AUDIUM'S HISTORY OF 3-DIMENSIONAL SOUND PROJECTION: 1956 TO THE PRESENT
Increasingly in the past few years, as modern technology has translated the concept of 3-dimensional sound into the commercial sphere, we have received a growing number of inquiries from researchers, PhD Candidates, Composers sites, etc. about AUDIUM’s pioneering work with the spatial dimension of sound. In response, we have tried to encapsulate over 50 years of history (beginning with early philosophical constructs in 1956), and present them in these pages.
What you will find in the History section is a bare outline of significant performances or events, followed by extracts from program sheets, with a few reviews or articles added for insight. (For a much fuller listing of Articles, Reviews, Interviews and Links, please refer to that section.)
A note about Program Sheet extracts: The purpose of these extracts is to follow AUDIUM’s compositional philosophy and concurrent technological growth. Since some of the same language is retained from one program sheet to the next, most subsequent listings will only present new descriptive language. Therefore, extracts are glimpses into the full text. (The same program sheet extracts are also shown in the Compositions section.)
Beginning in the late 1950's, Stan Shaff’s early work with tape compositions and with live performance led to a growing conviction that space was an inherent dimension of music. For the past nearly half-century, his pursuit has been the discovery, exploration and development of this spatial musical dimension, which Stan and co-creator, Doug McEachern (original systems and equipment designer) named AUDIUM.
AUDIUM creates a new vocabulary for the field of music. It is a physically accessible medium for composer and tape performer, and a three-dimensional, spatial musical experience for the listener. Through the years, from early performance spaces to the current theatre, different combinations of words have been used in an attempt to capture the essence of the medium of spatial sound-performance in a controlled environment: AUDIUM: a sound-space continuum; sound-sculptured space; a spatial sound environment; a theatre of sound. Some highlights of the journey follow.
Beginning development of spatial ideas interacting with light and sound projections with sculptor Seymour Locks (early form of light show). Subsequently, Stan’s high school music students perform with light shows, including programs at San Francisco State College and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Stan Shaff and Doug McEachern meet while teaching in the San Francisco Unified School District. Stan is working with natural sounds and is beginning to be concerned with the spatial aspects of composition and perception. Doug’s knowledge of electronics enable him to develop original audio systems for the live, spatial performance of Stan’s spatial compositions.
Instrumental and tape music work with Anna Halprin’s Dancer’s Workshop
First concerts at composer Stan Shaff’s home in San Francisco, with multiple speakers set up in four rooms, performed with a rudimentary control board.
| UNIVERSITY of CALIFORNIA EXTENSION
Renaissance of the Arts series
Controlled Movement of Sound Events Collaboration with Anna Halprin (8 speakers, 4 channels)
| SAN FRANCISCO STATE COLLEGE
Program Note Excerpts:
(The program text appears below in its entirety, since it’s the first translation of the ideas into a verbal form.)
SPACE AUDIUMS: An electronic music concert, space-audiums, conceived and executed as movement through space.
SPACE AUDIUMS is a joint project between Stanley Shaff and Douglas McEachern.
The notion of sound location, travel and dimension in time and space are elements this concert will explore.
Sound and its travel through space has attracted limited interest amongst composers. This is due primarily to physical limitations of the musician and his control of the sound environment. With the advent of electronic means, the spacial positions, which sound defines, can take on new provocative relationships.
SPACE AUDIUMS is an attempt to control and reveal this expanded sound world.
Some of these notions began about six years ago as an outgrowth of my experience with Seymour Locks combining light with sound. Since then, McEachern and I have collaborated with the Ann Halprin dance group. Periodically, concerts were given at my own studio. Stan Shaff
| SAN FRANCISCO
MUSEUM of ART
AUDIUM: “An electronic music concert, conceived and executed as controlled movement through space.”
Electronic music composed by Stanley Shaff; Programming equipment designed and constructed by Douglas McEachern Program Text Notes: Largely as S.F. State, with the word Space Audiums changed to Audium (16 speakers) 12 speakers surrounding audience, four speakers mounted on mobile-like construction above the audience, rotated to give Doppler effect as well as variation in sound location.
October 15 and 16
| SAN FRANCISCO
MUSEUM of ART
Development of “Mobile” Speaker Placement
Program Note Excerpts:
AUDIUM An electronic music concert, conceived and executed as movement through space.
Program Text Notes to Oct. 15th Insight discussions for high school students on the Art of Our Time:
“Contemporary Music and Contemporary Art Is there a parallel in intention and content? Stan Shaff, contemporary composer, and Doug McEachern, electronics expert, using their specially built 'Audium' equipment, will demonstrate their experiments in programmed 'spatial' music and discuss the relation of contemporary sound to visualization through sound stimulus. Is there such a thing as non-music or non-art? are the old boundaries between temporal and plastic arts no longer valid? INSIGHTS explores new ground in their special inter-arts program.”
