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 saw a chance to turn the sidelines into a new career. Using his old graffiti tag, Ojas, he began producing large-scale brutalist sound systems characterized by their naturalistic sound quality. As Ojas grew, Turnbull increasingly felt there was more to do with the equipment he was building. In 2020, he hired two full-time employees and moved his business from the top floor of his Brooklyn townhouse to an industrial workshop in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Now Ojas is able to build about 15 custom speaker setups per year. It’s an increasingly robust operation, but one that’s still relatively small compared to the growing interest in this unique form of hi-fi sound.
Last year, one of Turnbull’s friends, the artist Hugh Hayden, introduced him to an avowed audiophile named Alex Logsdail, CEO of the Lisson Gallery, where Hayden shows his work. Logsdail invited Turnbull to place an Ojas system in 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 focused on handmade sculpture. In a private 390 square meter 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, featured a wall of brutalist speakers. In the middle was the turntable and the amplifiers that drive them. And at the other end there were places where visitors could sit and listen. All the components were hand-built, angular and matte or slightly glossy gray, as if carved from stone or cast in concrete. The feel of the room was similarly heavy, thanks in part to careful tuning of the room to maximize the acoustics – this is a place where something important is going to happen. “I’m really trying to create an environment that feels like a temple or a sanctuary,” Turnbull says, “or a wellness area of some sort.”
The listening room ran for about 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 like. The musical offerings included sessions with legendary jazz imprint Blue Note Records, a selection of ambient music by Brian Eno and live performances recorded directly to tape and played over the sound system. Every day the room was filled with a mix of hi-fi fanatics, Ojas acolytes and unsuspecting gallery goers of all stripes. Turnbull rolled around the room on a wheeled stool, dropped records on the Ojas turntable and simply listened, 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 before it landed in the gallery. “Serenity” is how he describes what he found in that room. “Peace of mind.” He estimates he spent about 30 hours listening to Turnbull’s system in the gallery. On his first day, he sat for seven hours. “I came here to surrender to this beautiful and incredible sounding system,” he says.