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Interview with Tanner Menard

img  Tobias Fischer

How do people react to your sleep concerts?
It would really be impossible for me to answer that question because every person who attends a sleep concert has an unique experience. But I can try to express my observations in a general way. First, I'd like to explain the structure and generalized setting of the concerts. Typically, these occur in some large semi-public space as part of a festival or private gathering. The venues have ranged from small art galleries to yoga colonies to large stripped-down urban spaces. People are asked to bring pillows and a sleeping bag. Some performances have also involved some stunning video work by Chika Iijima. It has been my observation that most people are able to sleep semi-soundly during the night. It is rare for people sit up and listen during the night, most people are lulled into some state of sleep. It is not uncommon at deep times during the night for people to start snoring in unison.
I was lucky, when I realized my first sleep concert, to have several days in the gallery that sponsored the event. For two nights before the concert, I slept in the space with an itunes playlist cycling through all of the music that had originally been submitted for remix during the sleep concert. Through that experience I was able to get a fairly good idea of what the state of sleep is like during the concert. In my conversations with the originator of the 'sleep concert' idea, Robert Rich, I was informed that many of the people who sleep through these concerts experience sleep in a state of hypnagogic sleep. Simply put, hypnagogic sleep is a lighter state of sleep than deep sleep, and dreams are experienced in this state more as semi-waking hallucinations rather than the deep dream states of REM sleep.
Often, when people first wake up, they speak about their dreams as if they are unsure whether they were experiencing a dream or were waking reality. Because I use many recordings of water and rain during the concert, people often ask if it had rained outside or say that they dreamed they were in a harbor or on a water craft. I have also heard many other accounts of peoples' dreams which are more personal and are somehow related to some aspect of the music heard during the night.

These sleep concerts are usually a success, even though the music you're playing is more or less experimental in nature. Are people perhaps simply listening to this kind of music under the wrong conditions?
That is an interesting question and one that I have thought a lot about. I have seen many performances of ambient and experimental music that would have worked better, in my opinion, in a more relaxing and meditative environment. The beauty of sleep concerts is that there is a certain novelty to most people with the idea of sleeping in public and listening to music while asleep rather than while awake, so perhaps the novelty of the situation opens people’s minds to what they might hear.
The problem that I see with performing this kind of music in clubs and more social spaces, is that it often reduces the experience to background sound for a social event. I would argue that I would rather do a fewer number of performances in the right setting than many performances in settings that don’t inspire the listener to deeply engage with the music in a meaningful way. For me, sleep concerts are just the beginning of many ideas that I have about making the act of listening to this sort of music an almost ceremonial affair.

You mentioned that you see the sleep concert „as a type of monumental form for the ambient artist“. Could you expand on this idea a bit?

Well, first of all, I think that by nature ambient music originated as a long form style of music. Drones often play a key part in the genre and by nature drones tend towards evolving over long periods of time. So I see the nine hour form of the sleep concert as being one of the early examples of how long form can be used towards a specific musical purpose; music for sleep. I certainly think that by exploring the form in a sort of historical way, I am doing sort of what Brahms or Beethoven did with the form of the Symphony. I am expanding upon an idea that was introduced by an elder and taking it in a more current direction. I can see though that for me, the sleep concert is really only the beginning and that there are many new and different ways to approach both long form ambient music as well as music for sleep.
I have ideas about candle light ceremonies which invite the listener to sit in a state of meditation for long period of time. I also can see my work headed in the direction of music for healing, but I have a long way to go in that direction, it’ll be interesting for me to see where this goes and how my work evolves in this area.

