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Behind the Wall of Sleep

If for some reason you were hanging around my bedroom one evening over the past couple of years (and if you weren't my girlfriend I would question your interest in the matter), you'd notice a pattern emerging over a number of nights. Sometimes via my phone, sometimes via my computer, the last thing I'd do before going to sleep would be to call up YouTube. It wouldn't be a playlist or a TV show or anything like that—I'd just punch in a few search terms and get some kind of mix of the millions on there that could and would be described in arbitrary portmanteaus such as psy-ambient or chillout-dubstep. Add in a visual of something between prog album art and airbrush van culture and that’s about all I’d need to know. A blend of signifiers and anonymous swells, usually made by someone Russian or from nearer the former Eastern Bloc than old school NATO, and it would be perfect. If I still cared about making year-end music lists, these would have been the consistent winners for the past couple of years.

I still remember the first time I consciously went to sleep listening to music—senior year of high school, 1988, clunky headphones clamped to my ears and connected to my then-new Sony 5-CD changer as I listened to (probably) some combination of Pink Floyd's mid-seventies albums, all then-recent discoveries, and Vangelis' soundtrack for Chariots of Fire, which I’d loved since the theme had become a smash hit in the early part of that decade. I never needed music or something playing in the background to fall asleep; it’s always come fairly easily for me after turning off the light and a few minutes of aimless thinking. But I’d heard enough about how supposedly certain kinds of music aided sleep, or maybe caused strange dreams, and decided to give it a whirl, especially since, in the CD world, I wouldn’t have to worry about turning over a vinyl record or flipping a tape. Multidisc changers were more advanced extensions of that impulse. I’m surprised I got a...