Journeys to Unknown Lands

Sailing, and Ketamine, for the safely adventurous

This week I am writing about a mind-altering experience, audio and sailboats. But really, this is all about the trust we put in others to take us on journeys that let us arrive safely. May you have the chance to be safely adventurous.

Walkups to unknown destinations

I might find myself, one Saturday evening, ringing the doorbell of a seemingly-abandoned warehouse across the street from a housing project in Downtown Brooklyn. I am buzzed in, and walk up a few floors to a cavernous movie-set of a loft apartment.

My fellow guests might number around fifteen, with four or five excellent folks acting in support. Hushed tones, from the beginning. Smiles. Confidentiality assured. Bulky coats are hung. Soft fabrics are everywhere.

It is the second walkup of the week. A few nights previously, I visited the home of two athletically tall vegan twin brothers, who cohabit a fifth-floor apartment in Greenpoint. The living room of which contains an entire tree that they have levered into the space like a ship in a bottle. Did the endurance required for the five flights of stairs forge the physique of the twins? Or was it their very climbing abilities that qualified them to live there, these mirror sherpas? As the night matures, one twin wheels out a bulky, workhorse PA soundsystem speaker, the kind you use for block parties, and we blast DJ Ramon Successo, whose buzzy sets are always as much about distortion as fidelity.


Back downtown at the movie-set loft, our party are ushered into a carefully sound-dampened space containing huge sculptural forms, crafted of walnut and maple and steel and forged iron. We are in the home of a man who designs much, much more serious audio speakers. We will call him the Curator, for reasons which will become clear.

They are audio speakers, just like the ones in your living room. But their similarity to the speakers we are mostly familiar with in our lives - the tinny squeaks of AirPods, your friend’s quirky BlueTooth speaker, your childhood computer’s twin grey treble boxes — is distant. These beauties have more in common with whales, heavy artillery weapons, bespoke automobiles, hand-crafted wooden boats, and rocky landforms. They are the size of a fridge, of a motorcycle. To the side, a custom-designed record player rests on its own dampened platform, atop a base with the heft of a chest freezer.

It reminds me. Earlier this week, in a studio on Canal street crowded with art and ad-hoc sonic experiments, my friend Gustavo shows me a deliciously-primitive invention. The point of a conically curled label from a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label is placed nose down, tip in position of the stylus on the arm of a vinyl record player. The record plays and the cone reproduces the sound. It is not loud, but it is pure. The Flintstones would love it.

This evening we are surrounded by examples of the ultimate evolution of this idea. The Curator gives us a brief, but passionate explanation for why the large conical design of his speakers is ideal, a mention of the minimal power required, and amplification, and faithful reproduction. The best speakers were created for the original cinema halls. The shape of a speaker determines its efficiency. For the price of one of these speakers, you could buy a well-optioned Rolls Royce. The attraction of large, expertly-designed speakers is that the power required to drive them is far lower, and so one is not overloading any element of the system to achieve rich, full-bodied sound. There is no snootiness and little geekery. It is exciting to be around these artworks, like a private gallery of Rodins.

Oh and by the way, this evening our group will be listening to the Curator play records, while a doctor gives us Ketamine.


This Ketamine lark is the trial performance of a new idea - an intentional space for trips, accompanied by high-fidelity sound and curated audio. OK!

My compatriots have been invited here to give feedback on this new experience, with their expert eyes, ears and brains. They are well-seasoned facilitators, practitioners that host groups experiencing substances like Psilocybin, LSD, 5-MeO-DMT. They are intrepid travelers with very private mailing lists and frequent, intense trips to remote places. Their perspectives are expansive. They have seen some stuff and weathered storms. They are far deeper into all this than I am. By happenstance, I have given a farm tour to one of them, years previously, as representative for a local food nonprofit. He later changed career to work with Indigenous groups and medicines, including Ayahuasca. Next to him, a French traveler mentions a grueling multi-day Iboga experience in Europe — “not worth it”. The group is curious and friendly and measured.

A trustworthy Doctor is introduced. He is brisk but friendly. He is wearing elephant pants. He gives us an overview of what’s going to happen. He speaks to Ketamine’s popular recent use in treatment of alcohol addiction. He mentions it is surprisingly effective. He is confident and trustworthy and carries a pristine cardboard box full of pre-loaded sterile needle packs.

We will each be receiving either a nasal spray, or an ‘intramuscular’. It turns out this sci-fi word refers to an injection in our upper arm. We could have 50mg, or 80mg. It feels like picking between two unfamiliar bottles of free champagne, like… sure! I go for 50, in the arm.

