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Higher States: What is the Meditative Nightclub?

By Abby Lowe

For dance music aficionados, meditation and clubbing are as far apart on a spectrum as you can possibly get. Likewise, when you think of Las Vegas the first things that probably come to mind are 24-hour gambling, ubiquitous neon lights and The Hangover. But now, thanks to a project by New York-based artist Lia Chavez, the world’s first ‘meditative nightclub’ is about to question those long-standing assumptions, because the original city of sin has become home to The Octave of Visible Light: A Meditation Nightclub – an experience-led performance that invites clubbers to use introspection as a means for collective experience. Held at P3Studio at The Cosmpolitan of Las Vegas and presented in partnership with the Art Production Fund, it is turning notions of clubbing as we know it on their head.

Working in collaboration with creative technology company rehabstudio (rehabstudio.com), Chavez’s aim was to ‘create a highly conceptual interpretation of a futuristic nightclub that comes alive through the phenomenon of biofeedback,’ and so wearing EEG headsets, she guides guests through a meditation session in which their cerebral activity is translated into a mesmerising audio-visual display. She explains, ‘the headset reads brainwaves and, via bluetooth, transmits a custom-coded signal to the audio-visual system. Since the signal’s frequency and strength mirrors the participant’s brainwave activity, the intensity and register of the colour and sound emitted by the system varies as well. As a result, each audio-visual ‘set’ is unique to the person wearing the headset.’ So through considered contemplation and calm focus, one person is able to transform the experience of everyone else, or as Tim Rodgers of rehabstudio puts it, ‘control the club with their minds’.

"...One person is able to transform the experience of everyone else..."

And this of course, is one of the paradigms embodied by the project – traditionally a club is a venue associated with collective experience, and yet in this instance it’s at the mercy of an individual undertaking a personal search for spiritual quiet. So how does this function as an environment that could provide the same level of ‘ecstatic abandon’ seen in a club that Chavez was after? Perhaps it’s worth looking at it from a different angle. Meditation is a practice that demands deep introspection, but as our ability to delve deeper into our own mind space strengthens, it’s said to reinforce our connection with others, in turn opening us up to newer, more profound happenings. Chavez notes that her goal was to ‘facilitate interpersonal connections rather than insularity.’ And so conversely, meditation in this scenario doesn’t so much foster isolation, as allow the subject and the rest of the club to become ‘more mindfully connected.’ Indeed, as the controller’s state of meditation deepens, the musical and visual experience of the other clubbers intensifies.

So in essence, The Octave of Visible Light reveals that our consciousness can be harnessed and used as material for our own experiences, and that in itself can perhaps propel clubbing into uncharted territory. Chavez explains that for her, the recreational drugs associated with clubbing can actually have the opposite effect they’re taken for in terms of trying to expand our perceptions, whereas the process of meditation allows our horizons to expand instinctively, and without the risk of an imminent crash. ‘The more you practice [meditation], the thinner the veil between the conscious and the subconscious becomes, which equates to having a more complete access to reality,’ she says. So if we all mastered the skills required take control of our senses, it would open up unexplored paths for us to investigate when clubbing? ‘Our experience is limited only by how alive our senses are,’ she confirms.

"...Future clubbing will integrate the responsive capacity of the crowd more significantly..."

Of course this is fantastic in theory, but perhaps it’s easier to speculate than to master in practice. Nevertheless, it is an idea we should continue to progress, especially in a time when we live such fraught lifestyles and have less and less regard for experiencing things as and when they happen. With every element of our lives increasingly documented in order to produce fodder for social media, we’re in danger of becoming spectators of our own lives, and maybe this deeper connection to ourselves and others would put us resolutely back in touch with our own experiences. Chavez poses the question: ‘How do we achieve higher levels of awareness of what we’re experiencing without compromising the experience itself?’ And that’s something we should all consider while waving our phone cameras around trying to capture pictures of our Friday night.

So in the same way a work of art forces us to reassess existing opinions, The Octave of Visible Light serves as a stimulus for examining our traditional clubbing rituals. Perhaps we’re long overdue in blurring the lines between music, art and science, and maybe it’s time to acknowledge that we should be pushing the parameters of clubbing as we know it. But in a world where we’re the rulers of our own internal and external landscapes, where would that leave DJs? For Chavez, the answer is clear: ‘Future clubbing will integrate the responsive capacity of the crowd more significantly. The beauty and challenge of this new dynamic will be mastering the art of balancing the realtime awareness of what is being experienced with a continual enhancement of the experience itself.’ The gloves have been thrown down. DJs, it’s over to you.

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