Sleep Bait
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Sleep Bait


On the 14 June 2019, MayDay Radio hosted a performance of Sleep Bait, with Esther Leslie and Florence Warner.

The broadcast started at 20:29 and finished at 21:29, ten minutes after sunset. A transcript is available below.

Esther Leslie spoke on the following:

~ Sleep attractors
~ Hypnagogic inducers
~ Art of the Threshold
~ Across the threshold
~ Warp state
~ Sleep bait
~ Sleep aids
~ Inducements to slumber
~ Slumber devices
~ LoFi lullaby

These reflections were interspersed with sounds mixed on the night by Florence Warner, including sleep tapes by Charles Verni, Daniel Neofeetou, Yoojin Lee and Anthony Eliot. We also gathered together a list of the ways in which people fall asleep and also incorporated these into the mix.


To Fall Asleep

What are the devices of falling asleep? What devices are employed to bring on the darkness, to cross over the threshold, to leap into the colourful black of dreams? Who is your Morpheus, your God of dreams, who shapes and reshapes himself and, in so doing, shapes our worlds of reverie too. Morpheus, son of Hypnos, the God of Sleep and Pasithea, the Goddess of relaxation and rest, could deposit messages from the Gods into humans as they slept. His brother Phobetos made the plants dream, but he also made the scariest elements in dreams. The third son of Hypnos, named Phantasos, made the stones and other inanimate objects dream - and the dream elements over which he presided were the most unreal, tricky, fantastical. Morpheus lives in the land of dreams, where the River of Forgetfulness and the River of Oblivion flow, and he sleeps in this underworld in a dark cave lined with poppies. Poppies brought on his sleep, and as he slept he shaped the dreams of all. What brings on your sleep? Drugs too? Or something that stems from a world of self- and other-repression? Have you tried the military method, apparently first reported by Sharon Ackerman, in her book “Relax and Win: Championship Performance.” The military method for falling asleep was created by the U.S. Navy Pre-Flight School and is said to work in under to two minutes, after 6 weeks practice. Coffee and gunfire do not upset it, nor does the fact of sleeping upright, in a chair.

And so you must:
Relax your entire face, including the muscles inside your mouth.
Drop your shoulders to release the tension and let your hands drop to the side of your body.
Exhale, relaxing your chest.
Relax your legs, thighs, and calves.
Clear your mind for 10 seconds by imagining a relaxing scene.
If this doesn’t work, try saying the words “don’t think” over and over for 10 seconds.
Within 10 seconds, you should fall asleep!

Don’t think. Don’t think.

But are there routes to sleep through thought? Through nice thoughts, even if those are engaged in a fight against anxious thoughts and the very contest can be so wearying, it results in collapse. . Fight against anxious thoughts.

When I was young and feared I could not fall asleep, I would ask my mother what shall I dream of. She always said, dream of something nice, like a birthday party. If I could set the scene for a party, my whole being would crash through the staging in order to be in that world, that dreamworld, that sleepworld. Now though, if I think nice thoughts, they often keep me awake, I become too involved in what I wish would be. I do not pass into the dream world. But nice thoughts are in short supply. More often there is anxiety. My strategy, which is one that I have used since my teenage years, is to mask my personal fears with collective fears, with the vast mass of collective worries, hatreds, anxieties and banal chitter chatter, which is talk radio- whose male voices in their nonsense and provocations in time, within 30 minutes, send me fleeing from their – and their callers’ - resentments into unconsciousness.

Sleep is a flight, and sometimes we are too earthbound, even if our heads are in the clouds. The head-teacher at my son’s new school warned all us parents that children who use devices after 9 o’clock at night will not sleep, so they will not concentrate, so they will fail in all their efforts. They shall not be left to their own devices and their own devices must be banished from the bedroom. Lest they become addicted to this drug, this poppy that does not induce sleep, but only endless sliding across the icy skin of the touchscreen.