As it turns out, a few of this group Actually Do Not Usually Like Ketamine. The drug is used frequently in therapeutic sessions due to its predictability and short half-life — the effects are gone in under two hours which allows a patient to receive a treatment mid-morning and be ready to go back to work in time for lunch. For this and other reasons, the routine and mass-scale administration of Ketamine via the health system is sometimes viewed as being in opposition to traditional use of plants, and community ritual. And hey, can’t we just give people the whole day off? But it is safe, reliable, pleasurable and useful, and this group is willing and curious to try it again in this unusual, curated nighttime setting. We walk in to the main area where the ceremony will take place.

Record Collections & Predictive Processing

The space is home to the Curator’s immense record collection, with its own custom-built alcove the size of a small studio apartment. The Curator will play us records of his choice. The Curator and our hosts will not take any Ketamine. The Curator explains that we are going to listen to real vinyl records, on one of the world’s most precise turntables, because we are interested in entering a complete world of sound without any digital intervention, compression or distortion whatsoever.

After each track, the Curator will tread softly between our comatose flock to go to the turntable and swap each record. We are made to understand that this environment is not a spa - the music may include some element of challenge. The experience will last around two hours, and we may receive a re-up halfway through, as the first injection wears off.

We learn more. The human brain can successfully find signal and meaning within even very noisy and incomplete audio. You can understand conversations at busy parties not because you can hear everything perfectly, but because your brain is incredibly good at predicting what might be going on even with a noisy signal. What’s really happening is that you are ‘hearing’ a model of what might be being said, based on your brain’s prediction of reality, which is adjusted through any new audio input through your ears. We don’t really experience any of our senses — we experience the model. This is called Predictive Processing and it happens in some form across all our senses.

Our brains do this because it is far more efficient to compare inputs against a model than to absorb and process all of the inputs in realtime — just like how you can compress a video by sending data only about the parts of each frame which are changing compared to the last one.

The Curator relays that everything most of us listen to now is via compressed audio. How do you think Spotify streams everything? Mp3 and other audio compression uses our brains’ ability to fill in the gaps so that files can be far smaller than the originals which contain all of the audio information. We stream more but get less.

It’s fascinating that compression works, but it is somewhat scary to think that most of the sounds, music and speech that many folks experience all day everyday are via a low-resolution, compressed audio signal. It’s a bit like looking through a 1980s video camera all day, and being used to it.

As the Curator tells us all this, I realize I have contributed to this slow pollution of our ears more than anyone in the room could possibly realize. I might not be the Hitler or Pol Pot of this mass killing, but I have definitely been a mid-level lieutenant who was keen to assist. How? In 2004-ish back in London, I had been helping my statuesque German and Austrian friends Felix and Martin to build audio players and apps for their nascent startup, probably the first real music streaming service and ancestor of Spotify.’s fundamental innovation was in helping you find you music you like, with the idea that you could use your listening history (aided via their early AudioScrobbler acquisition), and the listening preferences of others to suggest what you might like to listen to yourself. As in, what we would later know as Discover Weekly. As in, a recommendation algorithm. On the early version of, you would listen to a ‘radio’ stream of different tracks based on your tastes, and you could always ‘skip’ a track to indicate you didn’t like it. The next track was chosen based on your past choices. We call it collaborative filtering, at the time. Similar tech has found its most recent forms in YouTube and TikTok.

We sit in a sparse, grungy flat-as-office in Whitechapel and talk about these ideas in-between work spurts for hours. A hammock hangs from the ceiling. I pick up a locally-renowned chicken shawarma wrapped tightly in grease proof paper every time I come visit, the garlicky funk irresistible to me, and eventually bothersome to everyone else. We have parties on a rooftop which is eventually painted with an anti-war message visible to passing aircraft, grilling seafood that Felix has plucked from Billingsgate fish market in the early hours. I am not a permanent team member but I hang around and code various body parts of the app, of audio and interface. We build a chat. We build MySpace widgets. We build a thing that lets people install the MySpace widgets automatically by asking people to enter their secret MySpace usernames and passwords directly onto our website, a security faux pas that everyone and their uncle is doing back in those Wild West days. Millions of people place trust in us and do it. And hey, it goes fine. Our discussions still use the metaphors of radio. We have X concurrent listeners. Felix and Martin carefully navigate how to operate and scale this fantastic thing without being accused of piracy.

Continually during these years, we are ripping massive numbers of CDs because that’s the only way to get at the music — their audio is digitized and turned into uncompressed and compressed audio for us to stream. This is an immense task. We are trying to get… all the music.

I make a spreadsheet with a list of hundreds of record labels from around the world, that we scrape together from primitive websites. We email them individually to ask them to send us their CDs. One of the first responders is a bluegrass label we have never heard of. They send us the entire back catalog. We are grateful, surprised, respectful. instantly has … bluegrass.

We all bring our own record collections to be sucked into the monster. I carry in my wobbly stack of CDs that at the time veer from drum and bass to hip hop to Stereolab to Papa M. Felix is more of a Guitar Wolf guy, and Martin introduces me to Gas and the Lord of the Mics grime mixtapes.

