The Vermont Cynic

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Audio experience provides world of sounds

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To be handed a plastic-wrapped eyemask at the door of a Saturday night show might seem unusual to some.

During the performances of Chris Hoff and Sam Harnett, however, handouts like this are just another part of the routine, Harnett said.

UVM Program Board sponsored an audio show hosted by Hoff and Harnett, co-creators of “The World According to Sound,” March 25 in the Davis Center.

Senior James Biddle, a senior on the UPB arts, film and culture planning committee, was largely responsible for making this event possible.

“[The show hosts] emailed my UPB supervisor back in October and the email was sent to me,” Biddle said. “The idea almost was canned in [one meeting], but I felt captivated enough by the concept that I reached out and took it on.”

The podcast, which is currently on an east coast tour, airs 90-second segments on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered,” and originally emerged out of a shared desire to experiment with the medium of radio, Hoff said.

“The idea was that if we made something short enough, we wouldn’t have to tell a story or rely on a narrative arc to draw in listeners,” he said.

While both creators have more traditional public radio day jobs, Harnett in reporting and Hoff in sound engineering, their show is beginning to grow into something more substantial than the initial form as a passion project“passion project” it was, Harnett said.

“When you’re listening to the radio, it is kind of a steady stream of stories and narratives that are all great,” he said. “But they’d be maybe even greater by having something sound-focused that kind of interrupts those stories to give listeners a moment to think.”,” he said.

Walking into the Livak Ballroom to pillows scattered in the audience, one might have thought the night was going to be a group meditation. After all, one aim of the show is to create “a space for your mind to just go wherever it wants,” Hoff said.

Lights were turned off and eye masks were appliedput on. The show began with a long recording of noises create by mud pots in Southern California, bubbling and squirting and dripping, with no explanation, for close to five minutes.

For the rest of the evening, the recordings played included the following sounds: high-frequency recordings of ant activity, the rhythmic thundering of wind on sand dunes, giraffe conversation after dark, high school debaters spewing facts too quickly to comprehend, and the opening lines of Homer’s “Iliad” read in ancient Greek.

Additionally, the hosts played the experimental music of John Cage and Matmos, a band which uses only sounds from washing machines to create rhythms, according to a Nov. 9, 2015 People Magazine article.

One of the most impactful recordings featured the booming and powerful sound of the 2011 earthquake in Japan, sophomore Flannery Mehigan said.

“I’ve never experienced an earthquake before, and that really shook the room and made me feel like I was in one,” Mehigan said.

Harnett and Hoff’s sound collection includes both original recordings collected by the hosts themselves and recordings accessible in either the public domain or through other sound specialists, they said.

“This event really succeeded because of word of mouth, and I’m really grateful for that,” Biddle said.

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Audio experience provides world of sounds