One of Marclay’s central interests is the exploration of the sound dimension of objects as well as all their visual elements. This links to and expands on Marcel Duchamp’s idea of sound art. Marclay’s sound installations and sound objects are never completely detached from the artistic and provoke a game of imagining things unseen or unheard.
Using a variety of methods, Marclay shows how residual sounds (remaining resonances) are inherent in the material world. This means a psychoacoustic phenomenon in which even a static object can suggest a sound.
His work The Beatles (1989) is a pillow with a pillow case crocheted from magnetic tapes. Taking as a material the storage media of audio cassettes and connecting this with the particular title brings forth associations of the sound of the Beatles, which we all have in our musical memory. In addition, the reference to this analogue recording technology evokes the crinkling sound of these audio tapes, which has now become a historical phenomenon. In other works where Marclay uses the same material, sound is actually created by the thinly coated tapes themselves.
While recording materials like vinyl records and audiotapes contain, by their very nature, residues of what has been heard or is audible—at least in our imaginations—in recent years, Marclay has been increasingly evoking sound in purely visual ways. His video work Surround Sounds (2014–2015) shows a collage of four silent projections of onomatopoeic cartoon lettering that triggers the experience of sounds.
Marclay has also used the principle of collage in purely cinematic works. His 24-hour opus The Clock (2010) is a series of film fragments in which a scene can be viewed for every minute of a day, showing that particular time on a clock.
Marclay’s original relationship to musical modernism has recently become more significant again. At the beginning of 2018 he performed a Meta-Concert in front of and as a comment on Jean Tinguely’s large kinetic sound sculpture Méta-Harmonie in Basel with Okkyung Lee on cello, Luc Müller on drums, and himself creating sounds with a variety of everyday objects.