"Sound art" gets short shrift. Art, speaking generally -- the production, consumption, education, and exhibition thereof -- is overwhelmingly a visual affair. That's why the Soundwave Biennial, which kicks off its seventh season on July 1, is such an important aural balance. In the words of Soundwave Artistic Director Tiare Ribeaux, Soundwave "reconsiders how you [the festival-goer] perceive sound, and the many different ways that sound can affect you, physically and emotionally, to provide a new lens for perceiving your environment."
This year, the Biennial's theme is architecture, a timely topic, as Ribeaux explains: "We've seen the cityscape change so rapidly, just over the past several years, and I wanted to explore the different ways architecture affects us: phenomenologically, psychogeographically, and with regard to different communities inhabiting spaces and their embodied energies within those spaces."
In other words, Soundwave isn't a music festival, an art show, or a performance series, although it's not not those things, either. Ribeaux recounts to me something she recently discovered courtesy of David Byrne's book How Music Works: "[Byrne] discusses the evolution of music venues, from amphitheatres to opera houses, and how each venue shaped the kind of performances given in that space," she says. It's a simple concept that strikes me as particularly revelatory -- I think of how my own experience of music changes drastically based on the space in which I hear it -- and one that seems to inform Soundwave from top to bottom.
The Biennial kicks off with a site-specific "activation" of Fort Mason Center, exploring sonic relationships to architecture with an audio-enhanced walking tour and a large-scale quadraphonic sculptural installation in the Firehouse. On July 29 and Aug. 5, two events at Grace Cathedral interact with that space's signature seven-second acoustic delay. On July 21 and Aug. 12, at the Academy of Sciences and de Young, respectively, artists and musicians explore the sonics of well-known city museums. On July 31, a special AudioBus tour runs through the Tenderloin, recounting personal histories of its community members. On Sept. 1, Material Notation inside the Daniel Libeskind-designed Yud Gallery at the Contemporary Jewish Museum examines refraction, visually and aurally. And on Aug. 27 and Sept. 3, the Biennial closes out at the Grey Area Theater, with immersive audio-visual installations.
I end my conversation with Ribeaux by asking what she suggests new Soundwave attendees come expecting from the festival. "Come expecting to experience something new," she suggests. "Keep an open mind. This is experimental art, and it features artists crossing into the realm of the unknown -- be prepared for an element of surprise." Sage advice indeed.