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On Soundly Sleeping

2009 September 14
by Tedb0t

The notion of function–of goals, of utility–in music is interesting in that music is rarely considered to have an intended function.  Entertainment, perhaps, but usually only implicitly: a band usually does not get together and ask themselves, “What will be the purpose of our songs?”  Many might jump to suggest the transmission of a message of one kind or another.  This is possible with lyrical music, but as I argue in another post, impossible in music lacking a conventional language.

Intentional usage of music is another story, but again, for most it is an automatic act, a habituation that arises over years of learned associations and tendencies.  Here and there our choice to listen and choice of music will have a more conscious intent; a jogger chooses something commensurate to the intensity of their run, or a DJ will seek a style and mood to reflect her audience.

In my own experience, one of the only conscious, self-aware objectives I have for music selection is that to which to sleep.  I have long been fascinated, occasionally obsessively, by ambient music–music with no rhythm*, that lulls and that evolves over long periods of time, challenging the individual’s perceptual capacity to detect change.

Much of this music has a soporific character or effect, which is often, in fact, intentional.  Consider Robert Rich‘s sleep concerts: performances designed specifically and explicitly for an audience to sleep to.  Playing ambient music while falling asleep never emerged for me as a remedy or cure, but rather as an enhancement to the enigmatic twilight state that precedes sleep, a time in which the shadows cast by moonlight take on an even more lustrous character, where poetry abounds in the edges and interstices of consciousness.  I have vivid and affective childhood memories of planetaria in which music like this was played: soft, mysterious tones and drones that hinted of vast silver fields at night and, of course, their accompanying myriad and sundry constellations.

Ambient artists so far within my purview include Steve Roach, Stars of the Lid, Brian Eno, Lustmord, Lull, Coil, Bass Communion, Tim Hecker, Zoviet*France: and the aforementioned Robert Rich, and are but an inkling of the many more that are out there.

For merely one example of these kinds of textures, I offer “You Were Alive,” a piece I recorded last year:

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* Examples of ambient music with rhythm are plentiful, the most well-known doubtless being Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works volumes, but I cannot generally sleep to them.  These works may perhaps be more accurately classified as “ambient techno.”

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One Response
  1. andreas permalink
    November 2, 2011

    Steve Roach is one of the very great artists of ambient “sleep” music. Also, take a listen to Max Corbacho, similar to Steve Roach, but with his distinctive personal touch. Visit the followin link where you can listen to most of the tracks as MP3 samples :

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