The Creative Audio Archive (CAA) is a Chicago based center for the preservation and investigation of innovative and experimental sonic arts and music. CAA is an initiative of the Experimental Sound Studio (ESS), a non-profit sonic arts organization founded in 1986 for the production, promotion, and preservation of innovative approaches to the sonic arts, including music in its many forms, audio art, radio art, sound poetry, sound installation, and intermedia, performative, and cinematic disciplines in which sound is a major component.

CAA was formed in response to growing concerns over the general state of historical preservation of non-mainstream audio, in particular, recordings, print, and visual ephemera related to avant-garde and exploratory sound and music of the last five decades.

CAA is therefore conceived as a center to safeguard volatile materials, to transfer them to accessible and stable media, to catalogue and cross-reference these materials, and to make them accessible for study and, where feasible, presentation to the public at large. CAA seeks to bring together various existing collections and, where appropriate, to keep these collections intact as autonomous "sub-archives."

Currently, CAA houses the ESS Collection, the Links Hall Collection, the Sun Ra/El Saturn Collection, and the Malachi Ritscher Collection. As each archive is processed, transferred, cataloged and encoded, their respective finding aid is updated on this website. Access to the collection is open to the public by appointment. To schedule an appointment, please email:


Sun Ra/El Saturn Collection

The SUN RA/EL SATURN COLLECTION consists of approximately 600 tapes dating from the 1950s-1993 that represent the work of iconoclastic composer and bandleader Sun Ra. The recordings provide a unique documentation of Sun Ra's creative process, including his work with the Arkestra and its offshoots, vocal groups in Chicago, legendary trumpeter/composer Hobart Dotson, and African percussionists in New York. The collection consists of rehearsal tapes, recordings of live concerts, home recordings of sketches and experiments, and master tapes of material likely intended for commercial release. A number of tapes include lectures and recitations by Ra of original unpublished texts, which offer rare insight into his unique philosophy and a broader context for his musical ideas.


Sunday Sessions

Sunday Sessions from the Creative Audio Archive at ESS asks guest curators, those with ties to a particular CAA collection, to assemble a playlist around a theme and present it at a live listening event. Between and beside these historic sounds, curators will provide first-hand stories and conversation, offering further insight into important recordings of avant-garde music makers.

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Visit CAA

To schedule an appointment to listen to or view contents of CAA, click the button below to send us an email. Please let us know what you're interested in investigating—cite the finding aid if you're feeling ambitious—and when you'd like to visit CAA.


Malachi Ritscher Collection

The MALACHI RITSCHER COLLECTION  represents the work of Chicago sound recordist Malachi Ritscher. Ritscher was a passionate supporter of Chicago's improvised music jazz scene. Although technically an amateur, Mr. Ritscher was well known in Chicago for making meticulous, high fidelity recordings at hundreds of live music events from the mid-1980s (perhaps earlier) until his death in 2006. This collection of recordings, now a part of the Creative Audio Archive, is a unique record of musical development in Chicago during a particularly fertile period, a history that resonates to the present.

Read Marc Fischer's pamphlet on Ritscher's life, activism, and work, written on the occasion of Public Collectors' exhibit about Ritscher at the 2014 Whitney Biennial.


ESS Collection

These include audio art, music, radio art, installation, sound poetry, cinema, performing arts, and other projects. The collection does not include works created by clients or members who used ESS facilities. Sound recordings that comprise the collection were recorded and collected by staff. As an organizational archive, the collection will continue to grow as new programs are documented and archived..

Sound Palette by Hal Rammel

Sound Palette by Hal Rammel

Penumbra Music Collection

HAL RAMMEL became involved in Chicago’s experimental jazz scene in the seventies and eighties. He has performed and recorded at the Experimental Sound Studio from its inception into the 2000s. The Penumbra Music Collection fills two boxes and includes both audio recordings and documents related to the Penumbra Music label. The material spans the period from Penumbra’s creation in 1994 to 2015. The audio material contains commercial, beta, and live recordings of the label. The documents are largely administrative, but also include magazine clippings, event announcements, and other ephemera of the label’s work.

Photo by Seth Anderson

Photo by Seth Anderson

Links Hall Collection

The LINKS HALL COLLECTION contains recordings of over 135 events of spoken word, performance, and music that took place at Chicago's Links Hall, a multi-disciplinary project space founded in 1978 by Bob Eisen, Carol Bobrow, and Charlie Vernon. In 1985, Links Hall artistic director Michael Zerang initiated the The Links Hall Performance Series, a curated series that expanded Links Hall programming of dance and movement to include contemporary and experimental music, traditional ethnic folk music, literary readings, and performance art. The Performance Series was initiated to provide artists a consistent performance venue dedicated to the exhibition and dissemination of diverse artistic genres. Through the inception of the Performance Series, Links Hall provided Chicago audiences a series of events to experience the creative output of emerging musical, literary, and performance artists. Although the Performance Series began in 1985, unattended recordings created by Michael Zerang in a VHS audio format began in 1987. These recordings form the bulk of CAA's Links Hall Performance Series archive. In 1989, Jim de Jong took over Zerang's role as artistic director. The collection reflects Zerang's extensive holdings of recorded material from unattended recordings that began in 1987.

Artwork by Thomas Gaudynski

Artwork by Thomas Gaudynski

(a)R(t) Noise - Necessary Arts Collection

Thomas Gaudynski is a Milwaukee writer, sound and visual artist, and life-long entrepreneurial scholar.  Originally trained as a visual artist, Gaudynski switched his artistic focus to sound art and text sound in his early twenties. His sound art is represented on over 30 recordings from Penumbra Music, Utech Records, (a)R(t) NOISE, and Necessary Arts. 

This collection consists mainly of CDs and liner notes.  Liner notes include labels, dates, record labels, description, and artist instrumentation. CDs included are those of varying musical arrangements and a diverse assortment instruments and musicians.  Also in The (a)R(t) Noise / Necessary Arts Collection box is the “Sound Recording Gift Agreement,"  liner notes for the CDs, some photocopied news clippings, information concerning the music included in this box, and two vinyl records labeled “Object Lessons."

Sounds from CAA

Inspired by the Archive

HD video (2013) A short promo video for Brian Harnetty's "The Star Faced One" -- an album-length version of a 2010 sound installation based on the Sun Ra/El Saturn audio archive, commissioned by the Experimental Sound Studio, Chicago, and soon to be released by Atavistic. The animation was created using photos of the Sun Ra/El Saturn materials at ESS -- tape box covers, cassettes, scraps of handwriting, and a microphone. More at

The Sun Ra/ El Saturn archive contains over 700 hours of recorded material left behind by Sun Ra and his Chicago-based manager Alton Abraham. Damon Locks and Terri Kapsalis were commissioned by Experimental Sound Studio to create pieces in response to this archive. In lieu of solo work, they teamed up and invited The Eternals' Wayne Montana to work with them to make a sound piece. They then welcomed animator Rob Shaw to create an accompanying visual track. "Noon Moons" is the result of their collaboration.