Composing in Dreamland
Although I’ve heard numerous accounts of people having dreamt music, I had never had a similar experience until this morning.
Music history abounds with examples of composers supposedly being smitten by some hauntingly beautiful musical material, only to find that their memory began to fail them as they scrambled to jot some of it down; Tartini’s “Devil’s Trill” Sonata is perhaps the most well-known example of a piece at least partially indebted to received “dream music.” And even the most cursory historical survey makes it clear that more than a few prominent composers (*cough* Berlioz) often induced an intentional dream-state with a little help from opiates, hashish, absinthe—whatever did the trick! Whether or not the source of the vision is a dream or hallucination, in both cases a similar end is achieved: the conscious mind becomes aware of something that is revealed fully-formed, giving an impression that is both familiar and foreign: familiar in that it does represent something worthwhile and valid about ourselves, but foreign in the sense that the experience gets delivered to us like a baby from a stork. Who among us hasn’t had some kind of dream that left them reeling in awe, yet perplexed, even a little put-off that we, the conscious mind, weren’t in on the surprise?
My musical experience while dreaming was perhaps atypical. First of all, the music I heard was interesting to me, but aside from the usual dream-awe at a fully-formed experience I did not feel that there was anything particularly exceptional about the music. So while I wasn’t in a rush to write it down for use in a future opus, I also was pleased to notice that I had little difficulty remembering what I had experienced.
But the strangest part of the experience, which I only noticed when I woke up, was that music had been playing near my sleeping self the whole time—a very loud helping of “Appetite for Destruction” served up by the plumbers working next door—and while I hadn’t consciously heard the radio, my subconscious must have. While my dream-music was totally different in content from anything on the GNR album, it was stylistically very similar. In fact, my dream-music sounded pretty much like a cut that got pulled off the record at the last minute. There were discernible lyrics, too—and a quick Google search tells me they’re not on the album, which the remodeling crew continued to loop all morning. I see now that my mind interacted with an external stimulus, but I’m not really sure what happened next. Was I doing some “sleepcomposing” In The Style Of?
I’d be very interested in hearing about any other experiences that anyone has had relating music and dreaming, especially from other composers; I wonder if our minds get fidgety when not composing?