A desert dome that inspires rock stars and star-gazers

The acoustically perfect Integratron rises out of the dusty Mojave Desert like a UFO, embodying the extra-terrestrial elements that inspired its construction.

There is nothing in the world quite like the Integratron. Standing 38ft-high and constructed entirely of old-growth Douglas fir, the acoustically perfect dome rises out of the dusty Mojave Desert like a UFO, embodying the extra-terrestrial elements that inspired its construction. 

In August 1953, the Integratron’s creator, George Van Tassel, claimed to have received a message. The California test pilot and engineer said extra-terrestrials gave him plans for creating a “high-voltage electrostatic generator that would supply a broad range of frequencies to recharge the cell structure” – in other words, a structure that could heal through sound. Over the next 18 years, the masterpiece was built at a geomagnetic vortex near Landers, California, purportedly drawing from the powers of Giant Rock: an enormous, freestanding boulder thought by Van Tassel to be a centre of UFO activities. Think Sedona meets Stonehenge, about 20 miles north of Joshua Tree National Park. The generator was meant to be a machine of the mind, inspired by Nikola Tesla’s writings, Van Tassel’s telepathic communications and the design of Moses’ Tabernacle.

These days, the Integratron’s visitors are an eclectic mix of musicians, families, corporate think tanks, acrobats and artists who are all drawn to the structure’s otherworldly acoustics. But according to Joanne Karl, one of three sisters who purchased the space in 2000, 22 years after Van Tassel’s death, asking who visits the Integratron “is like saying who is the most average person at the Star Wars bar. … Erykah Badu was here the other day, and we usually have a VIP a week – they’re among our biggest visitors.”

Other A-list visitors include Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age fame, the Arctic Monkeys and Jason Mraz, all of whom have played inside and revelled in the structure’s ability to naturally transfer and amplify sound, much as a cathedral does. Arcade Fire came to the dome to recharge and jam following this year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, about 66 miles southeast of the Integratron.

“We’re not really a recording studio – you can hear it’s not a foam-padded room,” Karl said. “But musicians have recorded acoustic sets in here and got coyotes in the middle of the night and thought it was the raddest.”

Beyond having exceptional acoustics, the Integratron resides in a place that’s ideal for stargazing. And while many will likely flock to Joshua Tree National Park – known for its absence of light pollution – to catch a glimpse of the upcoming Perseid meteor shower, the Integratron will provide a lesser-known viewing party about a half an hour north.

The annual shower is among the brightest and most reliable in the Northern Hemisphere, with up to 100 meteors visible per hour, according to NASA. The natural light show, caused by Earth passing through space debris from the Swift-Tuttle comet, is characterised by its blazing shooting stars.

The 8th annual “Star Party”, scheduled this year on 9 August around the meteor shower’s peak viewing time, includes live music; a screening of The Wizard of Oz, set to a soundtrack of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon; fire dancers; and overnight camping. Astronomers will offer lectures and telescope demonstrations outside the dome, where partygoers will be able to see the shower.

Inside the dome, the event will also include the Integratron’s signature sound bath, in which participants – heads positioned toward the structure’s centre – lie on the floor and relax to the tune of quartz crystal “singing” bowls, the tones of which are said to affect specific energy points in the body. Because of the Integratron’s acoustics, the quietest whisper – or softest snore – reverberates throughout the dome. But as the Karl sisters slowly run a mallet around the bowls, the sounds produced travel in circles around listeners’ heads, inducing – if all goes according to plan – a meditative state.

“There seems to be a tremendous pull and interest for people for getting into that inner landscape,” Karl said. “I’m encouraged by that demographic of people who grew up with computers and how much imagery they’re processing. They need to delete the cache, and a sound bath is one great way to do that.”

The entire Star Party evening will benefit the Mojave Desert Land Trust, a non-profit agency that in nine years has preserved more than 50,000 acres of desert.

“When you’re at a location like the Integratron, you can really see why that’s important,” said Danielle Segura, the trust’s executive director. “Having open space means really clear, dark nights, [with] beautiful views of the night sky, really incredible Dr Seussean Joshua Tree shapes and those kind of magical, interesting, unique experiences that you just don’t find in other landscapes.”

It’s that kind of landscape, perhaps, that spoke to Van Tassel as he channelled the stars and envisioned the Integratron.

“Staring at the sky is a tradition here,” Karl said. “Sort of a purpose.”