In the rendering of this expanded sound world, AUDIUM defines new relationships between composer, performer and audience
The first AUDIUM performance (Controlled movement of sound events) was in 1960. ....Ensuing programs brought refinements to the space control units and gave new insights into the overall program presentation. In Oct. 1963 the techniques in their current form were presented here at the Museum. The present concert is an extension of these notions.
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, Oct. 17, 1964 , Space-Sound Continuum in Total Darkness, Alfred Frankenstein, Music Critic
Space and sound seem to go especially well together when the sound is produced electronically, but the possibilities of the space-sound continuum have seldom been so extensively explored as they were Thursday night at the San Francisco Museum of Art in a program presented by Stanley Shaff and Douglas McEachern.
“Shaff is the composer” and McEachern the sound engineer. With speakers placed at strategic points in the room, and other speakers mounted on arms that go round and round over the heads of the audience, McEachern makes it possible for Shaff’s sound to move in any and all dimensions....
he has a remarkable way with delicate, ethereal sounds of many shapes and colors, and their deployment in space is no mere gimmick; he is also a master of irony and drama.
He has real style and real range of style in a medium wherein conformity and cliche are more the rule than the exception, and one hopes his work will eventually reach the large audience it deserves.
The portable systems employed heretofore, limited increased complexity. Stan Shaff and Doug McEachern desired to create a completely planned environment, with built-in flexibility for change and growth. AUDIUM’s conception had now expanded to include every element of the environment - foyer, performance space, light, seating, from the listener’s entrance to his exit. The two leased an old dance hall (309 4th Ave. @ Clement, San Francisco), and after 1 1/2 years' preparation (concurrent with full-time teaching), opened the first AUDIUM theatre in 1967.
May 23, preview
May 26, first public performance
| First AUDIUM Theatre:
A Sound-Space Continuum
Program Note Excerpts:
309 4th Ave. & Clement St., San Francisco. Two performances weekly, Friday evenings 8:30 and 10:45 ; beginning August 1968 added weekly Saturday 8:30 perf. Installation has 44 speakers in 1967, expanded to 61 speakers in 1968.
Environment exploring movement through a Doppler mobile above audience’s heads and speakers placed throughout performance space. A specially-designed console is the instrument through which works are performed by a “tape performer” live at each program, executed sculpturally through space. The entire environment has become a compositional tool.
Sound and its travel through space has attracted limited interest among composers. This is due primarily to physical limitations of the musician and his control of the sound environment. With the advent of electronic means the spatial positions, which sound defines, can take on a new importance.
In the rendering of this expanded sound world, AUDIUM introduces the tape performer and defines a new relationship between composer and audience.
In order to more fully explore the potential of this experience-in-sound, an environment with implications of plasticity had to be constructed. Programming equipment was then redesigned to accommodate the needs of the new environment and now allows a more nearly complete control of the sound-space continuum.
The current presentation...is a realization and extension of these evolving ideas and expects to bring the listener closer toward a personal participation in auditory experiences.
BAY GUARDIAN, Creighton Churchill, May 14, 1968 “A Light Show for the Ears”
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, Glen G, Music Reviewer, May 20, 1968, “Sound-Sculptured Space at the Audium”
OAKLAND TRIBUNE, Paul Hertelendy, Music Critic, Sept. 24, 1968, “S.F. Audium First Mobile in Sound”
September 3, preview
September 5, first public performance of new program
|AUDIUM: A THEATRE IN SOUND
Program Note Excerpts:
Sound location, travel and dimension in time and space are the inherent concerns of AUDIUM. These areas have only been sparsely dealt with by composers, due in part to the musician’s limitations in his control of the environment. Through the design of original electronic equipment, AUDIUM makes possible the mastery of sound movement and thereby the shaping and sculpting of auditory space.
The need for a permanent environment providing for the specific concerns of the compositions, led to the first AUDIUM series at this location in 1967. The ability of the tape performer to interpret the compositions through his control of sound dimension facilitated the interaction between composer, performer and audience.
The evolution of the compositions combined with the experiences and possibilities of this new medium have resulted in the current presentation. It is a total sound theatre. The environment is not only a setting, it is in itself a sound instrument.
OAKLAND TRIBUNE, Paul Hertelendy, Music Critic, Sept. 10, 1969
Hypnotic Sounds Highlight Audium
(Opening paragraph: “Audium is such a sophisticated theater of taped sounds that it makes Karlheinz Stockhausen’s developments in spacial music seem rather primitive in comparison.”
