The Live Show

We set up a ring of loudspeakers, pass out eye masks, turn off the lights, and move sounds all around the room.

You will hear bridges and ants and the gurgle of mud pots. You will be transported inside another person's head, and back in time a hundred years to the streets of Berlin. You’ll fly out into space and bore deep inside the bowels of the earth. There is a musical washing machine, sonorous sporting events, and the disturbing howl Marco Polo heard while crossing the Gobi Desert. There's absolutely nothing to see. It will be a spectacle entirely for the ears.

Who We Are

Sam Harnett is a reporter for KQED and a frequent contributor to Marketplace, and NPR programs like Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Chris Hoff is the senior engineer and sound designer for Crosscurrents on KALW. Two years ago they set out to create a radio show
that did not rely on narrative and storytelling; a program that would focus on sound instead of language. They are now touring with their live show, performing and talking with students about sound, modern radio, and the current state of media.

Book Us

We’re playing and guest lecturing at universities, theaters, and art spaces. Get in touch to book us at your space: [email protected]

The Performance

For the live show we set up a ring of eight loudspeakers around the audience, and then we take the sounds from our radio show and move them all around the space. We do live narration, but we talk very little, just enough to tell you what the sound is and to give each one a bit of context. The sounds are mixed so that each speaker can be individually controlled, allowing us to move sound to different parts of the room. So a tennis ball can fly over your head from one side of the room to the other. Ants can scurry in and out of different speakers. And the cables of the Golden Gate Bridge can twang and thrum on all sides.

The show is about an hour long and everyone sits in the dark with eye masks that we provide. We normally perform for around 150 people at a time. The upper limit would be around 300 people. The ideal space is a squarish room with moveable seating. We arrange our eight, free-standing speakers in a square around the audience, and it is optimal to have at least five feet from the speaker to the nearest audience member. The only equipment we’d need from the venue is a PA system to do our live narration.

Universities are inviting us to campus to guest lecture classes, put on the show for the student body, and hold a public Q&A afterwards. In some cases we've workshopped students' audio/radio work instead of some of the guest lecturing. We've worked with a bunch of different departments: media studies, journalism, music, documentary/film studies, and student activities boards, which have all chipped in.

Guest Lecturing

Chris and Sam both work in public radio, but they have very different skill sets. Sam is primarily a reporter and Chris is primarily a sound engineer. The two have taught classes together at UC Berkeley, Skidmore, and Boston University. Chris independently taught radio at Mills College for five years, and at KALW’s Audio Academy for four. On tour, the pair has given guest lectures that range from the technical aspects of radio journalism and sound design, to theoretical questions about the use of sound and narrative in media. They have several lectures prepared that address the potential of non-language sound in radio journalism and why it might be so underused, the emergence and now dominance of several plot-driven formats in radio, the process of adapting radio content for a live performance, the influence of advertising and podcasting on public radio, and the negative consequences of the obsession with narrative in modern media and a media that leaves no room for boredom. They have taught in a range of departments, including journalism, media studies, music, ethnomusicology, and documentary/film studies.

Selected Press

“The World According to Sound” is a 90-second radio show. Segments run on NPR’s All Things Considered and individually on public radio stations. The show has been featured on radio programs like NHPR's Overheard and Word of Mouth, KALW's The Spot, and CBC's Podcast Playlist. The live version of the show is put on with sound equipment provided by Clair Brothers. Below is some selected press about the radio program and live show.