The animals knew something was amiss as the fog rolled over the Marin Headlands on Sunday. Strange noises echoed out of an abandoned WWII fortification hollowed into the hillside above Rodeo Beach. A fox poked around in the long grass just outside, looking with a mix of interest and confusion in the direction of the concrete bunker; hunkered down inside was a motley crew of 75 experimental music enthusiasts and some curious individuals just along for the sonic adventure.
The audience had made a 20-minute trek up into the hills for Resonance at Battery Townsley, the kick-off event for this year's Soundwave Festival. This will be the fourth edition of the Soundwave Festival, a series of experimental music events that stretches over two months every other summer in San Francisco. The theme of this year's fest is "Green Sound." Accordingly, artists have created pieces inspired by, and interacting with, the natural world.
Resonance at Battery Townsley featured performances by four musicians commissioned to produce site-specific pieces harnessing the acoustics of Battery Townsley, an artillery casement built in 1938. Once a fully-equipped gunnery capable of assailing a target 25 miles out at sea, Battery Townsley is now maintained by the National Park Service. Armed with an assortment of boom-boxes and tape-recorders, Oakland-based sound artist Gregg Kowalsky orchestrated elegant, almost hypnotic, loops that reverberated viscerally around the audience, who were seated in neat rows of three down the center of the tunnel. Jacob Felix Heule and Kanoko Nishi stormed the tunnel with an incredibly cinematic improvisational duet; Heule worked on an improvised drum kit and Nishi on the koto, a Japanese zither.
Fog billowed around San Francisco guitarist Danny Paul Grody, who sat on a perch looking over the Pacific in the final performance of the evening. As Grody mixed and re-layered loops of feedback alternately from electric and acoustic guitars, swallows darted in and out of the battery circling the audience in such perfect sync with the music it was as if Grody had choreographed their movements.
If you weren't able to make it on Sunday, a second performance at Battery Townsley, Viscera, will be held August 1. This weekend features two events: Unweathered Embers (June 12, 7pm) will showcase the acoustics of St. Mark's Lutheran Church with Baltic-inspired chamber music, and Bay Area Sound Ecology will create an artificial soundscape for a performance called Phantom Power (June 12, 7pm) over at Yerba Buena Gardens. All told, the Soundwave Festival will feature 75 artists in 18 events at locations around the Bay Area, from the Marin Headlands to the Mission District and the deYoung Museum.
The Soundwave Festival runs through August 13, 2010 at locations around the Bay Area. For tickets and information visit projectsoundwave.com.