Field Rotation: And Tomorrow I Will Sleep

VA: In The Bleak Wilderness Of Sleep
Audio Gourmet

As curious as it might sound, Audio Gourmet's compilation In The Bleak Wilderness of Sleep aims to “purposefully induce a state of sleep.” Such a goal is wholly in keeping with the ambient tradition, of course, though it might strike some as an unusual way to celebrate a one-year anniversary, as Audio Gourmet is doing with the release. The album, available in a digital form and CD-R edition of 200, is hardly the label's first; curated by Harry Towell (aka Spheruleus), the net-label has issued more than forty releases, all of which can be downloaded for free from Bandcamp. Twelve artists are featured on the seventy-three-minute collection, with Simon Whetham, Francisco Lopez, and D'Incise three of the names that will be familiar to ambient-soundscaping devotees.

In its low-level ambient design, the opening piece, Michael Trommer's “Pushing Through Gray,” characterizes the album as a whole. After emerging from silence, the piece undergoes a slow, almost imperceptible rise in volume until it eventually coalesces into a slow-motion swirl occasionally punctuated by ruptures (suggestive of sleep disturbances, perhaps). Subsequent pieces hew to a similar template and are careful to remain pitched at a similarly restrained level, one that makes the artists' audio contributions convincingly feel like dreamstates transcribed into audio form. Rather than opting for the rejuvenating calm of undisturbed sleep, some tracks focus on the turbulence engendered by vivid dreamstates. James McDougall's “Scarborough” uses field recordings of the rainswept outdoors to produce an unsettling, industrial-tinged nightscape, while Specta Ciera's “Under Cool Air” feels equally nightmarish in its reverberant soundscaping design. No one should be too surprised either to discover Francisco Lopez ably conjuring a seething, insectoid nightscape in less than three minutes in “Untitled #264.”

Among the standouts are the Spheruleus contribution, “Overcast,” an elegantly sculpted soundscape of rippling textures and heaving tones, and Small Things On Sundays' “Harbour,” an immersive eight minutes of nocturnal gloom. “Ótta og kvíða,” a collaboration between Natalia Noelia Siebula and Bartosz Dziadosz (aka Pleq) also registers memorably for its integration of mournful cello playing and percussion-heavy sound painting. In The Bleak Wilderness of Sleep is a headphone listen in the truest sense, as the tracks' plentiful textural detail can only be truly captured when listened to with one's fullest attention.

There clearly must be something in the water, as the saying goes, because Christoph Berg has also felt compelled to create his own meditation on sleep in the form of a new Field Rotation collection titled—what else?—And Tomorrow I Will Sleep. The recording arrives not too long after his earlier 2011 release on Fluid Radio, Acoustic Tales, which offered a fabulous introduction to the Field Rotation sound universe and was preceded by a 2010 EP, Why Things Are Different, that purportedly documented the Kiel, Germany-based composer's initial exploration of the sleep-related concept.

The title track plunges us immediately into an ambient-drone dreamscape via eight becalmed minutes of shimmering flourishes, rustling bell tones, and vaporous swathes. However, the subsequent piece, “A Dimly Haze (Asleep Pt. 1),” intimates that a deeper level has been reached, as the second track's material is gauzier than the first and the level of calm deeper too—until, that is, elegiac strings and an ominous rumble emerge halfway through to impose a considerably more brooding ambiance upon the proceedings. A sense of drift does, quite literally, pervade “Shoreline (Adrift, Dreaming),” a sense strengthened by the shadowy presence of shuddering strings, while Eno-like ambient realms are conjured in the two shorter settings that follow. The slow re-emergence into consciousness occurs during the album's final piece, “Swayed By the Wind (Awakening),” which billows nebulously in a kind of celestial daze for seventeen hypnotic minutes.

The material on And Tomorrow I Will Sleep doesn't appear to map itself literally to the five progressive stages of NREM (non-rapid eye movement) and REM that psychologists use to describe the normal sleep cycle; instead, Berg's material inhabits a general realm of simulated unconsciousness wherein states alternates between periods of restfulness and disturbance. As he's done in the past, Berg uses acoustic instruments, field recordings, and electronic processing techniques to create his sumptuous electroacoustic soundscapes.

September 2011