An exploration of Insomnia in four movements.
Insomnia: habitual sleeplessness; inability to sleep.
sleeplessness, wakefulness, restlessness;
Tapesleep is the newest release from sound artist Sean Addicott, and is a meditation on sleep from the perspective of an insomniac.
The record (also Sean’s first physical release) utilises sound recordings and tape deterioration techniques to create two fields of juxtapostional sound; on one hand, melodious and on the other, filled with restless malaise.
We caught up with Sean to discuss the record, insomnia and how he plans to showcase the album.
First off, this seems like a record that is steeped in individual experience. What are your experiences with insomnia?
Getting to sleep has always been a problem for me, however, I started noticing specifically that it was becoming a problem in my adolescence. By my late teens, I was a zombie. I still struggle, but I’ve got better mechanisms to manage it. By the time the day is done, my mind starts to wander, and it can be a struggle to get it tamed under the covers. Meditation helps, avoiding light emitting devices and online social engagement helps, reminding myself that my day is done, and everything else can wait ’til tomorrow helps. There have been times where I felt socially I couldn’t cope because my brain was going so slow it couldn’t process conversations quickly enough, sort of like in that ‘Two Ronnies’ sketch? where one of them is answering questions out of phase, resulting in an expected slew of innuendos. I used to hide behind saying weird things, in a sort of vague attempt at being sardonic, playing the cracked-out insomniac card. It can really impair my ability to manage stress. I’ve had a one time experience of lucid dreaming, where I was falling in and out of sleep for a period of a few hours, and my dreams felt as vivid as reality. The experience was overwhelmingly intense; in one dream, I was in my bedroom, and my body was covered in kittens. I rolled over, killing one of the kittens, and the rest turned on me. I died and woke up. In another, I was attempting to outrun a car, met a similar and as previous. It was fantastic.
We recently came across an album of various mish-mashed tape recordings by William Burroughs called ‘Nothing Here Now But The Recordings’ which are his experimentations with tape and field recordings, is this your own version? Or do you see the tape element as another layer to the music?
I feel Burroughs’ album is more of a bit-by-bit collage of sound recordings. It’s a beautiful collection, but not necessarily what I was trying to achieve. I was more influenced by the work of Basinski, or Reich, in terms of my use of tape. As such, yes, it is my “Tape experiment” album, but with a different process. I find having an almost unlimited capacity to create, as offered by computers, to be paralysing, and am often in search of creative boundaries to push against.
Inspired somewhat by the aforementioned composers, I set myself a series of rules, to help govern the creation of the project; all sounds had to be recorded to cassette, digital processing had to occur previous to the cassette, and once the recordings were digitised, very little outside of EQ and Compression were permissible. Tapesleep is a collage of sorts, with a variety of sound generation tools being used. It features some acoustic instrumentation, for example, electric and acoustic (resonator) guitar, and piano. I used digital effects pedals to manipulate the sounds of the instruments, before recording them to cassette. I created feedback loops inside the cassettes, using pedals as a means of manipulating and controlling the drones. There is a field recording of me working in my bedroom. The piano piece (‘Microsleeps on Hammer and String’) features a cassette recording of the Piano at the MilkThistle Bar in Bristol.
You can hear in the background of the recording, the sounds of their new bar being installed – drill sounds, some clanging of metal. Once sounds had been recorded to tape, I set to work attempting to destroy and degrade the tapes, by covering them in smoke, deodorant, and other such chemicals. Tapes are canvasses for deterioration – you can tangibly detriment the integrity of the device, whilst it is still able to play back sound, however, changed. Tape was essential to the process.
This record has obviously been meticulously produced, but evokes restlessness and resonates uncomfortably throughout, was that the intent?
I noticed a handful of emergent dichotomies when working on the project, which extended from having unclear intents – was I trying to create a relaxing artefact that could help with sleep, or was I trying to create a work that represented what insomnia felt like? Is this project about cassettes, or about sleep? To try and curtail an open-book attitude to the project, I put a musical structure in place to govern the emerging chaos – the piece must follow the process of falling asleep. That is to say, musically, it must start where I start when attempting sleep – often calm, but with an overactive restless quality. From here, the album must move and change, before tapering, through lessening activity to a point of stillness, rest. This is why Tapesleep often feels restless.
The album is divided into 3 main movements, followed by a Coda.:
Movement 1 – ‘Restless Bursts’
Movement 2 – ‘Microsleeps on Hammer and String’
Movement 3 – ‘Drones in Cascade’
Coda – ‘Sleeptail’
The three movements align with the 3 main stages of Non-rapid eye Movement sleep; Movement one with Stage one of NREM sleep, Movement two with Stage two of NREM sleep etc, and should work as an approximate pairing. During the cognitive decline into sleep, one can experience jerks of consciousness, bursts of cognition, all whilst the brain waves slow towards deep slumber. It’s all in there.