Where does your interest in sleep, dreams and the state between waking and dreaming stem from?
Initially, I started my work with the sleep concerts as a matter of historical imperative. I had read for many years about Robert Rich’s work and was moved from an unknown source of inspiration towards the sleep concert which I viewed initially as a sort of form for ambient performance/composition. My early conversations with Rich about the sleep concerts were very informative and I wanted to recreate his artistic vision in my own way while retaining the essential elements that he had laid out for the event. Because of the scale of the project, initially I was more concerned with executing the massive undertaking rather than focusing on the more mystical aspects of the medium.
I have long had an interest in the many and varied spiritualities that have been a part of the continuum of human life. Around the age of fifteen I started reading some pretty steep books on Tantric Buddhism and other mystical branches of the world’s theologies. I was also introduced to more New Age ideas like ‘A Course in Miracles’ but I was ultimately through my early twenties drawn more and more towards the Taoist teachings. I spent quite a number of years after college sort of trying to reenact what I was reading in these books by adopting the life of a wandering musician. To this day I still use the I Ching on an almost daily basis.
My exploration of dreams really has only come after I started performing the sleep concerts. I am really at a learning stage with this work and consider myself a newcomer to the world of dream music. There are so many traditions to explore and so many places within my own self that I must go to become a master of this world of dreams. Fortunately, last October I was invited to perform a sleep concert during a dream yoga ceremony in California. The woman who invited me, Kathe Izzo aka The Love Artist, has been doing dream yoga ceremonies for some time. It was very beautiful and enlightening for me to combine my interest in meditation with the sleep events. I owe Kathe a debt of gratitude for her faith in me and for opening up so many new possibilities for where I could take my work and my life.
I was also fortunate through the sleep concert to be introduced in a very powerful way to Native American Ceremony. It’s my strong conviction that the universe invited me to start doing these concerts so that it could deepen my life by introducing me to the Native ways. Had I not started these concerts I may have never found my way into those circles. So in some way, I can say that the sleep concert really was an artistic catalyst for me which brought me out of a very dark time in my life simply by the people and experiences that it has attracted to me.
As you may recall, with the help of Experimedia and my dear friend Jeremy Bible, most of the music that I remix during these concerts comes from around 100 artists from all over the globe who graciously sent music for me mix. I should take a minute here to thank Jeremy because without his support the sleep concerts would have never happened. He was completely instrumental in helping me promote the concert and was one of the first people with whom I co-performed the concert. I have had an incredible experience getting to know all the people who contributed and I think that the energy from those exchanges really opened up some incredible possibilities for me. I also would like to mention Kuauhtli Vasquez and Juanita Vasquez-Lopez who are two two Native American spiritual guides who I have met through the sleep concerts who have greatly influenced my life and helped me to move in a positive direction.

But it was really Robert Rich who kindled your interest in the subject?

As soon as I got the idea to do a sleep concert of my own, I contacted Rich through myspace and actually had a dialogue with him through phone calls and email and was lucky enough to even interview him. I have tried to honor his vision for the concert despite the variations that I have introduced. I see Robert Rich as being a real visionary in the ambient genre. I think his work is still some of the most interesting music of the late part of the twentieth century and I think his music will have a lasting effect on the future of the music. For people interested in listening to what he has to say about sleep concerts they can refer to the audio interview on my blog.
Rich was deeply influenced by all-night ceremonies of native peoples and I find it interesting that through my work with sleep concerts I have attracted those ceremonies to myself. Really I should say that I am fortunate and grateful to the cosmos for bringing both sleep concerts and all night spiritual ceremonies into my life. I am really a beginner student in this realm, and I hope to become a life long student of the mysteries contained in these. I am also grateful to Rich for his generosity in sharing his ideas with me and for the way he nurtured me through the process.

Do you see sleep as a world in its own right?
I don’t see a difference between the waking and sleeping realms. You might recall the paradox described by the ancient Chinese anarchist philosopher Zuangzi or Chuang Tzu where he describes falling asleep and dreaming that he was a butterfly. When he wakes up he contemplates which was which, the butterfly dreaming he was a man or the man dreaming he was the butterfly. Here again, my exploration of dreams is only in its beginning and I hope to continue exploring this both through the sleep concerts and through various spiritual paths which I have begun to follow as a result of my work with sleep music.

Similarly, an artist like Steve Roach has also been particularly interested in the concept of dream time and dream logic, derived from Aboriginee mysticism. The idea here is that dreams are, in fact, the true reality and our physical world more or less a form of illusion ...
I have a real love for Steve Roach’s music. He was one of the artists that really got me into ambient music years ago. I certainly think I am exploring this sort of logic in both my work and in my life. If nothing else, we can be certain that the physical world is an illusion. We see a solid world that physics has proven to be really a world of energy in constant flux. We have no way of seeing that we are really sub-atomic beings. All we see is the dense world made possible by our senses. I think that dreams can take us deeper, and teach us lessons from the sub-atomic realm.
As a species I think we are approaching a very interesting time where we need to go back to the ancient ways of appropriating information about the world. We can’t just rely on science any more, science is the culprit that has caused so many of the problems that we face in this time. I think we need to fall back on dream, mysticism, plant medicine, nature and an understanding of the spirit world to find the answers that will keep us alive and help to heal the planet from the last few centuries of abuse.
I think the importance of artists like Steve Roach is that they remind modern people to look back to those roots and to explore those states of consciousness that are forgotten in our busy modern lives. I would certainly like to see more artists in our genre exploring these sorts of concepts. I think we hold a sort of key to modern people, a key which can open doors to very ancient worlds that we might not even know exist. When we unlock these doors for ourselves we can show people a different and slower way that can lead back to peace and lead back to a spiritual way of interacting with the world.
I have a long way to go on this path, I have a lot of work to do in making myself more in tune with these sorts of realities. These sleep concerts are like a personal form of yoga for me. I hope that I can live up to the responsibilities of the path and help others along the way. Thanks for letting me speak my piece about this and for helping to share this vision with people. I am really open to taking this sleep music all over the world so for anyone interested in bringing to their part of the world you can see details here.

