Various Artists

Melatonin: Meditations on Sound in Sleep

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Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland, mostly during one's sleep. It plays a crucial part in the regulation of biorhythms. It is part of the recuperation cycle of the body. But this two-CD compilation album does not present new age music or nature sounds to help you sleep. It actually consists of 23 propositions in experimental electronica, sound art, and field recording, all dealing -- to various degrees -- with the altered perception and cognition associated with sleep, dream, and half-awake states of consciousness. Most of these pieces are indeed ambient, soft-spoken, and relaxing overall (to the accustomed ear), but there are a few surprises and dynamic tracks, although nothing here crosses over to harsh experimentalism. The roster of contributing artists deserves attention: sure values like Chris Watson (whose immersive nature recording "Warrigal Night" opens disc one), DJ Olive, Scanner, and David Toop; up-and-coming names such as Oren Ambarchi, Marina Rosenfeld, Zane Trow, Steinbrüchel, Philip Samartzis, and Janek Schaefer. Tracks are sequenced with a minimal amount of silence between them, in order to maintain a steady flow of sounds, which gives the impression of a dream progressing by episodes. Some pieces fall into the generics of drones and ambient clicks and tones, but most of the contributions grab the attention. Ai Yamamoto's "Dreaming of Swimming in Green Emerald Water" contains some beautiful shimmering tones. Oren Ambarchi's "Stormy Weather, Pt. 2" could be seen as the missing link between his albums Suspension and Grapes from the Estate. David Toop's "Hypnogogmatist" once again proposes a narrative that isn't really one (this ambiguity being one of his strongest skills). Martin Ng and Tetuzi Akiyama offer a stark, minimal duet in line with the latter's contribution to Vol. 2 of A Bruit Secret's Compositions for Guitars series. And Janek Schaefer's "Love Song" is a dense assemblage of female voices singing the word "love," sweet at first but producing some unusual overtones and effects in the long run. Those looking for a smooth overview of avant-garde's finest sound artists in the first half of the 2000s have found it.

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