The Performant: Space cadets


Cosmic San Francisco mainstays Audium and Planet Booty shoot us to the moon.

Some only-in-San-Francisco adventures are subtler than others -- they're you-have-to-know-they’re-there treasures, unencumbered by a surfeit of fanfare or weight of fickle expectation.

Audium, a continually-morphing collaboration in sound design between composer Stan Shaff and electronics “architect” Douglas McEachern, definitely counts as one of these.

Beginning in 1960 with a single performance involving eight speakers and a four-channel board, Shaff and McEachern have spent decades perfecting their singular brainchild—a custom-built performance space where the structural relationships of sound and space can be fully explored.
Walking into the intimate theatre is a small adventure in and of itself, feet shuffling along a path of illuminated glow tape arrows leading the opposite direction, as ripples of sound bounce along the barely lit passage. Beneath a mothership portal of speakers arranged in concentric circles, three fairy rings of chairs encircle a large multi-directional speaker positioned in the very center of the room. More speakers discreetly line the walls and crouch beneath chairs, 176 in all. Once all are seated, the lights fade from dim to black to the sounds of waves crashing along a sandy shore, and the immersive Audium experience begins.

As with any musical composition, there is a set order in which the vast catalogue of field recordings is played, but Shaff manipulates the trajectory and emphasis of each at every performance: both conductor and orchestra of one. In addition to water sounds of all varieties are numerous birdsongs, snatches of children’s voices, galloping horses, thunder, laughter, drumrolls, horns, strings, West African polyphony, a pipe organ, and synthesized electronica zinging from wall to wall, ceiling to floor, ear to ear. Without benefit of sight, the body’s capacity to trace the actual physical curve of each sound as it travels from speaker to speaker becomes enhanced, and the occasional rustling of listening bodies adds a subtle layer of improv to the piece, a connection that Shaff strives to enhance with every performance. Upon exiting, the sole visual component of the work—a video projection of flowing water—allows each visitor a brief moment to reintegrate sight and sound before heading off into the multi-dimensional night.

A completely different iteration of “Space” music landed Sunday on the Peace Pagoda of Japantown as part of the newly-established Convergence Fest, dedicated to alternative music and art. Planet Booty, a hyper-active ensemble of post-funkadelic bass lines and warp-speed retro remixes livened up the stage along with the theatrical antics of frontman Dylan Germick, whose self-assured commitment to booty-bouncing caused him to literally split his pants about a minute into the rollicking set. More dance moves courtesy of poker-faced Lady Emasita, rap vox and occasional trombone by Josh Cantero, drumming from Max Reed, and electronic manipulations by Nathan Germick rounded out the “stripped-down” festival day ensemble, who normally number eight. And though they couldn’t quite inspire the entire crowd of lazy-afternoon onlookers to bounce along, the good denizens of Planet Booty did fulfill their roles as ambassadors for their rump-shaking cause, which will undoubtedly be fully realized at their upcoming September 10 show at Bottom of the Hill.

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