In 2013, RMIT Gallery and SIAL Sound Studios founded the RMIT Sonic Arts Collection. As the academic partner to the collection, SIAL Sound Studios have jointly developed new commissions, acquisitions, exhibitions, performances, teaching and academic papers around the collection.
The collection was championed by Suzanne Davies during her time as Director and Chief Curator of the RMIT Gallery. Jon Buckingham, RMIT Collections Manager until 2020 provided valuable expertise to establish the collection and maintained a close working partnership with us for presentations in concerts and exhibitions.
Most of the collection works are multichannel electroacoustic works, with some instrumental works commissioned and internationally presented with industry partner ELISION Ensemble. The emphasis has been on collecting multichannel electroacoustic works due to limited storage resources for storing physical objects. Spatial sound works also offer more options for presentation in spaces of different sizes and a many Australian and international artists work in these formats.
Acquisitions and commission are aligned to the RMIT Art Collection Policy which seeks artworks that are congruent with the university’s teaching practices (both current and historical), and preferences pieces that display innovation in media or technique. Additionally, the collection curators and selection committee decided that sound works would be treated no differently than any other piece of art: each needed to meet benchmarks of aesthetic and/or historical merit meeting the following considerations:
1. Format and sonic qualities would lend themselves to display purposes, both on campus and in external venues;
2. Present opportunities for student engagement, including use in teaching;
3. Represent gender diversity within in the collection;
4. Include local, national, and international artists as budgets and opportunities permitted;
5. Reflect multiple career stages, from emerging, mid-career, and established artists.
A concept design for the Collection was developed during a 2008-09 research project funded by RMIT’s Design Research Institute (DRI) to investigate Melbourne’s five CBD soundscape systems (Harvey, 2013). The initial acquisitions for the collection mirrored RMIT’s inner city location, including pieces that used urban sounds as materials, works from electroacoustic sub-genres such as environmental soundscape compositions, and radiophonic works dealing with experiences of place. There has subsequently been significant exploration of sound as a sculptural medium, with works investigating form, space, and time, and others emphasising the experience of environmental soundscapes. Additionally, the collection has also become a way to ‘voice’ sound-based research from the university and work with industry partners on experimental contemporary music performances. Particularly investigating ways traditional music performance can be transformed using technologies for sound spatialisation that scale instrumental compositions to a spatial medium.