It’s John Cage’s centennary year, and of course the annual San Francisco Tape Music Festival is taking notice. Each of the three nights will include two Cage pieces.
Separately, each night includes a taste of the first recordings ever, from 1859. They’re called phonautograms, and while they were originally created as a way to visualize sounds on paper, the folks at the First Sounds organization have come up with a method to play back the sounds.
The bulk of the program will consist of more recent works, many of them by local musicians.
I wrote about the Tape Music Festival back in 2009. The idea is to present pre-recorded sound as an art form… but it’s not so simple as dropping a CD in the player. The pieces are performed in darkness (they do turn up the lights after each one) on speakers that surround the audience; the show I attended used 20 speakers. “Cinema for your ears” is how the organizers at sfSound describe it, and that’s quite accurate.
The “tape music” moniker is outdated, of course; almost all the pieces will be digital files. The term goes back to the 1950s or earlier, when the concept of using prerecorded sounds as part of a classical piece was radical.
You get some amazing sounds in these pieces. They’re what you often hear from laptop electronics: watery sounds, metallic sounds — but realized in big, dramatic fashion. It’s a pretty cool experience.
As always, some interesting surprises and celebrity pieces dot the program, which changes each night. You’ll find The Beatles on the bill, with what I’m guessing is a backwards playback of “Revolution 9.”
The 2012 San Francisco Tape Music Festival takes place Fri. Jan. 20 through Sun. Jan. 22 at ODC Theater (3153 17th St., SF). You can see the whole program and lots more information at the festival site: http://sfsound.org/tape.