In the Chicago region, the Outer Ear Festival of Sound boasts the only comprehensive sonic arts festival. Curated by Lou Mallozi for the Experimental Sound Studio, Outer Ear is an annual presentation of sound-based art including installations, performances, broadcasts, artist talks and experimental workshops. Two ongoing projects associated with this festival are Fred Lonberg-Holm’s “photo-sound-esis I” and Christina Kubisch’s “Electrical Walk: Chicago.” In both projects, sound demonstrates its profound ability to permeate both personal and public spaces, affecting the way we perceive the world around us.
“There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time. There is always something to see, something to hear,” wrote John Cage. Sound art excavates this idea, though as an artistic practice it occupies a contested space, located somewhere between art and music.
Upon entering the Fern Room at the Lincoln Park Conservatory, one notices subtle crackling, whirring and buzzing sounds in gentle conversation with the lush greenery. Florasonic (also curated by Mallozi) commissions artists and composers to create site-specific installations and compositions for the Fern Room at the conservatory. The current installation, “photo-sound-esis I,” employs a set of solar-powered light-sensitive circuits that emit sounds proportional to the amount of light present in the room. The subtle installation is imperceptible at times (appropriately so) as it echoes the softness and fragility of the greenhouse itself.
While Lonberg-Holm’s installation occupies a definite space, the location of Kubisch’s work is left up to the participant. “Electrical Walk: Chicago” is reminiscent of the Situationist practice of the dérive—a playful rediscovery of the urban environs. Equipped with a map of the Loop (marked with suggested areas to visit) and a set of headphones mechanically altered to amplify electromagnetic waves, participants are able to hear normally inaudible frequencies. Bus stops make otherworldly, science-fiction noises; store security systems emit hypnotically pulsating beats; trains produce almost unbearable screeching noises.
What makes both works—and sound art as a whole—so interesting is that they are the ultimate realization of the dematerialization of art. Availing themselves of their surroundings, the works force viewers/listeners to rethink what constitutes their definitions of art, music and the world in general. (Kristin Marie Brockman)
Fred Lonberg-Holm shows at the Lincoln Park Conservatory, 2391 North Stockton, (312)742-7736, through February 28. Christina Kubisch’s “Electrical Walk: Chicago” is available at the Chicago Cultural Center, 77 East Randolph, (312)744-6630, through November 20. The Outer Ear Festival of Sound continues at various venues, www.ExSoSt.org, (773)769-1069, through December 4.