I’m often asked if I ever sleep – usually in the form of a Facebook message or a question on Twitter, sometimes it arrives in an email, from a person I don’t really know but I can sense the concern is genuine. I’ve also been asked how I sleep – as in with all the awful things you say and do. I think people have even been serious about this. Seems a bit silly to me. I sleep like a baby – erm, without the whole waking-up-screaming-having-shit-everywhere fiasco.
But it’s true I don’t sleep a lot. I’m good at it – when I get to do it. But a rather ludicrous career choice, chiefly to have a hobby that pays in chump-change which people assume is some easy-street option rather than real work, has meant I’ve always had to squeeze sleep in at the very end of the day, right at the end. In fact it’s often nearer to the new day when sleep starts. That’s been the way for most of my adult life really, I’ve always worked a full-time job and hacked about at freelancing – the sure way to give yourself homework for the rest of your life, in the spaces around (real) work and sleep.
I’ll never forget some dickhead telling me “good luck blogging every day when you have a kid” – that was a response to a post telling whoever was reading that we were about to have a child. I took that dullard’s attempt at a knowing quip as the inspiration to fuel even more blogging, never missing a day, creating a website, adding a podcast…but then, he’s probably well paid in his job and gets a good eight hours each night so it’s a bit of a line-call on the last-laugh there.
I’m often out late at night, sometimes watching gigs, sometimes playing records in a bar – when I get home there’s still work to do. I edit podcasts late at night, and watch films, read books, catch up on stuff…and in the last couple of years I’ve started getting up even earlier. So even if I do get to bed just on midnight, I might be up four or five hours later…
Anyway, all of that is by ambling/rambling preamble to a topic about music to fall asleep to; music to fall asleep with.
It’s often used as one of those throwaway lines – “this record doubles as a cure for insomnia” (actually this record does cure insomnia) – but I’ve found the Arve Henriksen album, Places of Worship to be exactly that, and I finally got to writing about falling asleep to music as a compliment when writing about that album. Because I’ve always believed it can be. It should be. I know it’s about as helpful to the artist as being told their record was “really great background music” but I’ve always had a list of favourite albums to listen to when I nod off. Arve Henriksen’s most recent album works that way too; a musical meditation of sorts.
I used to listen to a different album every night – sometimes I’d even put music on repeat. Katy savours the small holes of silence that sometimes sneak into our life together, so she’s not at all keen on the idea of drifting off with music on as an intentional move. It might happen, she can sleep if there’s music still playing but she wouldn’t plan to assist her sleep with an album. I still like that. And if I’m ever alone – travelling, or home with Oscar because work has taken her away – I’ll revert to looping some music for the night, it might be an artist on my iPod that’s well represented, Miles Davis or John Coltrane or something – and I’ll play through a bunch of the albums, drifting in and out of the reach of the music. It helps to send me to sleep. It can influence my dreams, it’s reassuring to wake up and hear it, sometimes it’s startling and you get it wrong (it is a gamble randomly playing through Coltrane albums I must say).
But I like this.
It was my way – right through high school and university. And there were always favourite albums that seemed to work best/better than others. Sketches of Spain is one. The self-titled album by Ghostland (it features singing from Sinead O’Connor and Natacha Atlas; it’s one of my favourite albums). And also Open by The Necks (most things by The Necks, but not all) and Confection by Sebastien Tellier – back when Oscar was teething that album would soothe me while I attempted to soothe him; he’d fall asleep in my arms, sometimes I’d nod off for a bit to it and always wake up in time to hear the album’s concluding track.
And then of course there’s Eno – his ambient albums, his collaborations, his brand new one, also a form of musical meditation. If stuck, it’s Eno. Always. Or soundtracks by Cliff Martinez, Rhian Sheehan, Clint Mansell, Max Richter…
There are a few more jazz and ambient albums I could name – Northern Exposure, The KLF’s Chill Out of course. And maybe the absolute best thing ever for this is the double album by John Foxx and Harold Budd, Translucence/Drift Music.