Devices bring their own remediation. Kindly they supply a light for us, a gentle one that is to induce sleep. For example, there is software called f.lux . It adjusts the colour temperature of screens to reduce the blue-light emitted, which is said to keep us awake. The program knows where we are and when we are. It makes sure for us that the liquid crystal sunshine should spread at exactly the right moment. Our bluey screens turn orange-yellow, and this gets warmer and warmer as the night goes on. The screen goes on, but it tries, perhaps half-heartedly, to edge us towards sleep, to push us over the edge. So that the next day we might all the more determinedly resume our screen caresses.

We fall asleep. Why do we fall asleep? Not everyone falls asleep. Only those I think who speak English. Other say einschlafen or s’endormir, quedarse dormido, att somna or ukulala. But the English speakers have fallen into sleep since the 14th century at least, when Piers Plowman noted ‘Ich fel eft-sones a slepe.’ But this use seems to draw on an earlier meaning of the verb ‘to fall’ – from the 13th century, meaning of a person, ‘To pass (usually, with suddenness) †in, into, †to, upon some specified condition, bodily or mental, or some external condition or relation.’ As an anonymous monastic rule (or manual) for female anchoresses puts it: ‘He..swa feol into unhope.’ We fall asleep. We fall in love. We fall ill. We fall for something. That is to say, we do not fall, rather we become, we change our state of being. But it is as if we fall. It is as if we fall when our our muscles relax, our blood pressure decreases, and we fall through space and time into somewhere deep in a well. Sometimes I tried to sleep by attempting to induce that state of falling, falling off the thin surface of the rational world, into the pits of sleep. Sometimes we do fall into sleep, suddenly, but such a fall is actually also its opposite, a twitch a jerk upwards that wakes us. That is the hypnic jerk, the hypnagogic jerk, or sleep start, sleep twitch, myoclonic jerk, or night start. This involuntary twitch causes us to startle and jump up. We jump up, but we also feel as if we are falling. People report a ‘peculiar sensory feeling of “shock” or “falling into the void”‘. A researcher at the University of Colorado has suggested that a hypnic jerk could be an archaic reflex to the brain’s misinterpretation of muscle relaxation that comes with the onset of sleep. It reads it as a signal that the primate now sleeping is falling, falling out of a tree.

Rock-a-bye baby
in the tree top.
When the wind blows
the cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks,
the cradle will fall.
Down will come Baby,
Cradle and all.

This is the first printed version of the well-known lullaby from Mother Goose’s Melody, from London, c. 1765. The baby falls from the tree, like an ape might do, were it not to jerk awake. Perhaps the adult is rocking the baby to sleep, cradled in arms, as the baby is lowered into the crib, down she falls, down he falls.

Others have argued that the lullaby is the first to be written in English on American soil by an English colonist who watched as indigenous American women placed their babies in birch-bark cradles, suspended from the branches of trees and allowed the wind to rock them to sleep.

Another origin theory explains it as a reflection on a ritual that occurred after a new-born baby died. The dead child would be placed in a basket hanging on tree and the amassed waited to see if it would come back to life. If it were a deadweight, the branch carrying it would snap. The baby will fall.

This lullaby is about a cradle, and so it truly is a cradle song – not all are about the place of sleep. Though ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’, from an early-19th-century English poem by Jane Taylor, is about a place far away, a continent of the heavens that might be where we go to when we sleep. And Frere Jacques is about sleep – telling the one who is to fall asleep that Brother Jack may not be sleeping, indeed should be ringing the bells to wake up all and sundry. These songs are to sooth. Their rhythms are repetitive and gentle, often in 6/8 time, with a swinging motion, and rock with words into sleep. Like all old things that have existed since we were small and since our species were young, mist covers the origins. Some say that the word ‘lullaby’ derives from ‘Lilith-Abi’, Hebrew for ‘Lilith, begone’. Get ye hence Lilith, the demon who steals children’s souls in the night.

Others say that the word comes from the word to lull – which may mean a pause or a rest, or to sing, even if badly, perhaps just a sound made with the mouth to soothe the child – lul lul lul – spliced together with the word bye, from goodbye, god be with you, goodnight, let the day lull, let us pause until morning.

