A Brief History of the Harmony Channel
The Early Journey
The early seeds for Harmony Channel were planted in the 1960’s with rock concert lightshows from bands such as Pink Floyd. I was always amazed at the strong sense of synaesthesia invoked when visuals and colors are creatively combined. In the early 1970’s I built my first “Color Organ,” a light box with three colors of lights, each driven by a different frequency of sound.
I later dabbled with many light/sound musical instruments, including a photonic tilt-sensitive guitar, and studied “visual music” films from the masters of this art form at the time. As a teenager I also envisioned a “theater of the future” where musicians projected their minds onto large dome screens, immersing audiences in powerful healing experiences. These futuristic musicians must have “perfected consciousness” in order to take audiences on these journeys without faltering. My later exposure to planetarium laser light shows in the late 1970’s seemed a step towards this vision.
Another noteworthy milestone in the development of Harmony Channel was my exposure to the “house” nightclub scene in the late 1980’s, my own experiments with event production in the early 1990’s, and my experiences in celebratory drum circles. I realized that the combination of light and sound can be a powerful mood altering agent, invoking transformative experiences.
This drew me to leave my photonics engineering position at an aerospace firm to lead a team of engineers designing a next-generation planetarium in Cocoa, Florida.
I realized that the combination of light and sound can be a powerful mood altering agent, invoking transformative experiences.
There I led the invention of the PCAOM (polychromatic acousto-optic modulator) for laser lightshow projectors, and helped design the most advanced planetarium of its day. Next I moved to the Philadelphia area to lead the transition from analog to digital at planetarium manufacturer Spitz, inventing a product line of digital “fulldome” immersive theaters with the help of a talented hardware and software development team.
Working at Spitz I was blessed with the opportunity to lead some very prestigious immersive theater projects around the world, including the Library of Alexandria in Alexandria, Egypt, and Papalote Museo del Nino in Mexico City.
I’ve also worked on immersive themed entertainment systems such as the Volkswagen Autostadt dome in Wolfsberg, Germany. I’ve spent many hours under large-format domes – the world’s most powerful media delivery systems – sampling, experimenting, envisioning, and helping to develop what many of us feel will be the next-generation of cinematic experiences.
The Immersive Artist’s Interface to the Brain
Certain immersive programming seems to have a profound effect on the brain. A strong “sense of presence” is invoked that can result in strong synaesthetic experiences – or even a condition of nausea known as “cybersickness.”
This effect is possible because 20% of the optic nerve splits off before reaching the visual cortex and instead directly feeds the deeper layers of the root-brain associated with emotions, pre-cognitive reactions, and vestibular balance.
This effect is particularly prominent when nearly the entire retina is excited with an image. When combined with powerful surround sound, the result is a wideband interface to the brain through which the immersive artist literally takes over the nervous systems of their audience.
I decided that a powerful medium such as this needed mindful programming: shows that would uplift, heal, inspire, enlighten, transform, energize, or otherwise affect audiences in a positive way. I looked at several business models for creating and distributing such programming and in every case the outlook was bleak.
It would take years before one could make a sustainable business out of distributing visual music and other alternative programming for domed theaters. Many of these theaters are in science centers – since visual music is art, not science, many institutions would reject such programming. I realized that the best approach was to first develop a visual music label that would distribute the media through conventional means, and later parlay this into fulldome theater programming.
A New Television Channel?
Harmony Channel was first conceptualized around the turn of the millennium -- when I was sitting around with some friends trying to find something to watch on television. The 9/11 incident was still fresh on our minds and alive in the news media. Someone said that we needed a new television channel – one that focused on good experiences. I said, “The Harmony Channel,” and we joked about the sort of programming that would be on it. It stuck with me…
Knowing that my lifetime dreams would not be realized with my current employer (or any employer, for that matter), I began formulating my next career move. The Harmony Channel kept popping into my mind… mass media, a chance to expose millions to the visual music genre. With HDTV taking off, the “sensory bandwidth” of television is getting closer to a dome theater. But a new television channel? How the heck does one do that?
I went online and Googled “Cable Network Startup Kit.” Right at the top of the list was a dead hit “The Cable Television Network Startup Kit. ... ORDER YOUR START-UP KIT TODAY: ONLY $179.95 (For overnight delivery, please add $30).”
