In a modest, inconspicuous building, the MELA Foundation’s Dream House encourages meditation and introspection through continuous frequencies of light and sound.
By Pamela Segura
On the third floor of 275 Church Street, a cozy and moderately sized room serves as an escapist space wherein constant frequencies of light and sound thrive. The Dream House seems to quiet the sounds of New York City with its quiet, ever-pulsing hum.
During my visit at the Dream House, I was particularly fascinated by the connections between movement and sound. When I sat on the floor, I heard steady pitches that were not too low or too high. As I stood and moved closer to the wall, however, the harmonies grew in speed and sounded higher. The change in frequency felt like moving from experimental film to surrealist thriller, from The Tree of Life to The Shining. The room was bathed in a purplish glow and it was rather warm, as temperature also affects sound and light waves.
The experience recalled someone told me before I stepped into the actual Dream House: “It feels like you’re taking a shower.”
The Dream House’s concept was founded by artists La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela, both of whom focus on sound and light respectively. Young is one of the key figures in minimalist music, which is experimental avant-garde music that uses basic music elements. Zazeela uses the medium of light to destabilize the distinctions between real, physical objects and visual illusions.
Young and Zazeela were members of the Theatre of Eternal Music, a 1960s minimalist group that still informs a great deal of the contemporary experimental, alternative, and post-rock genres.
The Dream House itself was born out of the marriage between Young and Zazeela’s artistic and intellectual interests. The MELA Foundation, a multidisciplinary art organization that advocates the connections between Western and Eastern worldviews, funds the Dream House.
At the heart of Young and Zazeela’s oeuvres, it seems, is a genuine desire to explore symmetry and sensory experience.
The sounds that resonate throughout the Dream House rest on Young’s use of drone music. Drone music is characterized by sustained tones that are often repeated for an extensive period of time. The music is deeply atmospheric and requires its listeners to disregard common ways of perceiving and categorizing music: tonality, distinctions between harmony and melody, time, and even silence. The music in the Dream House, according to an article on Arthur blog and magazine, is dependent upon structural symmetry because the frequencies in the room are “tuned to the harmonic series between 288 and 224 [based on the A440 Hz scale, a pitch standard that helps tune instruments], utilizing factors of only 9, or those primes or octave transpositions of smaller primes that fall within its range.” The result is numerical “symmetry above and below the thirty-second frequency,” which categorizes the actual speed of the harmonies.
Light too is displayed in symmetrical patterns. Two overhead lights hang above the ceilings and splash equal amounts of light on the walls of the Dream House space. This light is also aimed at aluminum shapes that hang on either side of the room. The shadows that the shapes make seem solid while the actual shapes—which are hung by ultrafine filaments—seem to drift above the space.
Indeed, the Dream House seems to breathe in its own space. And even an awareness of the symmetry, the artistic history, and the technological that informs Young and Zazeela’s project does not remove the wonder of quieting the city and reflecting in the Dream House. I will return to the Dream House for reflection and renewal.