How would you characterize the potential of art?
It's probably not going to get us out of the financial crisis, solve conflicts or put an end to global warming. It does, however, have the ability to show us the world, or aspects of the world, recast in another form. By "the world" I mean a lot of things: mathematics, politics, everyday life etc. It should offer an alternative to popular, consumer culture. Perhaps I believe that art should always be a counter-culture of a sort, a place which encourages both makers and audience to think outside the box.
Which possibilities, qualities and limitations do you find in sound as material?
It's interesting that contemporary composition has, on the whole, been resistant to the kind of conceptualism that dominates fine art and performance. The fact that it is so self-contained as an art-form is quite astounding, that simply a succession of different configurations of frequencies can actually make some kind of sense and even on occasion move people (of course music with words is a slightly different matter). This is both its quality and also its limitation. It has difficulty referring to things outside itself and taking a critical position. Sometimes it seems that contemporary music is a beautiful thing trapped in a sealed glass jar not especially relevant to the outside world and pretty difficult to get into! Of course field recordings and concrete sounds have given modern music a new dimension, I guess in the way that Cage imagined they would. So have performative approaches to presenting new music.
What characterizes a good work of sound/musical art?
What a tricky question! Perhaps I'll change it to what characterizes sound/music that I like. I would say on one hand a boldness of concept, intention and form and on the other a refinement, beauty and uniqueness of musical material. A piece doesn't necessarily need to possess both for me to like it (and sometimes one will exclude the other). What I don't like is the middle-ground of sound/musical art, any notion that the sound artist or composer is trying to cater towards a certain kind of audience, or, even worse, the establishment (orchestras, festival programmers and publishers)!
What moves you?
I don't think I want to answer this last one, so instead I'll give you an anecdote about asking people big questions about art. The other night I had a dream (probably influenced by this questionnaire) that two people were asking me to name the work of art that most represented to me the birth of Modernism. I very confidently replied "Les Demoiselles d"Avignon" by Picasso and then proceeded to give a very pretentious explanation why. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself, but on waking up I realised that my unconscious mind had wandered straight into a cliché. So I guess the moral of that dream is to be careful when making big statements about art: that a lot of these questions are unanswerable and to stick to the personal rather than to attempt the universal (which is never as universal or profound as you might wish it to be).