Lullabies have been sung by care givers seeking to send their charges to sleep for many many years – in ordinary environments, sung out or tune or sweetly, but always as an intimate, domestic act. But composers of the classical world of music have donated their share of lullabies too. The berceuses of Chopin and Bussoni, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky, and the Wiegenlied of Schubert and the one by Brahms, for example, the latter the stuff of music boxes. Brahms, it is said, suffered from the sleep disorder, sleep apnea, startling himself awake with an untuneful snort repeatedly through the night. A cradle song, a Wiegenlied, should summon up sleep again, counter the disturbance. I always found the final words of the first verse of Brahms’ Wiegenlied not reassuring or calming, but terrifying, an insistence on God’s whims.

Guten Abend, gut’ Nacht,
mit Rosen bedacht,
mit Näglein besteckt,
schlupf unter die Deck’:
Morgen früh, wenn Gott will,
wirst du wieder geweckt.

Good evening, good night,
covered with roses,
adorned with carnations,
Slip under the covers.
Early tomorrow, if God wills it,
you will wake up once again.

This lullaby was used in a public warning cum advertisement for a car device, the Seat Tiredness recognition system. The advertisers, Grey, seemed to recognise the death that suffuses this gentle song.

“Lullaby, awake tonight, in the skies stars are bright
May the moon’s silvery beams, stop your driving dreams.
Open your eyes, don’t fall asleep, or your mother will weep,
crashed on the road at dawn, all because of a little yawn.
Lullaby, stay awake tonight, you are mother’s delight
If you sleep you’ll come to harm, don’t die in my arms.

The SEAT Tiredness Recognition System. Hard to fall asleep to. Drive awake.”

But it does not always take music to lull into sleep. I know some who let their lovers’ voices intoning Joyce’s Ulysses or Finnegans Wake lure them into sleep. Sometimes it a voice that drones, that exudes monotony that ferries the waker into the sleeping zone. Perhaps a learned philosopher lecturing with all the gravitas of one who knows he is born to guard all the secrets and to convey them to the specks of dust, those ‘tiny lumps of impure carbon and water, of complicated structure, with somewhat unusual physical and chemical properties, crawl about for a few years, until they are dissolved again into the elements of which they are compounded’.

Dissolving ourselves, dissolving into sleep. It is also strange that, as perhaps the military method for sleeping suggests, our body might fall asleep in stages. In English again, the phrase states that our leg or foot has fallen asleep, or our arm is asleep. These body parts, if their nerves are squashed or crushed under our own weight for too long a time, give way beneath us when we stand or fail to function when we reach out - and they tingle – which we sometimes describe as the sensation of pins and needles. Other languages, Hindi, Portuguese, Italian, for example, call it feeling ants or running ants – rendered in that film of dreams, Luis Bunel’s Un Chien Andalou, when ants swarm across a hand.

But such an image is nightmarish. It is not advisable to fall asleep with nightmarish images in your ambit, nor after eating cheese. How nightmarish might be an image of endless, identikit sheep leaping over a fence or gambolling across a hillock, sheep after sheep. Some years ago, researchers explored, probably for the 1000th time, whether counting sheep could make a person fall asleep. Three groups of willing sleepers were summoned. The first were asked to imagine tranquil scenes, a waterfall, a babbling brook. The second to act as they always act. The third were requested to count imaginary sheep leaping over a fence one by one. The first group fell asleep twenty minutes faster than usual, but the sheep counters took longer than usual to fall asleep. Had the visualisers of glittering watery expended more mental energy, exhausting themselves more rapidly? Were the sheep tallymen so bored they had to hold at their task in some strange way and could not drift?

Parents are, for a while, the gatekeepers of nightmares, there to chase away the bad spirits. Their work is greatly eased by devices these days; apps that tinkle lullabies or emit the rhythmic lapping of waves or the churning, distant heartbeat sounds that are akin to those heard in the womb.

There are plenty of YouTube videos and suchlike that act as gatekeepers, in the absence of any other. ‘Mini Monsters Music introduces another great sleep aid to help your baby to drift off to sleep. This video is based on the classic repetition of counting sheep as they jump across the screen. The video is accompanied by a gentle rendition of Brahm’s lullaby which softly fades into our popular ‘Womb Sound’ ambience as your little one starts to drift off to sleep.’

