A monthly blog about the sensory experience of New York City

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

SOUND: “Sound Journey” in Bed-Stuy brownstone

I found out about the sound journey on a telephone pole on Franklin Avenue, on one of those flyers with the teeth at the bottom that you tear off. “A guided meditation followed by a journey through sounds. Lying down in deep relaxation, experience sounds’ soothing vibrations, energizing presence, and healing power.” I sent an email. Some time later, I found myself climbing a brownstone stoop in Bed-Stuy at dusk, with my yoga mat, a blanket, and a pillow tucked under my arm. I rang the bell.

A gray-ponytailed man in shorts opened the door, introduced himself as V, and ushered me into his parlor apartment. The large room was empty but for some plants, a piano, and a futon couch pushed against the wall. Recorded relaxation music played; the air was heady with incense. The other participants had unrolled their yoga mats on top of two Oriental rugs. 

In one corner a middle-aged man reclined on a slab of egg-crate foam, his head resting on a stack of books, a set of prayer chimes by his ear. A young Asian woman next to me lay in shavasana. Through some doors at the back, I could see V.’s bed and a dozen or so crystal and metal Tibetan singing bowls of varying sizes set on little pads. They caught the light of the colored LED candles flickering on top of the piano. V. slid closed the pocket doors to the lobby and announced the beginning of our sound journey.

He invited us to lie down, close our eyes, and remain completely still as we concentrated on each part of our bodies, from our toes to our ears. V.’s footsteps padded across the floor, then the drones of a didgeridoo filled the room, interspersed with snuffling as he replenished his breath. The honking twangs—unlike any other instrument—was transporting, but in my prone position I felt a little like I was being vacuumed around. Squinting, I saw that as V. played he was actually creeping between our yoga mats like a pied piper in a T-shirt. There was no room for thought: the reverberations resounded even into the floorboards.

Over the course of about an hour, the didgeridoo flowed into drumming, clattering pieces of wood, rustling tissue, bells, and the gongs and keening hum of the singing bowls. As he moved around the room, sometimes V. played the instruments to the soles of our fee, and I felt the music there like a tickle.

As the waves of sound washed over us, the only reminder of our location in brownstone Brooklyn was the creaking of the parlor floorboards under V.’s bare feet and, once, his neighbors clattering up the stairs. At the end, an ice cream truck passed by outside, and the minor shift of its fading music wove into V.’s final, ethereal singing. 

I opened my eyes; the room was darker now and felt more intimate. A gray-haired woman stretched her arms over her head and announced, “I feel full of vibrations! “Another woman sidled up to V. and asked him how she could summon more sound from her own singing bowls. I helped myself to some Brita water, in a plastic cup decorated with balloons.

On the futon couch, V. had unveiled the instruments of our journey, but I averted my eyes, content to imagine what they might have been.

I thanked him and found my car outside. As I was about to pull away from the curb, though, another car pulled up beside mine, windows down, music thumping. A man hopped out and began chatting with two men enjoying the evening beneath a tent in their brownstone courtyard. I called out my window, “Hey, I’m about to pull out. Could you move your car up?” The guy slunk back to his car, leaned in the driver’s side, and shouted to someone in the passenger seat, “Hey, can you move this shit up?” With a squeal of tires the car lurched forward. The windows went up, muffling the music.

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