On Tuesday evening, Bond Chapel at the University of Chicago will host three performers who have based their livelihood on moments of spontaneity. Under the stained glass windows and the carved gargoyles, Lou Mallozzi will set up turntables, microphones, CD players, and a mixer, and Charlotte Hug and Fred Lonberg-Holm will warm up their strings. When the equipment is set up and the crowd gets quiet, someone will make a sound. What happens after that is impossible to predict. The Renaissance Society’s description of the session they are sponsoring predicts only that “there will be sparks, and there will be combustion.”
The three performers tend to call themselves improvisers before musicians. Chicago-based cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm is an established name on the local jazz scene and has played cello parts for recording projects by rock groups including Califone, US Maple, and Wilco. A Juilliard School graduate, his training is classical; his approach isn’t. He does improvisational works in the Valentine Trio, directs larger projects with the Lightbox Orchestra, and regularly participates in numerous ad-hoc ensembles. The effort to challenge musical convention is so defining that Lonberg-Holm has self-identified as an “anti-cellist.”
Charlotte Hug could wear a similar title for exploring the boundaries of her instrument. She writes in her artist statement, “My work exists on the interface between the body, its sensitivities, and sound.” A musician, composer, and visual artist, Hug lives in Zurich and London but her original projects have earned her a name internationally. Her playing technique is based on balancing tension between her viola and her own body. She uses a range of string tunings in a method called “scordatura,” in which the strings react differently depending on their tension. Hug also frequently translates her sound compositions into visual constructions, using graphic notations she calls “sonicons” to create a three-dimensional score. Charlotte Hugs is used to making scenery part of the performance. She has played a hollowed cavern inside of a glacier in Switzerland, an S&M dungeon in a Zurich sex club, and the underground tunnels of an abandoned prison in London.
Lou Mallozzi began working with his equipment in narrative-based radio projects, and eventually made the transition to live audio artist. He uses studio-recording equipment to dismember and reconstruct sound, language, and image in a constant improvisation of electronic and appropriated sound. At any given point Mallozzi’s actual music-making might involve turntable manipulation of music, sound effects, and spoken word records, manipulating speaker noise, or putting the microphone in his mouth to shape the feedback noise in a kind of eerie electric singing. He stays away from digital equipment and embraces the imperfections of manual recordings. “I’m interested as much in the limitations of this technique as in the ways it breaks down definitions.” Currently the executive director of Experimental Sound Studio and an instructor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Mallozzi has also done recording work and has designed and edited soundtracks for independent films.
Mallozzi and Lonberg-Holm, who often collaborate in Chicago, met Hug independently and worked with her on separate projects. When Hug came to Chicago later that year the three played for the first and only time as a trio: Tuesday night will be the second. No one–not even the artists themselves–knows how it will turn out. Lou Mallozzi emphasizes that improvised music is a conversation between musicians, and for listeners unfamiliar with the standards of improvised music, he offers some advice: “Instead of listening to what the musician is playing, try to listen to what the musician is hearing, listen to how they are listening to each other. People’s sensibilities with each other as improvisers depend a lot on the context they’re in.” What the sculpted symbolism of Bond Chapel will do for the senses of the three improvisers won’t be fully determined until the first noise breaks the silence in Bond Chapel Tuesday night.
Bond Chapel. 1025 E. 58th St. Tuesday, June 2. 8pm. (773)702-8670. Free.