We use one of those early 5-disc changers to make it easier to rip the CDs. And then the ripping scales up, multiple machines on the go at once. We can rip at 2x speed, then 4x, then perhaps 8x, which means it still takes 10 minutes to capture a full 74-minute CD, and because of the varied lengths of the CDs, managing this whole operation over days and weeks becomes like a full time 9-5 job of flipping pancakes. Over months and years we rip and compress anything we, as a rapidly growing group, can get our hands on — a good percentage of every piece of music recorded ever. As we do,’s simple idea around making music easier to discover is gradually but faithfully amplified to tens and then hundreds of millions of people worldwide. And audio compression takes over the world.

Oh well, I don’t mention it to the Curator.

The trip

We lie on expensive-feeling recliner mattresses on the floor. We are provided with the nice kind of face masks that have little pockets for your eyes. We cling to containers of water. The doctor starts, sotto voce, to come around to do his jabs, confirming the dose with each of us. We feel the pinprick in our upper arms. We put on the masks and lie down.

The time and distance between being a normal human and becoming a wobbly component of the universe is just a few seconds. It happens very quickly, a little like when an anesthesiologist asks you to count down backwards from ten. At first, so confident! The Ten and the Nine, you have all the time in the world, are chatty and aleeeert, annnnd theeeen Eightttttttttseven______.

And then you are far out to sea, in whatever ridiculous dreamscape that turns up. You might explore a landscape. You might see people you know. You might feel a lovely dissociative effect. You might feel a slight anesthetic sense. You might have absolutely no idea what is going on but feel pretty great about it.

Hearing the specifics of people’s trips is normally a massive waste of time. What might be most useful to say is that a deep Ketamine experience, in a safe and comfortable space, surrounded by extremely high quality audio coming from fascinating rare records gives you a radically new relationship to sound itself, and a depth of sensory experience that will leave you in a completely different state. It is a fascinating, visceral, insight-laden and safe way to feel incredibly adventurous.

Like the beautiful speakers, there is something subtly powerful about the whole thing. The experience combines a level of absolute luxury with a sense of boundless adventure. Folks spending a sailboat’s-worth of money on VIP tickets to an F1 race, or some kind of luxury safari… let’s just say they are missing out and missing big. But this adventure is where the level of absolute trust comes in. Whenever you are under the influence of an entheogen, which is a slightly less laden word than psychedelic, you put your faith in those fellow voyagers around you. And the Curator is the center of that trust, in that every few minutes he puts on a different record that will very probably sail your brain to a new place entirely. Each track creates a different set of visualizations and feelings and as a listener, you have to trust that you will be sent to a destination you can handle.

When, after the fifth or sixth track, a doctor taps you on the shoulder and asks you if you would like more Ketamine, you will probably say yes.

There is an unusual clarity, richness and texture to this journey to strange and unfamiliar lands. Afterwards, in conversation with my fellow travelers, I understand that what I am feeling is not just me. A consensus starts to emerge that the warm analog texture and fine detail of the audio has contributed to many of us having unusually precise, high-resolution visualizations. Something about the quality of the sound has created more definition, more intertwining of music and brain, and people love it.

As we end, and folks transition into reality woozily, Nina Simone is singing a rare recording of Isn't it a Pity where you can hear her whisper in your ear like you’re alone right there with her in a small studio. We are there, in every little movement. It’s a perfect end. A safe harbor.

A soft-voiced discussion begins, propped up on our elbows in dim warm light, sipping water from our bottles and cups. Our hosts are gently probing for feedback. We discuss the format, the setting, the music, the drug delivery method. We talk about the possibilities of curation, of having a space made for this, of having different experiences available. We talk about the ritual of entering and injection and the discussion and the curated tracks. We talk about little tweaks. But it’s probably not a surprise that everyone thinks it was pretty damn amazing. The room is supportive. There is a conversation about the level of challenge in the track selection. The phrase “it’s not a spa” is used again. One participant felt the onramp was a little fast. The words “I want to push back on that” are used, calmly. We are delighted to have done it all. It is clear our hosts have a Good Thing Going On Here, and as we wake up and reach clarity, we start to stand and chat and everyone’s doing pretty great, actually. Opinions on Ketamine are reconsidered, left and right. We murmur appreciation to the Curator, our trusted pilot.

We ooze into a kitchen area which deserves some kind of Architectural Digest mini-feature of its own. There is copper and antique posters and an apothecary’s-worth of interesting booze in a vintage cabinet. But most importantly a buffet featuring not only white strawberries but thick chunks of dark chocolate, and sourdough bread we can slice ourselves.

There is a lot of smiling and very small talk. We can’t do big talk at this point.