I was amazed! When my startup kit arrived, I learned boatloads about the cable industry from media maven Shelton Atfeld. It included contacts, trade journals, professional societies, and details on starting, staffing and operating a cable television network. It also included a sample business plan on CD-ROM. With such a comprehensive start-up kit in hand, how hard could it be?
I worked on the Harmony Channel business plan to launch an HDTV network for some months, but my fulltime position prevented me from really devoting the time to this venture that it deserved. So with the economy improving and my home life stabilizing, I left my fulltime position at Spitz in March 2004 to peruse the development of a cable television network. I first re-named it from “The Harmony Channel” to just “Harmony Channel” to avoid a controversial acronym. I then started attending cable television tradeshows, venture capital fairs, and meeting with television professionals. I realized that I was facing a long hard road with no guarantees of success, thinking that it could take a year or more before getting the network on the air. Indeed, the road was longer and harder by far than I had ever expected…
My first employee was Judi Pritchett, a dear friend who was instrumental in the early days of Harmony. Judi helped to decorate the office, selecting furniture, lamps, carpets, etc. according to the ancient principles of Feng Shui. More than anyone, Judi represented the spirit of Harmony. Without her, there likely would be no Harmony Channel.
Three things happened in the Spring of 2004 that really helped to propel Harmony forward. One is meeting Rick Newberger of Vanguard Media. Rick was highly recommended by professional coach and marketing expert Laura Fitton who I met at a venture conference in May 2004.
Rick is a cable television pioneer who helped with the capital formation and launch of many cable networks including SciFi Channel, Golf Channel, Si TV, and Tech TV (now G4). I pitched Harmony to Rick over the phone and, amazingly, he instantly “got it.” It turns out that Rick dabbled in music videos long before MTV and had reached similar conclusions to mine – that people can fully enjoy visual music experiences without the need for dialog or drama. I brought Rick on board as an advisor.
The second gift that boosted my efforts to launch Harmony was bringing in partner John Schran. I had pitched Harmony Channel to John while still working at Spitz, but he seemed lukewarm on the concept. John was interested in starting a digital signage business, and could not envision anyone wanting to watch relaxing visual music.
Then something happened that turned him around. John’s father had an irregular heartbeat and ended up in the hospital emergency room where John sat for some time. The television in the waiting room was tuned to a channel that was playing “Bride of Chuckie,” a violent slasher movie. In an emergency room, no less! John instantly saw the need for an alternative to the typical media programming and asked if he could partner with me. He soon left Spitz and the two of us opened an office across the street from Spitz in Chadds Ford, PA.
The third gift that propelled Harmony forward was the inclusion of a dear friend, Laura Vattilana, as VP of Finance. Laura continues to be our fiscal and organizational backbone.
She has helped to organize, build and operate our office systems, content and licensing database, bookkeeping and filing systems, accounts payable and receivable, tax accounting and payroll without which we could not operate. Laura continues to shine as a manager and accountant.
Others pitched in with early planning too, including Bill Bennett, former tech guru from QVC, and Don Slepian, musician and former webmaster for Lucent. We also brought in Bob Fesnak as our accountant and Alan Zeiger as our corporate attorney.
Creating an Identity
Harmony Channel slowly built steam, with John and I calling in all our contacts in the large-format film/video, themed entertainment, and artist/producer communities to help us build a business identity and programming for a demo DVD. Thom and Dave, a small design firm in Media, PA, helped us to design the Harmony logo and created our “coming soon” website.
Developing the logo was an iterative process, starting with an oval with an “H” in it (which was discarded because it resembled the Hyundai logo). We wanted it to look organic, hence the river stone look, yet touched by the human hand, hence the carved design. When Dave Bell came in one day with a new 3D logo drawn onto a river stone seamlessly wrapped around the stone like a Celtic knot, we knew we had the Harmony logo! During this time I conceptualized the seven MoodZones in an attempt to embrace a wide range of programming styles and moods. One logo, seven flavors.
Video On Demand
Meanwhile, Rick Newberger identified a hot new opportunity for us – Video On Demand. Comcast was rolling out this new digital service and was seeking original content. We started working on a network demo video and pulled together a business plan and PowerPoint pitch. Andy and Chanin of Ampersand Design helped us to develop a “MoodZone Style Guide” that artistically defined the seven MoodZones.
