Ojas by Devon Turnbull: The Sound Systems That Make You Feel Like You’re On Psychedelics

Over the next decade, while focusing on streetwear, Turnbull began making his own hi-fi systems—avant-garde works he called “sound sculptures”—and he eventually glimpsed a chance to turn the sideline into a new career. Using his old graffiti tag, Ojas, he began to produce large-scale brutalist sound systems distinguished by their naturalistic audio quality. As Ojas grew, Turnbull increasingly felt like there was more to be done with the equipment he was building. In 2020 he hired two full-time employees and moved his business operation from the top floor of his Brooklyn town house to an industrial workshop in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Now, Ojas is capable of building about 15 custom speaker setups per year. It’s an increasingly more robust operation but one that’s still relatively small-scale compared to the burgeoning interest in this unique form of hi-fi audio.

Last year, one of Turnbull’s friends, the artist Hugh Hayden, introduced him to an avowed audiophile named Alex Logsdail, the CEO of Lisson Gallery, where Hayden shows his work. Logsdail invited Turnbull to place an Ojas system inside of his Chelsea gallery as part of a show called “The Odds Are Good, the Goods Are Odd,” which included works by Hayden and other artists with a focus on handmade sculpture. In a private 390-square-foot room located at the back of the gallery, Turnbull installed his HiFi Dream Listening Room No. 1—not a sculpture but a complete hand-built sound system. At one end of the Listening Room, which was on display through August, stood a wall of brutalist speakers. In the middle were the turntable and the amplifiers that power them. And at the other end were seats where visitors could sit and listen. All of the components were hand-built, angular, and matte or slightly glossy gray, as though carved from stone or cast in concrete. The feeling in the room was similarly heavy, thanks in part to careful customizations of the space to maximize the acoustics—this is a place where something important is going to happen. “I really try to create an environment that feels like a temple or a shrine,” Turnbull says, “or a wellness space of some sort.”

The listening room ran for around two months, free and open to the public (as most galleries are) to come in and listen to the Ojas system for as long as they pleased. The musical offerings included sessions with the legendary jazz imprint Blue Note Records, a selection of ambient music by Brian Eno, and live performances recorded directly to tape and played back over the sound system. Each day the room filled with a mix of hi-fi fanatics, Ojas acolytes, and unsuspecting gallery-goers of all sorts. Turnbull rolled around the room on a wheeled stool, dropping records on the Ojas turntable and simply listening, as everyone else did, facing the speakers.

One visitor, Chance Chamblin, a 21-year-old film student from New York, was familiar with Turnbull’s work through social media but had never had the opportunity to experience an Ojas system for himself until it landed in the gallery. “Serenity” is how he describes what he found in that room. “Peace of mind.” He estimates that he spent around 30 hours listening to Turnbull’s system at the gallery. On his first day, he sat for seven hours. “I come here to surrender myself to this gorgeous and incredible-sounding system,” he tells me.