Reinventing my personal blog

21 Jan 2020

Envelop SF

When we first moved to San Francisco, I was excited to have a new environment but I was not sure I would enjoy the city as much. My previous visits to the city had been mostly work/tech related. While I love many of my co-workers and friends in big tech and in startups, parts of San Francisco felt.. like a tech mono-culture.

Consciously going out to things and meeting new people, making friends with people who have interests outside of tech, through sports, volunteering or music activities, has changed my relationship to this city.

In this series of posts, I will write about the events, venues and activities I have enjoyed in San Francisco.

Music used to be a huge part of my life. From the time I was six or seven, I was in band practice or piano lessons a few times a week. Without music, my life might have turned out different. Not having much music in the last decade or so was a terrible idea, so I’m now furiously trying to get it all back. Piano lessons, jazz clarinet lessons, going to shows, meeting new friends who also like music… I have enjoyed the access to top musicians and teachers, and to excellent shows of all genres nearly every single day.

Envelop SF popped up on my radar when I was looking for music events: they were hosting a Flaming Lips listening party for Zaireeka, the band’s 1997 experimental album that I’d never heard (mainly because in 1997 you needed to put 4 CDs in 4 players and press play all at once).

Envelop SF (image from Envelop)

At first, I had no idea what these shows were. Were the Flaming Lips in town? Was it a live show? It was actually cooler than that. Envelop is a non-profit that runs an immersive audio venue in the lower Dogpatch (and another one in Salt Lake City, with popups and satellites elsewhere).

I don’t know much about audio engineering or sound design, or what ‘spatial music performances’ are, but as I attended their session for the Flaming Lips' Zaireeka I quickly became a fan.

The venue in San Francisco is in a tiny space in an industrial area near the Dogpatch, with dim lighting, and ambience that reminded me of a yoga studio mashed up with a private DJ set. 32 speakers at the venue are positioned in a sphere, with the audience seated on foldable chairs on the floor, surrouned by said speakers. “The entire room is an instrument” was the experience they promised, and it really did feel that way. This immersive experience is powered by their open source audio software that works with Ableton Live 10.

A trust-based minibar rounded up the experience by providing for the wine, beer, tea and water you might want to sip while listening to music.

While I was initially confused by why I might want to experience ‘spatial music’, I came away from it a fan. I think it would be a good way for a music lover to experience music they know and love in a totally new way, with audiophile technology that would be difficult to create at home. I plan to listen to Miles Davis, Pink Floyd and Coltrane there as I think their music can be experienced differently in this environment.

Next week, jazz shows with new jazz friends. Jazz hands!