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Sonambient Pavilion

The "Sonambient Pavilion" installation transmits and manipulates Harry Bertoia's sound sculptures into 50 loudspeakers at Millennium Park.

The Latest Update

Reporting in on Sonambient Pavilion

Posted on January 26, 2016 by Experimental Sound Studio

As we look back on 2015, Sonambient Pavilion stands out as a highlight. Attracting over 2,000 guests over the course of three weekends in November, Sonambient Pavilion transformed Millennium Park into an exciting new experience for Chicagoans and visitors alike.

Block’s composition activated Frank Gehry’s architecture at Millennium Park in new ways, drawing attention to sound’s integral role in designed space in the city. Beyond the experience of listening to Block’s sounds in the space of Pritzker Pavilion, the piece also drew attention to Harry Bertoia’s sonambient sculpture across the street, further emphasizing the affect sound has within our built environments.

Thank you to New Music USA for helping us realize this project!

More Updates ▼

Video from Sonambient Pavilion

Posted on December 2, 2015 by Experimental Sound Studio
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Olivia Block, Jonathan Laney, and Lou Mallozzi of Experimental Sound Studio discuss Olivia Block’s Sonambient Pavilion, a 16-channel sound installation at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, November 2015. Presented as part of Chicago Artists Month and the Chicago Architecture Biennial. Video by Elly Tier. Complete information at bit.ly/ess_snmbnt

Chicago Reader: “Turning Pritzker Pavilion into a Second Kind of Art”

Posted on December 2, 2015 by Experimental Sound Studio

A fantastic article in the Chicago Reader by Peter Margasak on Olivia Block’s Sonambient Pavilion. The article was the cover feature of the print version that week as well. Read the full story and here excerpts of the piece here.

Opening Reception + Artist Hours

Posted on October 29, 2015 by Experimental Sound Studio

Sonambient Pavilion will have an opening reception on the Pritzker Pavilion lawn Saturday, November 7 at noon. 

ADDITIONALLY, the artist Olivia Block will be on-site Saturdays at noon November 17 & 21. Come talk to her and hear more about the piece!


Millennium Park Trellis Zones

Posted on September 23, 2015 by Experimental Sound Studio

Map of the speaker zones in the Pritzker Pavilion trellis speaker system. Artist Olivia Block will use this map to make a test mix to use on-site in collaboration with audio system designer and consultant Jonathan Laney.

Sonambient Pavilion Preview

Posted on August 22, 2015 by Experimental Sound Studio
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Video created by lead artist Olivia Block.

Recording has begun!

Posted on July 13, 2015 by Experimental Sound Studio

This week artist Olivia Block worked with ESS Chief Engineer Alex Inglizian to begin recording Bertoia’s Sonambient sculptures at Aon Center (many thanks to the staff at Aon for draining the fountain for us!). Block will work with these recordings over the next several months, in preparation for the public to hear them amplified and reimagined on a grand scale at Pritzker Pavilion in November.


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.

Project Media

Train Time
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In 2008 and 2009 Olivia Block, Shawn Decker, Ryan Ingebritsen, and Lou Mallozzi collaborated on a stunning sound portrait at Millennium Park in partnership with the Chicago Humanities Festival, with an encore presentation for Chicago Public Schools. This installation incorporated the clank of wheels over rail ties, the hiss of boilers, the roar of diesels, the call of train whistles, the whoosh of tomorrow’s super-fast trains–a rhythmic reminder that Chicago’s downtown lakefront park was once a huge rail yard extending to the water’s edge.

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Attached is an excerpt from Olivia Block’s site specific sound installation created for the Fern Room in the Lincoln Park Conservatory as part of ESS’s Florasonic series. Block worked with the existing elements in the Fern Room – namely the waterfalls and pools – to alter the quality of of the “natural soundscape.” Similarly, Block will be working within and adding to the soundscape of downtown Chicago in “Sonambient Pavilion.”

Start and End Dates



Chicago, Illinois

7 updates
Last update on January 26, 2016

Project Created By

Chicago, Illinois
ESS is a non-profit, artist-run organization focused on sound in all its exploratory cultural manifestations, including music, sound art, installation, cinema, performing arts, sound poetry, broadcast, new media, and more. It is our mission to serve the artists engaged in these disciplines, the audiences who listen to them, and the public who may as yet…

In Collaboration With

lead artist
Chicago, Illinois


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