Filed under: sleep
In Edgar Wright’s outstanding film The Sparks Brothers, Stephen Morris, the drummer in Joy Division, says they were listening to two records on repeat when they recorded “Love Will Tear Us Apart”: an LP of Frank Sinatra’s greatest hits and Sparks’ No. 1 in Heaven.
Your output depends on your input, but a lot of your input is random: you’re interested in lots of different things, and those things, occasionally, will talk to each other in your work.
Lately I’ve been thinking about being more intentional with input. Thinking about input as collage. Taking the principle of juxtaposition (1+1=3) and using that to guide your input: what weird, seemingly disparate things can you feed your brain that will come out later in a new mix?
The input collage can be subject or genre based and even better if it’s multi-media. (For example, reading art books and physics books at the same time, or watching a lot of westerns and kung fu movies at the same time or looking at paintings in a museum while reading physics papers while watching kung fu movies, etc.)
There’s a balance here between feeding your brain intentionally and then backing off and letting your brain do the subconscious work of mixing your inputs together.
In Art & Physics, the writer and surgeon Leonard Shlain wrote about his interesting method of “self-education” in the books’ subject matters:
Serendipitously, I discovered a way to heighten my creativity. My habit was to read a popular physics book late at night until the snooze gremlin nudged me with the signal that it was time to call it a day. Prior to falling asleep the following night, my mind relatively empty, I leafed through art books. The next morning, I would often connect images I had seen the night before with concepts in physics contained in my previous night’s reading. Something mysterious happens in the creative process during dreamtime, and I am an avid proponent of the school that advocates, “sleeping on it.”
It’s been pointed out before that dreams and collage work in the same kind of holistic, non-logical, non-linear manner. I love the idea of our brains gluing together the bits while we slumber…
Here is one of the collages from Serrah Russell’s book tears tears. It’s made with what I call “the simplest cut,” but I especially like the title, which I’ve stolen for this blog post: “I’ve been trying to hold onto last night’s dream.”
I did not sleep well last night, which is funny, because I started a book called Why We Sleep before falling asleep. (For me, it’s the season of going to bed at 9AM and loving it.)
I’ve noticed this bizarre thing about my brain: After a bad night’s sleep or a hangover I feel like I’m actually better at making art. It’s unhealthy and unsustainable, of course, but as bad as I feel, I enjoy the results: I’m slower and dreamier and a lot of ideas come to visit. All I have to do is keep the notebook handy.
When I was trying to fall back asleep last night, I put on Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works, Volume II. It’s an album I’ve listened to over and over this year, mostly on plane rides during book tour. Richard D. James claims he made 70 percent of the album while experimenting with sleep deprivation and lucid dreaming. (A lucid dream is a dream in which the dreamer is aware she is awake and can control some of what happens in the dream.)
That’s what James told David Toop, anyways, who notes that James speaks “in a way which indicates either a serious person who has never been taken seriously or a practical joker who has been taken too seriously for too long.”
From Toop’s book, Ocean of Sound:
“About a year and a half ago… I badly wanted to make dream tracks. Like imagine I’m in the in the studio and write a track in my sleep, wake up and then write it in the real world with real instruments. I couldn’t do it at first. The main problem was just remembering it. Melodies were easy to remember. I’d go to sleep in my studio. I’d go to sleep for ten minutes and write three tracks — only small segments, not 100 percent finished tracks. I’d wake up and I’d only been asleep for ten minutes. That’s quite mental. I vary the way I do it, dreaming either I’m in my studio, entirely the way it is, or all kinds of variations. The hardest thing is getting the sounds the same. It’s never the same. It doesn’t really come close to it.
In his book on the album, Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works, Volume II, Marc Weidenbaum recalled an interview in which James told him why it’s so important that he work in his bedroom:
To me, it’s essential… I mean, I didn’t realize it when I was growing up, until I moved my studio like out of my bedroom into another room—when I came to London I thought that was a really good idea: you know, studio in one room and bedroom in another—got really excited. And I just, for ages, I just wasn’t as happy and I couldn’t work it out, just ’cause I wasn’t sleeping in the same room as my stuff. There’s something magical about having all your equipment in the same room as your bed, and you just get out of bed and like do a track and go back to sleep and then get up and do some more and do tracks in your pants and stuff.
In Keep Going, I wrote about that dream-like state and how much I love napping, and quoted William Gibson: “Naps are essential to my process. Not dreams, but that state adjacent to sleep, the mind on waking.”
An artist could use it as a mission statement: “I’ve been trying to hold onto last night’s dream…”