What is there to learn from one's dreams?

I have really mixed feelings about psychology and take it with a grain of salt. However I’d really like to read the recently published ‘Red Book’ by Carl Jung. By saying that, I suppose I mean that my perspective on all this stuff has nothing to do with modern psychology, unlike Robert Rich who had actually studied psychology. My interest in dreams and sleep music come from a much more intuitive understanding of life, so from the vantage point of my intuition I do believe that there are messages in our dreams and that they can inform our waking reality.

Do ideas for compositions sometimes arrive in your sleep or would you say there's a subconscious influence of dreams on your work?

For me, my composition has always been close to my subconscious. I believe that my work is sort of like a bridge between my inner self and my outer reality. My work is always born from inner visions and is somehow meant to help me work through a period of time in my life. Because I am a synaesthesiac and always ‘see sound’ I suppose that you could say that the experience of music is a dreamlike thing for me.

Darkness and the special mood the evening evokes seem to sharpen and retune the senses in a very special way. Does your music partly draw from this inspiring sensation?
Yes, I often compose at night and there are moments during sleep concerts where the darkness of the room can become really ecstatic. I’d like to say a few words here about the experience of sleep concerts from the point of the view of the artist. First of all, it is very difficult to stay awake during these things. The lights are typically really dim or completely off and sometimes Chika’s video is playing hypnotically on the walls. Its honestly pretty disorienting for me and I often enter a sort of state of reverie. I have experienced feelings 5-6 hours into the concerts of sort of passing through a tunnel or moving through some sort of inner passage. It’s a real endurance test, and the sensory deprivation from the darkness, combined with the minimally unfolding sound worlds often is very transformative for me as an artist. I always sort of dread the performances in the weeks leading up to them because I know how physically demanding it will be, but during the performance I am always reassured that I am doing the right thing, and I try to stay focused on my responsibility to the audience who are in a really vulnerable state lying there on the floor. Really I believe that for that one night, they grant me permission to influence their dreams and in my opinion that is a great responsibility which I don’t take lightly.

What kind of feeling is to be the only one still awake at a sleep concert?
I definitely don’t feel like I’m playing just for myself, in fact, I feel more connected to a sleeping audience than to a waking audience. People are extremely sensitive in the sleep state, and I am learning slowly how to judge where they are in sleep and how to take them on a journey through that realm. As far as what its like for me, Ill just say that though it’s a very rewarding experience, it’s also extremely physically and mentally demanding to stay awake. I try to avoid using too many stimulants during the performance because I have learned that it adds to the recovery time after the concert. I managed to make it through the last concert that I performed alongside a really great guy named Andrew Weathers with just one cup of coffee and a vitamin drink.
The most demanding performance so far was one that I did with Kathe Izzo in California. The night before we participated in a traditional Native American ceremony lead by Kuauhtli Vasquez so I had not slept in two days by the time the concert was finished. However, Kuauhtli’s ceremony was so empowering in tandem with Kathe’s dream yoga ceremony that the lack of sleep only sort of added to the mystery and power of the dream concert. I would ultimately like to see my work head further and further in that direction, and work more with people like Kathe and Kuauhtli in developing the concerts as dream events rather than just as sleep events. I like the idea of my music being used for meditation, I’ve been working towards that ever since my first work with Jeph Jerman.

With regards to your particular interest in the sound of the Piano – what makes it so ideally suited to recreating that floating sensation one gets at night?
My work with the piano physical models is almost totally separate from the sleep work. As I mentioned earlier, until now the work I have done with the sleep concerts has primarily been a remix project. I can see that changing in the future as I get a deeper grasp on the form. I would like to start composing the entire nine hour performance from scratch. The piano works have been more of a personal project which started in 2006 and 2007. Around that time I purchased Modart’s Pianteq software. It is a wonderful physical model of the piano. I always use a 10 meter long version of the instrument. The reason for this is the type of acoustic phenomenon that I am trying to emulate, basically I am working almost entirely with the resonant portion of the instrument, trying to conjure from it only the decay portion of a very large instrument whose damper pedal is never released.
I grew up playing the piano. My parents bought me an upright Wurlitzer which was tuned once when I was in the eighth grade. Through out high school I was constantly improvising minimalist piano works on that old but wonderful instrument. One of the things that I explore in my piano compositions are new and novel tunings which I often get from my friend Nick Gish. He programs them for me in scala which I then import into Pianoteq.
My piano pieces are very minimalistic and often influenced somehow by folk music and are very personal to me. I think that they are really about finding out who I am at a base level through the very basic musical act of playing my main instrument. I started making these works in their current form after the death of several close friends. Somehow returning to my primary instrument was a source of comfort to me, and the songs I’ve composed with these pianos have been a source of transformation and deep emotional expression.

