VA: Melatonin

When he created the three “Sleep” tracks for 1995's Apart, little did Paul Schütze know that he'd be jumpstarting a new genre. Tigerbeat6 recently revisited it with the superb Goodnight: Music To Sleep By, 130 minutes of meditative electronica from artists like kid606, Stephan Mathieu, and Tim Hecker, and now Australia's ROOM40 adds its own spin with Melatonin – Meditations On Sound In Sleep. Interestingly, while Pimmon and Oren Ambarchi appear on both collections, it's surprising there's not more artist overlap between them, given the shared theme. Melatonin, however, is not only a two-disc compilation but also a listening installation curated by Lawrence English for the Bus Gallery in Melbourne. And the name? Here's English's explanation: “During sleep, a process controlled in part by the body's use of the chemical Melatonin, the brain functions in a markedly different fashion compared to waking life. As an example, reading is noted by many sleep researchers to be a quite unusual process, whereby words simply fall off the page, their graphical meaning abstracted as various sections of the brain recline into states of rest. Something similar is true for sounds we hear generated within dreams. The way in which incidental atmospheres complement, interrupt, or interfere with our sleep suggests a new set of understandings. It is these concepts that are explored here in a deeply personal and reflective manner.”

Of the twenty-three tracks spread across two discs, many are standouts including Chris Watson's “Warrigal Night,” a field recording whose exotic cries, grunts, whistles, and calls ring out against ringing thrum and thunderous rumbles. Not surprisingly, “Elion,” an ambient textured drone from Pimmon, impresses, as does “Arm Dormant,” Marina Rosenfeld's sound collage of bowed string scrapings and vinyl crackles. Oren Ambarchi sets aside his guitar to instead evoke Eno with moody electric piano sprinkles and quiet ripples on “Stormy Weather Part 2.” Another ambient piano-based effort, Ben Frost's “Svartifoss,” pairs a melancholy piano motif with evocative electronics to lovely effect and, in Gail Priest's haunting “Lullaby: 3am Anxiety Mix,” a distant, bird-like motif calls out from within a dense, floating cloud of ambient. Scanner provides some hypnotic electronica with the muffled piano notes, portentous bass flutter, and echoing voices of “Melting into Moonlight,” while Janek Schaefer's “Love Song” ends the set memorably as female voices chant “Love” until their varying pitches reach a state of droning dissonance.

Other tracks, like those by Ai Yamamoto and Philip Samartzis, while credible enough examples of drone and field recording genres, aren't as memorable. Admittedly, this is, to some degree, because of the nature of the genres themselves. To criticize Stephen Vitiello's “Dorm Ant (Forest)” for being less memorable, for instance, seems misguided when its ambient wavering tones are deliberately conceived with the Melatonin theme in mind.

Although dissimilar in obvious ways, Melatonin – Meditations On Sound In Sleep is reminiscent of the recent 12k-Line compilation Two Point Two as well as Goodnight: Music To Sleep By. All are long, in the two-hour vicinity, emphasize electronic, ambient, and drone pieces, and demand deeply absorbed listening to be fully appreciated. It's worth noting that Melatonin acquires greater force cumulatively, as a piece heard in isolation impresses less than when heard in the context of the full set. To some degree that can be explained by the fact that one gradually becomes attuned to the glacial, meditative pace of the music the longer one is exposed to it, as one's experience of time is re-calibrated by the slow, measured pace of the music. Still, there's no denying that, as effective as it is in presenting an aural distillation of the album concept, the Melatonin set is less memorable on musical grounds when compared to the other two.

May 2004