Robert Rich‘s “Somnium” – released in 2001 – was (and still is) one of the landmark monuments of ambient music. Based on his experience playing sleep concerts since 1982, this 7 hour work was especially composed to be your companion during the night, following the natural flow of sleep cycles. The original Somnium DVD (that was the only format then that could hold such an amount of music) has long sold out now. But the good news is: there is a successor to this project now: “Perpetual” (and its physical release also contains the original “Somnium” recordings)!
The new ‘all-nighter’ is similar in concept, but with eight (!) hours playing time it is even one hour longer than “Somnium”. The BluRay disc it is released on can hold a lot more data than a DVD can, so this disc does not only contain eight hours of “Perpetual“ in 24 bit/48KHz resolution, but also the full resolution “Somnium” (in 16bit 48KHz). That’s fifteen full hours of music! For those that don’t have a BluRay player at hand, a download version (MP3 + FLAC) is also available.
“The sleep concert has been one of the dominant threads in my musical journey through life. (…) Occasionally, I feel an urge to return to this slow-motion core of my creative heart, and occasionally the world comes back to remind me that I will always be connected to sonic explorations at the edges of perception, trance consciousness, dreams, altered states, communal ritual.”
In the first ten minutes of the Perpetual set can be used to set the appropriate volume: “the environmental sounds during this part should be nearly inaudible”.
Soundwise, quite a lot is happening there: a meandering guitar sound over a (relatively) busy atmosphere. But just like in a real night, and just like when falling asleep, the music gradually slows down and becomes quieter. The environmental sounds merge together into a light, high-pitched continuous drone. The music slowly looses all sense of time, and you probably do too. Though that does not mean it just stays the same: there are subtle shifts in the soundscape that you may notice when coming back to near-consciousness to a less deep sleep.
Though “Perpetual” and “Somnium” were conceived as ‘sleep music’ (the booklet contains some interesting notes about the Sleep concerts and the effect on the various stages of sleep), you can of course also listen at daytime, while awake.
There may not be very much opportunities to play an 8-hour album in one go (and another 7 hours following that), but I found that the music did a great job accompanying me through a full working day: it helped me concentrate because it shut out distracting sounds from the outside, and created a warm, pleasant atmosphere.
Rich also advises to create a multiple speaker environment, by using a 5.1 channel home theatre system to create a surround illusion (the set itself is a stereo recording), or using a four speaker setup. Not many people will have such a setup in their bedrooms, but sure it’s a good way to listen to the album while awake.
There’s an interesting side-note about some of the sound recordings in “Somnium” too: some of the environmental recordings were taken from a species of tropical fish “that creates audio frequency electrical oscillations from its skin. We placed about 16 fish in a bucket (…) Each fish emits a unique frequency as a sort of territorial marker, and as the fish lazily circulate around the bucket, individual tones become louder of softer in a very non-human slow motion symphony.”