thoughts on music, design and literature

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Writing Music In My Sleep

Sometimes I actually write music in my sleep. The most common scenario is that I'll be doing something random in my dream, like walking on my old college campus. And in my dream I'll be listening to my Discman (this was the mid-nineties)...and on the Discman will be playing a new piece of music that I've never heard before.

Sometimes, if it's simple enough, I'll wake up and actually *remember* what I heard in my dream. Most of the time, that doesn't happen...especially if it's a complicated piece. In one dream, I went to the Disney Concert Hall and listened to the LA Philharmonic perform a very complicated symphonic work for a good five minutes. I woke up, and couldn't remember a damn thing about the piece.

Last night, instead of writing music passively in my dream (that is, by dreaming that I was hearing new music), I actually dreamt of sitting down and writing it. It was sophomore year in high school (which would correspond to the approximate age I started composing). My friends and I were riding our bikes in circles around my front lawn, when one them stopped and told me that he was taking a class on commercial production. His homework assignment was to create an ad for a beer company, and so he asked me if I could write the music for his ad. I said, "Sure, let me think up some ideas," and went inside, and sat down at my old out-of-tune upright piano. I then banged out a Lynyrd Skynyrd-esque Southern Rock tune, complete with lyrics:

"Where you gonna go, Jimmy...
Where you gonna go..."

Okay, well, the lyrics aren't exactly brilliant...but hey, it's not like dreams are supposed to make *sense*.

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Blogger VRBones said...

As a computer programmer I have had numerous occasions where I have solved particularly complex problems in my sleep. During a period where I was working largely by myself I had honed it down to happening in 15 minute power naps. If I couldn't figure out the problem in about 1/2 an hour of thinking, I'd tuck up under my desk for 15 minutes and about 80% of the time I'd wake up with the answer.

I haven't seen any specific research about this, but I have found other people (doctors, artists) that have indicated similar experiences.

September 20, 2008 at 1:58 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too have been having very musical dreams. I've been hearing and I suppose "composing" quite a range of music, from symphonic, and reggae, to pop and a fused form of Hip Hop. I have a very high appreciation for all forms of music, but have virtually zero waking life musical skills. It makes me think just how incredible the brain is, perhaps all humans have the latent capacity to do wonderful things, but certain brain processes prevent certain talents. Perhaps only certain gifts can be unlocked with major changes in the brain. Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks writes about this. Worth the read.

September 20, 2008 at 8:13 AM

Blogger Christopher Tin said...

The power of the subconscious is remarkable, isn't it? And I think it also speaks to the power of *distraction* in our conscious lives. There's so much noise that keeps us from realizing the full abilities of our intellects, that sometimes our most potent brainstorming sessions occur when we're fast asleep!

September 27, 2008 at 6:16 PM

Blogger Alyssum said...

I also compose music in my dreams--though always for the piano. In my dreams I compose as I play, yet in real life I have no musical ability whatsoever.
What makes this topic interesting to me is that I have specific theories about the mind and the brain. My own brain has become more observable to me due to gradual life-long neurological damage, but because I have learned not to be bothered by it, it is possible for me to find this topic fascinating.

I was actually born with a certain amount of musical ability, yet it became more and more difficult for me to access it as the physical damage progressed. I studied the piano for 9 years, throughout which my abiliy continually regressed. Today, I can no longer read music nor remember how to play the piano (though at no point had I actually quit playing or allowed a significant lapse).

A number of years ago my brain/mind presented me with a strange anomaly. After my abilities had regressed to the point that I was having noticeable difficulty, I was able, on one occasion, to sit down at the piano and compose something as I played--exactly as I do in my dreams. Even stranger, my playing was beyond any ability I had displayed before (or after), besides which, I had never learned how to compose music. It seemed I was working with a sudden cognition of music and piano that I had never possessed at any other time. Intuition.

Interestingly, the metabolic dysfunctions in my body are very much the same as with people who have Autism. I, however, have an auto-immune disease. Yet, displaying abilities beyond one's own intellect is something that often happens wiith Autism--so I note the similarities.

I agree with your thought about distractions, but I do not think these distractions are purely psychological. Mine are physical. Because I believe in God and spirituality, I have theorized that it is possible for our physical state to provide a distraction, or filter, for that which is metaphysical--suggesting that our brains are physical but our minds are metaphysical.

An interesting thought to ponder...

October 4, 2008 at 2:59 PM

Blogger Christopher Tin said...

Allysum, that's a remarkable story! It reminds me of a story I read recently (I think in the NY Times) about someone who had some sort of crippling accident (hit by lightning?) and suddenly found themselves with the ability to play piano, when they had never even touched a keyboard before. Are you still playing piano, then?

October 5, 2008 at 10:53 AM

Blogger Alyssum said...

I would like to, but this is something that happened a number of years ago. Now I have moved into a different phase in my life--"seasons," my friend calls it, euphemistically. This season, I am "differently abled"--to apply another euphemism :)

I was noticing the Modest Mouse cover shown in another of your blog entries. I'm not familiar with the cover, but seen at this size, I think it sort of looks like water does right after someone drops a marble (or something round) into it... I wonder--have you considered using the underlying abstract image of more complex artwork? You know, the image you see when you squint or in some way blur the picture. I made a drawing once, that showed something different depending on how a person viewed it. Interfering details from each view were erased from the others by what the eye can and cannot see at varying distances. I am no great artist, but I liked playing with the idea. At a comfortable viewing distance, it was pleasant & unchallenging. At the distance I saw it--arm's length while drawing it, it was chaotic and had depth. Closely inspected, the fine details on the right were carefully drawn and on the left they were scribbled--it was meant to be interesting and contain things people might never think to look for. The thing I had not planned on, was the underlying abstract image, yet it turned out to be more interesting than the others--more free flowing, almost ghostly. Things unplanned--especially by someone analytical--are sometimes more rewarding.

October 5, 2008 at 2:06 PM

Blogger Christopher Tin said...

That's quite a good idea. I'm currently sorting things out with my graphic designer, and a number of options have come up, including more collage-like elements. The idea of distorted/abstracted imagery is intellectually appealing to me, but the issue then becomes one of appropriateness. That is, does an abstracted image represent what this album is about? I'm not sure that it does, necessarily, even though I like the idea of visual distortions and such.

But still, I don't mean to poo-poo on your's a really good one! I think it would certainly suit a group like Radiohead or Sigur Ros very well.

October 5, 2008 at 11:55 PM

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