Jesse Cale grew up attending church at Vineyard Columbus in Westerville, where his mom formerly served as a pastor and taught healing classes. In the years since, Cale has “reframed” his faith, as he explained it, though he still holds a deep respect for the sense of reverence he once experienced “sitting in that space of divinity.”
“The part I connect with most … was very much the meditative aspect of the religious practice,” Cale said via Zoom in mid-September.
This idea of creating a meditative, sacred space continues to shape the work Cale does with hOm Sound & Meditation, for which he leads immersive “sound bath” experiences. Cale described the sound baths as a form of music therapy, acknowledging the eye rolls and puzzled looks that can sometimes accompany the term.
“Saying ‘sound bath’ or ‘sound healing,’ immediately a question mark can appear above the head for most people, which is fair. But if you say ‘music therapy,’ it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah. I’ve heard of that.’ And the two are really synonymous,” said Cale, who will lead a public sound and meditation event at Columbus Commons at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 21. The gathering, which aims to set the Guinness World Record for the largest in-person sound bath, will feature more than 40 sound practitioners and includes cellists, guitarists, sitar players and singers.
Cale described sound healing as a more ancient practice than the comparatively modern field of music therapy, though both offer similar benefits. Among these benefits, Cale said, are a reduction in stress – past participants in sound baths have reported drastically slowed heart rates – and lowered cortisol levels, which can aid recovery time and strengthen the immune system.
For Cale, the discovery of sound baths served as a perfect dovetail of interests, existing as an ideal meeting point between music and the mystical. “It’s really a crossroads of everything I’ve done in my life,” said Cale, a musician, composer and producer who at age 13 launched an ambient musical project alongside his brother, the pair finding inspiration in Brian Eno and Boards of Canada, as well as more atmospheric post-rock bands such as Explosions in the Sky.
This sense of musicality continues to inform Cale’s sound baths, which employ more traditional instruments such as Tibetan singing bowls but then also layer on acoustic instruments such as guitar and piano to create a more melodic experience for participants.
“Every practitioner of sound baths has their own flavor, and ours are definitely more musical … We’ll have bowls, and they’ll be holding down that root note. But then we’ll tune our instruments to that note, and we’ll have violin and cello and singers,” Cale said. “So it will be a very ambient concert experience, with these fundamental tones running underneath everything.”
Cale experienced his first sound bath while living in California, describing the experiences as transportive, as though someone had put “my consciousness on a fishhook and lowered it deep down into my body.” It helped, of course, that Cale is innately open to new experiences, describing himself as the “the type of person who has seen UFOs.”
“So, I was very much on board with however the experience was going to present itself,” he said.
Expanding into a larger public space such as Columbus Commons, Cale understands that attendees might have varying degrees of interest. At the same time, Cale said that anyone venturing to a sound bath is, at a minimum, likely a curious person, so he believes there will exist touchpoints on which the proceedings can build.
Part of Cale’s drive behind leading this event is to begin to address larger issues of mental health and loneliness – both of which were exacerbated by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“There is just this disconnect that has been present,” Cale said. “And as you get disconnected from the community and people, it is kind of this closing in. And, yeah, people are depressed. People are anxious. People aren’t doing well. And it’s heartbreaking. … One of my big things with this is just to bring a bunch of people together and say, ‘Hey, make some friends. Find your community.’ It’s really trying to hold a space where that can begin to take place.”