Atlanta-based sensory artist Siana Altiise doesn't just hear sound – she sees it. This is because Siana has synesthesia, a condition whereby the body has two sensory responses to one stimulus.
‘A lot of my synesthetic responses revolve around color or visualizations,’ Siana explains. While at times it's challenging to live with, synesthesia has provided Siana with a framework to create her workshops, The Art of Slowing Down, where she uses sound to restore a feeling of relaxation.
During the workshops, Siana uses a looping pedal to layer harmonies that she records live with ambient sounds. She then sings over it to create a soundscape. As the audience listens, she leads them in mindfulness practices and music meditations she calls ‘muszen’. This experience facilitates her audience to reach a state of deep relaxation and awareness in a beta state of mind – that's the state in which beta brainwaves begin pulsing, and the point at which researchers say the brain is most actively engaged.
Each in-person workshop she creates – whether it's for executives of a multinational like Coca-Cola or a weekend get-together at a local plant shop – is informed by her experience of synesthesia.
‘We're so stressed,’ says Siana, speaking of the general population. ‘If we're not aware of the changes that are happening within and around us, then we slowly start to adapt… [We] don't realize the things we've just accepted, versus working towards changing.’ Her goal is not only to help others slow down, but to help them realize that it's possible to do so on their own.
Go slow to grow
Her approach to turning this into a career was, fittingly, built slowly. Siana spent the year and a half prior to her first public workshop at a TEDx speaker event in Atlanta creating looped music and studying the effect of music on the body. As she recorded and listened to the sounds she created, she noticed her anxiety beginning to fizzle. Siana sent recordings to friends, who had similar responses when listening to them. Community interest kept building, but the music was too soft to be performed in bars or clubs. ‘I knew there had to be a special place for it,’ she says. A businesswoman who attended Siana's first performance asked the artist to give a workshop at her bank, kicking off a series of corporate opportunities.
‘I started working with major companies… creating workshops intended for the goals that they wanted,’ Siana says. ‘I was working with Coca-Cola [and] Truist bank. My favorite was working with Delta Air Lines. I got to work with pilots and flight attendants.’ The workshop she created for Delta, focusing on methods for resting and relaxing between flights, is now required training for its employees. While Siana develops the workshops in tandem with each company that hires her, they're all built with the idea of increasing relaxation as well as productivity.
A different kind of solution
One of her major challenges has been showing companies why they need her workshops. Executives at these businesses are usually looking for solutions, ‘but they typically look for similar solutions to the last problem they solved’, Siana says.
‘I see people zooming past… They get, like, eight times more exposure than I do, because I have a very limited amount of space where I can perform publicly. But there's so much joy in knowing that I'm paving my own path, versus trying to be like everyone else,’ she says. ‘Stay in your own lane and protect your vision.’