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Good Vibrations 

Wednesday, Apr 12 2006
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Say the words “sound bath” and people get nervous. They’re sure nudity is involved; definitely some chanting; and probably crystals. But Joanne Karl told me a sound bath is simply “nap time for adults.” And who couldn’t use a nap? The Style Council headed to the Integratron in Landers for a little R ’n’ R.

Five years ago, Joanne and her sister Nancy had the opportunity to purchase the Integratron (www.integratron.com), an acoustic dome built by aerospace engineer and UFO enthusiast George Van Tassel, who’d received the instructions from a friendly resident of planet Venus. The Karls had been urban-dwelling adventure-tour guides who used to come to the Mojave Desert to “unplug” and soon found themselves hooked on the endless vistas and the palpable connection to the “heartbeat of the Earth” — which is not a concept but a frequency that can be scientifically measured. “People come out here looking for something,” says Joanne, “and it finds you while you think you’re still looking.”

The Integratron was designed as an electrostatic generator that would recharge cellular “batteries” and extend human life, but when Van Tassel’s papers disappeared after his somewhat mysterious death in 1978 (conspiracy theories abound), also lost were directions for turning the thing on. Although the Karls welcome the scientists who come to investigate, their primary motivation is the restoration of the building and their exploration of sonic healing. From the outside, the gleaming white dome is pure 1950s sci-fi fantasy (Van Tassel started construction in 1954), but the all-wood interior seems more like a hippie commune, with its soaring ceilings, drums and didgeridoos leaning against the walls, and a colorful altar where visitors leave offerings. Blankets and mats are laid out around a circular setup of pure-crystal bowls used for the sound baths the two women offer on weekends and privately by appointment.

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During a sound bath, notes are played on the crystal bowls — each tuned to stimulate one of the body’s eight chakras — and because of the dome’s perfect acoustics, the frequencies can permeate at a cellular level. It might sound “out there,” and perhaps it is, but the sense of clarity and elation I experienced after the 30-minute session (which I entered with a mild hangover, by the way) is not something I could have imagined.

Lying snugly under a blanket, my shoes abandoned at the foot of the ladder that leads to the dome, I felt my body physically responding to the sounds, from a sense of tension in my jaw to a warmth in my chest. As Joanne played the final notes, A, which corresponds to the third eye, and B, which relates to the crown chakra, my head seemed to open up and an irrepressible smile spread across my face. Joanne calls a sound bath “nutrition for the nervous system,” and though it may not be what Van Tassel envisioned, it does recharge the body.

The Integratron itself sits on the convergence of three geomagnetic lines and three underground rivers, along the same meridian as Giant Rock, a freestanding boulder so sacred to local Native American tribes that only a chief could approach it. It also was the site of many major UFO conventions.

It’s not hard to understand what has drawn so many seekers, visionaries, inventors and reinventors to the high desert. As you take that 100-mile drive from L.A., you go through towns that feel like Nowheresville, until you get to the real middle of nowhere, where there are more massive boulders and crooked trees than people, and you realize that here, which just might be another planet, anything is possible.

These days, everybody — from DreamWorks creatives (“the people that think up all that wild stuff”), to little old ladies with hip replacements (“we call them white-sneaker gangs”), to celebs like Charlize Theron — makes the trip to Landers to experience the sound bath’s healing vibrations and tune into the magic of the dome, which can be rented for the night. To the best of Joanne’s knowledge, no brothers or sisters from other planets have dropped by yet, “but we’re always available for it.”

Reach the writer at steffien@earthlink.net

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