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The Sads Are Quiet

Marc Sanchez

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The Sads, rocking it without headphones
(Courtesy The Sads)
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Music video for The Sads' "Miniature Moons"
(Directed by Jay Buim)

Want to hear a concert this weekend? You've got lots of options... Death Cab for Cutie is in Indianapolis. Chattanooga has its big Riverbend Festival going on. Willie Nelson's always on the road, he's in St. Louis now.

One thing that's predictable about all those concerts is that the bands are going to make a lot of racket. Not the Sads. The Sads are a Los Angeles band that's putting on a silent show tonight. What they do is feed all their instruments into about 80 sets of headphones.

But if you don't have headphones all you'll hear will be the tapping of drum pads and the clicking of keyboards. They originally tried this idea out last November:


David Scott Stone: The reaction of the first time we did this in New York was amazing. We planned on only doing a 15-minute set. There were people out on the streets, and people just walking by were like, "Wow! I see people playing music, but I don't hear anything." We wound up doing three different sets so we could accommodate all the people that wanted to experience it.

My name is David Scott Stone, and I am with the group The Sads. I am playing modular synthesizer and electronics. Also in the band is Aaron Rose.

Aaron Rose: Hey, how's it going? I'm a musician and vocalist in The Sads.

Stone: And Aska.

Aska Matsumiya: Hello, my name is Aska Matsumiya. I play keyboards, bass, and sing in the band.

Stone: The silent performance came up when I was at Aaron's house, and I saw a pair of old '60s special-ed headphones that looked amazing. He must have had 50 pairs of them. I remember listening to music as a child on headphones, because we couldn't play loud music in my parents' house. The intimacy you have from listening to headphones at 1 o'clock in the morning, when you're a child, it just carried throughout my life. Whenever I've mixed music or wanted to listen really in depth, I've listened on headphones.

Rose: Basically, when the audience enters the room, what they see is a giant pile of electronic gear. We set up our equipment loosely based around the idea of a campfire. All the equipment is in the center of the room, and we're surrounding the equipment in a circle facing each other. Then, the headphones extend out from that, into a larger circumference of a circle. The audience is completely surrounding the band. It's a much more intimate experience than you would get seeing a live band in another situation, which you wouldn't originally think would be the case.

Matsumiya: You see piano, or violin or cello. Those are wooden instruments, and you expect to hear something very natural and very touching from those instruments, because they were made by nature. You never expect that electronic instruments can give you the same feeling, because you just see lots of wires and lots of cords and everything connected.

Rose: It's almost like a group meditation -- which sounds so completely lame, but there's a sense of connection. We're all connected by wires when we're doing this thing. The band is connected by wires, which go to the headphone amps. And the amps then have wires out to the audience, so everybody is connected to each other.

Stone: The headphones are pretty close together, so you're in close proximity to other people.

Rose: They're right on top of each other. Everybody's touching each other.

Stone: There are certainly couples holding hands when we were playing in New York. When I saw that it was like: Mission accomplished.

What we're working on now is trying to bring people back into the real world, so we're actually fading music out. We all start singing at the end of the performance, and we try to fill the room up with our voices again. Slowly they move from out of the headphones and back into the room acoustics. We came into the awareness of the sound outside the headphones and moving in and out between the acoustic world and the headphone world we're creating. We're going to attempt to bring people in and out of some sort of hypnotic state, if all is working good.

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