Sights & Sounds

Finding Music in Wherever The Wind Blows

Sound artist Olivia Block blends found natural sounds with music to create her atmospheric and haunting composition.

By Nick Esquer February 12, 2016

Incubate marcus moonen face ixahbs

Olivia Block presents her latest experimental composition, "Aberration of Light," at MECA.

Image: Marcus Moonen

There’s a reason why the monolith scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey is so memorable and monumental—pun intended. The music that hovers in the background, Ligeti’s “Requiem,” is increasingly haunting, creeping and powerful. As Kubrick’s stylized study of the black block proceeds, so does the reveal of the striking horns and the demonic-sounding quivering chorus that invades the setting. The two go hand-in-hand, blending cinema with atmospheric sounds, and it is director Stanley Kubrick’s use of that mix that has stuck with sound designers, composers and musicians since its 1968 release. Fast forward to today, years past Kubrick’s visual prediction of 2001, and that inspiration can be seen and heard through sound artist Olivia Block.

“I’ve always been really sensitive to sound; my ears have always been sensitive,” notes Block, who performs her experimental “Aberration of Light” this Friday at MECA. The 30-minute piece, produced last year in her hometown of Chicago, combines sounds Block recorded with stereophonic melodies that linger and hang. What started out as a hobby has developed into a full-time gig for Block who keeps a recording device of some sort on herself at all times, hoping to capture ear-catching sounds wherever she’s at.

“Some cities are really kind of loud and you hear a lot of people talking and laughing, and there’s a lot of machinery with a lot of heavy weight to it,” she says. “And some cities are sort of more quiet and you hear footsteps and bicycles or water or birds. Sometimes you can identify the city itself by listening to it.”

Olivia block sfemf high res  copy akesqu

Image: SFEMF

After spending time in Austin as a musician, getting used to the confines of traditional recording equipment, Block developed her own style, creating a hybrid of her love of music, cinematic inspirations and often overlooked sounds around her.

“I think that sound lends a lot more to cinema than we’re aware of. When you hear something it gives you a sense of place immediately. It identifies you in space—you know where you are in space. I think it’s about location and a sense of space.”

Block’s latest piece is performed in the dark with four large speakers surrounding the audience. Like Ligeti’s “Requiem,” “Aberration” grows from a quiet space accented by low rumbling frequencies that give way to higher-pitched and broad sounds. “The idea is to be sitting in a dark place and listen to a movie without the images,” Block suggests.

And Chicago, being the Windy City, provides Block with ample opportunities to try and master the natural melodies of the area’s most abundant sound: wind.

“I’m kind of obsessed with it in a weird way. I think it’s because I don’t know how to categorize wind as a sound,” she says. “I don’t know if wind is just something that activates other materials or if it’s making sound itself through the air. It’s a mysterious sound and it exists everywhere, but nowhere at the same time.”

Feb 19. 8. $13; $10, student; Free, under 18. MECA, 1900 Kane St.

Filed under
Show Comments