Travel Through Time and Space With ‘The World According to Sound’

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We spend much of our time listening to things that are not of the here and now. Podcasts while driving. Music while doing chores around the house. Television shows, movies and audiobooks all transport us to other times and places, moving along their narratives through the power of sound.

But those wild and weird audio waves can be a subject all their own. So posits The World According to Sound, an audio show coming to a 32-speaker array at Envelop SF on June 28. Created by Chris Hoff and Sam Harnett in 2015, WATS has morphed from a 90-second podcast to a more immersive, longform experience, available online and in person.

In this presentation, the theme is “Transposition”—environments are transported into Envelop SF’s special listening chamber and the audience, in turn, is launched into new aural landscapes. These landscapes can be removed in both space and time, like the streets of Cairo in 1928, or the telephone aisle of a Kyoto electronics store in 2018.

There will be voices. Harnett and Hoff’s, but also those of the people who gathered and preserved long ago and far away pieces of audio, WATS forebears, fellow audiophiles who wanted to capture the strange and wondrous sounds of everyday life.

Included in the “Transposition” program is a 1989 piece by Hildegard Westerkamp, Kits Beach Soundwalk, a lovely rumination on a Vancouver soundscape where the city meets water and sand. It’s also a rumination on the act of recording itself, and the processes by which sound artists can manipulate their material. Less tranquil but just as evocative is Good Morning Vietnam, culled from 50 hours of city, countryside and active battlefield recordings made by Claude Johner during the Tet Offensive. Far less mediated than the images that have come to dominate our understanding of this war, the sounds convey a sense of jarring mechanistic violence alongside the quieter tones of gentle human interactions.

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Instead of using audio to fill the space around other activities, WATS events ask audiences to devote themselves to the expansive possibilities of focusing solely on sound. It’s comforting to make this journey in the company of others. And I predict you’ll step out of Envelop SF re-tuned to the audio sensations of here and now.

‘Transposition’ takes place at Envelop SF (900 Marin St., San Francisco) on Tuesday, June 28 at 7:30 and 9:30pm. Details here.