Today, Iâ€™m releasing the full-length album Day Owl (A Provisional Requiem).
What follows is the albumâ€™s â€œwhole deal.â€
A year or so ago, I decided that I maybe wanted to try to become a person who takes naps, so I started experimenting to find out what did and didnâ€™t work for me.
I learned some important things, like:
1. I sort of canâ€™t emotionally handle falling asleep when itâ€™s daytime and waking up when itâ€™s nighttime.
2. If I nap for longer than, say, forty-five minutes, Iâ€™m the grumpiest possible version of myself when I wake up and the grumpiness lasts for the rest of the day/evening.
3. I apparently enjoy listening to music when Iâ€™m napping.
So, armed with this information, I made a point to nap during the day for thirty-to-forty minutes and I spent some time auditioning music to find the most optimal jam(z) for me to sleep to. The auditioning process was nothing fancy — it was just me scrolling through my music library, being like, â€œOH YEAH! THAT RECORD!â€ and then listening to the album through headphones during a nap.
I very quickly learned that, for me, the most optimal napping music that I owned was Monastic Chant by Theatre of Voices/Paul Hillier. Track three â€œIn hoc anni circulo,â€ specifically, was, like, custom-built for me to gently doze off to.
I mean, check it*:
Just having it on while I type is taking me down a notch.
Anyway, while Monastic Chant is, of course, intensely pensive, beautiful, rich, and thoughtful, I had some issues with it as napping music.
1. Due to the varying energy levels of each track, I couldnâ€™t really find a volume that made the quiet joints audible while keeping the louder ones from waking me up.
2. While I certainly had the thought that I could just loop â€œIn hoc anni circuloâ€ for thirty-five or forty minutes, I realized that one thing that I enjoyed about listening to a full album when I napped was that, if I did happen to wake up momentarily mid-nap, I could tell roughly how long I had been sleeping by where I was in the record.
So, I switched gears and tried out other albums to nap to, which is what led me to the first Cluster record, Cluster. While more discordant than Monastic Chant, it has a sort of textural narrative that (1) is easy to find a workable volume for and (2) unfolds in a way that letâ€™s you know how long youâ€™ve been napping.
Cluster worked for me for a little while, but it was nothing — I mean NOTHING-nothing — like â€œIn hoc anni circulo.â€ Like, if we were all, while conscious, able to enter my special, unconscious dreamspace and see me as my napping-spirit-animal or whatever jumping around the landscape, weâ€™d notice that â€œIn hoc anni circuloâ€ was playing.
So, there I was with perfectly serviceable napping music, but KNOWING in my heart that there was better napping music out there for me.
Thatâ€™s when I remembered that I was a professional composer. I realized that I could just write myself personal napping music that would be the most perfect, the most volume controllable, the most time-marking thing ever — AND I could contour it to my own napping/sleep cycle.
So, pretty cool!
I started off, as you can imagine, by figuring out which general elements of â€œIn hoc anni circuloâ€ made it so perfect for me. I didnâ€™t write them down, but the main points were something like:
1. One patient phrase that repeats over and over and over again
2. The phrase has an overarching downward direction/sinking feeling
3. Sacred/other-worldly sounding reverb
4. A sort of hollow-harmony with a textural richness
5. A precision of performance that maintains slight variations in each statement of the phrase
So, I set off to write my special music, which took almost exactly six months — but that wasnâ€™t all composing time.
Writing the main chord progression, choosing the instruments/textures, and sketching out the arrangement took a day or two. The reason the overall process took so long was that after each change, Iâ€™d take a nap to see how the change worked — and I only take, at most, one nap per day.
So, it was like:
Lower the level on an instrument, take a nap
EQ something a little differently, take a nap
Re-voice a chord, take a nap
Fade something out a measure later, take a nap
Change the attack on an instrument in a section, take a nap
Repeat a part one more time, take a nap
Repeat the part ANOTHER time on top of that, take a nap
You get the idea. If you donâ€™t write music, maybe think of the last time you had to write a complicated email to someone. Picture yourself composing that email, only every time you change a key word or make an edit, you sleep for thirty-to-forty minutes. That was my process.
What I wound up with was a just-under-thirty-nine-minute track that is totally and completely contoured EXACTLY to the way that I personally nap. Short of sitting with and analyzing actual electroencephalogram data, this music is, I think, as personalized as music gets.
As I was writing it, I had it in the back of my mind that, if it came out well, Iâ€™d send it to some friends or lightly get it out into the world in some way, but I wasnâ€™t really sure how to make that go. Generally, I have a core group of pals/proof-listeners that I send in-production music to to get their thoughts, but how do you ask people to comment on music that was written exactly for you to listen to when youâ€™re unconscious? I wound up asking one or two people very specific questions, like, â€œDo these instruments sound balanced to you?â€ or â€œDo you hear a weird noise here?â€ but, as far as, â€œIs this good?â€ and â€œHow can it be better?â€ like, that just sort of wasnâ€™t a question for non-me people, which was a weird feeling.
Iâ€™d say that this is the closest to what my music sounds like when Iâ€™m writing it only for me to hear, but itâ€™s not even written for me to hear when Iâ€™m awake, so Iâ€™m not really sure how to think about it. Granted, I love love love this music when Iâ€™m NOT awake, but I try not to listen to it in non-sleeping situations in an attempt to Pavlovian-ly help me nap better, which is a general rule that I’ve followed for ALL of the napping music that Iâ€™ve tried. As a bonus, itâ€™s nice to have both Monastic Chant and Cluster freed up for [conscious] listening.
In closing, Iâ€™d like to give a huge, public thank you to Scott Craggs over at Old Colony mastering. He mastered all thirty-nine or so minutes of this music, took a couple of notes that I gave him, re-mastered it a second time to be totally perfectâ€¦
…and then re-mastered it another eight or ten times as I kept taking naps and changing things.
*The video lists â€œIn hoc anni circuloâ€ as being part of The Age of Cathedrals, which is the album this jam is originally from. Monastic Chant is a compilation album, but, you know, itâ€™s the one I own.