Bring up the concept of "sound art," and you'll likely get a surprising reaction. Folks outside the underground art scene are curious until they hear a few samples, then they're either mystified by the style's appeal or appreciate only a piece or two. Avant-garde types, on the other hand, either roll their eyes and consider the genre a pretentious racket or embrace its nonmusical nature and chuckle when its methods show up in pop tunes. As the diverse lineup of the seventh annual Activating the Medium Festival confirms, they're all correct: Sound art may not be music, but it's far from shapeless noise.
What is sound art? Generally, sound artists create works that are limited by neither the rules of melody nor traditional instrumentation. And why shouldn't they do so, if we're surrounded by everyday objects and places that make their own amazing music? That spirit leaves the door open for the Quebecois Jean-François Laporte, who headlines the festival's first night and whose best-known piece is a surprisingly compelling recording of a Zamboni ice-smoothing machine at a hockey rink. It also allows for Solid Eye's dense guitar-and-sample romps, Kenneth Atchley's water-fountain sound sculptures, Joe Colley's punkish drone compositions, and Trevor Paglen's lecture about the soundscape at Pelican Bay State Prison. And while Thomas Dimuzio's layered found-sound experiments -- which fold in the noises of a water spigot and a shrink-wrap machine -- are unlikely to leave you shimmying to your Cuisinart, they might make you listen to everything differently, including your favorite music.
The aural exercises unfold starting at 8 p.m. Friday at SomArts Cultural Center, 934 Brannan (at Eighth Street), S.F. Admission is $10 for each night's program; call 552-2131 or visit www.23five.org.
-- Ron Nachmann
Hear No She-vil
The normally dignified, sonorous, respectable, and tuxedo-clad San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus has gone bonkers. Suddenly its members are in drag, with eye shadow up to there, belting out diva hit after diva hit in "The Boys Do Bette & Babs." The gloves are off, people. Prepare for battle: It'll be "The Rose" in one corner and "Evergreen" in the other, performed by soloists and small groups from the chorus and accompanied by a crack team of cabaret specialists.And this year, the glamfest is MC'd by the SFGMC's own "Empress-in-Residence," Donna Sachet. You are not invited to sing along, starting at 8 p.m. Saturday (also 2 and 7 p.m. on Sunday) at the ODC Theatre, 3153 17th St. (at Shotwell), S.F. Admission is $20-30; call 865-3650 or visit www.sfgmc.org for more information.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
Sweets for the Suites
Chocolate is a substance so rich, delicious, and addictive that Linnaeus named the tree from which it came Theobroma cacao, or "food of the gods." Legends have long circulated about the brown beans' aphrodisiac qualities. We can't say for sure -- but we can tell you that an all-you-can-eat tableful of the stuff is enough to get our full attention and our attendance at plus-size dance company Big Move's showcase "A Taste for Dance." A night of hip-shaking moves and a chocolate buffet stocked by talented local candy-makers is yours starting at 5 p.m. at the First Unitarian Church, 685 14th St. (at Castro), S.F. Admission is $10-20; visit www.bigmoves.org.
-- Joyce Slaton
Men at Work
The hardest-working band in town might just be Gris Gris. (It's pronounced "gree gree" -- get it right!) The group has been performing all around S.F. over the past few months, and you know what that means: People like it. A "gris gris" is a voodoo charm that can act for good luck or bad; we figure that the act's particular brand of post-shoegazer indie/psych fuzz could bring on the forces of good for some fortunate souls. Holy Toledo and Continuous Peasant (with former members of the Silver Jews) share the bill starting at 8 p.m. at El Rio, 3158 Mission (at Cesar Chavez), S.F. Admission is $5; call 282-3325 or visit www.elriosf.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser