ALBANY PARK — The vroom of a motorcycle, a honking horn, screeching brakes — where some hear noise, Nick Tobier hears music.
A professor of art and design at the University of Michigan, Tobier is in town to take part in the Chicago Cultural Center's "Spontaneous Interventions" exhibit. On Tuesday night he gathered a motley band of former students and volunteers to produce a bit of public art, dubbed "Songs and Sounds for Cars," at the corner of Central Park and Lawrence avenues.
Lined up against the fencing surrounding a vacant lot, the group listened intently to the sounds of the streets and then worked to faithfully reproduce them vocally.
"They're each part of a chorus, they're each responding to a different sound," explained Regin Igloria, founder of North Branch Projects, located just across the street from the site Tobier chose for his brief show.
"He's conducting, they're each an instrument."
Those instruments included Eric Kursman, visiting from Virginia.
"I will belt out what I hear as loud as I can," he said of his technique.
Kursman was recruited for the gig by pal Blake Goble. Though neither are trained performers, both were willing to follow the lead of Tobier — "a really, really, rad old professor of mine," as Goble described him.
"My understanding is that this is an opportunity to do a public art piece that speaks to the sounds and vibes of the neighborhood," said Goble.
Once the winner of a yodeling contest at the Chicago Brauhaus during Lincoln Square's German-American festival, Goble was assigned the task of mimicking snatches of overheard conversations.
"Gimme some of that s--t, gimme some of that s--t," he repeated over and over as his cohorts made whooshing sounds in the background.
At another point, Fleetwood Mac's "Rhiannon" blared from a car stereo, which the group incorporated into its melody.
The reactions of passers-by ranged from bemused curiosity to avoidance, as some pedestrians took to the street to give the sidewalk ensemble a wide berth.
For the past two years, Tobier has been mounting similar sorts of improvised productions that put performers in "places where there are other rhythms and tempos," be it a bagpiper at a car wash or ballet dancers at a laundromat.
The purpose, he said, is to deliver cultural experiences outside of art galleries and museums.
He chose Albany Park for his latest experiment after visiting North Branch Projects last December.
"I loved the neighborhood. It's so endlessly interesting," he said.
The area didn't disappoint, with Tobier particularly taken by a choir of cicadas and the tinkling bell of ice cream vendors.
"If I had the vocal stamina, I'd stay out here all night," he said.
Tobier will repeat "Songs and Sounds for Cars" Wednesday night at the same location. The public is invited to participate in a "sound devices" workshop at 6 p.m. at North Branch Projects, 3550 N. Lawrence Ave., and then join in the performance at 7 p.m.