BERKELEY BARB, David Close, Sept. 19, 1969, “Audium”
Excerpt: “Much work has been done with the shaping of light and space into free form, but the sole use of sound as an artistic medium in itself has been a neglected stepchild. Only a few men like Stockhausen and Cage have bothered with it at all, and it has never been explored to the full depth of its possibilities. Rock and modern stereo techniques only nibble at the fringes, and never really approach the core of sound as an art form. We have given so much attention to the bombardment of all the senses as a means of entertainment that we have neglected the possibilities inherent in the isolation of the senses and the use of their perceptions as a means to develop the mind and imagination. This concept is alive and working in Audium.”
OAKLAND TRIBUNE, Paul Hertelendy, Music Critic, Oct. 26, 1969, “New Sounds, New Sources”
Excerpt: “Two local master craftsmen in music and acoustics have perfected a new technique that one could call mobile polyfontal music...It could easily develop into a major art form of the coming decades.”
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, Anitra Earle, Music Critic, Dec. 15, 1969, “Audium’s Concert in the Dark”
HIGH FIDELITY MAGAZINE, May 1970, “Four Channels and Sixty-One Speakers”
UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL, Oct. 25, 1970, Robert Strand, “In a Noisy World, a “theater of sound'” (article released after theatre closed, due to sale of building)
After 3 1/2 years of weekly public performances, Audium’s first theatre closes, due to sale of building.
During the next several years, a new building was located, space for new Audium theatre was designed and built with the help of a small grant from the NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS.The theatre (1616 Bush St., S.F.) includes a foyer, sound labyrinth, and a performance space with sloping walls, floating floor, and 136 speakers, hanging above the audience and embedded in walls and floors. Every element of the environment is conceived as being a part of the sound fabric; choreographing sound is its focus.
October 31, first public performance in new theatre
Weekly performances Fri. & Sat. @ 8:00 and 10:00
| Second AUDIUM Theatre:
A Theatre of Sound-Sculptured Space
Program Note Excerpts:
AUDIUM is a musical medium conceived to realize the spatial and sculptural dimensions of sound. It is based on a new understanding of space as an inherent component of music composition and performance.
The composer writes specifically for this medium, with a fundamental interest in all parameters of the environment. Completed taped compositions are played through a custom-designed console by the tape performer, allowing for exact control of sound location, movement, speed and intensity. He shapes and sculpts the sound images by channeling them through 136 independently controlled speakers: above, below, front, rear, sides and on multidimensional planes. The audience is immersed in this sound-space continuum.
Throughout AUDIUM’s 15 year span of performances, there has been a continual interaction between evolving compositional needs and technical capabilities. Thus, as compositions have become more complex, original equipment systems have paralleled their growth. The present theatre offered an opportunity to design and construct a total sound environment. It is a building within a building, an effort of several years' planning and execution. The result is an environment created for a specific art form...
PERFORMING ARTS, November, 1975, “A New Sound Concept”
OAKLAND TRIBUNE, Paul Hertelendy, Music Critic, Dec. 28, 1975, “Audium: A Real Ear-Opener”
Excerpt: “...an episodic adventure in mobile polyfontal sound...grade-A trip to the moon on gossamer wings”
SAN FRANCISCO SUNDAY EXAMINER & CHRONICLE, Calvin Ahlgren, Music, Jan. 11, 1976, “There’s More to High Fidelity and Music Than Meets the Ear”
Excerpt: “...a revolution is in advanced flight. If it had a logo, it might well be a pair of winged ears.” “...it represents an auditory planetarium”
SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER, Philip Elwood, Music Critic, Jan. 24, 1976, “A Supertrip in Aural Arts”
Excerpt: “Audium is sensational, a supertrip...probing the possibilities of compositions in recorded sound, and space.....silence, sound, darkness and light are absolute and penetrating.”
HIGH FIDELITY AND MUSICAL AMERICA, September, 1976, Alfred Frankenstein “Debuts and Reappearances”
Excerpt: “Space has always been an implied dimension of electronic music; in Audium it becomes an actual dimension as well.....While everything is taped, the innumerable, often complex paths the sound takes through 136 speakers, the speed of its motion, and its intensity are subject to the ear and hand of the controller. The music is thereby released from the mechanical repetitiousness that so often characterizes the electronic medium....Darkness makes space part of the experience in uniquely powerful fashion. Often one seems to be searching out the sound, using one’s ears in a strenuous aural exploration of the surroundings. And the surroundings seem to encompass far more depth than the experience of the eye would confirm.”
