2011: Philadelphia Daily News

Sonic dream space is part meditation, part arts project

"SONIC DREAM space": That's what this 12-by-6-foot room is supposed to be. But at first glance it's just a small rectangular room, painted white, with a chair against the back wall. As the lights go down, and the music comes up, the room begins to live up to its name.

The room, located in Jeweler's Row, is the home of the Sound Resolution Center. Equal parts meditation space and art project, the center specializes in 25-minute sound sessions meant to plunge a participant in a room filled with ambient music and changing lights. Simply sit in the solo chair and wait as the music begins.
Story continues below.

Speakers are placed at specific points throughout the room to make the sound feel truly immersive, making it seem as if your body is humming along with the music. Pleasing tones, made with MIDI keyboards and other electronic instruments, slowly build and coalesce, as other natural noises, such as gusts of wind, become part of the sonic landscape.

A custom light fixture, by New Hampshire artist Nick Brancaccio, changes colors as the music changes further, plunging participants into a calm state, and adding a rather trippy effect to the proceedings.

The Sound Resolution Center and its soothing music spring from the minds of Calpin Hoffman-Williamson, a recording engineer, and Michael G. Bauer, an artist and musician, who met while doing literacy outreach for the Please Touch Museum. The center itself is modeled on the Dream House in Manhattan, billed as "a sound and light environment." The New York version was bigger, but both achieve the same effect.

The center offers three different sound resolutions - "New Dawn," "Crystal Connections" and "Power of Persistence" - each with its own mood and personality. "New Dawn," for instance, is more bass-centric and cosmic-sounding, while "Crystal Connections" is filled with chimes and has a lighter touch.

Each session - by appointment only - lasts 25 minutes and costs $30. "It's like a Sharper Image nature CD but to the nth degree," Hoffman-Williams said sardonically. But he's right, if only nature sounded like a creation of ambient music pioneer Brian Eno.

The music comes from improvisation sessions. The collaborators listen to their recordings and pick out the highlights to "compose a narrative," according to Hoffman-Williamson.

"I'm interested in these 25-minute soundscapes that are immersive and can almost be a journey," Bauer said. "That's a major part, that you can hook someone in and they can meditate on these traditions that have a process and different segments."

"It was an interesting combination of actively listening to music, which I guess I don't do all that often. I felt like I became meditative or in a focused or relaxed state that kind of crept up on me without me noticing," said Adam Brody, whom Hoffman-Williamson and Bauer used as a guinea pig in one of their many test runs. "It's an interesting way to take a step back and let something happen to you but afterward I felt like I had been active."
Story continues below.

There is science to support the idea that listening to music can lull a person into a meditative state.

"I can't quote studies, but I do think that there is science that auditory stimulation can change your mood," said Thomas Willcox, director of the Hearing and Balance Center at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. "Like you hear the theme of 'Jaws,' you aren't going to meditate to that. Music can soothe the savage beast, if you will, and it can stimulate it."

Willcox added that this use of music as a stimulant is constantly used in subliminal ways. Think about holiday shopping: "Why do you think they play music at the mall?" Willcox asked.

Neither Hoffman-Williamson nor Bauer purport to have a background in science or meditation. "It's mostly us coming as musicians and artists rather than as healers," Hoffman-Williamson said.

"It's a much more visceral experience," Bauer said.


The Sound Resolution Center, 733 Sansom St., Suite 2. For more information email soundresolutioncenter@gmail.com.