They later expanded our website. Video producers and post-production house RSVP helped us to put together a high definition demo with contributions from friends including Boston Productions, my band Earth Vision Weavers, artist John Banks, Philadelphia composer John Avarese, animators Brad Thompson and Ted Artz, and video artist Penny Slinger and her partner Dhiren Dasu.
The HD demo was awesome. On October 2004 we walked into Comcast’s boardroom with a 50” plasma screen and HD-CAM player. Comcast’s VP of VOD was duly impressed, himself just having left Cablevision – pioneer of the first non-narrative HD television network, MOOV (later renamed to LAB), only available on the VOOM satellite (now operated by EchoStar, but without LAB).
Unlike LAB, with its often inaccessible (but artistic) visuals and music, Harmony Channel was highly accessible, non-narrative visual music programming for the masses. Comcast said we had the best- developed concept for such a network and wanted to work with us. In the months to come, Rick helped us to negotiate an innovative partnering agreement with Comcast and a target launch date was set (one after another, in fact).
In May of 2005, I attended a small conference presented by the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) called Consciousness in Media. Led by former IONS editor, Christian de Quincy, this conference was a turning point for Harmony Channel.
Most notably I met Kate McCallum, longtime TV and film content developer and avid supporter of next-generation transformative media. Kate joined Harmony as VP of Programming and continues to play a pivotal role in the development of the network and our programming, in addition to managing our LA operations.
Also in May, we partnered with Kenji Williams to shoot 18 hours of original HD footage in Japan. The first piece produced from this content is a 14 minute piece called Harukaze. Kenji is a very talented composer, violinist, DJ, and producer. We hope to do many more projects with him in the future, including fulldome concert tours and a very special project involving the International Space Station.
Through 2005, we continued to build relationships with content providers and developed a business and licensing strategy. I made a trip to India to open a production pipeline and prepare for our eventual cable rollout in South Asia.
Sadly, Judi Pritchett, our Feng Shui decorator, passed away suddenly in November 2005. We all were shocked. Judi never so much as had a cold her entire life. She simply sat back in a lounge chair and was discovered the next morning with a smile on her face. We like to think that Judi is now helping us from the other side, and have maintained a small shrine for her in the office.
At the end of 2005, new Harmony partners joined us: Creative Director Annette Sotheran-Barnett and CTO Jan Lange. And we brought in new advisors, too, including Shirley Stone in Sponsorship Sales, Gary Tomchuk in LOHAS Marketing and Sales, and media attorney Cristiana Fragola. More recently we’ve brought in Amy Seidman to help with marketing, promotions and business development, and Ja-lene Clark to lead New Business Development.
It is impossible to recognize all the supportive artists, producers, composers, businesspersons, and others who have and who continue to assist Harmony Channel in its evolution. Many come to mind. Philadelphia composer John Avarese, visual and musical artists Penny Slinger and Dhiren Dasu of Goddess International who have hosted many events for Harmony, visual music producer Ilya Nikkolai and his manager
Selwyn Rodda, John Wadsworth of floatingworlds, John Diliberto, Kimberly Haas, and Jeff Towne of Echoes for jump-starting our voice-over efforts, the entire RSVP team including Brian Connor, Nat Hladio and Tom Shustack for their continued production and post-production support, cinematographer David Fortney and his partner Clare, new-edge artist, businessman and activist Michael Gosney, artist John Banks and composer Fritz Heede, and cinematographer Norman Bosworth to name a few.
More recently, Center for Visual Music director, Cindy Keefer, special effects artist Chance Gardner, computer artist/VJ/programmer Spot (Scott Draves), composer Noa Lazerus, and amazing special effects artist, the late Richard (Dr.) Baily, who sadly passed away before our launch. Doc contributed to our Chill Zone animation. We also thank Rich Hoffman and the Coyopa Productions team for their more recent assistance with post production. Finally, there is my wife, Laura Lantz, who has been a constant source of inspiration, guidance and support, without which there would be no Harmony Channel.
The list continues to rapidly grow, especially with all those who have entrusted us with their precious content… may you receive the prosperity that you deserve for devoting yourself to such a worthy endeavor – bringing healing light and uplifting moods into millions of homes.
Harmony Channel thanks all our staff, artists, helpers and supporters who have made it possible for us to bring beauty and healing art into the homes of millions!