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'The World According to Sound'

"The World According to Sound" radio show is produced by reporter Sam Harnett, left, and sound engineer Chris Hoff.

The determined cries of powerlifters. The labored wheezes of a coal miner. The gentle gurgles of the earth. 

This is "The World According to Sound," and it's coming to Auburn Public Theater Monday.

Created by reporter Sam Harnett and sound engineer Chris Hoff, both of San Francisco, "The World According to Sound" started about two years ago as a 90-second podcast capturing all manner of compelling auditory stimuli. It was soon picked up by NPR's "All Things Considered," as well as public radio stations across the country. Now, Harnett and Hoff are touring the East Coast with a new show that transforms their podcast into an intense sensory experience for live audiences.

In Auburn Monday, as well as Geneva's Smith Opera House Wednesday, "The World According to Sound's" live show will see eight speakers stationed around the auditorium. Audience members will be given eye masks, and the house lights will be dimmed. Then, Harnett and Hoff will play from their library of raw sounds, letting the audience absorb their every sonic detail without distraction.

"It's not often we have a chance to listen without having anything else distracting us," Hoff said Tuesday as he and Harnett traveled to a show at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs.

Harnett continued, "In our culture, such an emphasis is placed on vision. We're bombarded by so much stimuli. Here, it's totally dark and you can just listen."

"The World According to Sound" live show differs from its podcast presentation, Harnett and Hoff said. Sounds are longer, there's less narration and with eight speakers, the two can program different sounds through different channels. So when they play the mud pots of California's Salton Sea, which comprised their podcast's first episode, distinct pots can be heard bubbling throughout the room.

Harnett and Hoff capture such sounds through a combination of researching them and stumbling upon them, they said. And though their rich fidelity might suggest otherwise, the sounds aren't always recorded on high-end equipment — Harnett said he captured the mud pots with a Zoom device that cost a couple hundred dollars.

Whether it's those mud pots, the cacophony of telephones ringing around Harnett inside a Japanese store or the melody of Hoff pouring water through a glass funnel, "The World According to Sound" live show takes audiences to a communal, even meditative place, Harnett and Hoff said. 

"People just kind of go all over the place in their minds," Hoff said.

Harnett added, "We create a space where you're not distracted by vision. You can rethink the world through sound."

LISTEN: "The World According to Sound" episode one, "Mud Pots"

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Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.


Features editor for The Citizen.