Fall asleep to Mikronesia's Quiescent
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Mikronesia | photo by MIke Ferrare

Eight hours may sound like a significant chunk of time to commit to listening to a single album, but Mikronesia’s Quiescent is specifically designed to complement an activity you’re already compelled to undertake for roughly that amount of time – namely, sleeping. The album, which Mikronesia (the solo moniker of Gemini Wolf co-founder Michael McDermott) released online earlier this month, was composed to mimic the four sleep cycles, ebbing as the listener sinks more deeply into slumber and gradually cresting again to provide a naturally evolving alarm clock.

Not that the music on Quiescent ever gets particularly active. There are fine details layered into its two dozen 20-minute tracks for insomniac listeners who might want to search them out, but the overall effect is of calming textures and sinuous drones. The album is an evolution of McDermott’s first solo release, Go.Sleep.Repeat, which he also designed to “subconsciously seep into your brain.”

Both albums were born of McDermott’s own habit of falling asleep to music by the likes of Brian Eno, Aphex Twin, or Steve Reich. While those albums inevitably ended just as or after he was finally drifting off, Quiescent actually continues through the entire night – which, even McDermott admits, can be a little disconcerting. “It’s almost disorienting to wake up with music going on,” he says. “When I would listen to CDs to fall asleep to it would be off in an hour, so by the time I’m asleep it’s silent. But to wake up and have this eerie drone, it’s like. ‘What’s going on?’”

It can also, however, help to transition into the liminal space between sleep and wakefulness. I recently let the album play in its entirety while suffering a fitful night due to a head cold, and waking to the strange, drifting sounds made it feel as if the dream state continued even as I was constantly being forced back into consciousness.

Undertaking such an endeavor would have been impossible prior to the digital age. The limits of storage capacity would have made a continuous eight-hour piece of music impossible without forcing the listener to get out of bed once an hour to switch CDs (or even more often to flip a record or cassette). The freedom of the format is one upside to the downfall of the traditional record industry, McDermott says.

“I think a lot of artists are trying to figure out what to do in the wake of the death of the album. People don’t buy albums like we did when we were younger, where the album was the definitive product of what a musician does. The 45 or 60-minute experience of listening to music, especially for younger people, is not there anymore when you can just stream something quickly to check it out on Spotify or YouTube. But certain composers and music-makers are looking at digital music as a new window where you’re not confined by physical space anymore.”

McDermott’s thinking along those lines is taking him a variety of intriguing directions. Last year he released Edge of Nostalgia, a smartphone app that mixes his own ambient music with sounds picked up from the user’s environment and processed through reverb and delay. He’s currently working with the Fred Rogers Center (that’s Mr. Rogers, of course) to create music for an interactive app to teach children about mindfulness, unlocking new sections of a digital world (and its accompanying music) as children complete breathing exercises.

Quiescent took the better part of a year to create, though McDermott essentially was forced to record the album twice after completing the first six hours when a hard drive crash destroyed all of his work. He started again from scratch, ultimately creating the version now available during a marathon week of ten-hour days. The music is a combination of electronic and acoustic instruments as well as samples culled from the environment, including air conditioner hums, crickets, and neighborhood sounds captured by hanging a microphone into McDermott’s Manayunk home.

McDermott was inspired in part by a conversation he had at his weekly meditation session in Mt. Airy. “We were talking about the idea of environmental sounds,” he recalls. “If you hear a bird or crickets it’s a song, but people have this reaction against technology so car horns or air conditioners buzzing are considered annoying sounds. And someone said that everything is actually singing a song, that just because we consider man-made or utilitarian things to be an affront to our humanity doesn’t mean it isn’t singing it’s own song. That phrase was in my head a lot when I was dealing with these everyday sounds.”

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