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Joel Roston Composer | Instrumentalist
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New Album Alert

12 Dec 2017

joelroston-dayowl-cover Today, I’m releasing the full-length album Day Owl (A Provisional Requiem).

What follows is the album’s “whole deal.”

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 didn’t work for me.

I learned some important things, like:

1. I sort of can’t emotionally handle falling asleep when it’s daytime and waking up when it’s nighttime.

2. If I nap for longer than, say, forty-five minutes, I’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 I’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, “OH YEAH! THAT RECORD!” 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 “In hoc anni circulo,” 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 couldn’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 “In hoc anni circulo” 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 let’s you know how long you’ve been napping.

Cluster worked for me for a little while, but it was nothing — I mean NOTHING-nothing — like “In hoc anni circulo.” 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, we’d notice that “In hoc anni circulo” 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.

That’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 “In hoc anni circulo” made it so perfect for me. I didn’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 wasn’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, I’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 don’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, I’d send it to some friends or lightly get it out into the world in some way, but I wasn’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 you’re unconscious? I wound up asking one or two people very specific questions, like, “Do these instruments sound balanced to you?” or “Do you hear a weird noise here?” but, as far as, “Is this good?” and “How can it be better?” like, that just sort of wasn’t a question for non-me people, which was a weird feeling.

I’d say that this is the closest to what my music sounds like when I’m writing it only for me to hear, but it’s not even written for me to hear when I’m awake, so I’m not really sure how to think about it. Granted, I love love love this music when I’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 I’ve tried. As a bonus, it’s nice to have both Monastic Chant and Cluster freed up for [conscious] listening.

In closing, I’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 perfect…

…and then re-mastered it another eight or ten times as I kept taking naps and changing things.

*The video lists “In hoc anni circulo” 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, it’s the one I own.

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