Out of this World | A Wellness Experience in Joshua Tree
Tuning into California's Integratron: a spiritual space craft and mid-century masterpiece of geomagnetism, relaxation and time travel.
Any healing experience based on a visitation from aliens has to be approached with a degree of caution, and I baulk slightly when I sign up for something called a “Sound Bath”. Does it involve water? Does it involve nudity? When I hear that the whole place had been designed via telepathic communication with a man from Venus called Solganda, my cynicism reflex goes into overdrive. This, I believe, is understandable.
The Integratron isn’t the sole preserve of New Age types and X Files enthusiasts – several thousand people travel from around the world to experience the Sound Baths each year. Built in 1953 by George Van Tassel, a successful aerospace engineer (who had worked with aviator polymath Howard Hughes) and keen ufologist, the space is now owned by Nancy, Joanne and Patty Karl, sisters who bought the building in 2000 after being Integratron fans for thirteen years. They like to think of themselves as stewardesses who care for this place in return for one day uncovering its secrets.
Van Tassel was guided toward Giant Rock, an enormous boulder considered sacred by Native Americans, by a keen interest in extraterrestrial life. While some hardy souls spend their entire life seeking a sign from the great beyond, a scout ship sent from Venus landed on Van Tassel’s airstrip just a few years after he set up camp.
If that wasn’t enough, the alien—known as Solgada—invited Van Tassel, then in his early forties, into his vessel and shared with him both verbally and telepathically the formula for time travel, along with the details and exact measurements of the apparatus required.
This machine would also offer the key to rejuvenating human cells. For the next 25 years, Van Tassel committed his life to building the Integratron and spreading the word.
What Van Tassel and his followers created is an incredible piece of Mid-century architecture and a dizzying feat of sound engineering. The 38-foot high, 55-foot diameter dome, which, yes, does resemble the kind of flying saucer most children learn to draw by the age of five, is built without using a single nail or screw: it is made entirely of pieces of wood put together like an interlocking puzzle. Inside is known as the Sound Chamber, with acoustics so unique that musicians like Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age, and Robert Plant journey here to experiment with its potential.
The group Sound Baths are 60-minute sessions of restorative healing where a sequence of quartz crystal singing bowls are played, each one keyed to the energy centres or chakras of the body. This allegedly results in relaxation, rejuvenation and introspection. I say “allegedly” here, because while sound healing, or vibrational medicine, has grown in popularity in recent there is no clinical proof it has any effect on the human body.
I arrived 30 minutes before my appointment to check in while relaxing in the desert garden and helping myself to the well water surrounded by cacti and olive trees.
The white dome had captivated my attention since arrival. The ground floor houses a small exhibition about Van Tassel’s studies and alien life, while upstairs the spacious sound chamber is laid out with rows of rugs and pillows for each participant. Shoes are removed and people move around in the kind of hushed reverence normally reserved for ornate European cathedrals.
The session leader sits surrounded by an array of crystal bowls. His hypnotic voice reminds us to stay lubricated. We are gently instructed to empty our bottles and refill them with water fresh from the well. Throats moistened, we’re taught a thing or two about celestial beings, mindfulness and the intersection of powerful geomagnetic forces beneath the ground, which will be channelled through us by the music. We’re told it’s okay to sleep; the sound will affect our bodies even if we don’t consciously hear it.
“Your cells will love it. Every cell will love it,” he says. “It is like listening to music ad infinitum. Like flossing for the spirit.”
Sound swells up around us; this is unlike anything I’ve heard before and the music roils through your body at a disorientating frequency, like a more invasive take on Tibetan singing bowls. My mind wanders as I get used to the sound, and I find myself thinking about food of all things. I’m shit at this. Try harder, I tell myself. Try harder.
As is often the case in life, this inner-exhortation doesn’t work. At least not initially. After a period of time, something starts to sink in. Slowly, slowly, like the moment your ears fill with enough water under the blue sky of the swimming pool for the entire world to be enveloped by a deep, dark, disorientating filter.
There is more to this: I shut my eyes again, and lose track of time completely in a strange state of semi-consciousness. When I come to, the man has stopped playing and has left us with music from a stereo to gently wake up to: is this Prana Fusion, Trance Cello or Dreamtime?
Back in the garden, I talk to my fellow sound bathers and everyone has something to say about the experience. One girl felt each note resonating in a different part of her body, and another man spent his time in a surreal lucid dream. Nobody had been bored.
The Integratron is home to the Spacecraft Convention, some two decades in the running and visited by tens of thousands of people who share Van Tassel’s belief in a ‘third time zone’ allowing access to the past.
I can’t deny I lost some part of my mind lying there on the floor of the Integratron: maybe it was that I had just driven across the desert at crack of dawn, or maybe Van Tassel was onto something, and the structure of this building, the powerful geomagnetic forces of the earth and the frequency of the music gave me a spiritual awakening.
Or maybe I should just take an hour to lie down and relax more often.