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Experimental Sound Studio in Ravenswood Broadens Definition of Art

By David Byrnes | January 27, 2015 5:26am | Updated on January 27, 2015 11:37am
 The Experimental Sound Studio at 5925 N. Ravenswood Ave.
Experimental Sound Studio
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RAVENSWOOD — Painters, musicians and sculptors can call themselves artists and no one bats an eye. Others, like programmers, writers and software engineers, have a harder time earning that title.

Which makes the work done at Ravenswood’s Experimental Sound Studio all the more important.

As its name suggests, ESS, at 5925 N. Ravenswood Ave., is focused on sound as an artistic medium, in addition to its operation as a recording studio. Many musicians pass through its doors weekly, said director of marketing and public relations Dan Mohr, but the sound technicians are considered true artists as well.

“There’s an art to [working in a recording studio],” he said.

A nonprofit, ESS' mission is to focus "on sound in all its exploratory cultural manifestations," including not just music, but "sound art," cinema, poetry and broadcast, according to its website.

 Artist Jon Mueller collaborates with Jeff Kolar during a Dec. 15 recording session at Experimental Sound Studio in Ravenswood.   
Artist Jon Mueller collaborates with Jeff Kolar during a Dec. 15 recording session at Experimental Sound Studio in Ravenswood.  
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Experimental Sound Studio/Dan Mohr

ESS was launched in 1986 by artist Lou Mallozzi and it's funded with memberships and grants from such organizations as the MacArthur Foundation, the Driehaus Foundation and the Illinois Arts Council.

ESS chief engineer Alex Inglizian said that over the last eight years, he's worked with all types of artists:"a lot of really excellent jazz musicians and improvisers and also new media artists — artists working with installations, building circuitry and technical stuff."

He's also worked on postproduction for films, doing sound design and mixing.

It’s a heavy load, but the studio seems equipped to handle it. There are two studios, one dedicated to recording artists and the other a large postproduction studio for cinema audio editing.

Additionally, on the bottom floor, there is a monumental archive of music the studio has recorded and some that it didn't. The collection stretches back nearly three decades to the studio’s founding, and samples work from hundreds of musicians. All is collected, cataloged and stored by ESS personnel.

In that way the studio is almost a shrine, of sorts, to the sound technician, and it is complete with a front area dedicated to the occasional mixed-media art exhibition.

That space now is occupied by "Cardioid //" — a reference to a type of microphone — by the installation creators Jennifer Gutowski and Fred Lonberg-Holm. The exhibit features sculptures of Malachi Ritscher's favorite mic, as well as sound bites from his live concert recordings: static, reverberations, applause and the like — but no music.

Ritscher is a late recording artist and political activist who committed suicide by self-immolation in 2006.

For those who believe in the use of sound as an artistic medium — rather than simply as what music is composed of — it is a memorial of one whose life was spent in pursuit of acoustic perfection.

“Cardioid” opened Friday, but the everyday work of the studio will continue around it. Numerous artists use ESS for their recording needs, and it presents occassional art education programs. And, come summer, the SummerSonic concert series will be held in the studio’s back garden.

“We’re devoted to what artists do, in any respect,” Inglizian said. “We facilitate that creativity and experimentation, and we’re personally all invested in it, because we’re all musicians and artists ourselves.”

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