|by David Farneth
As far back as ten years ago, the corner of Franklin and Church Streets at night could fill my stomach with pangs of urban alienation. This is where savvy taxi drivers began their zoom up nascent Sixth Avenue on an expressway fantasy to the heart of the Village, leaving insignificant, wind-blown pedestrians behind in the bowels of Tribeca, caught between the towering Trade towers to the south and the Empire jewel to the north. A darkened Farm & Garden Nursery created a black hole in the middle of the "Y" intersection, leaving all signs of life to the drunks staggering in and out of the Baby Doll Lounge and the Harmony Theatre Burlesque.
The stretch of Church Street between Canal and Franklin is lonely no longer -- it's more of a city-style food court with Barocco, Arqua, Lupa, R-Bar, Laurita's Soul Cafe, and the Burrito Bar giving the Baby Doll and the Harmony a run for their money. Biblios, the trendy bookstore- reading cafe, is even attracting the self-conscious cerebral types. But this kind of street theater is fundamentally commercial and transient; it can change as quickly as play titles on a Broadway marquee. The real traditions of a New York street are preserved by the jobs worked and the lives lived on the second floors and above.
Thirty-four years ago composer La Monte Young and visual artist Marian Zazeela pioneered the Tribeca loft movement when they moved into a work space at 275 Church Street between Franklin and White: tin ceiling, toilet in the corner, no central heat. Young, who thrives on the isolation he knew as a child growing up in rural Idaho and Utah, could play his electronically generated music at ear-splitting levels here all night long without bothering heaven or earth. Over the last three decades, musicians, composers, artists, poets, philosophers, mathematicians, computer scientists, art dealers, students, and spiritual leaders from the world over have passed through the ubiquitous black door and trekked the steep stairs to play and hear music, to discuss art, or to calculate complex tuning systems.
There are only two months left this season when you, too, can pass through the black door and experience Young and Zazeela's sound and light environment, "Dream House: Seven Years of Sound and Light: 275 Church Street 3rd Floor." The installation is open to the public from 2 P.M. to midnight on Thursdays and Saturdays through June; the suggested donation is $3.00. The site receives support from the Dia Art Foundation.
The Dream House is a modernist construction, in that the artists have taken years to develop a controlled environment that aspires to being art at the highest level. It also derives from a minimal aesthetic in that the sound component is comprised of continuous sine-wave drones, and the light art component features slowly changing shapes and subtly changing colors. Both sound and light seem simple on the surface, but become devastatingly complex after careful analysis. The visitor must become engaged in the experience. The Dream House is not for passive entertainment.
Young's sound scape uses 35 different sine tones tuned according to the composer's own system of just intonation. The 35 tones are spread over 10 octaves (with the lowest tones rumbling from the huge, white speakers in each corner of the room), with 20 of the tones squeezed into a small portion of the 7th octave (some separated by only 1/14th of a half step) that create sound pulsations like you've never heard before. Each sine wave vibrates in different parts of the room, so that the chord you hear changes as you move through the room. I like to sit on the floor in modified lotus position, tilting my head slowing back and forth, from side to side, to create my own melodies and sound textures. The visitor with an acute ear can actually "play" the room like an instrument: explore the sound close to the wall, close to the floor, in the corners, or just standing still. Or lie on the floor and allow the sound to float you to heaven, slide you into hell, or transport you wherever you want to go.
Zazeela's light installation, "Imagic Light," offers an intriguing complement to the sound, even though they are equally effective when viewed in silence. Using pairs of colored lights and suspended aluminum mobiles cut in calligraphic shapes, Zazeela explores the relationship between object and shadow, making the tangible intangible, and vice versa. Enjoy the installation for its mesmerizing beauty, or try to analyze how the different colors are achieved, how the mobiles create the resulting shadows, or infinite number of symmetrical patterns that can be created as the mobiles shift with the air patterns in the room.
Be sure to take time to savor the poetry in Young's 107-word title to the audio component and to read Kyle Gann's informative "Village Voice" review that gives hints on how to maximize the Dream House experience. Also, be sure to reserve some time for the three additional works by Zazeela that are on display.
The Dream House is a unique life experience that you will remember for years, and one that you will probably return to time and again. If you give it the concentration it deserves, you will discover new things about yourself and see the workaday world from a distant perspective. It's a great place to celebrate, mourn, reflect, create, rest, analyze, energize, focus, wander, and revitalize. From the rose-colored windows you can look out onto Manhattan's street theater knowing you can take center stage again, this time all the wiser.
P.S. A few random thoughts and practical advice about visiting the Dream House: Don't be put off by the informality of the entrance, and be patient (up to a couple of minutes) for the bell to be answered. Don't just plan to "stop by" 30 minutes before a dinner date or on the way to a concert at Roulette or the Knitting Factory. (Coming here after a concert, on the other hand, is a good idea.) A quick visit will not allow enough time for the environment to work its magic. You will be asked by one of the installation volunteers to remove your shoes before entering the environment. Plan to go alone or bring along someone with whom you can share intimate experiences. You have to be relaxed and uninhibited in order to explore the environment to its fullest. The creativity of the Dream House is infectious: don't be afraid to meditate, to let your mind run free. Return again to pick up where you left off.
This article first appeared on the Metrobeat website in April 1996. Metrobeat has since been acquired by CitySearch.