Odd Event Space of the Week: Theater of Sound
Over the weekend, I capped a love-affair day with San Francisco (Ferry Building farmers market, the De Young museum, a cocktail at the Cliff House) by going to a place I can only imagine existing in the City by the Bay: Audium, a theater that explores sound in darkness.
Composer Stan Shaff came up with the concept for an exploratory sound space more than 50 years ago, and the venue, partly funded through a national endowment, represents the culmination of his vision. My experience there was, in a word, odd. But it was also oddly interesting.
My journey started in a small, slightly dingy foyer, where a group assembled for the 8:30 showtime waited. Finally, Shaff himself walked out, gave a brief welcome and shepherded us into a room with three concentric circles of chairs, sloping walls and a suspended ceiling. After taking our seats, the lights dimmed slowly until we were in pitch darkness. Then the sounds began: random pitches at various decibels, lapping waves, galloping, the voices of children at the beach, bossa nova. At times, the experience was somehow frightening, the floor rumbling with loud ominous tones. Other times, gentle nature sounds set a tranquil mood. A couple times, there was nothing at all.
This went on for an hour—save for one brief intermission in the middle—in a seemingly chaotic fashion until, at the conclusion, many of the sounds were overlapped onto one another in a dramatic cacophony of noise. Then the lights came up, Shaff said thanks and that was that.
Honestly, there were times during the experience when I got sleepy. My mind wandered. I got a little bored. But by the end, I found myself oddly stirred by the one-sense experience of taking in nothing but sound. It put me in a trance-like state, and it felt kind of nice. And I give it this: It was really, really different.
Shaff said in his intro that the space can be used by groups. I don’t think it would work for everyone, but for the right gathering of artsy, intellectual, cerebral colleagues, it could prove to be a memorable, only-in-San Francisco off-site experience. Check it out if you get the chance. And for other ideas on what to do when meeting in the Bay Area, check out our story on the destination.