“Shaff has not invented any particularly new sounds, but his use of space as an element of sound is his “ and McEachern’s....even the most familiar of sounds takes on an unexpected clarity and purity....Nothing quite like it exists anywhere else.”
LOS ANGELES TIMES, David Johnston, Oct. 12, 1976, “Theater in Dark Puts On Fantasy Show for Ears”
Excerpt: “75 minutes of sensational aural stimulation....Its sounds, in a blend that is both symphony and cacophony, seem to go beyond the eardrum to penetrate the soul...light show for the ears”
UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL, Robert Strand, Nov. 1976 “Sounds-in Space”
Excerpt: “a new art form is emerging: the sounds-in-space show:
CHICAGO TRIBUNE, Michael Coakley, Dec. 12, 1976, “A language of sound tells the “Audium' Story”
Excerpt: “It is a performance, rather unique in the history of theater, which is totally devoid of the visual. Just blackness and sound.”
MUSIC JOURNAL, January, 1977, Stan Shaff, “AUDIUM: Sound-Sculptured Space”
Excerpt: “For the past 18 years, I have been involved with exploring the language of space in music. The core of our concern has been that sound, in its movement through space, defines new, provocative relationships. Given this, the composer becomes sound sculptor, and spatial considerations, direction, speed and intensity require a new musical vocabulary.
The interaction between compositional needs and technological innovation has led to the creation of a musical medium, Audium.”
CALIFORNIA LIVING (S.F. Sunday Examiner & Chronicle), Anna Shaff, March 6, 1977, “Audium Continuum”
Excerpt: “Above, below, front, rear, sides, metamorphose into aural dimensions. As sounds travel, carving space, conjuring images, you are participating in a sound sculpture. Sound is sculpting space.”
BAY GUARDIAN, Blair Jackson, Feb. 24, 1977, “Sound Sculpture in Four Dimensions”
Excerpt: “Audium puts sound into three clearly discernible dimensions plus a more mystical, less definable fourth dimension that lies in the mind...”
BAM, THE CALIFORNIA MUSIC MAGAZINE, Blair Jackson, January, 1978 “Aphrodisiac for the Ear”
ASSOCIATED PRESS, Robert McEwen, January, 1978 “A Paradise of Sound”
|Opening of New Work, AUDIUM VII
Program Note Excerpts:
During its 20 year span of performances, from early portable set-ups to the current sound theatre, AUDIUM has sought to make concrete the spatial dimension of sound. Driven by a compositional philosophy which recognized space as an inherent component of music, complemented by innovative performance technology, AUDIUM has evolved into a new musical medium: a theatre of sound-sculptured space.
The present concert is conceived as a total sound environment, from the listener’s entrance to his exit. The composer writes with a fundamental concern for all parameters of the environment; foyer, labyrinth and performance space constitute a compositional continuum. While the works are complete and on tape, they are performed live at each program through a custom-designed console.
The tape performer shapes and sculpts the sound images, channeling them through 136 independently-controlled speakers. He determines the sounds' location, direction, movement, speed and intensity. As natural and electronic sound travel on multiple planes, above, below, front, rear and sides become aural dimensions. The listener, immersed in this sound-space continuum, is experiencing sound as a kinetic, sculptural energy. Speakers and environment are transformed into a spatial electronic orchestra.
SAN JOSE MERCURY, Paul Hertelendy, Music Reviewer, Jan. 10, 1980, “Audium a Delight for the Senses”
Excerpt: “...mobile polyfontal sound, surging through the space-time continuum.”
ASAHI SHIMBUN (Tokyo), Iwao Sakane, March 17, 1980, “Theater that Aims to Rehabilitate Music”
“Audium made me recall several experimental sound halls established during the International Exposition held in Osaka back in 1970. Nothing significant has developed in Japan since then. On the contrary, the experiment is being continued in America. And there is a man like Shaff who is engaged in bringing back music into the everyday life of mankind. I was deeply impressed...It is not far in the distant future, I don't think, that a small theater such as Audium will gain its proper recognition.”
KEYBOARD, Ellayn Evans, February, 1981
“Journalists form Los Angeles to Japan have praised its haunting quality....an intense sonically-created environment...configurations of environmental and futuristic sound are steered through the theatre via 136 separate speakers placed all over the room in the ceiling, walls and floor.”
NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS GRANTS: Six grants for performance-seminar series and compositions for college and high-school groups
| Opening of New Work, AUDIUM VIII
Program Note Excerpts:
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.
