Cover Painting: detail from Le Soir ou Morphée by Charles Le Brun in Galerie d’Apollon, Musée du Louvre
The theme for In Phantasus Cum Morpheus is that of a person in a hospital bed weighed down with morphine* so they are below consciousness but dreaming.
I leave it open to the listener to decide the who, where, when, why, etc. of the situation. We simply arrive on the scene to find the protagonist stuck between the real world and that of dreams.
- Threshold of Consciousness – That threshold between waking and sleep where you want to wake up but sleep keeps taking you.
- Locked Embrace of Morphia – I have read a few things (like an autobiography by Billy Thorpe) where being on morphine becomes like being dragged back into a dreaming half-life.
- Gods & Demons – In dreams, and other assorted fears, we populate our landscape with gods & demons who seem to have sway over us. We ascribe our strengths and weaknesses to these shades.
- The Endless Landscape – The landscape of dreams goes forever and we easily feel lost in it despite the wonders. Ivory towers always fall. It is the nature of avoiding reality.
- From the Gates of Horn & Ivory – The Greeks had dreams of two types, the useful, and the rubbish. Each was delivered from a separate gate, often by separate gods.
- Changeability – Changeability is one of the great defining features of the dream state. That changeability really gives us great clues as to the nature of our dreams if we can be objective enough.
- Angel Wings & Painted Clouds – When I saw the typically Romanic paintings of the Greek Gods of sleep I couldn’t help but use one for the cover. We aspire so easily to hearts & flowers (not to mention babes with bare bosoms & bottoms),
- The Dark Cloud Between – But at the same time we have to work through the dark clouds that we insist on keeping close.
- Rising – Musically I started this one with the idea of a cool early 80’s style riff but I soon felt trapped in it and you hear the other sounds rise out of that “trap”.
- To Wake or Not – This is clearly the most orchestrated track and is the real end of the album as the sleeper decides whether to stay in sleep or come back to the world. The music gets stronger and rises…
- Drift Down (Bonus Track) – This does not belong on the album but from a “director’s cut” perspective allows the listener to decide whether the protagonist does rise from his bed or sink back as this track clearly is a decent back into oblivion. The beeps at the end of the last formal track leave the question, is the listener hearing that because they woke or because they never do? I don’t expect I will be keeping it on my listening copy; for me, I included it for posterity as it was part of the project.
How does one paint the formless and surreal with something concrete and unmoving? I decided to do my usual and let it work itself out as unheeded as possible. I think art works best that way. The old Zen dudes did too:
Zen Buddhism’s emphasis on simplicity and the importance of the natural world generated a distinctive aesthetic, which is expressed by the terms wabi and sabi. These two amorphous concepts are used to express a sense of rusticity, melancholy, loneliness, naturalness, and age, so that a misshapen, worn peasant’s jar is considered more beautiful than a pristine, carefully crafted dish. While the latter pleases the senses, the former stimulates the mind and emotions to contemplate the essence of reality.
Department of Asian Art. “Zen Buddhism.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/zen/hd_zen.htm (October 2002)
Here are the ideas that came together to form the album you hear (in roughly chronological order):
I really wanted to get back to the beauty & purity of sound in itself as a way of expression. Like that battered jar, a single sound can be deep, all-encompassing, and evocative. This is why many of the pieces are in most part rather minimal with often only one or two sounds at a time and big gaps where the sound tries to define space. My last few albums I have piled up the musical lines but this time, with the exception of one track, I kept that level of orchestration to a minimum.
Because of the emphasis on sound itself I was scared of the quality of the tones and sounds I was making. That became rather an obsessive cloud for a while that really got in the way. I know better as I have written many an article against it but I found myself auditioning instrument after instrument in the quest for the Holy Grail sound. As always I eventually came back to the realization that it was me that defined the sound and not the other way around. All I needed was to let myself find whatever pleased the muse leading this particular dance. After that, it flowed pretty well.
I knew the tracks were about something but they refused to reveal the story. I had some vague ideas that swirled but they refused to come clear right up to the moment when I needed to have an album title. At first, I wondered if I should do the fashionable thing and write some sort of “Stranger Things” type music. All these people are writing this pretend 80’s music and getting exposure; I have done the same thing for 30 years, only with a more authentic sound and blah, blah, blah. I finally got to watch the show and really liked it a lot (which to be honest I didn’t expect) as it is not only well done and pleasing but has a lovely dreamlike quality which heightens with the “Upside Down” and the very scary monster we barely see.
Whilst making “To Wake Or Not” (untitled at the time) I had a truck backing outside. It did the reversing beep thing. I liked it and it seemed to belong in the piece so I grabbed a synth and set about recreating that sound (well the memory of it) and once it was in the piece I suddenly had the image of someone lying in a hospital bed, weighed down with morphine so they are below consciousness but dreaming. I knew that was the story.
I admit the cover and titles seem a lot darker than the actual music (by modern standards at least) and you could be expecting something more Metal or Industrial but this is my style and I actually like the idea of something lighter representing something a bit darker. I think it allows for more subtly of shade.
Translation of the (admittedly rough) Latin title is “In Fantasy With Sleep”. I have used the names of the Greek Gods so in reality, there are many shades of translation which can encompass things like “in sleep come dreams” and “by living in fantasy we lose consciousness”.
*Yes, there is a Morphine reference in here. Not because I approve of it as a recreational (or self- therapy) drug but because it is such a common drug for this situation.