Though the recording industry is still alive and well (its file-sharing complaints aside), Russolo's vision has proved prescient. Countless artists have experimented with sound over the past century, creating a rich and tenacious genre that encompasses a broad spectrum of recorded work -- from raw silence to earsplitting sine waves, symphonies of dot-matrix printers to orchestras of crickets.
With Norwegian artist Leif Inge's 9 Beet Stretch, the medium has come full circle, back to the symphonic masterpieces that Russolo disdained; but with experimentation in mind Inge has digitally stretched Beethoven's notorious Ninth Symphony, transforming it from a one-hour choral maelstrom into a 24-hour cascade of quivering overtones. Even the climactic "Ode to Joy," mangled over the years by countless young pianists, has been rendered completely unrecognizable by Inge's intervention. The resulting composition is an ethereal soundscape that encourages deep listening.
"For me, Leif's work is an opportunity to listen to something we consider familiar in a completely naive way," says S.F. sound artist Aaron Ximm. "We don't as a culture offer people many opportunities to observe anything over so long a time. To observe ourselves, and our process of attention, over such a long period ... [shows] us a whole new dimension to something we thought was completely known -- musty, in fact. That's a great gift."
This weekend, 964 Natoma hosts an "all-night pajamas-please sleep-over concert-event" to present 9 Beet Stretch in its entirety. Since 2001, Ximm has offered this warm, welcoming loft for his monthly sound showcase, "Field Effects." Though sound art has blossomed in recent years with the rise of affordable digital technologies that have brought sound-manipulating and -recording tools into the hands of even starving artists, visionaries still struggle with the challenges of presenting acoustic works to the public. Museums and galleries geared toward visual arts are squeamish about subjecting the paintings and sculptures on display to layers of sound, and these spaces rarely afford the silence and focused attention required of such works.
Nestled on comfy futons and beanbag chairs, with the lights down low, visitors to 964 Natoma experience experimental sound with no distractions. "The theory," says Ximm, "is that the more comfortable people are, the more open they'll be to unfamiliar art forms. They come because it's both a refuge and an opportunity to experience something new." Bring pillows, blankets, snacks, and an open mind. You've never heard anything like this.