How long has it been since your last solo record? What will you take from this experience in particular?
This is my first physical release. My previous work, ‘Time, as a construct…’ was premiered at an exhibition by the same name in February of 2016. Since completing ‘Tapesleep’, I have gained a greater understanding of the use of tape deterioration as a means of creating timbral interest. I also have a better understanding of how I function with creative limitations, especially in regards to using a Digital Audio Workstation. It’s been really interesting trying to summarise a metaphysical process, such as sleep, in a more traditional art form, such as music.
You’ll be performing this record as part of a performance piece from the 20th-24th April at Centrespace, Bristol. Was this an intention of yours from the beginning or just opportunity that came your way?
I define myself as a Sound Artist, so as such, yes, I did always assume that the release would have an exhibition attached to it. I didn’t favour the idea of having a private view for the event, and wanted to do an album release show instead. On April 19th, I will be curating a live drone performance – a collaborative performance between sound artists Microdeform, EMEI, Those Who Came Before Us, and Us Who Are Yet To Follow, alongside poets Sam Grudgings and Pascal Vine. The intent is to perform music continuously, with Tapesleep manifesting as the performance’s final suite.
Around the time I started off the project (March 2016), I had the idea that I’d use a bed as a means of exhibiting the work. Once Tapesleep was nearing completion, I ruminated over how to take the idea further – could the bed have a function, could it interact with the sound, to build a bridge between the music and the listener? Upon its exhibition on April 20th, I will be using my laptop, with a PureData patch, to take movement from bed to control the volume of the music – the more one moves, the quieter the music gets.
What were your influences on this project?
My solo project (Sean Addicott) started as a studio project, as opposed to a live project, which governs it’s functionality. It was only recently that I started performing my studio based pieces live, as I was unsure how to bend the studio work, to fit in to the live environment, and didn’t crave the idea of just playing tracks from a Laptop. That is, until I saw a recent interview with Tim Hecker. He talked about the laptop being an instrument, and taking sterile digital pathways of sound, and feeding them through guitar pedals. I saw a similarly valuable interview with William Basinski, where he discussed the idea of performing tape music live, being like a worker, cleaning in the kitchen, and resisting the urge to “do more” when the “boss is around”. This completely changed my perspective, and got me thinking about Tapesleep as a performance piece, and how to Interface Laptops and Tape players in the live environment.
Compositionally, the album was inspired by Basinski’s Disintegration Loops and the idea of sonic detriment as a means of achieving Timbral change. Similarly, influence needs to be nodded to Liz Harris of Grouper, and John Cage, for their collective use of Tape and Piano. I’m a punk head, so I feel like no matter what I’m doing, I’m always perilously close to creating a late 90’s Screamo record. I love the works of the minimalists, Reich being my favourite. I really like pop music, especially the more saccharine sweet modern stuff. A few months ago I went through a late 1800’s French piano composer phase, and was listening to Debussy and Satie everyday. I one day hope to compose a work as strong as the Men At Work discography.
What you say you’ve gotten out of making a piece like this and what do you hope the listener will garner from it?
Music is such a subjective thing, and I try not to enforce a perception of how my music should be considered on people. I prefer to list my inspirations and desires for creating, and see what people take from it. I’m always interested to know what people find in it. A couple of months ago, I showed a friend Tapesleep, shortly after it was mixed. We blasted it. Loud. Little to our knowledge, his housemate was in bed upstairs, awaiting emotional homeostasis following a rich evening of cavalier chemical insufflation. Said housemate caught up with me a few months later, and commented that the album made him feel that he was either going to space, or coming back from space, and that it was well regarded that he would not survive. I don’t think you can get much better than that.
My intention was, in part, to create something with a duality of purpose – to be as restless as it is relaxing, and I hope the listener can find something on that spectrum, maybe explore their own relationship with sleep. When I perform live, I try and ensure the experience is as immersive as possible, with low lighting, and obnoxious sound pressure levels. With that in mind, I hope the listener finds Tapesleep to be an immersive, intense, meditative experience.
Anything in the pipeline our readers should know about?
On the 19th of April, I will be performing Tapesleep live, at Centrespace. The exhibition with run from the 20th – 24th. I will be performing in Leeds of the 29th of April, at Temple of Boom, and in Bath on the 30th of April at St. James Wine Vaults. On the 17th of May, I will be performing in Cardiff, as part of the Mutterscream: Crepuscular Lush exhibition. I plan on performing this work as much as possible. Book. Me. I am currently researching and conceptualising for my next record. I’ll begin that once I’ve finished trying to sleep.
Tapesleep will be available to purchase here from 18th April.
Words: Tom Kirby