Is the use of software - rather than for example playing the Wurlitzer you grew up with - also an effort of completely detaching yourself from these comparisons and finding an instrument that's completely yours?

That’s a good question. I definitely like that Pianoteq allows me to create a very high resolution instrument that I can customize. I have been fascinated with physical modeling technology for a long time because of a friend of mine named Carr Wilkerson that was involved in some research with that sort of work at Stanford. I love that I can customize the instrument to be around thirty feet long. It allows me to work with resonance in a very very direct way. I am able to create resonant feed back phenomenon that would be virtually impossible to create with out hundreds of thousands of dollars in the physical world of instruments. Also, with scala, I’m able to load Nick’s tunings at the drop of a hat, giving me a virtually unlimited source of new resonant material. Recenty I purchased an axis midi controller which is a hexagonal lay out of the keyboard, this really enhances my ability to have as you put it, a unique instrument. I like that I can sort of play it like an autoharp or thump piano or some such small “campfire” type of instrument.
I personally don’t mind comparisons to classical artists, I think we are in a continuum, and because I was classically trained as a kid I think that artists like Chopin, Debussy and more modern piano composers like Harold Budd had a huge impact on my piano related music. But I also see myself tied in to much more ancient musical traditions. Maybe you could say its like shamanic Chopin (laughs).

It seems obvious that there's music which can make one's sleep a lot less pleasant (take some Death Metal and Black Metal albums for example). From you experience, is there also music which can actually make your sleep more pleasant?

I think individually everyone is different, I know people who can sleep to Black Metal, I certainly can’t. But I think that for the purposes of the sleep concert, environmental sounds work really well in tandem with drones and other minimally unfolding sounds. One of the most interesting aspects of the concerts for me as a performer is the dynamic of keeping people asleep. I have learned to intuitively judge where people are in sleep and to choose appropriate sounds. One thing I have learned is that change should occur really glacially, sudden frequent changes tend to wake people up. Often I let a single environment go on for nearly 90 minutes and then out of nowhere I send the sleepers into an entirely different sound world with the shift of one or two sounds in the texture. In a way, its sort of like walking very quietly across a room and hoping not to wake up the person sleeping on the bed in the center. Each act of change has to be very calculated even though you might not to be able to fully anticipate the aural result.

Pieces will send in material for use during the concerts. Are you actually changing these pieces to create longer mixes or are you using the original versions?

In some cases I use the original but in most cases I alter the pieces. I like combining drones or more flowing pieces with some of the environmental recordings. I am really big on layering multiple recordings and then processing them through various chains in Ableton Live. Like I mentioned earlier, I like letting a texture evolve for 60-90 minutes making only very slight changes over time. Usually one of the drones has enough variation to sustain the texture for at least that long. I should say that I received some really mind blowing music from some amazing artists from just about every continent but Antarctica.

It was interesting reading you talk about how you guide people through a sleep concert. So would it be correct to say that the task as an artist isn't that of an "entertainer" or traditional performer anymore but rather of a guide and medium, sending signals from one state of life to another?
I think that people have been using music for that purpose since the dawn of humankind. There is tons of evidence that music has been used in ceremony for tens of thousands of years. I think that these days people have become so unconscious of our ancient roots that those sorts of things are just bubbling up to the surface, sort of like the meaning of the lobster in the Moon tarot card. It’s a symbol of something coming up from the primal waters of the subconscious. I think that this is where most dance music is coming from and also some ambient and new age music. I think it’s the primal urge for ceremony and for convergence with our deeper reality.

By Tobias Fischer

Tanner Menard Discography:
Canopy Of Sky On Black (Install) 2008
Metamers (Milieu Music) 2008
The Now Of Sound (Archaic Horizon) 2008
The Oceans Of Your Aura (Slow Flow Rec) 2010
You Had Not Changed But Your Cameras Were No Longer Identical (H.L.M High Linear Music) 2010


Tanner Menard
Tanner Menard at MySpace

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