An earful of art

By HermineBloom

The average person doesn’t stop to listen to the shuffling noise of shoes on the pavement and the whistling of the wind. Sonic artists involved in the 10th annual Outer Ear Festival of Sound hosted by The Experimental Sound Studio, 5925 N. Ravenswood Ave., are listening and boldly exploring, reorganizing and reinterpreting sound and music as a result.

Sonics artists involved in the festival find themselves inspired by frequencies, electromagnetic fields and sometimes peoples’ attempts to sing along with lyrical, renaissance poems.

The musicality of everyday, innocuous sounds will be reinterpreted through works of art ranging from performances and installations to broadcasts in a series of events and exhibits from Nov. 4 through Dec. 13 for the Outer Ear Festival.

The Experimental Sound Studio, a nonprofit organization founded in 1986, has been hosting the festival for the past 10 years to foster a sonic arts community by showcasing their artists in residence, local talent and additional artists from other cities who wish to contribute their work.

Lou Mallozzi was one of four co-founders of The Experimental Sound Studio. Since founding the organization, Mallozzi and those who help run the organization have maintained a focus on the artist-oriented approach to the concept of exploratory sound and music, while continuing to change programs to accommodate new ways of thinking about things, Mallozzi said.

About 23 years ago, Mallozzi said several experimental musicians and sound artists came together to pool their resources, equipment, knowledge and their connections in the community to form the organization. The Experimental Sound Studio offers services to resident artists, as well as providing services to the public, such as the Outer Ear Festival for instance, which began in 2000.

The organization has been offering residences mostly to local artists and a few out-of-town artists in order to facilitate new projects in any medium that deals with sound.

“It’s open to experienced artists dealing with sound who might have a career working that way, and also open to artists who might have a sophisticated practice in other mediums, but don’t know enough about sound and want to incorporate sound in their art,” Mallozzi said.

The Outer Ear Festival is teaming up with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Sound Department to give artists the opportunity to present their work as screenings or performance pieces. They will take place at The Chicago Cultural Center, 77 E. Randolph St., Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St., and the organization’s very own studio named the Audible Gallery, among others.

“It’s not like we do a festival that’s focused on specifically this or that,” Mallozzi said. “It’s more about trying to actually select work that represents a real range of approaches, both aesthetically and also historically. I think this year that’s the case.”

Philadelphia native and School of the Art Institute graduate school alumnus, Brett Ian Balogh began his art career creating paintings and sculptures, but has evolved into using radio as a performance instrument, he said.

He is now an instructor at the School of the Art Institute and a member of free103point9, a New York-based Transmission Arts nonprofit organization.

Balogh’s exhibit titled “Chora” is a generative, multi-channel video and sound installation inspired by the Ring of Fire in the Pacific Ocean. Generally, though, Balogh works with radio to explore the social and cultural ramifications of dividing up space with the electromagnetic spectrum, he said.

Currently, Balogh has been working to map pieces that use data from the Federal Communications Commission to make a print series. For a gallery in New York, he designed a red children’s wagon with a specially constructed tone arm similar to that of a record player, which would drag on the streets and translate the vibrations from the cracks in the pavement only to broadcast these sounds over FM radio.

“Radio has been an interesting medium [for] me to work with because of the space that it occupies,” Balogh said. “It’s not about the physical space that we’re aware of, but it does create boundaries where a signal is strong in one place, but it sort of ends in another.”

Mallozzi approached Balogh, his SAIC advisor at the time, when Balogh was brought on board to showcase his work at the Outer Ear Festival in 2007. This will be Balogh’s second year at the Experiment of Sound Studio’s annual presentation of the sonic arts.

Jeff Kowalkowski was also invited by Mallozzi to participate in the festival. Kowalkowski, a teacher of music theory and composition for 15 years, holds multiple adjunct faculty positions at DePaul University and Northeastern University.

Kowalkowski said he hasn’t stopped composing since he wrote his first compositional piece for vibraphone and piano when he was 15 years old. Now, he considers using all sonic media materials in his work without hierarchy after working as an intern for the Experimental Sound Studio in the late ’80s, assisting with many sessions.

“I knew that I would have to be my own engineer if I wanted to get what I was after,” Kowalkowski said. “Lou and Dawn Mallozzi inspired me to learn the recording craft and to use [it] socially.”

His piece in Outer Ear Festival, “Tremendous Ferntuity,” is intended to act as Kowalkowski’s “Fern Room,” where electronically-processed voice and instrument recordings fill a meditative space.

For dates and times of exhibits and events, visit