Aaron Dilloway and his chickens Wrench and Blooie during a Quarantine Concerts livestream on April 7, 2020 Credit: Courtesy Experimental Sound Studio on YouTube

Experimental Sound Studio is a nonprofit music venue, recording studio, art gallery, and audio archive that’s provided a nexus for creative work in Chicago since 1986. ESS has built an audience with concerts and public exhibitions, both of which the pandemic made impossible, but despite that constraint 2020 has arguably been the studio’s finest hour. As soon as everyone’s shows got canceled, the studio got to work launching the Quarantine Concerts, an ongoing series that kicked off March 20 and has since included hundreds of streamed performances (some live, some prerecorded for the occasion) by musicians playing in their homes and rehearsal spaces, out in the woods, and in at least one pottery studio. It’s always free to watch, but audiences are encouraged to donate–and 100 percent of their money goes to the artists. Initially the bookings leaned heavily on Chicago’s improvised-music community, but as the series grew it recruited guest curators from other cities or even other continents. They’ve brought in experimental, folk, classical, and psychedelic rock musicians from Europe, Qatar, Japan, and around the States, allowing collaborations that would’ve been prohibitively expensive in person. Fittingly, some of the best performances traded on their domestic settings. Octogenarian multi-­instrumentalist Joe McPhee gave a shout-out from his basement lair in Poughkeepsie to fellow saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, who was isolated by age and health in Wuppertal, Germany; Chicago-based composer Olivia Block played part of her set with a cat on her shoulder; and Ohio-based tape-loop fiend Aaron Dilloway let a couple chickens loose on a guitar and cymbals that he’d wired for sound, turning their pecking into music.

  • Aaron Dilloway’s full Quarantine Concerts set
  • Olivia Block’s cat makes an appearance at 17:10 in this April 10 performance.
YouTube video
  • A May 28 tag-team set linking Damon Locks, Tomeka Reid, Nicole Mitchell, and Jeff Parker