Friday, February 17, 2012

My REM cycle will grow trunks like a mighty oak

   For somewhat obvious reasons that I'm not willing to get into right now, I've been having trouble sleeping lately. This is nothing new. I've had bouts with insomnia since I was a kid. But it's always been about having trouble falling asleep more than being able to stay asleep. Recently, though, I've been finding myself waking up at 3 or 4 every morning. At first I assumed that it was just premature onset of old age. But once I realized that it isn't to pee and already in the throes of a panic attack, I figured I had to do something. Changing my diet and/or exercise regime is clearly not an option, melatonin gives me really weird dreams. So obviously, I resorted to changing what I listen to.

   Up until 25 or so, I fell asleep listening to music every night, and I could use just about anything. It wasn't until I was living with someone did I realize that other people don't find shrieking blues musicians or DJ Shadow to be as soothing as I did. and frankly, it started to wake me up with a start as well, so I just stopped.

   I think I already mentioned this somewhere, but there's a site, You are listening to Los Angeles, that I use a lot when I'm writing or just trying to think. It's a combination of super ambient music and police scanner broadcasts. In spite of the obvious contrast, I've found it to be one of my favorite things online. Lately, even more features have been added and I love it even more. But as much as it soothes me, there is no way I can fall asleep to descriptions -however codified- of homicides and animal abuse. But I still love the idea.

   So I started using an app on my ipod called Ambiance. This is essentially a huge archive of sound clips culled from and sent in by users. Wanna listen to a campfire or crickets or a thunderstorm? done. Tuvan throat singers? done. There's even weirdly specific ones, like "rain on a tent" or "TV through a wall" that are oddly captivating. You can even opt for plain old white noise (though I prefer violet noise for reasons I do not understand)*.

   But as much as I love to sleep listening to these things, I've still had trouble falling asleep to them. It's just boring enough to let my mind race. So, inspired by the site mentioned earlier, I decided to start making my own soundtrack. You see, Ambiance can let you play your music along with the sound effects. So I for the last few months I've been experimenting on what works. One of my favorites is playing Brian Eno's Music for Airports with a clip from a bowling alley. It sounds like that would be torture, but with the levels just right it's just as good as any dream I'd come up with. I've also used an old Smithsonian Jazz Piano box set (my go-to sleep music for years) blended with the sound of rain on corrugated metal. Chopin's nocturnes seem to go well with a bed of white noise, and Elizabeth Cotten's guitar picking blends nicely with the sounds of a typewriter.

   If I was a normal person, I'd probably be content with that. But I had to go the extra mile, so lately I've been collecting samples for what will undoubtedly be my unfinished opus. Yeah, I'm planning on creating a 5+ hour, nonrepeating audio track. I've been collecting audio clips of music boxes and armoniums. Of 17-year cicadas and nightingales. Also a lot of clips of people talking, almost exclusively with received pronunciation. I don't know why, but it helps.

   I have no idea how long this will take me, and I'm pretty sure I'll never stop tinkering with it, but I've been enjoying the process, and I guess that's why any of us have hobbies. I just wish mine resulted in some cool ships in bottles or something.

*I also use Brownian noise, which bears a very clear distinction from the Brown note, which would be infinitely less pleasant.

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