There is nothing romantic about insomnia. Chuck Palahniuk misled me. But my lack of sleep was not inspired by some desire to join anonymous support groups or develop a psychotic alter ego in the same vein as Tyler Durden. The cause of my discontent is unimportant. The message remains the same; Even Though We Sleep couldn’t have come at a better time.
It had been eight nights with little more than an hour of real sleep during each, rolling out of bed on the morning alarm to sleep walk through my waking life. Home in time for bed. Rinse then repeat. Anything extraneous to that cycle was pushed onto the floor. My mind too numb to reflect, my eyes too dry to continue staring at the computer, my fingers, my entire body so incredibly heavy, so lethargic. I couldn’t possibly write a review, let alone listen to the album I’d been assigned. Back when it was just an album to me.
I spoke of Ambient music back when I reviewed Seabed’s SeaBed. If you’re still unsure about the term, there is this pretty famous search engine called Google. The good thing about Google is that you can copy and paste a term you’re not sure of, hit search and you’ll find out more than you ever want to know about the subject
I mention Ambient music because it would be easy to write this album off as an Ambient album, slap in some adjectives like smooth, flowing, mention that there are layers… But there is more to the album than just Ambience.
I wondered if the headphones are going to be more of a distraction to my body than the music is to my mind. I’d tried so hard over the past eight nights to eliminate all distractions, to no avail. What’s the worst that could happen?
Even Though We Sleep…
It’s like an entirely instrumental Röyksopp album, maybe just a song. Jakob, but not rock. My first thoughts as I closed the laptop. All that’s left is music. All illumination is removed from the room. The too familiar glowing red digits were blacked out tonight, the clock unplugged, thrown across the room somewhere. Punishment for waking me when I had only just closed my eyes to sleep.
I consider the challenge of expressing emotion without vocals or lyrics to convey mood. How would one’s heart break as hard listening to Radiohead’s the Bends without Tom Yorke moaning? I saw how as the track shifted from rising optimism, bright piano tones, to something more contemplative. Pensive. I’d heard the change building up right from the start. Developing slowly. Taking over the soundscape as the piano layers slid away.
The song slips away. I’m aware again of my breathing, the heavy pulse of blood through my cranial veins.
I remembered Ghosts from Nine Inch Nails. This is like that. Moments in a journey captured in snapshots. The rising strings are bringing a sense of nostalgia. Everything is getting faster, though still not fast in any normal sense. Do snails know they’re slow? But then who cares. Slow is only a comparison to things that are faster. This music cannot be thrown next to anything mainstream and compared. It depreciates from the music. The beautiful way it rises, almost rocking me into sleep. Then stops. Fades out quickly. Teasing me. Taunting me. Waking me at that last second before slumber and urging me to keep listening.
A night scene now. A soundtrack to those moments I stand at the end of my driveway at 3 a.m. wondering why I’m there. The streets are empty, of people and cars, but like this track there is so much going on. A light breeze that whistles between the house and the fence. The trees above scratching at each other. Fighting for space. The ruffled feathers of sleeping sparrows. My hair in my eyes. And as I am in the moment, hypnagogic images vivid on my mind’s eye, the track fades away. I’m nearly in sleep now. More so at least than the past eight nights. I must go on.
The Moment I Need You…
Harry Nilsson. Without You. That song works perfectly with the suicide scene in the film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ the Rules of Attraction. Really brings out the sense of loss, of despair. You realise listening to the opening piano chords of the moment I need you that it wasn’t just Nilsson’s desperate wails that grasped your heart and wrenched it upside down. But this isn’t a song about doom and gloom. The single happy note in the solemn opening chords develops, progresses, into something almost optimistic. I’m optimistic I can sleep soon. My breathing feels further away.
A Distant Light…
Looking back at this track now I am awake, my mind conjures images of plains, fields, Native Americans. The association must go back to some dream image inspired by the music. Some connection to a Native American song attributed to Rod Stewart or Phil Collins, but not doubt neither of them at all. Also listening to the album while awake I recognise this song as more downbeat Electronica than Ambient. It’s the drums, a driving force towards the end. Something to keep the heart beating. Something for the restless feet to tap to.
2001: A Space Odyssey. The music was epic, but pop compared to this track. This whole album could be a series of scores for movies, documentaries, art pieces. This song, something about space. The breathy synths put me in a space suit. The background beating stars. The air of awe and revelation at the five minute mark the airlock opening and a relative calm and quiet at I float out. Once the bewilderment of my surroundings wears off I am aware of the beating and the breathing again. They all start to build up. More and more layers. They speed up. Wonder, excitement. That special tingle of electric goosebumps that spans your body from your toes to the tip of your nose. Awake, in my headphones, I’m surrounded by music, stretching past and through me from every direction. Asleep I was surrounded by everything, a significant, yet tiny piece of the universe. I was well asleep by the fade out.
So here I am. My mind calm and reflective, my eyes clear of crust cobwebs of sleep sand, my fingers gliding effortlessly across the keys as I type.
It would be easy to write this album off as an Ambient album, but there is more to the album than just Ambience. It is more than just flowing, smooth, textured. The power is in the indescribable subtleties and within them I found sweet somnolence.
Stray Theories is the musical pseudonym of Micah Templeton-Wolfe, an Australian ambient producer/composer residing in New Zealand.
He has been composing and releasing music for over a decade and his ambient soundscapes have been released on many labels throughout the world. He also has many on-going collaborations and remix projects, in addition to his work composing music for film/media and performing his experimental/ambient projects live.
Heavily influenced by minimal ambient, post-rock, shoegaze & modern classical, his music is a fusion of uplifting melodic ambience & dark/melancholic soundscapes.