To drift: to float on the sea of oblivion. All apped and tethered, if only electronically. Amazon Echo or Google Home - play me recordings of babbling brooks and cicadas, so I can drift in my mind from here, where there is only the buzz of the fridge. Call up the podcast ‘Sleep With Me’, for a story so dull it sends me running into the hills of my inner mind, where it is not. The narrator’s voice is raspy, flat and slow and his stories are composed of sentences that are labyrinthine, trapping us in ‘if’s’, ‘or’s’, and ‘so’s’, in digressions without purpose and self-questioning. YouTube will supply countless videos of people whispering or carrying out humdrum tasks. Playlists can dish up electronic and ambient music and white noise said to induce deep relaxation. There are devices. The Tranquil Moments Bedside Speaker & Sleep Sounds from Brookstone has a roster of sleep sounds: Soothing Sleep Sounds: Ocean Surf, Thunderstorm, Rain, Unwind, White Noise, Celestial, Summer Night, Brown Noise, Stream, Focus, Body Sync and White Rain. Science assures us of its effectivity: ‘Backed by more than 25 years of clinical research, the Tranquil Moments® sound programs are based on the DELTA, ALPHA and THETA brainwave patterns associated with deep states of sleep, relaxation and renewal. When we listen to these sounds, our brains gradually try to match their rhythms, just as we unconsciously adopt the rhythm or tune of a song on the radio. When this happens, our minds are coaxed into the deep, restorative states of sleep and relaxation that are essential for us to perform at our best throughout the day’.

For it is always about performance. The next day. To not fall asleep is to hold the next day hostage. To jeopardise the future, and not to divine it. And the implication is that what one needs to do is to relax, to fall into sleep as the muscles let go of the daily upright world. We drift into sleep. Music ferries us across the river of forgetting for a few hours, where we lie languidly on its shores, basking in the sun of rhythmic dreams. A recent study in PLOS ONE, though, titled ‘The music that helps people sleep and the reasons they believe it works: A mixed methods analysis of online survey reports’ by Tabitha Trahan, Simon J. Durrant, Daniel Müllensiefen, Victoria J. Williamson, responds to the rise in sales of sleep-inducing pharmaceuticals, up 31% in the UK between 2006 and 2011: Pharmacies within the UK dispensed more than 15.2 million prescriptions for sleep aids during 2010–2011, equating to £50 million or nearly 1 in 10 adults taking some form of pharmaceutical intervention on a regular basis. In the United States, a survey suggested a 293% increase in the number of sleep related prescriptions from 5.3 to 20.8 million prescriptions from 1999 to 2010. To listen to music, for their test subjects, was not about relaxation so much as distraction. As the report’s authors put it: ‘The use of music as a distractor was a prominent theme, with distraction against thoughts (and particularly negative thoughts) a frequent comment that would benefit from further research. Negative thoughts are one of the main contributors to sleep loss in people with insomnia.’

Oftentimes, a person wants nothing more than to fall, fall into sleep, fall away from the world by tumbling further into it, by becoming bound to it, to fall into the arms of Morpheus, to nuzzle a winged ear, to fall into the underworld, to dream about what is to come, to have thoughts deposited in the mind by the Oneiroi. How do we fall asleep? How do we fall asleep when we are constantly enticed to be awake, lest we miss something? What carries us through the gates? And we should be carried away – should be in the dark cave, for anything else jeopardises us. The headlines three days ago stated: ‘Falling asleep in front of the TV could increase the risk of obesity, study finds’. And so it states: ‘Women exposed to artificial light at night were more likely to gain weight and become obese or overweight over the next five years, according to a study of almost 44,000 people. The findings, published in journal JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that eliminating lights and screens from the bedroom could be another way to tackle the obesity crisis, the study authors said’. What is this light that bothers us, even when we are unaware of it? Why does it make more of us, as it by day steals our capacity to dream, to think, to imagine? Ponder these questions tonight as you fall asleep, or add them to tomorrow’s To Do list.

More of Esther Leslie's writing can be found at militantesthetix