Senses Working Overtime

From Audium to the Wave Organ and Ye Olde Pizza Joynt, little-known local sites turn music into an assault on all the senses

"It provides you a neutral zone between civilization and wilderness," he concludes, "a seat on the knife edge between the two."

To reach the wave-driven sound sculpture -- the visual equivalent of a Greek ruin and Basil Wolverton drawing -- walk east from the St. Francis Yacht Club, located at the Marina's western edge, past the tiny lighthouse to the tip of the yacht harbor jetty. Choose a sunny day, preferably during high tide or active seas; the best seat is the covered pew that faces Fort Mason, where you'll enjoy a veritable symphony of primal sounds.

To the Organ's converts, Richards recommends two other local sound sculptures, both works by artist Douglas Hollis: the Rain Column, a fountain-cum-sound curtain that adds ambience to the Rincon Center's noisy food court, and the Aolean Harp, a wind-activated lyre whose haunting song cries from above the Exploratorium's main entrance. Like the Organ, both marry sound and environment in fascinating ways.

Somewhere in another sensory zone altogether, however, is Hayward's Ye Olde Pizza Joynt, an unforgettable -- and potentially overwhelming -- experience for ears, eyes, and taste buds that gives found-sound new meaning. The polar opposite of the Wave Organ's natural setting, the pizza parlor houses the Warfield Theater's original Wurlitzer pipe organ, a Yugo-size relic of the silent-film era, one brought to life in an amusement-park setting where sticky tables, slick floors, and a crowd of surly teen-agers, blue-collar families, and old folks take for granted a thriving slice of history.

After ordering your pie, grab a $6 pitcher of Bud from the bar and a seat close to the Wurlitzer, where organist Jerry Nagano performs hourly renditions of "Talk to the Animals" and "Zip-a-Dee Doo-Dah." You've made the 40-minute trip from San Francisco to eat pizza and listen to organ music, and damn it, you're gonna do both; yet the combination can evoke a wild nightmare.

Built in 1958, the Pizza Joynt is the original pipe-organ pizza parlor, and -- with all the grace of a Jim Ludtke video -- it comes alive with a boggling array of instruments when Nagano plays: a fully automated percussion section, a grand piano, and tuned sleigh bells that hang from the wall near the bathroom; 16-foot tibia pipes stand near the door, shaking the room when they blow; literally scattered throughout the Joynt are cathedral chimes, a calliope, a glockenspiel, a xylophone, and a marimba, along with a menagerie of horns, sirens, and gongs. In time, they all anthropomorphize under Nagano's fingers.

Along the east wall, wood baffles open and close like fish gills to expose ranks and ranks of pipes that sing and cry. If you're sitting close enough to this pipe chamber, the very breath of the historical beast -- musty, Grandpa's-basement smells of old wood, metal, and leather, pumped by two monstrous Spencer-Orgo blowers -- momentarily obscures the permeating odor of pepperoni.

"I feel like I'm a part of history," Nagano, a 36-year-old California native, says between sets. "Thirty percent of my work is on the keyboard, but the rest is all in the Wurlitzer's tabs," which -- along with dozens of switches, buttons, toys, and var-ious pull-chains -- he operates to perfection, an intricate marionette's dance under the garish stage lights.

Most-requested is Nagano's "Chattanooga Choo-Choo," a finale that incorporates (literally) the Wurlitzer's every available bell and whistle: As the bells clang, the whistles scream, and the Wurlitzer's bass octaves begin their deafening chug-chug-chug, you just might suffer sensory disorientation, believing yourself to be (as the restaurant's newsletter claims) "sitting in the cab of the Wabash Cannonball." Well, not on BART, at least.

Located west of I-880 at 19510 Hesperian in Hayward, the restaurant features Nagano Wednesday through Sunday nights from 6:30 to 10 p.m. Like the mozzarella piled high on its namesake, Pizza Joynt's reputation relies heavily on cheese, the mighty Wurlitzer a primary ingredient in its commercial recipe. In any case, the Joynt is sonic light-years from the confines of a smoky warehouse-district club where the latest Touch and Go band assaults your cilia.

Environments like Audium or the Wave Organ may well mark the emergence of new forms of entertainment in general, and sound in particular. Stanley Shaff is only half-joking when he talks about Disneyland: "People are taking little carts through these dark passages, sound blaring at them, their bodies experiencing motion; well, why not take a cart to a concert? There are all kinds of ways the ears can be experienced, and not just by sitting in a formal theater.

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