Let Him Dream
Premiered online (FB LIVE) on Jan. 17, 2021 at 6:15pm PST as part of the 1:2:1 weeklong composer-performer intensive led by Grammy Award-winning cellist and educator, Nick Photinos.
“Let Him Dream”
Written by Chase Chandler
Performed by Annie Huang
Inspired by Sylvain Coulombe
“...in 1983, Nobel laureate Francis Crick and his Salk Institute colleague Graeme Mitchison argued… that the brain’s neural memory systems are easily overloaded and that humans experience dream-laden REM to eliminate cognitive debris. In other words, dreams are nothing more than a mechanism for the nervous system to clear the brain of unnecessary, even harmful memories.” *
Dreams come and go, shift and change, inspire and scare, yet affect only those who choose to be affected. Sigmund Freud famously stated, “dreams are the royal road to the unconscious.” What would the landscape of a subconscious dreamscape sound like? Some welcome, even invoke, dreams, while others cannot wait to wake up from them. Dreams are both common and unique to each individual, but the opinions towards them vary drastically. Are those who are more in tune with their subconscious mind more willing to reflect on their dreams? These mixed perspectives on dreams inspired this interpretive composition, along with the title of Sylvain Coulombe’s painting, a simple request: “Let him dream.”
Just before the two electronic devices illustrate modern day distractions, the pianist begins the piece by abruptly setting a “white-noise” landscape by pressing as many keys as possible. Empty pill bottles bounce around the strings as further distractions (or sleep aids) in our need to dream in the soundscape created by the acoustic piano. Slowly, subconscious-inspired melodic material begins to float over two elongated, separate recordings of the composer stating, “Let him dream,” slowed down by 150 times and mixed with field recordings of cars going by (often slowed by 5 times). The resultant audio collage further references some people’s need for white-noise when trying to dream as well as our inability to decipher how time is experienced while sleeping.
Each chaotic chord structure later in the piece is directly followed by silence in the piano part while the electronics blast white-noise, illustrating how our minds slip in and out of different dreams. In an attempt to access the unconscious, much like dreams do, the pitch material for the loud cluster-chords was improvised by the composer while viewing Sylvain Coulombe’s painting in virtual reality through Art Gate VR’s online art exhibit. Overtone analysis on the resultant lower clusters revealed empty frequency bands untouched by overtones. Each void pointed toward a single pitch and each pitch comprised the opening melody and much of the melodic development in the piece.
Sections of this piece call for the pianist to improvise on predetermined pitches as a way to involve the performer’s subconscious as well. Throughout the work, moments of calm are disrupted by anxious and even startling moments through extended techniques and visually stimulating performance art such as hitting the piano strings. As the piece ends with a slower, calmer aesthetic, the pianist is again left to explore any residual musicality by again allowing subconscious ideas to sound through the piano in the last indeterminate-inspired passage.
*cited from the 1999 article, “The biology of dreaming: a controversy that won’t go to sleep,” written by Maury Breecher, published in the 21stC Journal (Volume 3, Issue 4) by Columbia University.
“Let Him Dream” Q + A
|How did you start the composition? Did you start with certain pitch material or with a rough form or outline in mind? (CHASE)
|I began by improvising large chord structures and analyzing the overtones within each. Gaps in the overtone clusters helped me then choose a very specific order of pitches that are used when the left hand enters with its first melody. These pitches then helped inspire the rest of the piece’s development, but I didn’t limit myself to the opening material or the large chord structures. Plenty of moments in this piece venture past these limitations!
|Do you, Annie, approach learning/performing music in this genre differently than music in more traditional forms/styles? How is your process different if it does? (ANNIE)
|Yes! It makes me curious to learn new music like this piece. A unique part is making a prepared piano with the pill bottles, and I did some extra physical practice to grasp and place the bottles quickly in the middle part of the piece. The mixture of metallic sounds and traditional keyboard sounds attracts me indeed! Other differences include the learning of improvisation with predetermined pitches, strings plucking, etc. To utilize those techniques, I tried to explore the extremes of instrumental sounds besides learning previous melody/harmony balance.
|In what ways would you consider this project a collaboration? Was the pianist as involved in the decision process as the composer? (CHASE)
|Annie was included in the compositional process from the beginning of the first few lines of the piece! By checking in with her and asking opinions or corrections, she helped steer the composition toward clarity of performance and playability! Plus, our conversations on the painting were a big inspiration for my own creative process. Here’s some more information I had included in the cover pages of the piano score:
“The NYC-based pianist, Annie Huang, and San Diego-based composer, Chase Chandler, began conversing on December 6th, 2020, about the possibilities of a solo piano piece exploring the interpretations of Sylvain Coulombe’s painting, Let Him Dream. As part of the initial collaboration process, individual interpretations of this painting were shared and discussed.
The main inspiration behind this piece came from these conversations, where these words and phrases lingered:
“Let him dream,” “musical landscape,” “experimental sounds,” “tired soul,” “sleep frustrations,” “desire to dream,” etc.
In order to complete this piece, distanced communication due to COVID-19, our collaboration led to one Zoom meeting and 18 emails between Annie and Chase during the last month of 2020.”
|Did you, Annie, find the forearm technique distracting when trying to play this piece musicality? (ANNIE)
|Honestly, yes, at first! I doubted whether there were so many forearm cluster chords that they would weaken this piece’s integrity. That was somewhat because I was not quite used to new techniques; however, after several tries, I found them successful in adding the irregularity and expansion to the dream landscape. It was a magical process to explore!
|Which is your favorite era of music: Baroque, Classical, Romantic, or 20th Century?
I have the most favorite right now in Romantic and 20th/21st music, especially in the works of composers like Rachmaninoff, Schumann, Prokofiev, etc., and I hope to catch more possibilities in experimental new music, which I rarely tried before. Meanwhile, I also appreciate Baroque and classical music basics because it helps a musician build a proper system in harmony and form before developing more diversities. It never hurts to expand the versatility in the musical appreciation and then find your style and focus.
Answering this question and choosing an era is like choosing your favorite day of the week. They’re all good in the end! No matter if we have a preference, if you’ve heard the music from an era, you’ll be influenced by it one way or another. I love the contrapuntal complexity of baroque music, the steadfast organization of the classical era, the drama and grand gestures of the romantic, and fearlessness of the 20th/21st centuries. On certain days of the week, I’m more in the mood for calm music so I might play some classical. Other days, I’d like to be woken up from the monotony of quarantine so I blast some 21st century music! I’m sure my dogs don’t mind either way.