The Sounds of Omega Mart:
How Brian Eno, Beach House realized Meow Wolf’s plans for a transformative audio experience.
By Dylan Owens
Published Issue 089, May 2021
Sounds stimulate our brains as much as sight.
By now, you’ve seen on social media — or experienced firsthand — some of the incredible visual art of Meow Wolf Las Vegas’ Omega Mart, you’ve discovered your favorite products, and you’ve heard what other participants are saying … but looks and quotes only tell a piece of the story.
A truly immersive experience does more than simply look good on the ‘gram, which is why we made sure Omega Mart’s score went way beyond the background music you’re used to hearing in your local supermarket. When you’re exploring the aisles and what lies beyond, you won’t hear any Top 40. Instead, you’ll get about 750 minutes of totally original music written specifically for the space. That’s, like, what — 25 albums worth (non-jam band units, of course)???
That’s a lot of new music, but if you listen closely, odds are you’ll recognize some of our collaborators. Among the many talented musicians who scored our latest experienceare famed ambient producer Brian Eno and dream pop duo Beach House.
Three years ago, when Omega Mart was just a glimmer in our collective third eye, Meow Wolf co-founder and Las Vegas executive creative director Corvas Brinkerhoff wanted the Vegas exhibit to set a new standard for sound and vision.
“From day one, Omega Mart was intended to be a dense weave of lighting, sound, video and narrative,” Brinkerhoff says. “We wanted to create an unprecedented experience, and a complex integration of sound was an integral part of that.”
To do that, he drafted a dream list of musicians he felt could make Omega Mart sing. One name stood atop that list: Brian Eno. Eno is an influencer’s influencer — even if you’ve never heard of him, your favorite artists definitely have. He’s equal parts producer and prophet. Not only is Eno credited with pioneering the ambient music genre (he even coined the phrase), but his collaborator rap sheet reads like a playlist from your coolest friend: David Bowie, The Talking Heads, John Cale, and many more.
Yet, it’s Eno’s embrace of music as a texture, time, and plce that made him the ideal Meow Wolf collaborator. The original, 20-minute score he contributed to one of Omega Mart’sinner sanctums is proof of that embrace. To describe it further would be like a restaurant telling you what a sandwich sounds like when it hits the plate — it’d totally miss the point.
But … we had Brinkerhoff try anyway. “It’s a journey through various states of the subconscious and unconscious mind.”
Even for an artist as experienced as Eno, Omega Mart presented a challenge. Instead of creating music for two speakers — the standard for headphones and most standard playback setups — he was tasked with creating sounds on a much larger scale.
For example, a high-quality, home surround sound system might have seven channels of audio. At Omega Mart, some rooms have 60!
Imagine a shooting star zooming between speakers at one end of a room to the other.With two channels, you’d only be able to hear the star’s journey in two parts: 1) The star taking off from the speaker on one end, and 2) The star whooshing out of earshot on the other. With 60 channels, the star’s entire journey springs to life.
The difference is almost unimaginable, but sometimes hearing is believing.
Eno isn’t the only familiar artist you may hear in the space. Baltimore’s Beach House — Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally — wrote music for three separate Omega Martexperiences. One is a geometric-psychedelic abstraction that serves as a portal. The second is a dream mirror of sorts. Finally, there’s something called the Goblin Computer, which, yeah … we’ll leave that one to your imagination.
The group’s contributions here are like that of their albums: music of memory. Washes of texture and melody build out lived-in landscapes. In other words, Beach House are perfect composers for the Meow Wolf experience, in more ways than one.
“When we were still an underground art collective, Beach House was the soundtrack,” says Brinkerhoff. “Their music would find its way into our shows when we were scuzzing around our little warehouse in Santa Fe. Working with them was a dream.”
Ultimately, Eno and Beach House are just two among the gobs of talented musicians that contributed to the immense sonic architecture of Omega Mart. In fact, many Meow Wolf employees put their own sweat into the speakers, including Ben Wright and Brinkerhoff himself.
It’s all in an effort to make Omega Mart sound as memorable as it looks.
“We wanted to push the edges of how far we can take audio as a transformative experience in Vegas,” Brinkerhoff says. “We wanted to demonstrate how powerful music can be in an immersive environment — to figure out what the boundaries are, if not break them altogether. It was risky, but as visitors will hear…totally worth it.”
THIS FEATURE WAS PRODUCED IN PARTNERSHIP WITH MEOW WOLF.
Dylan Owens is the former music editor of The Denver Post, with words in Rolling Stone, Billboard and many more. He also directs, produces and writes for film — mostly about music. Shortly after leaving The Denver Post, he signed on to produce video at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. He also is helping is alien friend Babelord, a Galactan princess living in Denver, make her music dreams come true. Check her out here.