Medical Mysteries of Music

A History of Sleep Music

I can’t fall asleep unless it is dead silent. No radio, no TV, no nothing. My bat hearing will even torture me with the sound of a faucet dripping in the basement.

It’s even worse when I’m traveling. I’m writing this in what’s the middle of the night in Vancouver because my body is still on Eastern Time. Come late afternoon, I’m gonna be about as coherent as a box of rocks.

Maybe I need to get into sleep music. This comes from Pitchfork.

he two-dozen concertgoers spread out their sleeping bags on the ground and settled in for a long night. It was a cold January evening in 1988, but the setting was soothing inside New York City’s Penine Hart Gallery, with incense and lavender wafting through the air. A fireplace crackled on a video monitor, and Bach’s Goldberg Variations played quietly. Soon, milk and cookies were passed around, and an artist named R.I.P. Hayman and his assistant, Barbara Pollitt, commenced their performance in earnest.

As the attendees tucked themselves in, Hayman and Pollitt played minimalist patterns on flute and harp. The room gradually filled with a soft chorus of deep breathing, and eventually a barely-audible tape of what the Village Voicecritic Kyle Gann described as “beautiful, wave-patterned organ music.” After that, it’s hard to know exactly how the performance went, because Gann fell asleep along with the rest of the room, save for Hayman and Pollitt. The musicians were hardly offended, though: This was one of Hayman’s Dreamsoundevents, and falling asleep was the point.

That all-nighter nearly 30 years ago feels particularly relevant today as a number of artists revisit the link between music and sleep.

Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38296 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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