Bill Fontana: Sprialing Echoes

February 13 - December 11, 2009
SFAC Gallery, Rotunda of San Francisco City Hall

A site-specific sound sculture for the Rotunda of SF City Hall by internationally renowned, Bay Area artist Bill Fontana.


Image courtesy of Bob Lewis
The Opening of Spiraling Echoes, a sound sculpture by San Francisco-based, sound art pioneer Bill Fontana, will take place on Thursday, February 12, 2009 in the City Hall Rotunda. Bill Fontana’s original soundtrack includes past and present audio moments recorded throughout San Francisco, from Enrico Caruso’s voice to cable car bells. Commissioned as part of the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery’s Art at City Hall program, the site-specific installation is designed to interact with the architecture of San Francisco’s historic City Hall. Spiraling Echoes will be installed through May 8, 2009 to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the City Hall renovation. Four specialized speakers called transducers, which narrowly focus sound, will be mounted around the circular colonnade inside the dome. The richly-layered soundtrack pairing urban noises with historical recordings will be most clearly audible along the two fourth floor corridors overlooking the Rotunda. The directional ultrasonic beams of sound will reflect off the surfaces of the architectural elements, creating spiraling echoes that become gradually softer as they move from the upper walkways to the floor of the Rotunda.

As visitors walk through the Rotunda, they may be startled at first by the natural sounds of birds singing, echoing fog horns on the Bay, or the crack of a bat and the noise of the crowd at AT&T Park. Each beam of sound will be randomly audible only for an instant, transmitted by the moving transducers. Bill Fontana stated, “Spiraling Echoes activates the architecture of City Hall with the movement of sound. Encountering the installation will evoke a rethinking of the history and context of this site.”

“I am delighted to announce that the SFAC Gallery has commissioned for our iconic City Hall Rotunda, Spiraling Echoes by Bill Fontana, one of the most interesting and celebrated artists living in San Francisco today,” said Mayor Newsom. “I have made it a priority to install public art throughout the City, and this compelling work is a prime example of what our forward thinking Arts Commission can achieve. This important temporary project by Mr. Fontana will take a place of prominence alongside his previous installations at Big Ben in London, the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City.”

Luis R. Cancel, Director of Cultural Affairs added, “Spiraling Echoes is a milestone in the Art at City Hall program.  It is the premiere exhibition in our triennial project to commission internationally renowned artists to create site-specific installations for San Francisco’s treasured City Hall.  We are delighted that it will also bring attention to San Francisco resident Bill Fontana who has created his first substantial work for the Bay Area in 20 years.”

Speaker of the House and San Francisco resident Nancy Pelosi is also a supporter of Fontana’s. She states, “San Francisco is a city known for its creativity and innovation, and Fontana’s project in City Hall would embody this spirit in one of most visible and widely-used public spaces in San Francisco.”

Bill Fontana is an American composer and artist who developed an international reputation for his pioneering experiments in sound. Since the early 1970’s he has used sound as a sculptural medium to interact with and transform our perceptions of visual and architectural spaces. He has realized sound sculpture and radio projects for museums and broadcast organizations around the world. His work has been exhibited widely including the Whitney Museum of American Art, both Tate Modern and Tate Britain in London, the 48th Venice Biennale, the Art History and Natural History Museums in Vienna, and the new Kolumba Museum in Cologne. Major radio sound art projects include works for the BBC, the European Broadcast Union, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, National Public Radio, West German Radio, Swedish Radio, Radio France and the Austrian State Radio.

Fontana’s previous Bay Area works include Sound Sculpture with a Sequence of Level Crossings, Oakland, l982, an eight channel sound map of fast-moving train whistles; Landscape Sculpture with Fog Horns, San Francisco, 1981, a map of the acoustics of San Francisco Bay; and Sound Sculptures through the Golden Gate, San Francisco, 1987, a live duet between the Farallon Islands and the Golden Gate Bridge transmitted to the façade of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. For further information visit his website:

Art at City Hall is a program of the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery. Since 1970, the SFAC Gallery has been celebrating and sharing the work of Bay Area, national and international artists at its three Civic Center locations and sites around the city.

This exhibition has been approved by the San Francisco Arts Commissionand is generously supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Zellerbach Family Foundation, and Nancy and Steven Oliver.