Because of an unusual combination of art and technology (AUDIUM’s creators, composer Stan Shaff and equipment designer Doug McEachern were both professional musicians), AUDIUM’s conception and realization were able to evolve jointly. AUDIUM is the only theatreanywhere constructed specifically for sound movement, utilizing the entire environment as a compositional tool.
AUDIUM the sound theatre: The theatre consists of a foyer, a sound labyrinth and a 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, a floating floor and a suspended ceiling. Compositions are performed live at each program by a tape performer who directs sounds through a custom-designed console to any combination of 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.
AUDIUM’s aesthetic: “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.”I ask listeners to see with their ears and feel with their bodies sounds as images, dreams and memories. As people walk into a work, they become part of its realization. From entrance to exit, AUDIUM is a sound-space continuum.” --- Stan Shaff, Composer
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, Heuwell Tircuit, Music Reviewer, Jan. 30, 1984
“Composer Stan Shaff’s “Audium VIII has just opened, and proves to be one of the most refined and elegant of the lot....The sounds are above, below and all around the audience. Thus the use of “sculptured sound” to describe “Audium.” A sound can begin one place, and then move above, below or around the room. Such features never degenerated into Ping Pong exhibitions, but were used with considerable finesse. ...grand rumble through the floor, which, as in Harry Partch’s Marimba Eroica, one does not so much hear but “feel through your backside.”
SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER, Scott Beach, Music Critic, July 7, 1984 “A Compelling Show for the Ears Only”
“...it is certainly an impressive and compelling experience....the production they offer is truly unforgettable”
COMPUTER MUSIC JOURNAL, MIT PRESS, Gareth Loy, Vol. 9, Number 2, 1985, About AUDIUM A Conversation with Stanley Shaff
Both his creation and his single-minded devotion to its fulfillment for over a quarter of a century have been driven by the urge to explore interactively the use of space and environment in music composition. Following in the tradition of other California composers such as Harry Partch, Shaff had to become an instrument builder in the service of his philosophy of music. Shaff has carried his vision into the design of the music, the unique sound reproduction system employing upwards of 136 speakers, and into the design and construction of the theater itself. Shaff has issued no records...A record would be to the experience of AUDIUM what a photograph is to a kinetic sculpture. Because it depends on this specialized environment, one must go to AUDIUM to have this experience, which helps account for its obscurity. Use of space....Shaff’s contribution lies in his realization that, if one is truly serious about utilizing space in music, one must configure the performance environment in ways that are inconceivable in a typical concert hall”
WIRED, Colin Berry, Feb. -; Big Sound
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, James Sullivan , Aug. 30, 2001, Surreal Sculpture for the Ear
Their ideas about the movable energy of sound are just now finding their way into the entertainment world, through “surround sound” at the movies, ambient nightclub settings and the new multichannel recording technique called DVD Audio 5.1.
NEW MUSIC BOX, American Music Center, Dean Suzuki, Dec. 1, 2001, View from the West: The Next Big Thing
The work is at once music as well as a kind of abstract dance (movement through space), sculpture (defining space through sound), and theater. Shaff believes that the use of sound moving through and defining space is the next step in the evolution of contemporary music, and there is certainly great potential for the genre...
LEONARDO, Journal of the International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology, MIT Press, Volume 35, Number 3, 2002, Stan Shaff, AUDIUM: Sound-Sculptured Space
Through Audium, we have sought to bring listeners physically inside a sound world, where they can experience sounds as kinetic, sculptural, shaping energies
. As sounds travel in total darkness, they create textures, colors and forms. Polytonal writing allows chordal clusters to interact on different levels in space. Through the workings of sound tensions and releases, the pushing and pulling of harmonics, the audio space expands and contracts.
A melodic line acquires a starting point, a speed, a determined pathway and a point of conclusions. Areas in space become launching sites and meeting stations for converging sound lines. Melodic convolutions can be physically felt as they flow along spatial planes “ vertical, horizontal, diagonal, circular and any desired combination thereof. As each melodic line travels, layers unfold, overlap and entwine to reveal a rich audio tapestry.
In seeking to understand the language of space, we hope to have brought new perceptual understandings to a largely neglected dimension in the vocabulary of music.”
(Technical Note: Number of speakers has grown to 169.)
From 1984 to 2008, AUDIUM continued offering weekly public performances. The composition underwent various transformations. During this phase, the focus was the development of new performance techniques. As the subtleties of tape performance in space continued to be refined, concurrent digital recording and performance technologies were developed. Speakers were added under seats, additional speakers and channels were added for ambient sounds (for a total of 176 speakers). Compositions were re-orchestrated.
Opening of new work, AUDIUM 9.
Please see “Articles, Reviews, Links” for references to current work.
(Note: Most recent links are located towards the bottom of each category.)