Lying elbow-to-elbow with a stranger, a fat cushion that resembles a bean bag tucked under my head, I can feel the melodic ramble of “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” reverberate over my splayed-out form. There is nothing in this room but bodies and cushions and the gentle colored lights coming from futuristic tower speakers. A cup of mint tea grows cold beside my scalp. Pink Floyd is singing “Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun,” and the sound is so clear, the band may as well be standing in the middle of the room. An intact band, circa 1975, young and vibrant with their mouths full of hits.
Instead, it’s 2018 and I’m kneading a kink in my neck with my fingertips as I melt into the floor, into the crowd, into “Wish You Were Here.”
Envelop, the hosts of the event, want to literally envelop you in sound. They have a permanent home at The Midway SF, where they’ve created a spatial 32-speaker experience that’s meant to make you feel as though you are inside of the music you’re listening to. Through this incredible audio technology, you can gain a whole new understanding of a classic album. The night I was there, the album du jour was “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd, and the acoustics were so crisp and vibrant that it was like I had never really listened to this album before, though I’d certainly heard it many, many times.
If you haven’t checked it out yet, The Midway is a creative event space in the Dogpatch. You can wander around and check out the exhibits in their gallery, hang out on the patio and feel the night air, or pop over to the cafe for a drink. Outside of the Envelop SF program, there are live musical performances and interactive dinners hosted at the space. When you show up for one of these audio events, give yourself a little time to explore the full venue before you enter the cozy Envelop cocoon.
I walk into the venue, grab an herbal tea, and lie down on a cushion propped on the floor. I’m super close to the people around me, who keep squeezing in until I’m practically snuggling with the couple to my left. It’s dark inside the permanent Envelop space except for the lights on the speaker towers, which frame the room. They give off a moonlit glow, and when the music plays, the lights sometimes change and move with the sounds.
When the album starts, the opening notes are so crisp that they silence the horizontal crowd. I can’t remember the last time I just lay around listening to a record. Usually my phone is out, my laptop is propped open, I’m jotting down one hundred things. This felt like a thoroughly pre-internet experience. No multitasking, no looking up tidbits about the songs or band, no popping into my work email “just one more time, real quick” and then disappearing into an email chain when I should be listening. There was something meditative, attention-span-strengthening, about sitting still for a full record. And the unbelievable sound quality and acoustics certainly didn’t hurt. It was way more immersive than my usual phone and TV speakers.
When was the last time you were completely inside of an experience? Did that experience include other people? A room full of strangers isn’t necessarily my favorite thing, but in our close quarters, experiencing the music together, I felt open and connected to the rest of the audience. As we trickled out of the room, everyone exchanged smiles and pleasantries as we pulled on our shoes.
I felt soothed and thoroughly present after I left. The experience was more active than meditation but had similar effects. It made me stop and appreciate what was happening around me. It cleared out my brain, even in the hours afterward, when I was home in bed with Pink Floyd songs gently weaving through my brain.
I noticed that I didn’t check my phone the second I left the venue. I spent the ride home talking to my husband about music and comparing notes on what we’d just experienced. We kept the conversation up when we landed in our living room, where it’s so easy to disappear into tasks and devices. It’s a few months later, and I can tell you that now, at least once a week, we hang out for an hour and just listen to music. The sound quality isn’t as good, and I’m not as good at paying attention 100 percent of the time, but I’m trying. Unplugged, music-focused time has slipped into my life because of this “Wish You Were Here” evening, and I’m grateful for that.
Tips for your Envelop experience
When you walk into the room, you may feel compelled to cozy up to the wall. Resist the urge and enter the inner circle of cushions. This is secretly the most spacious spot, and because it’s a little more structured than the other seated clusters, you get a better guarantee that you can fully lie down. “You can think of the technology as the next generation of surround sound, called spatial audio, that allows an audience to be inside the music,” says Christopher Willits, co-founder and executive director of Envelop. “When we are inside the music, the social and emotional benefits of music become tremendously amplified.”
The three-dimensional sound placement transformed the album into an experience that varied completely based on the placement of my body. When I lay down, when I sat up, completely different details nestled into my eardrums. I wasn’t just listening to “Wish You Were Here,” I was floating in a nearly tactile orb of “Wish You Were Here” that wiggled and shifted and wrapped itself around my blissed-out frame.
Get there a little early so you can a) get a good spot and b) enjoy the drink you just bought at the entrance and not feel it transform to the wrong temperature as you disappear into a sonic adventure for 45 minutes. Post-album listening, tepid tea and beer is not that delicious, though honestly you may be a little too blissed out to notice.
Wear comfortable clothes and shoes that you can easily slip off when you walk into the room. If you need a cushion, and you didn’t take my excellent inner-circle advice (jk, you’re doing great), snag one ASAP. There are additional cushions lining the walls. You are lying on a hard floor — it’s OK to want to grab some pillows. You may also want bring a cozy coat that you can easily turn into a makeshift cushion.
And have fun. Let the music crack you open. Enjoy an unplugged hour where you’re hyperfocused on art and the present moment. The evening felt like the renegade love child of a sound bath, live concert, and time machine. It’s completely unique, immersive, and delightful.
Not a Pink Floyd fan? Envelop puts on events like this for other classic albums by artists like Nina Simone, The Beatles, and The Flaming Lips. They also use their audio system for sound baths and immersive sound yoga. Peruse their events page to find the perfect sonic experience for you. The Midway SF is also home to other exciting events like art experiences, dinners, and concerts.
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