- Alingo Loh
Lovers of noise and ambient music—or just meditative, deep listening in general—will be excited to find out about a new venue in SLC that seeks to foster a peaceful, immersive place to indulge in sound. San Francisco-based nonprofit Envelop has finally settled on a place to open a new venue locally at 660 N. 300 West in Marmalade, after operating several successful pop-up events throughout late 2018 and early 2019 around Salt Lake City.
My introduction to the venue and its mission was rather abrupt. They contacted me on a Saturday at the end of August, asking if I'd be interested coming to their opening night's show—which was that evening. Still mostly ignorant about what it was, and worried about being late to my 8 p.m. bar shift, I said yes. I can't say no to being put on a list, and it's not every day you get invited to an "immersive audio venue."
It was a sticky, infuriatingly hot day that wasn't getting any cooler when I pulled onto the small, modest Marmalade street that Envelop is tucked into, just before 7 p.m. Sweating, hoping that the inside of this large, dark building was air-conditioned, I made my way through the outside lot and around the side of the building where I found the main entrance. It was indeed air conditioned, and at the door I was welcomed and encouraged to ditch my shoes in a nearby cubby and indulge in the snacks and refreshments laid out on a table. Ah, there was La Croix and I was allowed to bring it in to the dark immersion room that beckoned. I padded up a low ramp and entered.
As the tangerine La Croix bubbled down my throat, I took in the space, which was very dark and lit only by a circle of 10 ceiling-high columns made up of some kind of metallic mesh, inside of which glowed strips of color-shifting LEDs. It smelled densely of something like palo santo or copal: soothing, hypnotic, clean. The lights hummed between blue and pink, making me feel like I was swimming in dusk and banishing all remaining thoughts of the blazing sun outside. Gentle intermission music of birds and frogs and insects cut across the room from all sides as the immersive audio setup went to work. Within the circle of columns and light were pillows arranged in a circular pattern, too. Taking a video from my position on a cushion near the entrance and adding it to my Instagram story—with the caption, "About to get immersed"—got me responses from friends such as, "Where the fuck are you?" and "Are you in a cult?"
Not a cult by any means, the opening set was introduced by the opening musician and co-founder Christopher Willits, who explained the goal of the space as being one where a visitor could be fully transfixed by and appreciative of the audiovisual experience, with only lights and sound from all sides to focus on. Willits explained that his piece—a "spatial audio album," Sunset—moves from warm to cool, and is a soundtrack to the day's end as much as it is the metaphorical process of letting go. It follows his 2017 release Horizons, both out via the Ghostly International label, which is home to such notable experimental acts like HTRK, Com Truise and Tycho.
As his set began, I was relieved to find it was a smooth blend of fuzzy, bass-heavy noise and ambient, shimmery guitar—all qualities I like, and ones I could definitely give way to for half an hour. As the songs journeyed along, sliding into one another the way noise songs do, the lights shifted and changed, going from those original pinkish-blues to fiery oranges and reds, and later to greens.
People kept filtering in late, and by the time the trickle stopped, the room was nearly full. Ages and types of attendees varied, but I was definitely one of the younger people there. As the set went on, many moved the pillows beneath their heads to lie down. Others did spontaneous yoga poses. Since I've got a bad back, and sitting up without support for long periods isn't my favorite, I slipped into a few poses myself. Despite the music pressing—quite physically in the case of the loud bass—on all sides, I had a hard time focusing. But that's just me and my potential attention disorder. As the set ended and reached a soft climax, my head was on the ground, legs crossed in Fire Log position, and I began to feel like I was slowly tumbling through nothing. It broke as the song ended, and silence flooded my ears like black mud, and the yogis and sleepers alike clapped.
Envelop offers an exciting new way to engage with music for the music lovers of Salt Lake City. With a multitude of great acts coming up, there's something for everyone to indulge in. Upcoming listening sessions vary from Fleetwood Mac's Rumours to the ambient, trippy electronica of Tipper's Surrounded, and from Ryuichi Sakamoto's piano-driven async to a night of multiple selected works by Marvin Gaye. There's even a dance night planned for Daft Punk's Random Access Memories. The next scheduled event is a listening session of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and like the rest of the planned evenings, is a chance to engage with time-tested music in a truly new and inventive way.