Or some of us can. A fellow participant chooses this moment to ask me in detail about the fundraising environment of the indoor agriculture industry. It feels a little like when, on the streets of Brooklyn, fellow dog walkers want their puppy to meet and greet while Tyler is right in the middle of doing his doggy business. Neither Tyler nor I are capable of engaging or excited about the prospect. But no harm at all in this friendly group.

I extricate myself and move back to the bowl of chocolate pieces, which are much more my pace. We slowly shuffle out into midnight, and we all think about what we saw for a long time afterwards.

Sustaining the Journey

A week later, closer to sea level in Prospect Heights, I round up the vegan twins to meet two sailors from the Netherlands named Ivar and Floris, accompanied by a friendly stowaway. We are stopping by Farm.One for a tour, and perhaps also to sample newly-available alcoholic beverages at the Brew Lab, lush with fresh foliage and sparkling beer taps. The intrepid Dutch yachtsmen are journeying around the world, finding interesting and inspiring sustainability stories as they go. They are Sailors for Sustainability.

As it happens, the twins are cooking up a nautical sustainability project of their own, and there is friendly and fiery conversation on this and all topics as our group tastes exotic new varieties growing at the farm, such as a startling, large Ginger plant which is throwing off hot blooms.

Ivar is four hundred feet tall, a height as popular in Amsterdam as it is in Greenpoint walkups. I had the chance to hear his story. As a trained mechanical engineer in large global corporations, he saw the workings of our global supply chain close at hand, and eventually over the years, found his way to investor relations, where corporate realities meet the insatiable and growing demands of the Market. Through the financial crisis, his daily conferences with short-term-obsessed industry analysts, and his observation of phenomena like the Occupy Wall Street movement he went through the kind of profound paradigm shift you might have expected a Dutchman to have achieved on a Ketamine sound journey.

Ivar developed a view of the market, corporate life and unsustainable economic growth that prompted him to make a bold decision: to ditch it all and begin the immense task of restoring a 47’ steel boat, the Lucipara 2. The enigmatic name is not an accident, and bears surprising historic relation to the beginning of a book I mentioned just a few weeks ago, The Nutmeg’s Curse, which starts out with an account of the Dutch East India Company’s genocide on the Banda islands in Indonesia, all for spice. They chose to keep the name:

Although we are not proud of our nation’s colonial history, we maintained the original name of the boat. It is tradition not to change the name of a (classic) boat and we believe the story behind its name is worth remembering. Perhaps more importantly, we wish to demonstrate a different use of sailboats. Instead of sailing the world to seek profit, often gained through violent oppression, we sail the world to discover solutions for the common good. We make these sustainable solutions accessible for everyone to use, share and learn. With this “open source” approach we aim to move away from colonial-era monopolies.

Sailors for Sustainability

Over a decade later, Ivar and his co-pilot Floris spend their life mostly at sea or at port in far flung lands, to a soundtrack of Tina Turner, Tracy Chapman and, who knew, the occasional Nina Simone track when tacking safely into port. They are not plundering and trading but instead uncovering fascinating planet-saving work and highlighting it on YouTube and via their great writing. Sea Forests off the coast of Namibia. Tiny House builders in Katikati, New Zealand. Coral reef restorers in Mo’orea. Dozens and dozens of Really Cool and Interesting People. They tread lightly and amplify excellence.

Circumnavigation under sail means you might find yourself in 30-day uninterrupted passages between places like French Polynesia and New Zealand, which can get challenging when the weather turns poor. If there’s anything I know about good sailors, they avoid exaggeration or detail when describing their trips. Let’s just say that Ivar and Floris are grateful for their choice of sturdy steel-hulled boat.

If you talk to farmers or sailors, you will know that they love weather forecasts. And they both observe global weather becoming more unpredictable, but in lockstep, our predictive technologies getting better and better. Globally, most five-day forecasts are now surprisingly accurate… as long as nothing weird happens. The result is you can normally avoid sailing straight into the most terrible slow-moving weather, but you may have difficulty evading currently-unpredictable large storms while on extended ocean passages without a fast vessel. The parallels between the craft of weather forecasting, the progress of AI and predictive processing are fascinating to me, and the chance to hear stories first-at-hand from these sailors is even better.

May you journey far from home

Both the sailors and the Curator show that the whole point of journeying far from home is that you never truly know what your destination might bring, and if you are open to new profound experiences, you can absolutely find them. Whether the voyage is at sea or in the brain, there are ways to do this with an experienced and trustworthy captain, and in a safe vessel. Seek them out.

The Curator, his excellent cohosts, the vegan twins, the founders, the sailors and their stowaway are exactly the kinds of archetypes we must search for, celebrate and amplify faithfully. May you be bold enough to try these and other kinds of adventures yourself, and to support those who choose to take them.

If you are interested in talking to the folks who are developing the intriguing Ketamine sound journey experience for more audiences, reach out to me and I will put you in touch. They are Good People.

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