A Theatre Of Sound-Sculptured Space
Spacing Out Shaff is a classically trained trumpeter who derives much of his inspiration from playing antiphonal “call and response” music. He conducted some of his earliest experiments with space and sound with the help of his friend Seymour Locks, the pioneer of rock ’n’ roll light shows.
In the Round Audium, at 1616 Bush, seats 49 in a circular arrangement; 176 speakers are placed throughout the room (nine are under the floor). The 45-minute show happens every Friday and Saturday; tickets are $20 (cash only).
A Circle Unbroken Shaff has created nine sound experiences in Audium’s 51 years. He considers each new composition to be an extension of the ones before it.
Hole in the Wall The building that houses Audium used to be a bakery with a large, novelty doughnut hanging above the entrance. Shaff tried to save the doughnut when Audium moved in, but it fell and broke.
Granted a Home Audium began as a series of performances by Shaff and Doug McEachern, the project’s equipment designer. In 1965, they installed the sound theater in a building in the Richmond district, and then in 1972 moved it — with the help of a National Endowment for the Arts grant — into its current home.
If the Name Fits Audium is an invented word that Shaff says they chose because it sounded like “auditorium” but seemed “newer.”
Tape Capsule The annual San Francisco Tape Music Festival is also dedicated to presenting music in a surround-sound environment. The festival was inspired by the San Francisco Tape Music Center, which, like Audium, was founded in the 1960s.”
This article also appears in the Bay Area edition of The New York Times.
Audium is the only theatre of its kind in the world, pioneering the exploration of space in music. The theatre’s 169 speakers bathe listeners in sounds that move past, over, and under them. “Sound sculptures” are performed in darkness in the 49-seat theatre.
When the concept of AUDIUM began taking shape in the late 1950’s, space was a largely unexplored dimension in music composition. The composer who suspected space capable of revealing a new musical vocabulary found his pursuit blocked by the inadequacy of audio technology and performance spaces.
The theatre consists of a foyer, sound labyrinth and main performance space. It is a building within a building, conceived directly for this art form, and built in part with a grant from the National Endowment For The Arts. Listeners sit in concentric circles and are enveloped by speakers in sloping walls, floating floor and a suspended ceiling. Compositions are performed live at each program by a tape performer who directs the sounds through a custom designed console to any combination of the 169 speakers. Sounds are “sculpted” through their movement, direction, speed and intensity on multiple planes in space. Live performance of taped works gives a human, interactive element to AUDIUM’s spatial electronic orchestra.
“I have always been possessed by the evocative qualities all sounds seem to have, whether natural or electronic. Sounds touch deeper levels of our inner life, layers that lie just beneath the visual world. All sounds are communicative – sound as birth, life and death; sound as time and space; sound as object, environment or event. Audiences should feel sound as it bumps up against them, caresses, travels through, covers and enfolds them.