NICOLA CORTI & MOON RA “E.S.P.” (Artetetra)

Sleep. You do it. I do it. Max Richter does it. Coffee fights it. Lack of it makes you crazy. Too much of it makes you feel sluggish. Seven to eight hours of it is perfect. Right now, this morning, I’m awake after seven or eight hours of it. I’m in a good mood. That bodes well for this review.

Nicola Corti and Moon Ra (aka Marie e le Rose, aka Monologue) were intrigued by sleep, much more than you or I likely would be, since the average among us spend all of our time while doing it … well, actually sleeping. But still, it’s fascinating for the conscious person to wonder what happens within the mind while it sorts the day’s activities mid-slumber, to imagine how the firing synapses conjure images or scenes that seem completely alien to the sleeper. Ever keep a dream journal, one of those notebooks you leave by your bedside and scribble in at night when you’re jostled awake by events in your dreams? Me neither. But I bet it would look absolutely crazy (read, probably ridiculous) in the full light of the morning.

Anyhoo, E.S.P. is a “song cycle” dedicated to sleep. Corti and Rose use various instruments, effects, synthesizers, and other gadgets to improvise the ebbs and flows of sleep cycles, allowing the natural motions of the sounds generated, along with the decay of those sounds, to emulate the sub/unconscious mind. The effect is ambient recording at its most sideways, meaning that anything sort of goes here. “Intro – DormiVeglia” mimics the deep breathing of one newly asleep. “Twilight Zone” revels in the weird moods generated through mental images, and “R.E.M.” keeps the listener on edge through menacing tones and effects. Just kidding, it’s a cover of “Losing My Religion.” (Just kidding again, it’s not.)

“A Dream” gives the listener some repose, some rest, and is a bit gentler, but that’s before the almost eleven-minute “Hyncoubous” kicks in, a massive chaotic structure that only gets weirder the more you listen to it. It’s my favorite passage on the tape in that it gives you no real idea where it’s going next, no real grounding in anything. It’s unpredictable. “Outro – Woke Up” is also the best approximation of the vivid dreams you have in the morning right before you realize that sunlight is now creeping around the corners of your curtains.

I don’t normally like to dig into specific tracks one by one, but E.S.P. has such an interesting take on sleep that it’s hard not to be surprised by how well thought out this whole exercise is. It promotes new ideas that wouldn’t necessarily have been obvious without its help. And even though “sleep” is a fairly popular concept among ambient/classical artists, it’s usually tackled in a more subdued, tranquil way. E.S.P. is anything but tranquil, and thank goodness for that.

--Ryan Masteller