Show Review: “Sticks & Stones” at SoundBox

by Chad Liffmann on February 16, 2015

Rootstock percussion trio in Wenjing Guo’s Parade (Xiang).  Photo courtesy of Kristen Loken.

Rootstock percussion trio in Wenjing Guo’s Parade (Xiang). Photo courtesy of Kristen Loken.

The San Francisco Symphony’s new venue, SoundBox, is located in the back of Davies symphony hall on Franklin Street. Once just a rehearsal space but now a fully transformative experimental music space, SoundBox is basically half club and half concert hall.  There’s really only one way to put it — SoundBox is flat-out cool!

There’s a long foyer with a lowered floor area, and in the case of the Sticks & Stones setup, filled with percussion instruments to play with.  Bending around the end corner you walk into a sizable hanger of a room with an industrial aesthetic.  Three large projector screens hang from the ceiling, the largest taking up nearly the entire length of the largest wall (it actually is the “wall”).  A grid of padded black stool chairs and tables glimmer in the fluorescent blue and red spotlights.  The whole place has a nightclub glow, and the music on Friday night didn’t stray too far from that mood either, but it’s a shame there wasn’t more dancing.

Steven Schick in Lei Liang’s Trans (with audience participation).  Photo courtesy of Kristen Loken.

Steven Schick in Lei Liang’s Trans (with audience participation).  Photo courtesy of Kristen Loken.

Select members of the SF Symphony and a few special guests grooved out over Valentine’s Day weekend with two nights of experimental percussion music.  Called Sticks & Stones, the event featured seven experimental percussion pieces performed in three sessions (with two 20 minute intermissions) on small stages set up around the floor space.  The night opened up with a stellar performance of Electric Counterpoint by Steve Reich, transcribed for marimba and performed by SF Symphony’s principle percussionist, Jacob Nissly.  The piece created a fully immersive atmosphere and gave the audience a taste of SoundBox’ potential.  Electric Counterpoint was followed by a mime-like performance piece by Steven Schick called Aphasia, which was set to a mixed audio track created by electro-acoustic pioneer Mark Applebaum.

The end of each intermission was signaled by a surround sound recording of rhythmic hand clapping accompanied by a graphical representation on the three screens.  If there was ever a more effective and show-specific call to attention (and one’s seat) in a concert hall, I’d like to see it.  Honestly, it rivaled the gimmicky and now dated IMAX theater sound introduction. The rest of the evening followed in suit, highlighted by a mesmerizing performance of Parade (Xiang) by the percussion trio Rootstock Percussion, which consists of Christopher Froh, Daniel Kennedy, and Loren Mach, and a gorgeously hypnotic performance of Osvaldo Golijov’s Mariel with Jacob Nissly on the marimba again and this time joined by Sébastien Gingras on the cello.  It was the only non-percussion instrument of the evening, but it was a show-stopper.

The night was engaging throughout, and the audience was continually drawn into the rhythms (again though, no dancing?).  At least there was an audience participation moment involving hitting chalked rocks together, which were scattered about the tables.  A clever and chic aesthetic AND an interactive musical element, who knew!?  If this night, only the second show in the newly created space, is any indication of the venue’s clever use of space and musical talent to be showcased, then sign me up for more!


FARTHER OUT, the next show at SoundBox, has just been announced.  Tickets available at:

More information about SoundBox at

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