“Respect simple, humble materials.” —Paul Kos



What does ice sound like as it melts? It sounds absurd. But it’s not, as Paul Kos demonstrated in his 1970 installation “The Sound of Ice Melting,” based on the famous Zen koan “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” It’s just that any attempt to hear it is inevitably carried to an absurd extreme.

The installation consisted of two twenty-five-pound blocks of ice set side by side on the floor, tightly ringed by eleven state-of-the-art, highly sensitive boom microphones, which fed into a powerful amplifier. Positioned just inches from the melting ice, the microphones detected even the faintest sound emitted.

Perplexed by the visual, aural, and contemplative conundrum, viewers experienced a state of heightened awareness. But of course they could not discern a difference between the white noise of the electronic equipment and the “sound” of the ice melting: there was, in fact, no difference. All sounds melded into one sound, emanating from the speaker.

—Adapted from text written by Ron Meyers and included in the catalog of Paul Kos’s current retrospective, “Everything Matters.”

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