Aaron Dilloway

Thrown into the deep end, the audience sat transfixed.

At The Lab, a nonprofit experimental arts center in San Francisco housed in a funky and industrial building, noise artists Aaron Dilloway, an Ohio resident who made his name with the midwestern supergroup Wolf Eyes, and Lucrecia Dalt, a poet and sound artist from Berlin, performed a deeply moving, immersive affair on Friday night. Aside from the occasional yelp of encouragement, not a word was spoken during either performance.  

After a subdued crowd had trickled in and exchanged soft, lush banter, Dilloway began the evening with sounds of chaos and tension that swept the unmoving audience away. The discordant rhythms and distant voices were at times frightening and exhilarating, both whimsical and emotionally heavy. Much of Dilloway’s pieces evoked images of violence, war, revolution, and nightmare. Sounds of angry crowds in the distance on top of rollicking, off-kilter rhythms created a disorienting auditory and visual landscape.  

A sense of fear and anxiety, but also excitement was created by the sounds of sirens, explosions, and catastrophe. After getting increasingly loud, powerful, and anarchic, one piece led into the entrancing as well as unsettling sound of a beating heart. Some of the calmer moments evoked a bustling urban dreamscape, of city streets in the longest and most desolate nighttime hours.

Dramatic portions of Dilloway’s performance sounded nightmarish, off-balance, confused, and out of control, but were still deeply arresting. No matter the tone, rhythm, or volume, the soundscape grabbed you and wouldn’t let go, morphing from one piece to the next.  Dreams, nightmares, and hypnagogic images were consistently evoked. Some parts of the performance sounded as if they were underwater: unrelenting, crashing sounds reminded one of the feeling of being hit by an unseen wave and being suddenly dragged into the ocean. There’s a combined feeling of fear and ecstasy when you’re thrown around, forced to surrender to the power of the sea and go along for the ride, hoping you find your way to the surface.  

Remember your first experience on a roller coaster? This was kind of like that. Dilloway’s use of distorted vocals made his voice sound like it was coming from another dimension, similar to how noises trail off before one falls into sleep, and how sounds slowly come into view as one wakes.

A mesmerized, engrossed audience member remarked, “It was like hearing a piano fall down a flight of stairs.” One’s consciousness was pushed, pulled and flung around by the repetitive, hypnotic sounds.

In a jarring contrast to Dilloway, Lucrecia Dalt’s performance was less harsh, and more meditative. Her pieces were more of a guide for a listener’s internal experience. Thoughts were gently sculpted and steered by her ambient sounds, as opposed to being crudely hewn, spat out, and pushed as they were by Dilloway’s pieces. First, one was moved to an urban landscape of transit noise, reminiscent of solitary underground terminals filled by distant sirens and fading chatter.  

Gliding from one scene to the next, we floated through a starry night time landscape, hovering in thoughts about space, time, and dreams where you keep falling deeper and deeper into an abyss. Sounds of rain, water, and lush landscape were interspersed with intimate spoken words.

Dalt’s performance had more moments of silence, which allowed listeners to find and orient themselves, leaving them entranced as flowing sounds altered their thoughts. As with Dilloway, Dalt’s pieces make you examine your consciousness, pushing listeners to focus clearly on whatever thoughts happen to arise in the moment. Soft vocals moved from the forefront to more distant whispers, and remained tender as rhythms came in and out of focus.  

Towards the conclusion, pulsating sounds got gradually more discordant, melding together and then slowly fading away. Her pieces were very immersive, and at times strangely comforting, soothing the listener as if one were falling into a deep, peaceful sleep lying next to a trusted partner. The sounds were soft and intimate, in contrast to the first clashing, chaotic performance.

As with most any performance at the Lab, both were deeply hypnotic.

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