Habitat Sonore — an immersive audio experience at PHI Centre

Habitat Sonore Exhibit at Phi Centre – Courtesy by Julien GRIMARD

Old Montreal’s avant-garde multipurpose arts and culture venue invites you to “tune out the everyday noise and lose yourself in Montréal’s new immersive listening room” until Jan. 29

Habitat Sonore, which “consists of a 16 speaker multichannel array powered by a high-end JBL pre-processor,” has a daily rotation of soundtracks played in its singular room. On the first day, I listened to 64 minutes of a neo-classical piano soundtrack by Canadian platinum pianist Alexandra Strélinski. 

As I was led down a neat concrete basement staircase, through a purple printed door and finally past a black felt curtain at the end of a dim carpeted hallway, I was instructed to throw myself onto any cushy bean bag chair of my choosing. I waited in a dark soundproofed room solely lit by magenta LED strips, which pulsated a hypnotising glow scaling the chamber horizontally. An ambient melody surrounded and greeted me — one I would put on to meditate. Soon enough, I was sent to a different universe.

Habitat Sonore Exhibit at Phi Centre – Courtesy by Julien GRIMARD

Radiating from every corner of the chamber was music that would be a pleasure to have alongside while studying, meditating or falling asleep: pure tranquillity and serenity. It was music that you could find in a cute short student film that pays homage to Wes Anderson. 

Inscape by Strélinski was the first album to be played. Each song brought a different mood. Sometimes cheeky, pensive, desolate, but never disruptive. 

Pianoscope was the second album of hers played through, and it gave pondering 19th century steam-punk villain vibes. Restful nonetheless.

The next day I listened to the second program of three, which consisted of a few different works each by a plethora of artists, totaling nearly an hour. 

Better in the Shade by Polaris Music Award winner Patrick Watson and his bandmate Mishka Stein. The alternative EP felt — in the best way I could put it — sort of low-fi psychedelic experimental. The duo of ASMR vocals and wispy percussion was the seed for melancholy throughout the playthrough. 

Next was a meditative piece by Debbie Doe called Theatre of Dreams. It was a cacophony of sounds traveling from one end of the room to the other, all blending together forming a narrative that one can only interpret using their own imagination. From mystical chiming to macabre droning, and even a demonic cackle, the piece satisfied all my expectations when walking into a sound room such as this. 

Finally, Grammy-winning mixer James Benjamin’s Rainforest enchanted me and cleansed me of all of my worries for the duration of its runtime. The room was transported deep into an unknown jungle, with creatures chirping and predators hunting. Sometimes I could hear a leaf crunching in front of me, or the passing over of a distant airplane, maybe a gunshot from behind, maybe the howling of a monkey to the left of me. For the most part, it was the most therapeutic lullabying experience I could imagine. Rain hitting the rooftop back at home would be of no match to it. 

A great experience, and incredibly relaxing. If I could sit in that beanbag chair until Jan. 29, I would.

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