***Originally published on Keith’s ‘Inside the jaws of Kaiju’ blog***
I am fascinated with the subconscious, especially its influence on the creative process and how it manifests in dreams.
At age 14, I read a bunch of ‘dream interpretation’ books (spoiler alert: don’t waste your money) and in high school / college I did additional reading on them and became interested in what you could call the unlocking of the power of dreams and / or the subconscious. One theory involving this ‘unlocked power’ is that your subconscious can answer larger-issue questions you might have. Trying to figure out what to say to that special someone? Think about it before you go to sleep and you may just dream of a solution. In a creative rut? Think of some ideas that need a ‘push’ as you drift into slumber and your subconscious may give them the kick they need. Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman comic touches on this in one of the earlier issues when the Lord of Dreams is in a library. What library? Why, the library of all the great books that were written in dreams but not in reality – millions of unwritten tomes left to the realm of the subconscious. This is the core premise of the movie Inception as well (and many others) – inspiration via a dream can change the direction of your life.
A little further along my reading I found a comic called ‘Rare Bit Fiends’. In the 21-issue run of the comic, artist Rick Veitch conducts a bit of a dream experiment – he’s going to not only keep a dream journal (a consensus must to harness the power of your dreams), he’s going to illustrate his dreams as much as he can once he wakes up. The first few issues are sometimes funny, sometimes bizarre and always interesting (the way all of our dreams are, with the caveat that other people find *your* dreams about 20% as interesting as you do). After a while though, a few funky things happen: his dreams start to get longer and more epic and he retains a lot more of what he dreamt. Which is pretty crazy right? It definitely adds some credence to training yourself how to dream (and also, I suppose reaping the benefits).
I’ve done this myself as well and tried some of these methods. A few years back I had what I thought could be a good hip-hop track that needed the right beat/drums to to really put it over the top. I dreamt. In the dream, I was approached by “myself”, and “I” went over the my record collection, pulled out a specific record and said “Track 3, Side 2”. Bam, I wake up. I run over to my record collection, pull the record out of the jacket, put it on the turntable and put the needle on Track 3, Side 2. And you know what?
The beat sucked.
Well, I shouldn’t say sucked. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either. For a while there I actually thought the beat would work – I mean it came to me in a dream! But after about a week I realized it really wasn’t a good beat idea at all – and the track sat (and still sits) unfinished. What’s up with that subconscious?
It wasn’t the last time something would come to me in a dream. I’ve had story ideas and music ideas come to me (there’s even one in progress that seems like it could work). Yet the totality of my creative ‘output’ from dreams has ranged from the unproductive to the flat-out bizarre. There are at essence two ways to perceive dream content: (1) they provide meaningful clues to a better existence (Inception et al), or (2) they’re a brain dump where the subconscious gets rid of a lot of stuff that was kicking around and it doesn’t have a use for. I’m leaning more toward the second option at this point.
Luckily stuff that pops into your head (as a creative person) is much better when you’re conscious…. right?
Why just recently a really catchy riff came to me that I liked a lot, to the point where I couldn’t get it out of my head. I hummed it over and over, ready for that moment when I could sit at the mixing board and record the riff for posterity (and build it into a song at a another time).
One day I’m walking around the living room and I blurt out the riff. My girlfriend’s kids – totally in rhythm with my riff – finish it by singing lyrics to it!
Except the lyrics they sang weren’t mine, or even original. They were lyrics to a REALLY well-known pop song, and on top of it a pop song I didn’t like. See, without knowing it I took a hook from that song, changed a note or two, changed the timing of it and thought it was something original. It wasn’t. My brain had succesfully executed a funky cover version of a pop song I don’t like and passed it off as originality. Whoops!
Suffice to say, the next time I wake up from a seemingly inspiring idea from a dream I might just keep the pen and paper right where they’re at and go right back to sleep.
ADDITIONAL NOTE: My friend Sama (of The 45 Brains and Carry the One Radio) red this post and wrote a long (and super-cool response here). Check it out: