Snoring, alarm clock buzzing, phone ringing, channel surfing, toilet flushing, water running. No sound is too ordinary, too small, too large, too regular, too irregular, or too insignificant. Familiar noises that are usually backdrops become magnified as clear indications of our environments, the narratives of our days marching on. “Yeah, can I have a Whopper? And do you have those cartons of milk?” “You want a carton of milk with that?” “Yeah.” “Anything else?” “No.” “Your total comes to $3.02.” The key is in the listening: What does your “today” sound like?

Organized by the Experimental Sound Studio in conjunction with the Goethe Institut, the Chicago Soundscape Project is a collaborative audio art endeavor that combines the efforts of more than 30 participants, including artists, professors, and community members, to create “soundscape portraits” of the city. It’s an ear opener, a walkman plugged into the elevated tracks, a harpist playing your eardrum, an amp pierced to your lobe–and yet it sounds like everything you’ve already heard.

Over the past year, eight such portraits were made at a variety of locations, including City Hall, Prologue Alternative High School, Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, and Acme Steel Company.

Initial conversations about the Chicago Soundscape Project began in 1992 between ESS associate director Lou Mallozzi and German media artist Hans Werner, who had come to Chicago to make a film about Studs Terkel. Werner and his colleague Michael Rusenberg had already completed soundscape portraits in Lisbon, Madrid, and Vancouver, and they provided periodic guidance to the participants of the Chicago Soundscape Project. As thanks, the participants gave Werner and Rüsenberg a sonic compilation of eight communities. Werner and Rusenberg then made three short sonic Chicago portraits of their own. In a CD compiled by ESS, the pieces have been sequenced so that Werner and Rusenberg’s compositions act as prelude, interlude, and postlude to the project, providing an outsider’s experience of the Chicago soundscape.

The Chicago Soundscape Project can be heard at 11 PM Tuesday, October 15, on WLUW FM (88.7) and at 10 PM Thursday, October 17, on WHPK FM (88.5). The CD, which will be released sometime in 1997, is being played at Randolph Street Gallery, 756 N. Milwaukee, through October.

–Cherie Caswell