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CBMR Digest is a publication of the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College Chicago

ISSN # 2168-3301spring 2014 | Volume 27, No. 1

Re/Sounding Studio Installs Creative Coursework

Monica Hairston O’Connell, CBMR Executive Director, taught a special class at Columbia College Chicago during the spring 2014 semester. Titled “Re/Sounding Black Chicago,” the course, which was one of three creative learning hubs sponsored by the Columbia College Chicago School of Fine and Performing Arts, was designed for students to explore the relationships between music, sound culture, and African-American life in Chicago through a multi-disciplinary approach.

On May 15 and 16, as a component of the college’s annual Manifest celebration, the CBMR hosted two audio and video installations that comprised the final projects created by the students in the class.

The Red Line Project

Sound collages exploring the train as a trope in black music, culture, and the territories of everyday life.

The students made audio recordings while riding the Red Line, one of the primary subway lines of the Chicago Transit Authority. The recordings, which featured the sounds encountered during the rides such as background conversations and ambient noises, were then mixed by the students, some of whom incorporated music, both existing and newly composed. About this project, the students wrote:

For some, the Red Line is simply a means to get from point A to point B and some enjoy the ride more than others. Regardless of preference, the train is more than just a form of transportation. As students in the Re/Sounding Black Chicago class, we were informed by Brandon LaBelle’s ideas about how sound structures urban “territories”—in this case, the underground.1 We also took inspiration from the long history of the train as a significant trope in black music. Our remixed field recordings explore the CTA red line as a space of unavoidable intimacy, transience, and solitude.

Chicago is an Archive of Absence and Evolution

A multi-media meditation on Black Chicago cultural spaces—both forgotten and memorialized.

During field trips led by O’Connell, the students explored sites throughout Chicago where iconic structures housed music venues that presented legendary Chicago musicians. Though some of the buildings remain standing, many have been demolished, but the sites still resonate with the history and culture that were created there. Images and sounds, both recorded and found in the CBMR Library and Archives, were assembled into a video that reflected not only the sites and history that the students explored, but also their impressions and synthesized thoughts about their research and what they found. Two sound tracks were made for the video—one that contained the video’s music and spoken dialog, and another separate impressionist sound collage that served as an ambient accompaniment. Of this project, the students wrote:

During the semester we explored the relationship between music, sound, culture, and African-American life in Chicago. We learned to listen closely to sounds of the city and to make significant connections between sound and space. Chicago’s rich black music history is simultaneously celebrated, neglected, and discarded. This project recalls Chicago’s revered and sometimes forgotten artists, genres, and venues.

Students who participated in the class and who helped to produce the exhibits:

  • Timothy Burns
  • Lemonica Gale
  • Jovan Landry
  • Danielle Miller
  • Gregory Owens
  • Clayton “CJ” Parr
  • Alexis Thompson
  • Zachary Weiss

Special thanks to Cherizar Winke, CBMR student worker, for her help organizing and editing the Red Line Project sound files.


  1. Brandon LaBelle. Acoustic Territories: Sound Culture and Everyday Life. New York, N.Y.: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2010. (return to text)

More from spring 2014