slow wave sleep

Trombone quartet, string quartet , electronics.

The idea for slow wave sleep came about from research I was doing about sleep and dreaming for a piece that I wrote in 2003 (lab fly dreams). Slow-wave sleep (also known as stage 3 and 4 non-REM sleep) is characterized by brain wave patterns with a frequency of less than 4 Hz and upper brain inactivity . The mind is ‘out cold’, but the body is free to move around. Sleepwalking, sleep talking and tooth grinding often occur during slow-wave sleep. The piece is based around EEG recordings I made of myself in this state of sleep. I use the sound of the raw data of the electrical activity in the brain and filter it to create rhythmic patterns that are connected with biological rhythms that occur in sleep.

The string quartet and trombone quartet walk in and out of the space as if they are sleepwalking, their sound is processed and distributed in the space. Pulse waves, filtered noise and granular synthesis are the main materials I use in this soundscape.

The idea for the instrumentation came as request from trombonist Koen Kaptijn, to write for the same instrumentation (minus the singer) as Stravinsky’s “In Memoriam for Dylan Thomas” (1954) for the project “Do Not Go Gentle” of the New Trombone Collective. This was then my starting point and reference point during the time I was composing the piece. It seemed to make some kind of sense to write a piece about sleep as an answer to Dylan’s poem “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night”.

In the last year I have been fascinated by the idea of composing music that deals with spaces that are in between states of consciousness, or that represent some feeling of being ‘in limbo’. The music theatre piece the buffer zone (performed in the festival aan de Werf in May 2004) was based on the physical space seperating the two communities in Cyprus and the inner space of the UN soldier guarding it. The electronic piece wordless (commissioned for the Argos Festival, Brussels, 2004) focuses on the space between words in speech recordings, and the unconscious ways we use our voices to communicate. In writing slow wave sleep I wished to explore that mental area between wakefullness and unconsciousness, that we have very little awareness of, but that has a vital function in regulating our minds.

slow wave sleep has been commisioned by the Gaudeamus Foundation.

performance history

  • 6 September 2004; Premiered by Doelen String Quartet and New Trombone Collective as part of the Gaudemaus Music Festival.