Music: The Sick Machine

"B-z-z-up. Whoo. Whoo. Twitter. Z-o-o-om. MA-A-A-CHINE!" The sounds whooped and wallowed in the semidarkness, seemed to race one another, swooped head on into ear-splitting collisions. Under the domed ceiling, lights wriggled and flickered, reeled and burst in dazzling, flaky showers. A voice came booming in: "MATCHWOOD SPLITS INTO MATCHES!"

The scene: San Francisco's Morrison Planetarium. The occasion: an evening of Vortex, a "new form of theater based on electronics, optics and architecture," which in the last year and a half has put thousands of San Franciscans in a spin.

Esthetics. Vortex is the...