My general interest in dreams:
I have been interested in dreams since I was a kid. My first written down dream is from age 7, a blend of the Wizard of Oz and my interest in dinosaurs. In Jr. High I wrote down a “dream-controlling machine” (not practical!) as kind of a story. By the end of High School I had a Dream Journal going. I have kept regular a Dream Journal since 1971, sometimes 3 or 4 dreams a month, sometimes 15-20, depending on how much attention I am paying to dreams during that time.
Of course I have noted many recurring themes in my dreams over the years, and have analyzed them on my own. Often this is pretty revealing, and generally interesting. Of course, many are impenetrable. But I leave you to draw your own conclusions about the various warps and bends of my psyche (and your own, if you remember your dreams) – the rest of this page is about how I use Dreams for creating music and lyrics.
UPCOMING AND CURRENT DREAM USE:
For a series of 2020 concerts, I will be performing from “A Book of Dreams.” Here I apply the Dream Interpretation technique to multiple electric guitars. devices and loops.
March 26: I.C.A. Boston;
March 28: MassMoCA, North Adams, MA;
April 3: Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA.
April 4: Rhizome, Washington, DC.
RECENT DREAM USE in Trinary System:
Trinary System played one show in 2013, then other work over-whelmed me and I forgot about the band. On Mar.5, 2014, I had a dream where Larry Dersch (Trinary System drummer) and I played a duo show and to my surprise people loved it! We played a sort of Capt. Beefheart- funk piece. When I woke, I realized I should get back to work on the band, and I immediately wrote the main riff for “Modular Life”, approximating the concept of a Beefheart-funk riff. The song is still in our repertoire and was a turning point for the band’s activity.
The song “Hovering” is based on 2 dreams from the same night. As I was waking up, I had a drum riff in my head that I kept perfecting. When I woke up, I wrote down this unusual drum beat for Trinary System. Later I wrote the main guitar riff around the drum beat and put together the lyrics from the 2 dreams of the night. It is turning out to be one of our most interesting songs.
Both these songs will be on our June 2020 LP “Lights in the Center of Your Head” on Feeding Tube Records.
My 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 w/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 one of Surrealism, dream logic was totally embraced by the Surrealists. 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. Since there is no visual at all in the final product, the dream has been completely transformed into music. Any style will do – I’ve made them for solo piano, guitar w/electronics, and have considered writing one for rocks. In true surrealist fashion, the style is not important – it’s what lies BEHIND the style that counts.
My first attempt at utilizing dreams, ESTATES (1975, for piano and saxophone), was a baby step. At the beginning of the piece, the pianist recites the specific dream I recently had (good story, evocative content and definitely Surreal!). One section of the piece has long lines in the sax based directly on lines of Russian and Chinese troops zig-zagging in the desert. The very end, where “my lover and I were reunited for only hours each day, but all in all, they did not treat us badly.”, resulted in a full “arm chord” on the piano, played quietly, with both musicians intoning “Ahhhhhhhh……” on the beat, in a calm fashion, releasing all tension.
My second attempt to utilize dreams, my first full Dream Interpretation, DREAM INTERPRETATION No.1 (1975, for solo violin) completely followed 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.
AUDIO: Edit from Dream Interpretation No.1, for Solo Violin (and Recitation) 1975. Judith Stanton, violin.
I have since written and recorded many Dream Interpretations. Two of the most effective (No.7 and No.8, 1993) were made for Elemental Guitar, appearing on that CD. Most recently, my SNAKES DREAM SKY (2009), for viola, piano, percussion and pre-recorded sounds, uses a Dream Interpretation for the 2nd Movement. And in 2011, I completed a Dream Interpretation for a Rock setting, with drummer Larry Dersch, which appears on my BIG STEAM 45.
AUDIO: Edit from Dream Interpretation No.8 for Elemental Guitar (1992).
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 dreamer. It is, in that sense, an interesting take on utilizing “chance” in music, and is simultaneously super-personal, yet objectively abstract.
WORDS FROM DREAMS:
I often utilize phrases or images from dreams for song titles. In the Binary System, the titles “Plate Glass w/Tornado”, “Two Blue Torpedoes” and “The Floating Red Wall” are derived from dream images. A dream in early 2014 instigated the resurrection of The Trinary System, and we are still going strong! I have used many dream stories in lyrics. I include only one here, one of my better known songs. However, ADD in Unison (UNSOUND, Mission of Burma), Big Steam, and many others utilize dreams in lyrics or titles.
EINSTEIN’S DAY (Mission of Burma, Vs.), verse II:
Underneath the painting, where it once was clear
I was rolled in water, I was rolled out past the pier
In the tray of colors a whirlwind appeared.
—The dream used for Einstein’s Day occurred at the cusp of Mission of Burma, when Clint and I knew we were “up to something”, but it hadn’t all come together yet (i.e., we hadn’t met Pete!). The way the colored water (paint/ocean) blended and expanded at each new crash was truly psychedelic/transcendental. An auspicious dream for the situation, one that I definitely noticed.
AUDIO: Edit from Big Steam, rough mix. Larry Dersch, drums; Brian Arnold, french horns.
— Every so often when I have come up with a riff and need words/lyrics for the song, I check on all my dreams of the past few months. This one showed up, with an interesting development and various “implications”. (if that “little green Buick” isn’t the same car my first real girlfriend had, I don’t know what is…..). Uncharacteristically this dream was used in its entirety and gave the entire lyric.
BOOKS ON DREAMS:
Here are two great books on dreams, both very interesting, fun, and not in the slightest bit “dry”:
There are many many other books on dreams – some more “new age”, some more “clinical”, some more “self-help.” The worst dream books are those that claim to catalog what each dream symbol means. Each dreamer has their own set of symbols: what a symbol means to one person may be something completely different from what it means to another.
I consider the first MATRIX film to be a more accurate representation of Lucid Dreaming than INCEPTION.