NPR Performers Show Sound’s Potential

Imagine sitting in complete darkness with a blindfold on. Suddenly you are surrounded by very loud, very sharp popping noises. It sounds similar to bubbles underwater, but you are far from sure about the true origins of the noises. Then a voice booms from all directions.


“Hello and welcome. We are Chris Hoff and Sam Harnett, and for the past four minutes, you all have been listening to mud.”

That was Chris Hoff at the live performance of “The World According to Sound” that came to USF on Wednesday, Sept. 20, in the Studio Theater in Lone Mountain. Students gathered and sat in a square formation of chairs in the middle of the room, unwrapping the provided black blindfolds. Stationed around the room were eight mismatched speakers, all hooked up to a sound board at the front of the room.


Behind the soundboard was Sam Harnett, a reporter for KQED, and Chris Hoff, a sound engineer who previously worked for KALW. Together, the two friends are the creators of “The World According to Sound,” an hourlong live performance focused on the art of non-narrative sound. Throughout the show, about 20 contrasting sounds played all around the dark room. Ants crawling over compact microphones, Ode to Joy, an earthquake and a mash-up of auctioneers speaking are just a few examples.


A few episodes of “The World According to Sound” were aired on NPR’s show “All Things Considered.” More information can be found along with the podcasts on their website,


Hoff and Harnett are also the creators of a 90-second podcast by the same title, in which they play one genre of sound per episode. Aside from a few brief explanations to give some sort of context, both mediums primarily play sounds that Hoff and Harnett have collected and borrowed.


Freshman performing arts and social justice major Sarah Medley-Troupe said the performance was informative in a technical sense, as well as in a theoretical sense. “Technically [speaking], the way you orient speakers in a theater can really contribute to the performance,” she said, “And if you so choose to do something like this, it can be really, really valuable to understand the different ways sound can affect people.”


During the performance and afterwards, Harnett and Hoff talked extensively in the workshop about the “dynamic nature of sound,” and how so much can be done with eight channels and 360 degrees.


“I hope that anyone listening to the show […] is opened up to the possibility of sound as a medium, and opened up to the possibility that sound can do more than just be a vehicle for information transfer or storytelling,” Harnett said.


Medley-Troupe attended the performance with her classmates and professor. Her favorite was the beginning with the mud popping, but she was disturbed by a sound that was a psychologist’s interpretation of how mental illness sounds in one’s head. “I knew exactly what was going to happen, I just didn’t expect them to share the content that they did,” she said.


Dom Rubio, a sophomore comparative literature and culture major, attended the performance and the workshop. He took notice during the performance at the recorded sound of Hoff and Harnett setting up their speakers for a show, which required taping down cables. “It sounded like the room was being wrapped in tape,” Rubio said.


Hoff and Harnett say their performance gives students and audience members a chance to unplug, close their eyes and process the potential of sound. “I just hope anyone who’s interested in radio can realize that the media can do a lot more than recording a sound behind a story,” Harnett said.


This event was co-sponsored by the journalism, media studies, performing arts and tech and design certificate programs.


You can hear NPR’s show performed on the KLW station once a week.

Featured Photo: The audience find themselves surrounded by speakers for a 360 degree sound experience before putting on their blindfolds. Mardy Harding/Foghorn


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