philosophical accounts of human perception. Beginning with my dissertation, I have studied how our perceptual experiences, such as our visual and auditory experiences, are enriched by our memories. More recently, in my workshops and my classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I have explored how electronics can manipulate sound far beyond our familiar sonic experiences, allowing us to access unnatural alien objects and landscapes.

My sounds are sculpted through experimental processes. I begin with recorded sounds of birds, insects, potatoes, coconuts and other objects, and then manipulate those sounds by experimenting with different forms of processing: slowing them down, distorting them, or running them through a variety of algorithms that fold and mangle the original waveforms. Through this, I am able to create sounds that are strange yet retain a shadow of something familiar. I then enhance the oddity of the sounds by layering them with sounds designed on a synthesizer. The products of this process give the listener a kernel of something familiar that their imagination can then build upon to take them into less familiar territories: concrete floors that rise up and bubble, disembodied voices that smear and then explode, and wind that drips and transforms into metallic ball bearings.

My current project, Man in Motion, is a 40-minute sound piece set to clips of NFL football games. Each movement of the piece is inspired by a certain aspect of football. For instance, one movement is inspired by players huddling and is constructed out of whispering sounds. Another, inspired by clips of players running down a field, is composed of breathing sounds. And yet another movement focuses on tackles and is composed of percussive hits sound tracking the actual hits occurring on screen. As each of these movements is developed, the sounds are multiplied, layered, and mangled. In the segment focusing on running, a slow breathing emphasizes the strenuousness of the activity on screen. Layered on top of this breathing are then the sounds of breathing interrupted by literal hits to my chest. The result is a guttural heaving developed into a fleshy, hollow, undulating body that is continually being collapsed, over and over. Similar developments are made with whispering, emphasizing the intimacy that the players have with one another, and tackling, emphasizing the brutality of the sport and the devastating physical punishment that the players must endure. In each case, the sound gives us access to the bodies of the players. Through them, the collapse of a heaving chest and the points of contact on bodies are pinpointed, emphasized, and expanded, allowing the listener to inhabit and feel the players’ bodies in a way that is not possible through visuals alone.