Experimental Sound Studio (ESS) proposes to commission, organize, produce, and present “Sonambient Pavilion”, a sound installation using the 50-channel sound system of the Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park in Chicago, Illinois. The project is an homage, a response, and a re-activation of the two sonambient sound sculptures by Harry Bertoia (1915-1978), located in Aon Plaza across the street from the Pritzker Pavilion in downtown Chicago. Olivia Block, a highly respected Chicago composer and sound artist who performs and exhibits internationally, initiated the project with ESS during her substantive research into the Bertoia sculptures, and will be the project’s lead artist.
Bertoia referred to his sculptures as “sonambients,” outdoor pieces constructed of long, thin vertical metal rods that sway and bump against each other in the wind, creating a shimmering gong-like sound that is indeterminate yet consonant. The sonambients function on visual, architectural and sonic levels simultaneously, and the resulting multivalent experience for the listener/viewer draws attention to surface, perspective, volume, and form; to pedestrian movement in relationship to ground, buildings, and light; and to an ambient, ever-changing, non-linear acoustic experience. He executed a number of these site-specific installations beginning in the 1950s in close consultation with architects including Eero Saarinen, I. M. Pei, Minoru Yamasaki, and Gordon Bunshaft. The Standard Oil sonambients, commissioned in 1974 upon recommendation of the architect Edward Durell Stone, are among the first sound sculptures to enter a Chicago collection, private or public, representing a significant precedent for the integration of sound and architecture in Chicago. As conceived by Mr. Bertoia, the sonambients are site-specific works integrated into the architecture of the Standard Oil Building and the Aon Plaza; originally, six sculptures were installed with great attention to site, wind direction, and pedestrian pathways.
For “Sonambient Pavilion”, Block will amplify the two remaining sculptures using an array of 8 to 12 specially designed microphones that transmit the sounds of the sculptures, including resonances within the metal itself unheard by passersby, to the Pritzker Pavilion. There, the sounds are combined with recorded versions and electronic manipulations composed by Block, then spatialized into the overhead trellis loudspeaker array. The trellis’s 50 loudspeakers will be divided into 24 zones for playback, enabling the sounds to be located and moved along the entire 65,000-square-foot surface of the trellis. The result is a “canopy of sound” derived from the sonambients, and composed as a fluid sonic architecture superimposed onto the Pritzker Pavilion site. As a result, the pedestrian listener accesses two quite different relationships among body, sound and architecture — the intimate listening experience of the sculptures themselves, perceived as ground-based objects generating sound, and the environmental experience of sound as an enveloping diffusion surrounding the listener, emanating from above.
“Sonambient Pavilion” coincides with the first Chicago Architecture Biennial, a city-wide event drawing international audiences. This project, one of the largest installations at the Biennial, is free to the public and will run 6 days, 12 hours each day, allowing diverse audiences to experience the integral part that art and sound play in our built environment.