Skip to main content

Special Topics in Sound with Experimental Sound Studio

Experimental Sound Studio’s Edgewater facility is home to a full-service recording, mixing and mastering studio for hire. We talked to the studio’s technical director and chief engineer, Alex Inglizian about the upcoming experiential workshop designed for the Sound MA cohort and why students won’t want to miss it.

Q: Can you tell me a little about the Experimental Sound Studio and your role there?

A: ESS is located in Edgewater, and we were founded in 1986. We’re a non-profit organization that partners with the university and other groups as well. We have a very small staff – only about four people – and I am the technical director and chief engineer. I also teach courses at Northwestern.

Q: What services do you offer at the studio that students should be aware of?

A: We work a lot with student filmmakers who need sound mixed and finalized. They can rent time with an engineer in the studio. We also offer one-on-one tutorials and have a residency program that artists can apply for and be awarded 40 hours of studio time.

Q: What are some of the benefits of the partnership between the university and the sound studio?

A: Our mission is focused on development and community. We offer another community for students in the Sound Arts & Industries program. Even after students leave the program, they still have that community. We also have facilities that differ from university facilities –  microphones and instruments, a grand piano, things like that.

Q: You’ll be running The Special Topics in Sound Workshop on March 3. What will it focus on?

A: The workshop will focus on a process called circuit bending. Circuit bending is the customization of the circuits within electronic devices to create new instruments – in our case, musical instruments.

The earliest example of this is the cracklebox. It was basically an amplifier where the circuitry amplified a sound as your fingers interacted with the box. The process of circuit bending is really about re-routing the signal flow of the circuit to generate tones and textures. You’re essentially short-circuiting a piece of electronic equipment.

Q: It sounds like the workshop will be very hands on. What will students be doing in those three hours?

A: We’ll be modifying consumer electronics and children’s toys to repurpose them into sound-making instruments. I want the students to go thrift shopping beforehand and pick up battery-powered children’s toys. After I show some examples of art created using circuit bending, we’ll just collectively begin to tear apart the electronics they brought and talk about what’s happening inside. The process of circuit bending is a lot about exploration and listening.

Q: Children’s toys?

A: Think about those kids’ toys that make farm animal sounds. If we open that up and investigate the circuitry, we can modify the pitch of the sound by using different components of the knobs. For example, we could take the sound of a cow and slow it down 300 percent. That sounds pretty awesome.

Q: How will this workshop relate to what Sound Arts & Industries students are learning in the classroom?

A: Students in the Sound Arts program have a range of interests with regard to their practice. Circuit bending can be used in the context of live performance if these students are musicians. It can also be used in sound design, filmmaking or animation.

Q: What do you hope students walk away with after the workshop?

A: I hope that it demystifies electronics a little bit. A lot of people are afraid of the technology, so it’s about gaining an understanding of basic electronics. But art making is the ultimate goal. Hopefully they’ll walk away with a unique instrument they’ve built that’s unlike any other instrument anyone else has ever had or dreamed of having.