Culture

Here's what the quietest place in NYC sounds like

Sound artist Doug Wheeler's show at the Guggenheim Museum is an ear- and mind-altering experience.

I've covered a number of sound/audio art exhibits in this blog, but Doug Wheeler's "PSAD: Synthetic Desert III" takes a very different turn. The others were about sound, but Wheeler's is about the quiet. Wheeler's piece at the Guggenheim Museum in NYC puts you in a quasi-anechoic environment, and I assure you it's the absolute quietest spot in NYC! The room isn't just sound proofed, its blue foam wedges absorb sound and reflections inside the room. It's likely to be the quietest room you'll ever experience in your life.

The quiet zone inside Doug Wheeler's "PSAD: Synthetic Desert III" at the Guggenheim Museum, NYC.

David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

Before entering the exhibit you must first stash your cell phone, camera or any electronic devices in small lockers provided for that purpose. To enter the room you go through an even more quiet series of adjoining small rooms that serve to isolate "PSAD: Synthetic Desert III" from the rest of the museum.

I was in a group with four other people, there was a single older woman, a middle aged man, and a young couple, who immediately laid down on the carpeted floor, side by side holding hands. The other two laid down at opposite ends of the room, which I'm guessing was 30 feet (9.1 meters) long. I stood in the middle of the room to better take in the hushed silence. No one uttered a word for the entire time we were there, 20 minutes.

It took a minute or two to settle into the space and clear my mind. And the quiet calmed me down, my breathing slowed, and I felt more in tune with my body. When you're in a room without reflections the room's boundaries disappear. As the minutes elapsed the room seemed to get larger and larger. Wheeler claims the ambient noise level is just 15 decibels, and to put that number in perspective, the quietest room in my apartment is 32-35 dB in the middle of the night, and that sounds pretty darn quiet.

Yes, inside "PSAD: Synthetic Desert III" there were times when the sounds of NYC ever so softly broke through with just the slightest murmurs of street traffic, and then they were gone, and the velvety black silence returned. Some might ask, is it art? If the best art changes you, affects you and/or changes the way you think, if even for just a little time, then "PSAD: Synthetic Desert III" is most definitely art.

Leaving "PSAD: Synthetic Desert III" and returning to the Guggenheim museum proper you're hugely more aware of the sound of the vast open space of the building. Your ears are refreshed and tuned up!

Because Synthetic Desert is best experienced with as few extraneous sounds and distractions as possible each visiting group is limited to five people. That's why timed tickets/reservations are required in advance, but you can take your chances and hope walk-in tickets are available when you're at the museum. The exhibit is open now through August 2, 2017.