Jesse Stiles

I have always been interested in the effects of music on one’s sleep: how do sounds affect our dreams and the quality of our sleep? Frequently we have the experience of a waking-life sound (the alarm clock, an idling car, the radio) crossing the dream-barrier to be heard and re-contextualized inside a dream. When we are presented with more abstract soundforms, how are these manifested in the dream? Do they become colors, moods, or premonitions?

For years I conducted informal research in this area: exploring music while sleeping. A set of quality loudspeakers in the bedroom was an absolute necessity wherever I lived. Unfortunately this research ended rather abruptly in 2004 when I met my partner Olivia, who despite being perfect in every other way, has failed to realize the value of experiencing music while sleeping.

I was, therefore, very pleased when I was asked to create a work for Kaffe’s Sonic Bed at Issue Project Room as it presented an opportunity to continue my research. I made sure to do most of my work in the Bed very late at night and actually managed to fall asleep several times while writing the piece. The Bed is an extraordinarily well-designed piece of “sonic furniture” – with six super-powerful subwoofers lying below the mattress and eight high-quality speakers embedded along the encapsulating wall, it’s like lying in a hot tub of sound. Falling asleep in this environment, with body and sound in direct contact, the transformation of waking sound into dreamt soundform was incredibly powerful.

My piece for the Bed consists of distant reversed piano, synthesized sub-bass and voices, time-stretched whistling from a found microcassette, underwater contact microphone recordings, pencil percussion, and a network of reverberations and echoes. When I began work on the piece I had been listening to a lot of early recordings from The Staple Singers. Thinking about the haunted chorusing of their guitar sound, I created a system to spin sounds inside the Bed, as if the listener were inside a giant Leslie Speaker with a broken speedometer. The sounds in my piece vary in the speed and direction of their movement – sometimes sweeping slowly around the Bed, sometimes spinning at speeds so fast they are transformed into shimmery clouds. When sounds are spun at speeds above 20Hz, this introduces phantom frequencies as the varying presence and absence of sound in each of the Bed’s speakers modulates at frequencies within the range of human pitch perception. Good stuff.

Of course I also focused quite a bit on using the Bed’s tremendous subwoofers and composed portions of the piece in ranges far below standard musical pitch (the frequencies between 24.5 and 44.4Hz proved to be especially enjoyable and may have gotten me in some trouble with Issue Project Room’s neighbors).

It’s hard to fall asleep in public places so I’m not sure how many others will get to experience this piece, in this remarkable sound system, while truly asleep – but perhaps a sort of dream state of some kind may be temporarily induced.

Jesse Stiles, 2010