There’s almost 4000 miles of train tracks that bind Chicago — their steel veins pulsing through the city’s concrete body, breathing countless commuters and travelers into the City above and below the streets. Between the chugging, screeching, and grinding, they provide us with an under-appreciated — if not idiosyncratic — soundtrack.

This Saturday, September 16th, Sub Chroma takes place right underneath one of the busiest rail passes in the entire city — the Hubbard Cave (West Loop). It will come to life as an eclectic pop up joining Expo Art Week Chicago.  

And while many locations have hosted Sub Chroma in the past, none have been quite as noteworthy as this historical underpass.

Binary Garden by Marpi

Sub Chroma has always hosted a mix of experimental art, musicians, and visual innovators; and this year’s event in Hubbard Cave offers an opportunity to showcase the marriage of blue collar urban realism with a kaleidoscopic-array of artists and producers.

Kim Alpert is just one of those artists and intends to bring her own groove into the mix. Where some artists work in clays or oils, Alpert’s medium is via video — though probably not what you expect.

“I’m an improvisational video artist,” Alpert describes. “So my performances are different for different events but involves live mixing, producing, and projection of video.”

For Sub Chroma, she’ll be premiering a new piece called Scanlines — a performance that involves the use of a synthesizer, upright bass, and a pair of dancers utilizing a Japanese style of movement called Butoh dance. All of this projected onto the entire length of the Hubbard Cave.

The dancers themselves will don full black suits as a camera captures their movements. This feed is processed through Alpert’s mixing board where she’ll be able to key out the black color and trigger it for effects and feedback — all the while it’s happening live on a platform. This creates a degradation in their body’s color as the signal dies.

“Watching electricity die is hard to explain,” she says. “You’d probably recognize it from psychedelic concerts from the sixties or seventies. It has a really ethereal burning look to it.”

By Sam Rolfes, Sub Chroma collaborator

The hallucinatory and trippy experience finds its genesis in a unique experience called synesthesia — a perceptual phenomenon wherein stimulation of one sense causes an experience in an entirely different sense. Some people who experience it can perceive paintings through flavors or, in Alpert’s case, music through colors.  

“For me, I had a really intense experience where I felt like I was transmitted this very vivid image and I just wanted to share what it looked like to the world,” she explains. “It’s a hard thing to talk about. When it comes to my process, I go out and listen to music at least once a week and I just sit in rooms with instrumental music, ambient music, or just noise and meditate. I see what I want to do in my mind. Even if I’m in a concert, I’ll be scribbling notes in the dark like a weirdo.”

The results of this seemingly herculean effort to translate her unique experiences through her video performance (that you’ll be able to catch at Sub Chroma) are mind-blowing — especially when coupled with her unique music.

“Performing video with the music gives me a better way I can translate this very visceral experience I’m having to others who maybe aren’t finding that kind of music as accessible, or maybe not as ready for something that avant garde,” she explains. “By presenting a visual element, it gives them a little more to latch onto as a multisensory experience.”

She continues, “There aren’t a lot of opportunities to see a performer who plays electricity visually, and I’ve been told it’s the closest thing to taking psychedelic drugs without taking psychedelic drugs. I regularly have older folks come up to me and tell me they had acid flashbacks due to my performances.”

Bottom line: If you’re going to Sub Chroma this year, you might just want to leave the LSD at home.

Not that taking any drugs could possibly enhance the event anymore than it currently is. Boasting an impressive line-up of other artists and musicians such as RP Boo, Kyle Woods, and Cqqchifruit, this year’s Sub Chroma is sure to set a new high water mark for Chicago’s arts scene.

Binary Garden by Marpi

“This venue and this set up is unlike anything Canvas has done before,” Alpert says. “It’s unlike anything that’s ever been done in Chicago before. The line-up is phenomenal, and when we’re not performing, we’ll be down and kicking it. There’s a level of interaction with technology, art and performance that Chicago doesn’t always get a lot of. So if you miss it, you’ll have to wait until next Sub Chroma.”

She continues, “It just pulls on a lot of strings and a lot of beauty. Plus, Scanlines will be improvised so it’ll never be the same twice. If you don’t see it on Saturday, I don’t know if you’ll ever be able to again.”

Make sure you do by heading to Sub Chroma on Saturday September 16th.

Sub Chroma is part of West X, a special series of programming associated with the expo, produced in conjunction with Canvas and Pullman Porter Group.

Canvas teamed up with Pullman Porter Group to launch West X and Sub Chroma is kicking it all off.

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