Since its inception in 1986, the Experimental Sound Studio, a nonprofit recording facility at 5150 N. Paulina, has been a creative hub for Chicago’s small but active sound-art scene. But it has only occasionally been involved in presenting the sort of work it makes possible, usually in partnership with other arts organizations. As owner Lou Mallozzi told me in a 1998 interview, he originally envisioned the studio as “a catalyst rather than an arbiter” for the hard-to-pin-down genre, which borrows from music, theater, film, performance art, conceptual art, and sculpture without necessarily resembling any of them.
But over the past few years, local opportunities for sound-art presentation have been declining. The Randolph Street Gallery, with which Mallozzi had worked closely, was shuttered in 1996. In 1997 the Lunar Cabaret quit putting on concerts. And the three-year-old sound-art festival In the Eye of the Ear died in 1998, when organizers Steve Barsotti and Tod Szewczyk left town. So last week ESS kicked off the first-ever Outer Ear Festival of Sound, a broad array of events and installations that places the studio in a decidedly curatorial role.
The idea for the festival actually came from Mallozzi’s late wife, Dawn, with whom he cofounded ESS. It was planned for the fall of 1999, and by that spring, all of the artists were confirmed. Then Dawn was diagnosed with cancer, and the couple decided to postpone. “It was just a way to make some space for us, to not have this large, risky endeavor,” says Mallozzi. When Dawn died, in August 1999, the event stayed on the back burner, but Mallozzi says he never considered not doing it. An organizing committee that included sound artists John Corbett, Terri Kapsalis, M.W. Burns, Joan Dickinson, and Philip Von Zweck returned to the project early this year, and though some of the artists scheduled for ’99–including Christian Marclay–were unable to attend, Mallozzi says the lineup is very close to the original. “In terms of scope and the fact that it’s presenting works in different modalities–live performance, broadcasts, installations, and workshops and roundtable discussions–it’s exactly the way we envisioned it.”
The festival, which runs through November 22, includes installations at the Temporary Services gallery, 202 S. State, and at the 835 W. Washington building and live performances next weekend at Galvin Auditorium in Loyola University’s Sullivan Center, 6525 N. Sheridan. Among the possible highlights is “Musica Concreta,” a piece conceived in the late 60s by Guillermo Gregorio, a Buenos Aires transplant best known for his singular amalgam of chamber music improvisation, jazz, and graphic scores. The “score” is a blueprint for a table; the piece will be performed by carpenters, whose tools are cast as instruments in an homage to the concept of musique concrete. Other notable performers include Dutch vocal acrobat Jaap Blonk, pioneering composer Alvin Lucier, and Art Institute teacher Nicolas Collins, who manipulates an array of electronics via a specially rigged trombone. Some pieces designed specifically for radio will be broadcast on Loyola’s WLUW, Northwestern’s WNUR, and the University of Chicago’s WHPK.
For more information on the festival, which Mallozzi hopes to make an annual event, and a broadcasting schedule, visit www.expsoundstudio.org/outerear or call 773-784-0449.
The annual Chicago Asian American Jazz festival, which started on November 9, is also in full swing this weekend. Local bassist Tatsu Aoki founded the fest five years ago, inspired by San Francisco’s 19-year-old version, and it’s since become the largest Asian-American jazz event in the United States. And next month Aoki and Osaka-born local blues singer Yoko Noge will travel to Tokyo to perform and lay groundwork for an extension of the event that would take the artists to Japan and China next year.
The biggest night of the five-day festival will clearly be Friday, when Remember Shakti, a reunion of John McLaughlin’s mid-70s Indian fusion group Shakti, performs at the Chicago Theatre. The lineup features Zakir Hussain on tabla, V. Selvaganesh on ghatam–a large clay pot whose pitch is determined by the position of its mouth relative to the player’s stomach–and U. Shrinivas on mandolin. It’s the first time south Asian music has been included in the festival–something Aoki wishes he could take credit for. In fact the concert was booked independently by CAPA, the organization that operates the venue. But “there are other parts of Asia that I would love to have represented eventually, and I’m really happy about Shakti,” he says.
Saturday’s program at the Museum of Contemporary Art should also be a high point. It includes the Doug Yokoyama Quartet, a Bay Area jazz group featuring the leader’s buoyant alto playing and tenorist Francis Wong’s knotty phrasing; Dave Pavkovic’s local rock-improv project Toe; and a rare duet by drummer Susie Ibarra and drum-machine master Ikue Mori. Ibarra is one of the most exciting, talented, and sought-after free jazz percussionists in New York, and Mori, a former member of the no-wave band DNA, has honed a distinctive voice by manipulating three different drum machines at once. On Sunday evening at HotHouse, Ibarra will duet with pianist Andrew Bemkey, Mori will give a solo set, Jin Hi Kim will play the electric komungo (a Korean zither), and Pook Nury, a new “Korean and Western drum group” featuring drummer Mia Park of the pop band Kim, will perform. The festival ends Monday night with a showcase of mostly Japanese blues musicians, including Yoko Noge’s band Jazz Me Blues. For tickets call 312-397-4010.
Congratulations to Reader writer and assistant editor J.R. Jones, whose cover story “Prove It All Night” (April 30, 1999), a history of the house band at the Lakeview Lounge, has been anthologized in Da Capo Press’s Best Music Writing 2000.
Daniel Johnston–the legendary Austin naif whose songs have been covered by Yo La Tengo, Half Japanese, Kathy McCarty, and the Dead Milkmen, among others–makes his Chicago debut on Saturday at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, 756 N. Milwaukee. For tickets or information call 312-243-9088.
Send gripes, leads, and love letters to Peter Margasak at firstname.lastname@example.org.