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Read Text Only: Adventureland - Audium


"Say again?" The bus driver said as he turned slightly. It was difficult to hear with a full-load of clamoring high school band students. Stan Shaff turned to address his class. "Quiet down please, we'll be there soon…it's right up here." The bus pulled over in front of the San Francisco Museum of Art where Shaff's students were to perform an improvisational light and sound program that night. The program, conceived by the classically trained Shaff, but executed by his high school class would eventually lead to the Audium.
The next day, the school was abuzz about the student's performance. There'd even been talk of another gig at San Francisco State College in a few weeks. The kids were thrilled, but Shaff was beaming. It was 1958 and would be the year Shaff met an integral ally in Doug McEachern.
McEachern, like Shaff, was a high school teacher, a classically trained musician, moon-lit in local jazz acts and was also interested in exploring the potentials of sound performance. The two became fast friends, and spent hours discussing the concept of sound. As their conversations progressed, the two realized that the environment was a part of the spatial compositional fabric. So, with McEachern's background in electronics, the two designed performance consoles for a three-dimensional projection of sound, and wrote the first piece, "Space Audiums" later referred to as "Audium I."
"Audium I" was performed with eight speakers and a four channel tape machine. According to the show's program notes, "Audium I" dealt with:
"The notion of sound location, travel and dimension in time and space…With the advent of electronic means, the spatial positions, which sound defines, can take on new provocative relationships. SPACE AUDIUMS is an attempt to control and reveal this expanded sound world."
Over the next few years, while still working as teachers, Shaff and McEachern performed Audium shows in Shaff's studio and a short stint at The San Francisco Musem of Art. In 1965 they leased an old dance hall on 4th and Clement, and spent the next two years developing the first real Audium theater.
It's 1967, and the Audium Theater opens its doors. It's been a long two years of development for Shaff and McEachern and the duo have spent their free time installing fourty-four speakers in the space, and fine-tuning the new composition. Over the next three and a half years, Shaff will perform "Audium IV" three times a week. Here Shaff and McEachern can share their creation with a larger audience and with much more regularity, helping to develop a reputation for their unique brand of performance worldwide. They develop and perform "Audium V" at the end of 1969, but after their building is sold in 1970, Shaff and McEachern look for a new location, and additional funding to keep Audium alive.
With assistance from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Audium theater moves into its current location at 1616 Bush Street.
The pair rolled up their sleeves and on October 31st, 1975, Shaff and McEachern debut "Audium VI." The previous building's sale proved to be a blessing, as their new space allowed them to build a place specific for the performance. The walls are sloped, the floor floating, the ceiling hanging. It's a building within a building, a total sound environment that uses 136 independently controlled speakers. The audience is immersed in their sound-space continuum.
The new theater is a resounding success. The LA Times call the show:"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"
Shaff performs the show twice weekly, and constantly works on new compositions. Between 1975 and 2008, Shaff releases three new Audium compositions, and adds 40 new speakers to the space, bringing the count to 176.
Between then and now the performance has drawn attendance from all over the world. Universities and research institutions regularly send representatives to experience the show. Sound designers from the Royal Shakespeare Company, Kyoto's Noh Theater, and the BBC join employees of Lucas Films, the Walt Disney Group, Apple, IMAX, Sony, and Dolby in those that have come to hear Shaff's work. Without a stitch of advertising, and spread completely by word-of-mouth, Audium has garnered an international reputation for its ground-breaking performances.

1616 Bush Street. San Francisco.
Performances every Friday and Saturday at 8:30 PM. $15