Review of Somnambulist

28 Mar

by Rhea H. Boyden

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‘Dreams are the touchstones of our characters’ -Henry David Thoreau

‘Mayday, Mayday!’ We hear this distress call repeatedly in the track ‘Projection’ but do we get the help we are looking for? Not always when we project all our hopes and dreams onto another person. The album ‘Somnambulist’ by ‘Automating’ which is the solo project of Sasha Margolis from Melbourne, Australia explores hopes, dreams and fears in an 18-track album. The album, released under the label ‘Wood and Wire’ is a tantalising collection of field recordings, found sound and tape manipulation. With track titles such as ‘PET Scan’, ‘Neuronal Response’ and ‘Repetition Compulsion’ we can expect this album to explore deeper states of consciousness and a yearning to make sense of the world through an understanding, in particular, of dreaming and various sleep states.

The album opens with the track ‘Alpha Wave’ and we hear the sound of a chirping bird. Is this a sign that the day has commenced happily? The Alpha brainwaves are present when we are relaxed, meditative, aware and enjoying the moment. It’s a positive note to start on, but as we listen to the album we hear that it explores a whole range of human emotions experienced in various states of sleep. The track ‘Delta Wave’ does not keep one in a happy and relaxed manner for long. It is sinister, spooky and frankly, quite terrifying to listen to. In fact, much of the terror, stressors and stimulants of modern life prevent many of us from reaching the delta brainwave state as often as we should- it is the state of deep sleep and unconciousness that is most restorative. Following this is ‘Voices of the Dead’ and in this track we hear a lot of wind and water. The voices of those we have lost can be found in nature if we listen closely, but we cannot stop the passage of time and hold onto that which has slipped away. I am reminded, when listening to these tracks, of the Gothic poem by Edgar Allan Poe: ‘A Dream within a Dream’- ‘I stand amid the roar, of a surf-tormented shore’ writes Poe, in great despair, realising that he cannot hold onto the dream that is slipping away from him. He sees that he cannot even hold onto one grain of sand that slips from his hand making him question the passing of time-the sands of time- and also whether everything he ever experienced was just a dream and never reality at all. Where does the border lie between dreams and reality? And what happens in that hazy land between waking consciousness and deeper sleep?

A lot of really interesting things can happen in that hazy land and that is the part of this album that to my mind, is really exciting. The track ‘Hypnopompia’ samples distant eerie voices. Are these the voices of creativity that speak to us as we awaken in the morning? The hypnopompic state is the state of semi-consciousness that is experienced coming out of sleep and many a writer and composer swears that the insights that hit them at this moment are the ones that turn into the best stories, songs and poetry. We all know that feeling we have in our gut first thing in the morning-the one that puts us in tune with our strongest emotions- erotic feelings or feelings of deep mourning. Sentiments of joy or loss. If we can capture the truth at the core of these feelings right then and there we can turn them into new energy and life in our various creative pursuits. The track that follows ‘Hypnopompia’ is ‘Synaptic Transmission’ and in it we hear fireworks which are a wonderful way of sonically sampling and expressing the workings of the synapses. Are perhaps the fireworks a celebration of the ideas that have been successfully captured in the hypnopompic state? Happy creative synapses at work that have been well exercised in the dream state?

In other tracks we hear chanting, church bells, organs, bleating sheep, speeding trains, a didgeridoo and muffled voices. How to make sense of all of this? In the track ‘Acoustic Encoding’ I am reminded once again of that Edgar Allan Poe poem, or indeed, any poem I love that begs to be read out loud. For this is what ‘acoustic encoding’ is: the process of remembering and understanding things you hear. When we read a poem out loud we are engaging in acoustic encoding.

The album ends with the track ‘Theta Wave’. This is the perfect finale as the Theta brainwaves are activated when you are falling asleep. New ideas and enhanced creativity occur in a Theta brainwave state. And after listening to an album that makes me ponder the colourful spectrum of human emotions in a dream state, it is very pleasing to end on a track that is a gateway to learning, healing and spiritual growth. In the Theta state we retreat again to the voices and signals that come from within us, and, most beautifully, we can connect to the divine, readying us again for a new morning in the hypnopompic state: another day of capturing our dreams and commencing the cycle over. ‘Somnambulist’ (which means sleepwalker) is a truly inspiring and thought-provoking album on many levels.

Images courtesy of Sasha Margolis

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