Ushering in a New Era and New Opportunities at Experimental Sound Studio

Originally posted on Chicago Artists Resource, July 7, 2016.

Lou Mallozzi and the ESS board at ESS's 30th Anniversary Gala at Constellation, July 2, 2016. Photo by Jason P. Holmes.

Lou Mallozzi and the ESS board at ESS's 30th Anniversary Gala at Constellation, July 2, 2016. Photo by Jason P. Holmes.

Ushering in a New Era and New Opportunities at Experimental Sound Studio

By Dan Mohr

On July 2, hundreds flocked to Constellation/Links Hall to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Experimental Sound Studio—the nimble non-profit arts organization that has for three decades been advancing the understanding of and elevating the discourse around sound as an elemental creative force in all media. The evening featured performances by five musicians who have figured prominently in various phases of ESS’s evolution, including composer and instrumentalist Olivia Block, innovative Dutch vocalist and composer Jaap Blonk, instrument inventor Hal Rammel, percussionist and composer Michael Zerang, and MacArthur ‘genius’ musician Ken Vandermark.

The gala was peppered with moments of nostalgia and tributes to ESS and its founder Lou Mallozzi, who elected to retire from his position as Executive Director of the organization to focus on other pursuits effective July 1. Among these tributes were a number of 30-second memories submitted by members of the ESS community as part of an initiative we called 30for30. We compiled the submissions we received into an audio montage and a selection of videos that we played back at Constellation. Take a look and a listen below; these memories are a poignant testament to the indelible effect ESS has had on Chicago’s arts landscape from day one.

When faced with Lou’s imminent departure, the staff and board of ESS decided against the obvious course of action—hiring a new Exutive Director to assume Lou’s duties. Instead, we have developed a carefully calculated plan to redistribute his duties to the existing staff, who have begun to run the organization according a non-hierarchical, consensus-based model of our own design. (For more on this transition and the history of ESS, read Peter Margasak’s feature on ESS in a recent issue of the Chicago Reader.)

As the dust has been settling since Lou’s departure, we have been focusing on reexamining our mission and ethos as an organization. While this process is ongoing, we have arrived at some new strategies of streamlining our programming and broadening our engagement with the entire Chicago arts community through special projects and coordinated partnerships:

  • We have begun to form a coalition of institutions that will begin to collaborate to present the work of visiting sound artists and musicians in coordinated events, concerts and workshops throughout the city—from the far north to the far south sides. (If you or your organization is interested in becoming involved in this conversation, please contact Olivia Junell at

  • In order to discover and present the most inclusive spectrum of experimental work possible, we will begin to curate nearly all of our programming from open requests for proposals. This will include Florasonic, our long-running commissioned sound installation project at Lincoln Park Conservatory, as well as exhibitions in Audible Gallery.

  • Audible Gallery will tighten its scope and begin to live up to its name; all exhibitions from 2017 forward will focus on work that has an explicit relationship to sound—whether that means visual art by artists who are recognized for their work in music or sound, multimedia work with sound as a central component, or unadulterated sound installation work.

  • We will let go of most of the concert series we have introduced over the years (OUTER EAR, SUMMERSONIC, etc.) and instead roll out our concert programming in unbranded seasons.The exceptions to this rule are our weekly music salon OPTION, and OSCILLATIONS, the annual showcase of emerging and established artists that has been curated from an open call for proposals for the past three years. (*Note: we have since decided to retain the OUTER EAR series in 2017.)

On that note, we are pleased to announce the call for proposals for this year’s OSCILLATIONS series. We look forward to reviewing all of your submissions, which are due by 11:59pm on August 31. Keep an eye out for more opportunities to propose your projects for Florasonic, Audible Gallery, and more in the near future.

In closing, we’d also like to share a piece of audio from the 30th Anniversary Gala. Jaap Blonk led the audience in a call-and-response sound poem called Kulo Quasi in honor of ESS and Lou Mallozzi. We look forward to honoring Lou’s formidable legacy as we continue to discover, incubate, and present innovative sound work in all media and genres in this new chapter of Experimental Sound Studio’s vital work in Chicago and the world.

Go ahead, sing along: