Terrible Noises for Beautiful People

A few months ago I joined the Long Now Foundation and I have been enjoying many of the activities of this engaging organization since.

I previously blogged about the Long Player event coming up on October 16th.

Last Tuesday, I enjoyed Pulitzer Prize winning writer Richard Rhode’s presentation Twilight of the Bombs at the Herbst Theater in SF. One of the most compelling parts of which was the animated infographic by Isao Ishimoto entitled 1945-1998, illustrating all of the atomic detonations of the 20thC – click on the link to watch it but before you do so answer this question – How many nuclear detonations were there in total during the 20thC?

Yesterday, I attended a truly unique event entitled Terrible Noises for Beautiful People organized and conducted by Toronto-based experimental artist Misha Glouberman. It was held at the spectacular Oliver Ranch just outside of Geyserville, North of Bayarea. Steve Oliver is a long time patron and supporter of the arts in Bayarea and has a wonderful sculpture garden with major works by many of the seminal artists of the 20thC which were specially commissioned for his property. You can read more about the Oliver Ranch here. I STRONGLY encourage anyone who happens to be in Bayarea to get themselves to the ranch as a member of a tour in the Spring or Fall. It as a unique art experience!

Terrible Noises for Beautiful people was held in the surprising and stunning Ann Hamilton designed tower. From afar this seems to be some sort of post-industrial architectural folly, up close it reveals a complex interactive environment which has been dedicated to a series of unique sound performances.

Ann Hamilton's Tower

40 members of the Long Now Foundation gathered on the property and then filed into the tower to enjoy, craeate and participate in an emergent sound event choreographed by the brightly enthusiastic Mr. Glouberman.

The tower’s interior has two intertwined spiral staircases leading from the ground level entry immediately above a dark reflective pool climbing with a subtle narrowing all the way to the top parapet which has stunning views across the Alexander Valley.

Inside the tower

Tower abstraction

After taking up positions on the spiral stairways we were drawn into a series of simple vocal ‘games’ that encouraged us each to find our own individual voice while responding and contributing to a group dynamic. The results varied between zoo-like cacophony and transcendent choral symphony.

The most interesting game we played was all of us starting at a cacophonous chaotic state trying our best to make noises that actively didn’t correspond to what any of our neighbors were creating and then to slowly work towards a consensus where we were all making the same sound. The consensus wasn’t determined in advance, we just moved towards it by either responding to a sound we fell into accord with or actively working to create a different sound which we thought might provide a kernel for  consensus. The resulting emergent harmonies reminded me of whale song and I wondered whether these incredibly complex and lasting harmonies sung across oceans are derived in a similar way. Our sounds didn’t carry meaning but the act of making them and having them come into harmony definitely did! Here’s a sample!

We left the tower in time for a golden sunset highlighting Robert Stackhouse’s Russian River Bones.

Russian River Bones

Longplayer – live in San Francisco

Longplayer – The Long Now


1,000 years in three simultaneous acts.

Saturday October 16. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. 7am – 11.30pm

Longplayer is a 1,000 year long musical composition by musician and artist Jem Finer that has been playing since 1999.

This performance of a 1,000 minute excerpt will be played by live musicians using 365 Tibetan bowl gongs.

Longplayer will be presented with the Long Conversation, an epic relay of one-to-one conversations among some of the Bay Area’s most interesting minds. At the Contemporary Jewish Museum from 3pm-9pm .

Click here for more information on Longplayer.