202 East 5th Street
MARCH 26, 2013






We don’t serve food,” the chef and sound designer for Acoustia explained to a passerby who was baffled by the specials for the evening, “We serve sounds.”

Acoustia seems to hearken from this Warhol-era New York that I’ve often read or heard about but never experienced firsthand, like most of New Yorkers.

I don’t begin to understand how anyone would profit from such an enterprise, but I needed a break from food. I love food, and lots of it, but after having sampled so much delicious smoked ricotta ice cream, bone marrow, and bacon-infused bacon, I was ready to go to a restaurant without being fitted for a casket by the end of the meal.

Acoustia seats four, although it has room for about ten times that. The additional space is so that the sounds that are served can fully resonate. I should note that this will be the first and last time you ever see me use the word resonate in a column or in person under penalty of death.

If I had to guess who Acoustia’s clientele was, I would start with sound artists, recovering noise musicians, and anyone who owns multiple black turtlenecks in their closet, who, camoflauged against the sparse lighting, resemble floating heads. I myself am proud to be one of those floating heads.

The menu is a series of numbers; decible levels. Description of the sounds would affect my perception of them, the server explained, and thusly I wouldn't be properly hearing them. This is exactly the kind of farcicial nonsense that I expect from a post-Warhol Warhol New York, and so I moved my finger around on the menu until I selected some decibles that seemed reasonable, and, six minutes later, a severe-looking woman dressed in black returned with a small bicycle bell, which she allowed me to examine and then ring with a small “ding!”

“Is that it?” I asked.

“Would you take one bite from an appetizer and then send it back?” she responded. “Absolutely,” I said. But as it so happens, this was my favorite kind of bicycle bell. It registers as a C-sharp and isn’t flat like a hockey puck, but is just a tad more bell-shaped. It’s not too piercing, like a hotel bell, or a regular bicycle bell, and it’s pretty much useless for biking in any major city. But at Acoustica, it’s perfect.

Of course the odd thing at a restaurant that serves sound is that you can sample other people's dishes without really intruding on anyone. The problem is that this means that you can end up hearing a lot more than you intended to. On this particular evening: a gong, a kazoo, the little demo tune from a Casio keyboard, and a duck call.

Acoustia’s only fault, other than they have no food and are offering a service that seems even more inessential than most inessential services in New York, is that many passerbys either confuse it for an actual restaurant or for a stereo supply store, and can be really quite insistent that they want one or the other. Come on, let me in!” said a heavyset man with a stack of LPs under his arm, “I've got enough doo-wop for everybody. You gotta hear this. I’ll buy two of whatever it is you have!”

Once he witnessed my floating head and my bicycle bell, his enthusiasm waned. “The irony there,” Gil FaGil, Acoustia's owner and sound engineer, “is that we really intended this to be a place to recover from recorded sound.” Pardon?

He explained further, “Shop at any store, stop for a cup of coffee, go out to dinner, and you're hearing who knows how many songs, all prerecorded, in various different qualities, formats . . . so I thought, what if you just had one place that you go could to where you might be able to hear a simple doorbell (80 decibles)? Or a cat's meow (35–50 decibles)? And it's not in stereo, it's the actual sound you want to hear."

I am baffled as to the necessity of this, but FaGil's background as one of the four drummers in the vanguard noisecore band THUDUMkssssshTHUDUM, whose 8-hour debut album featured a chorus of barking dogs, sledgehammers against stone, and a church organ gives some clue to his present calling as a sound chef. Perhaps having spent so much time on one end of the sound spectrum he feels an obligation to the other.

I asked about the Meow. “I mean, it’s not an easy sound,” said FaGil, “But I'll see what I can do.” He returned with a large gray cat named Hortense who sat on the table, looking generally confused. She eventually produced a small meow which sounded fairly robust in Acoustica's environs, before scurrying off to hide behind FaGil’s battered drum kit.


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