In the Eye of the Ear Sound Art Festival

Tod Szewczyk (artist, festival co-producer)

In the Eye of the Ear is a sound festival that occurs annually in Chicago, Illinois. We have just finished producing our third installment in the series, and are looking forward to a myriad of possibilities for the fourth; a CD release coupled with a live event and radio broadcasts.

In 1995.....

we curated the event in a haphazard way, that is to say any and all performers that were known to us performed. Their specific medium wasn't so much a concern, as long as at some point they made a sound that was interesting and engaging. The event was one weekend, and was bundled in the Nights of the Blue Rider performance series, which is a few-month-long series that showcases a diverse and eclectic roster of performers at the Blue Rider theater. We were able to draw a crowd from the School of the Art Institute (the only university in the U.S. that has a sound department), and our friends. The budget was funded from our pockets, and we didn't lose any money, which is to say we didn't turn a profit either. There was enough to pay each of the nine local artists or groups of artists $10.00 each, and to pay ourselves back, and the rent on the theater. And that was it. Maybe a beer was bought at the bar afterwards, but I swear it was only a round or two...


In 1996.....

we took on a bigger project. Twenty-seven local and international artists over two weekends at the same theater space, solely promoted as the In the Eye of the Ear Sound Art Festival. This space is a small theater which seats probably 100 people or so in folding chairs on homemade wooden risers, has a kitchen off to the side of the stage, a homeless man who, on occasion, occupies the loft above the stage, a few lights, and a very small soundboard. Not the ideal situation for sound performance. In fact, probably not a very adequate space for live sound at all, but there are only a handful of theaters that will have sound performance, and we take what we can get to ensure that this work can be heard. Once again, we funded the event from own pockets and were lucky enough to pay each of the participating local and international artists (one flew over specifically for the gig) $25.00 each. The crowds were uneven. 10 people one night, 120 the next. The community started to show up. Artists were let in for free if they couldn't pay, and generally, we were able to spread this work to a larger group of people in the artistic community, including some adventurous civilians, which is what we were after: To create a place where, in a town of shrinking venues, sound art can be heard.

In 1998.....

We waited a little longer to do the festival this year to secure a small grant to cover the production costs and to pay the artists. The venue in which the festival took place was a dance hall: Bright wooden floors, 8 stage lights, no soundboard, about 100 chairs on homemade wooden risers with windows looking out onto the elevated train tracks upon which, in intervals of about every ten minutes, a train would clank by, usually blending in with whatever piece was being performed.
We featured eight local artists over two weekends, sold a compilation tape at the door, and were able to have the most consistent crowds of all three festivals. The community has broadened--more civilians showed than artists, and without these adventurous souls, we would have a hard time justifying the presentation of live sound performance.

Live sound performance.....

is almost a misnomer. We have featured in all three festivals artists whose work existed on the fringes of other established mediums: Music, experimental, improvisational (on both traditional and invented instruments, sometimes utilizing both in combination), 20th century composers in the vein of CAGE, FELDMAN, and others. Vocal explorers who examine the outer edges of phonetics, guttural yearnings, squeaks, and pops. Performers whose work combines phonography, texts, close and contact miking. Sculptors whose structures are the skeletons of tone generators, hurdy-gurdies, and room-length stringed instruments. Noise bands whose sampling was combined with traditional instruments; others, whose instrumentation was whatever seemed available at the time.
Installations that were constructed in real time and were audience participatory, and, finally, those experimenters whose work was a certain combination of all of the above, and none of the above. Anything that comes close to sound. Silence.

Venues. Community.

Each of these festivals has basically been held in what amounts to a space intended for live theater. Poor acoustics, minimal sound gear, and even fewer electrical outlets to plug all that gear into. No matter. We acknowledge the fact that this enterprise is a marginal revenue-generator for the theaters in which we work. Mostly, our concern is to be able to secure a space, pay the artists, and then pay the rent on the theater. Currently, there are but a few venues that are willing to allow us access to their space. This fact becomes problematic when we wish to present work that requires the technical support usually found in a recording studio. This is where the community comes in. A few phone calls and a stereo e.q. is secured. We need someone to record the event? An engineer with two microphones and a mixer comes in and records the event in its entirety. The community is pernicious and, to an extent, incestuous in that the same faces generally turn out for all sound events. We have begun to create a certain dialogue with this venture as most of the sound practitioners in this city have been to at least one of the shows, either to see a friend, or instructor, or just to see what is happening in the greater whole.

The scene.....

Michel FOUCAULT gave a talk at the Société Française de Philosophie, no. 63, Paris 1969, which was later published in Textual Strategies: Perspectives in Post-Structuralist Criticism (Ithaca, 1979, pp.141-60), in which he speaks of the need for new questions to be asked of non-authors, questions such as,"What are the modes of existence of this discourse? Where has it been used, how can it circulate, and who can appropriate it for himself?" These questions are the questions that fuel us in producing these festivals. If we can set up a situation where a sound artist has the opportunity to reach an audience that normally does not exist in this city for this particular type of work, who will walk away with a new idea that, perhaps, in the future, we will end up promoting? What will be the outcome of this exchange? How will these works from such seemingly divergent mediums, share commonalities with each other in terms of language, form, structure, tone, theme, and movement that possess the ability to transcend a roomful of people to a higher consciousness? A new, fascinating space. This is what In the Eye of the Ear strives to be, a facilitator of these types of moments. Not that this city is without outlets for experimental work to be heard. There are at least two other weekly events which feature experimental musicians from all over the globe exploring the outer reaches of musical expression in this city. This musical expression is sometimes manifested in non-traditional modes with non-instruments to be sure, but to a larger extent there are only a few venues in which a sound artist whose work revolves in a non-musical tradition can be presented and heard. This fact is evidenced in the recent deaths of some of the more established spaces in this city. This belies the importance of this undertaking, which is to say that we are floating out from the epicenter of one particular recording studio and all of its great offerings to further the idea of sound as its own distinct medium, one which borrows aesthetics from many other mediums (film, performance, music) in hopes that a new medium will arise from this amalgamation. Sound.
*In the Eye of the Ear is produced by Tod Szewczyk and Steven A.BARSOTTI.
*For more information on In the Eye of the Ear, please visit the homepage:

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