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.
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...
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.
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.
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
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
*For more information on In the Eye of the Ear, please visit the