Dream Interpretation Composing Technique

I developed my Dream Interpretation technique while at Thomas Jefferson College in Michigan in 1975. I was studying composition under Denman Maroney who, seeing certain of my interests, suggested I delve deeply into Surrealism. The School library supplied me with the goods, and I deeply delved.

I ran into a problem: Andre Breton, master of Surrealist Ceremonies, stated that music could not be Surrealist. Music was too abstract. But simultaneously, especially in phase two of Surrealism, dream logic was totally embraced. Irritated at not being able to make Surrealist Music, I decided I should utilize dreams to create music, hence creating fully Surrealist Music and solving my problem.

I find a suitable dream (they vary considerably), and use its form and emotional content for the form and content of the music. In a way it is a “one-on-one” soundtrack for the dream. But since there is no visual at all in the final product – it is no longer a “soundtrack” – the dream has been completely transformed into music. Any style will do – I’ve made them for solo piano, strings, guitar w/electronics, and have considered writing one for different sized rocks. In true surrealist fashion, the style is not important, it’s what lies behind the style that counts.

DREAM INTERPRETATION No.1 (1975, for solo violin) completely follows the dream. In this dream there was a vague area, dark and unformed, connecting the two major sections of the dream. This resulted in light tappings with the fingers on the violin body and faint non-pitched bow scratchings on the strings. When the next section of the dream occurred – I’m swimming down a slow river in the West – a languid traveling melody fades in. A recording of this piece with me simultaneously narrating the dream appeared on my “Roger Miller’s Exquisite Corpse” CD on SST Records.

Dream Interpetation No.1 (Judith Stanton, violin). SST Records.

My newest guitar work, “Dream Interpretations for Solo Electric Guitar Ensemble” (2020), is based entirely on this technique. In this case, the instrumentation is multiple electric guitars, loops and sound-altering devices. The extended techniques and unorthodox sounds produced are suitable for representing the unconscious mind, which operates within an anti-logical construct rather than day-to-day rationality.

Dream Interpretation No.8 (1994) SST Records. Elemental Guitar.

Part of what intrigues me about this technique is that a dream is created without conscious control, yet is completely ego-based and could only have been created by that specific dreamer. It is, in that sense, an interesting take on utilizing “chance” in music: simultaneously super-personal, yet objectively abstract.