Sound Art Gets a High-Tech Spin in MoMA and Feral File’s New Online Exhibition

On view are works by Yoko Ono, American Artist, and Holly Herndon and Mat Dryhurst.

Holly Herndon and Mat Dryhurst. Play from Memory (2024). Courtesy the artists and Feral File.

On its 50th anniversary, in 1979, New York’s Museum of Modern Art coined the term “sound art” in the title of an exhibition of three female artists who were, as visionary curator Barbara London put it, trailblazing “the combination of the aural and the visual.” It cemented a focus on sound that had seen MoMA debut the Moog synthesizer in 1969 and platform the likes of Aaron Copland and John Cage.

MoMA is championing sound art again, this time in a bold, interactive, and overwhelmingly online affair. “Sound Machines” presents five artworks that leverage new technologies to create sonic experiences. It arrives courtesy of a collaboration with Feral File, the digital art platform that prides itself on being by and for artists.

Each of the five works is actually a series of 30 that will be minted on Ethereum and up for auction beginning March 14. Artists will receive 60 percent of proceeds, with Feral File and MoMA splitting the remainder.

Immediately arresting is Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley’s Cancel Yourself (2024), an unrelenting choose-your-own-adventure experience that forces the user to announce a moral failing and suffer being “canceled.” Against a setting of furious glitches and gifs reminiscent of ’90s HTML, users pass through the full cycle of publicly outing themselves. The soundtrack shifts subtly with the narrative: there are melancholic horns after the user posts their offense to social media; distorted moans while doom-scrolling through the backlash; and autotuned a capella vocals as the user posts an apology music video—using a ukulele, of course.

Yoko Ono, SOUND PIECE V (1996/2024). Courtesy the artist and Feral File.

Holly Herndon and Mat Dryhurst revive the imitation games that Carl Orff and Gunild Keetman invented in the 1920s to teach children music in Play from Memory (2024). Just as Orff and Keetman used prompts, games, and symbols, Herndon and Dryhurst have created machine learning models that conjure both a soundscape and an accompanying image. Their cavernous world, conjured in a dark ink wash, teems with prodigious children and their fantastical instruments.

Two works offer different approaches to audience participation. Yoko Ono revives her Sound Piece V (1996) for the digital era. The original poem-cum-prompt reads, “Tape the sounds of friends laughing together,” and participants will now be able to add their recordings to the work, thereby creating “an ever-evolving archive of sound.”

0xDEAFBEEF looks back at the phone card as a precursor to the digitized token, and plans to attach live call-and-response performances to his images of imaginary phone cards.


0xDEAFBEEF, PAYPHONE, 2024. Courtesy the artist and Feral File.

A blue sea void is the backdrop for American Artist and Tommy Martinez’s work, which runs their sound piece Integrity Protocol/Lower Limb Lecture (2023/24) through a generative interface. Users can play mixer by manipulating the delay, pitch, speed, and feedback.

One promise that arrived with the recent explosion of interest in digital art was that the medium could genuinely interact with audiences. Here, MoMA and Feral File put forward five sound machines that speak to that potential.

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