Recently, I’ve been having so many vivid dreams. Apparently I have a very odd way of dreaming – 90% of the time, I am aware that I’m dreaming and if I don’t like the ending to a dream, I will rewind the dream and change it to an alternative ending of my pleasing. Sometimes I will also add commentary on top of the dream like, “Wow, this plot sucks. Looks like the writer just wrote themselves into a corner. Oh wait, that’s me. Rewind, try a different ending.” I have always accepted this as the norm because I didn’t realize most people don’t dream like this.
I learned that this concept was called “lucid dreaming” recently when our team went to lunch and we were talking about this subject. According to Wikipedia, a lucid dream is “any dream during which the dreamer is aware that they are dreaming. During lucid dreaming, the dreamer may be able to exert some degree of control over the dream characters, narrative, and environment.” I think part of the reason why I am so tired after dreaming all the time is because I am constantly lucid dreaming. People have tactics where they can develop the skill of lucid dreaming but I am trying to figure out if there is a way to unlucid dream. Doesn’t seem to be much information out there in regards to that. However, I have found that lucid dreaming can be used for a lot of great creative output, such as having great writing material for both storytelling as well as music.
Composing Music in Dreams
There was a time when I was very heavily writing music, pretty much 24/7. My brain was constantly in that harmonic and melodic mode. I remember feeling really stressed out about having to produce music tracks under tight deadlines and when people are anxious, they usually have anxiety dreams. I had just read about the terrible flooding in Nashville and felt really bad about what had happened to the Country Music Capital. With a combination of that article and my lucid dreaming at work, my brain decided that it was going to write a song about it when I fell asleep from exhaustion. In my dream, I kept going through different chord and melody changes in an attempt to write a song in the country music genre. I finally came up with something that I thought was decent. I knew I was in a dream at the time and forced myself to wake up so I could write down the music before I forgot it. So here is the song I literally wrote in my sleep for the floods in Nashville.
I am sure my fellow composers out there have probably also had similar experiences where they write music in their sleep as well. I haven’t had any experiences of this recently because I haven’t been writing music as frequently as I would like. I believe dreams reflect what you’ve been thinking or doing the most of recently, and so perhaps a good test of if you want to write music in your sleep, is to constantly be engrossed in the activity of music composition.
Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday”
Most people who have heard of the Beatles know their famous song, “Yesterday.” Apparently Paul McCartney wrote the melody of this song in his dream one night as well. He was highly concerned that he had subconsciously plagiarized someone’s work (known as cryptomnesia). McCartney said, “For about a month I went round to people in the music business and asked them whether they had ever heard it before. Eventually it became like handing something in to the police. I thought if no-one claimed it after a few weeks then I could have it.”
Sounds in Dreams
Similar to how some people dream in color and some don’t, some people dream with sounds and some don’t. For people who are blind, sounds play a much bigger role in their dreams, though they also do dream with some visuals as well. However, what’s interesting to note is that the ability to hear sounds in your dreams is hugely reliant on being able to hear and experience sounds in real life in the first place. Many people who are born deaf do not experience sounds in their dreams.
Even though we shut our eyes when we dream, we don’t shut our ears. That is why a lot of times external sounds become a part of our dream. For example, a loud bang that might have happened outside your window while you were sleeping might become the sound of a gunshot for example in your dream. Our ability to distinguish between dream sounds and external stimuli sounds become blurred because our sense of reality is blurred. This leads us to the concept of hypnagogia.
Hypnagogia is basically the hallucinations of visuals, sounds, and other senses we experience going from the state of being awake to the state of sleeping. According to Wikipedia, hypnagogia is a “mental phenomena” that occurs “during this ‘threshold consciousness’ phase” and includes “lucid thought, lucid dreaming, hallucinations, and sleep paralysis.” Wikipedia further describes it in this way:
Hypnagogic sounds vary in intensity from faint impressions to loud noises, such as crashes and bangs (exploding head syndrome). People may imagine their own name called, crumpling bags, white noise, or a doorbell ringing. Snatches of imagined speech are common. While typically nonsensical and fragmented, these speech events can occasionally strike the individual as apt comments on — or summations of — their thoughts at the time. They often contain word play, neologisms and made-up names. Hypnagogic speech may manifest as the subject’s own “inner voice“, or as the voices of others: familiar people or strangers. More rarely, poetry or music is heard.
Salvador Dali, my favorite surrealist artist, would keep a key in his hand and a metal bowl on the ground. Whenever he drifted into a deep enough sleep, his hand would let go of the key and it would fall into the metal bowl. The clank would wake him up and he would be refreshed and inspired to draw something weird. This brief hypnagogia stage between being asleep and awake was according to Dali, all you needed to revivify your “physical and psychic being.”
In Steven R. Pritzer’s Encyclopedia of Creativity, many examples are given of creatives and intellects employing the hypnagogia stage to their advantage.
Ludwig von Beethoven reported obtaining inspiration for a composition in 1821 while napping in his carriage on route to Vienna.
Inspired by a hypnagogic episode, composer Richard Wagner went on to complete an entire opera, The first of his celebrated “Ring Cycle”…
Thomas Edison often stretched out on his workshop couch; during these “half waking “episodes, he claims that creative images flooded his mind.
Sensory Reflections in Dreams
Based on my experience, the sense that is most prominent in my dreams is related to what I’m most focused on in my current season in life. Before my sound design days, I did not pay attention to audio and sound as much as I do now. I also noticed that my dreams were less audio centric than they are now. As a child, food was always something I looked forward to, so smell played a big role in a lot of my dreams. Now as an adult, I don’t think about food as often and can’t really remember the last time I smelled anything in a dream. Likewise, during my heavy music composition days as previously discussed, music played a larger role in my dreams. I’ve been focused a lot more on sound design lately, and the only sensory detail other than the visuals that I can remember from the long vivid series of dreams I had last night are the sounds. At one time I could hear the fast whooshing air every time I swung high above it and the distant sound of the train, alerting me that I had to dismount quickly onto the railroad tracks before it came. It’s truly amazing how your dreams reflect what you’re immersed in and the most dominant sense in your current season in life.
What are your experiences with this? I would love to hear about them! 🙂