Drugs can be great. They’re fun, all the cool kids are doing them, and they can help you forget about the rapid approach of midterms–if even just for a moment. But, as you probably know, drugs are expensive, and can be both habit-forming and unsafe, creating another unwanted source of stress. But fear not, anxious students, for we have a noteworthy alternative to drugs: The Dream House: A Sound and Light Environment.
Dream House has been around for three years, but it’s still easy to miss. Its Church street entrance—a nondescript, black door—blends in easily with the surrounding restaurants and residences. After climbing a dimly lit staircase, I took off my shoes, paid the “recommended donation,” and was ushered into an empty apartment saturated in magenta light that seemed to vibrate due to an overpowering droning that can only be described as WAAAAAAH.
I was initially tempted to immediately turn around, grab my shoes, and retreat back to the safe confines of Bobst. The exhibition felt far too much like something a pretentious Gallatino concentrating in “aquatic art and the music of Animal Collective” would enjoy, especially when the others in the room started doing a yoga-like routine that involved slapping each other on the back repeatedly. But in my head, I could hear myself being told, “you just don’t get art,” so I—determined to “get” it—sat down on the white carpet and attempted to, as the volunteer at the door had instructed, “relax, man.”
The Dream House is the brainchild of minimalist composer La Monte Young and his wife-turned-light designer, Marian Zazeela. Young is known for his extensive use of sustained tones that may just sound tedious to the average listener. However, Young believes the use of repetitive sounds can put one into what he calls a “drone state of mind,” and subsequently allow one to “access other states of consciousness and awareness of our position in relationship to time and universal structure.”
I’m not going to lie: The Dream House, upon first impression, is terrifying. The magenta lighting and pasta-like mobiles that hung from the ceiling reminded me of the pink elephants on parade in Dumbo that terrified me as a child, the WAAAAAAH made me anxious, and the incense burning in the corner reminded me of the “free love” phase my mom had gone through during my freshman year of high school. But, once I lied down on the thick carpet (they provide pillows) and closed my eyes, I seemed to slip into the drug-like state that Young had imagined.
The noise eventually separated into distinct tones whose sound would change based upon your position in the room. When I first discovered this by slightly moving my head, I suddenly felt unsure of what was reality and what was fabricated in my mind. Usually losing grips on existence would be enough to inspire a trip to the nearest hospital; however, in this setting, I was somehow okay with it. At one point, I was content considering the (at the time) plausible idea that I was being prepared for an alien abduction, while at another, I thought “I bet Radiohead would be really into this.” Something about the combination of the rapid, vibratory noise and the saturation of the magenta light made me feel very euphoric, very nonsensical, and very high.
After what felt like five minutes but was really half an hour, I put my shoes back on and returned to the hustle of Church street at rush hour, feeling both drowsy and energized as if I had just awoken from a very satisfying nap. The high didn’t go away, either (I didn’t even swear once when group of tourists with maps obstructed the sidewalk on my walk home). I felt satisfied with life, unworried about the class that I had skipped that day, and all around, just good—and I didn’t even need to take any drugs.