Bill Fontana

Prix Ars Electronica Collide@CERN Award 2013

Bill Fontana won the second international award in partnership with Ars Electronica, in 2013. His residency took place that summer, when he worked with his scientific partner, theoretical physicist Subodh Patil.


Photo: Stuart Davidson


Press Release

Collide@CERN Presentation Part 1 - Bill Fontana at the CERN Globe of Science and Innovation, 4 July 2013.

Collide@CERN Presentation Part 2 - Subodh Patil, Theorist in Physics and Scientific Partner for Bill Fontana.

What Particle Physics Sounds Like Time Magazine



Bill Fontana

"I began my artistic career as a composer. What really began to interest me was not so much the music that I could write, but the states of mind I would experience when I felt musical enough to compose. In those moments, when I became musical, all the sounds around me also became musical," Bill Fontana.

Bill Fontana (born 1947) is an American composer and artist who has developed an international reputation for his pioneering experiments in sound.

Since the early 1970s, Fontana has used sound as a sculptural medium to interact with and transform our perceptions of visual and architectural spaces. He has realized sound sculptures and radio projects for museums and broadcast organizations around the world. His work has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, the Post Museum in Frankfurt, the Art History and Natural History Museums in Vienna, both Tate Modern and Tate Britain in London, the 48th Venice Biennale, the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, the Art Gallery of NSE in Sydney and the new Kolumba Museum in Cologne.

Fontana is known for his interest in revealing hidden sounds in unlikely places, from the Millenium Bridge in London to a lonely whistle buoy in the ocean to an abandoned construction crane. His careful attention to the relationship between materials and the spaces they inhabit yields stunningly beautiful results.



"Acoustic Time Travel", Bill Fontana exploring sounds of the LHC, previously recorded by him, in the LHC tunnel.



COLLIDE Induction

In January 2013, Bill Fontana visited CERN with Horst Hörtner, Director of Ars Electronica Futurelab, for a four-day induction visit which was specially designed and tailor-made for Bill’s interests by Ariane Koek, Founder and former Head of Arts@CERN.

During this time, Bill Fontana explored the ideas of particle physics with a series of one to one seminars and meetings with leading CERN physicists as well as exploring the different spaces of the laboratory. During this time Bill was matched with his CERN scientific partner, cosmologist and former Marie Curie Intra European Fellow, Subodh Patil.

Bill started making recordings immediately during his 4-day visit which spanned 10 different locations on the vast CERN site. One of the first places he visited was the CERN proton source, where the particles begin their journey to then reach nearly the speed of light in the 27km ring. He recorded the sounds of the radiofrecuency cavities propelling the protons from the bottle, which produce a rhythmic pulse every 1.2 seconds. It could be called the heartbeat of the LHC. The recordings were done with accelerometers mounted on the machines holding the cavities to pick up the sounds inside them. Bill was so inspired that he mixed a 24 track audio recording of different sounds across the CERN site and machines whilst the LHC was running to create a new visual sound art work – even before his residency officially began. The pice was later installed at the Upper Austria Tower in Linz, Austria.

 “The visit to CERN was inspiring and renewing. It put me back in touch with myself. Being at CERN and having these conversations and then intensely listening and recording was like going on a spiritual retreat,”  Bill Fontana.


Ars Elecetronica Festival 2013 - Bill Fontana, Sound Instalation at Upper Austria Tower, Linz. Photo by Julian Calo.



Video Blog Week 1

The month of July (2013) was Bill Fontana’s first part of his residency at CERN. He came with his photographer son, Michael Fontana. Every week, Michael interviewed Bill Fontana and his Scientific Partner, cosmologist Subodh Patil, about what the experience.

What follows over the next four weeks is a series of interviews as well as photographs of Bill Fontana’s experience of the residency at the world’s largest physics laboratory. It will give you insights and glimpses in the creative interchanges between Subodh and Bill as well as the experience of the residency which is produced on site by Ariane Koek with the assistance of Julian Calo. Only by producing the residency, access to the myriad of facilities here at CERN, as well as the scientists, the artistic research of the CERN residency can really happen. As Subodh said, even he hasn’t seen the Large Hadron Collider tunnel before. Now thanks to the Arts programme at CERN, both have had unprecedented access to many of the detectors and unusual sites,  specially selected to inspire their love of discovering the world through sound for Bill’s project  for the Prix Ars Electronica Collide@CERN residency which is called Acoustic Time Travel.

Bill Fontana and Subodh Patil photo by Julian Calo at CERN



Video Blog Week 3



It has been decided to turn the LHC into a massive musical instrument, playing back the sounds which Bill recorded in February during his induction visit when the LHC was running, back to itself.  He wants to brought a loudspeaker into the tunnel of the Large Hadron Collider and played the sounds that he had recorded in February 2013.

Bill Fontana and Subodh Patil at the LHC photo by Julian Calo

Subodh Patil listening to the sounds of the LHC being played back to itself by Bill Fontana


During the week, they also made visits to other parts of the LHC, finding an incredible space like a mighty golden cavern which Bill shouted into with his voice coming back.


Bill Fontana shouting in LHC cave


Video Blog Week 4

CERN is the largest particle physics laboratory in the world with the biggest man made machine ever built – the Large Hadron Collider. Research is carried out into the unknown to discover fundamental knowledge about the world – the questions which drive scientists to work very hard because they are passionate to find out the answers.

Collide@CERN artist in residency Bill Fontana is no different. Over his first four weeks in residence, he had carried out many experiments in the LHC and came up in the end with the idea of taking a loudspeaker into the LHC and playing the sounds of the LHC 100 meters underground, back to itself. Even the scientists who went down with him in the tunnel, who included Ralph Steinhagen and Robert Keiffer with Subodh Patil were baffled by the echoes and resoundings which happened in the tunnel when the LHC was turned into the world’s largest acoustic instrument. But the questions did not stop there and many remained unanswered from this last experiment.




Collide@CERN in Athens 5 November, 2013.

Collide@CERN wtih Sound: Discussion Cycle, CERN at the Onassis Cultural Center.

Ariane Koek, Creator of the Collide@CERN program, Bill Fontana Prix Ars Electronica Collide@CERN artist 2013 and his Scientific Partner and cosmologist, Subodh Patil gave a presentation at the Onassis Cultural Center, in Athens, Greece to discuss  sound as a tool for discovery in art and science. It is the first of our Collide@CERN  talks with the OCC exploring different themes in our culture.

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