Hear Shapes, See Nothing: 20th Annual SF Tape Music Festival Diffuses Sound in Space

Composer-philosopher Pauline Oliveros, who died in 2016, is among the artists featured at the San Francisco Tape Music Festival. (Photo: Courtesy of the CCM Archive, Mills College )

The San Francisco Tape Music Festival, now in its twentieth year, explores the possibilities of what the organizers call “fixed media”—a category encompassing any recording, but here skewing towards techniques such as field recordings, musique concrete, analog synthesis and computer music—and live spatialization. This means hearing shapes and seeing nothing. Or, experimental fare by an international cast of 20th century and contemporary artists diffused live through an array of 24 high-end loudspeakers so as to sculpt sound and intimate motion for an audience seated in total darkness. Four programs unfold across three nights this weekend at the Victoria Theatre featuring the work of luminaries Pierre Schaeffer and Pauline Oliveros; international composers Francis Dhomont and Natasha Barrett; local artists Maggi Payne and Matt Ingalls; and dozens more. On Sunday, though, SFSOUNDGROUP performs works for live instruments and electronics, including a premiere by vocalist-composer Ken Ueno. 

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