SiteWorks: San Francisco performance 1969-85

Museum of Conceptual Art (MOCA), 3rd floor, 86 3rd Street

Paul Kos, Sound of Ice Melting (30th April 1970)



It consisted of two twenty-five-pound blocks of ice set side by side on the museum floor, and surrounded in a tight circle by eleven state-of-the-art, tremendously sensitive standing boom microphones.

These were fed into an immense amplifier system and speaker, manned by an expert sound engineer, Richard Beggs.

The microphones were fixed in position just inches from the ice in an attempt to detect even the faintest possible sounds emitted as the blocks slowly melted.

Viewers watched, listened, and waited, concentration fixed, frozen on the spot, attending in silence. Straining to hear what it sounded like.

What does ice sound like as it melts? It sounds absurd. But it is not. The attempt to hear was carried to almost absurd extremes. If a sound were made, it would be heard.[…]

Eventually something became universally audible. A sound like “white noise.” Or, the sound of ice melting is the same as the sound of “white noise” from an amplifier. Or, does “white noise” sound the same as the sound that ice makes when it melts? No one can know. But the piece, in a simple yet elegant stroke, commands intense concentration and attention to even the slightest nuance of silence and sound. It charges the surrounding space with a heightened awareness. In such a state, one cannot discern any difference between white noise and ice melting. They are melted into one sound, emanating from the speaker. (Meyers 2003: 92)