Sleep, as an object of musical inspiration, is hardly ever taken full advantage of. Most music for sleep is predictably bland, full of pleasant, softly undulating tones designed to soothe the listener: an aural sleep aid. For most people, though, sleep is not a null zone. Rather, our dream lives are full of strange figures, unexplored locales, indescribable sensations. Where is the music for the interplay between waking life and sleep, the times when we are neither here nor there? Its rare that music made for sleep really captures the surrealism and liminal tension of our “unconscious” lives. A remarkable exception is the recent collaborative compilation album from Prague-based label Genot Centre and internet collective Quantum Natives, Silent Night XVII. This seven-hour plus release acts as both a stunning musical artifact in its own right and a document of the twentieth and final installation of Genot Centre’s Silent Night event series, overnight concerts which hosted a cadre of unusual and exciting voices.
These eleven quietly subversive pieces act as sonic landscapes for the listener’s unconscious (or conscious) mind to wander through. True to the aesthetics of both Genot Centre and Quantum Natives, each piece is organized in a free-associative, nonlinear manner. Themes arise only to sink back into the sonic miasma, each track sequenced in such a way that an unpredictable yet engaging dialogue forms between artists. Æthereal Arthropod and swiʌelized souηds conjure cerebral forms to gather around Yikii’s eerie storybook figures. John Low Hearhat and emamouse lure the listener into a muted candy world; their peculiar MIDI instrumentation forming vapor trails through the sleeper’s porous mind. Elsewhere, contributions from Enchanted Lands, bod [包家巷], Benelux Energy, and recsund toy with the conventional language of ambient music to create uncanny structures, houses with walls like melting plastic and a view of a slowly morphing landscape.
If you haven’t noticed, landscape is a key word here. Much of the music on Silent Night makes use of processed field recordings and ASMR/foley fragments to create a warped and expanded sense of place. Even when recordings of place are not used directly, there is a consistent sense of spatial atmosphere and movement, as on Yearning Kru’s “Nubicuculia”, 48 minutes of tectonic psychedelics that give the listener the impression they are somewhere deep in the earth, listening to the drama of shifting geographies.
This idea of constructing new territories is relevant to both Genot Centre and Quantum Natives, groups noteworthy for their deep involvement in online communities and their truly global inclusiveness. Quantum Natives, as illustrated by their incredible website, prefers to organize its members as objects in an alien land, tactile entities which exist in relation to one another but do not claim any kind of hierarchical dominion. This organizational approach, coupled with Genot Centre’s devotion to the unheard and unclassifiable, ensures that each track on Silent Night XVII is wholly distinct; the compilation is successful as both a showcase of the artists and a cohesive artistic statement. Like unexplored territories, these luminous zones allow the listener to follow their own instincts from track to track, tuning in and out at will, smudging the boundary between hearing and listening. Although this release marks an end, it will no doubt inspire many beginnings, the sprouting of undiscovered species, alien pollen drifting into the ears of adventurous somnambulists everywhere.