||Lost/Finding|| 1: Going Blind in Our Sleep

Japanese composer Hiroshi Yoshimura’s GREEN revealed I was losing sight while dreaming.

I first encountered Hiroshi Yoshimura’s ambient yet purposeful record, GREEN, in January as a potential sleep aid for my infant daughter, Leone. Born into a pandemic, her short life knows only sequestration. The natural world has been closed off to her almost entirely. She does not know the cleansing sheen of morning dew, nor the creeping soft power of the moon. She only knows wonder. The deathly absurdity of our moment places my daughter and I in adjacent modes of unknowing and ill-remembrance. I’ve misremembered the feeling of bare feet on soft, agreeable grass; of fingertips gently gliding over a hawthorne so as to avoid its prick. It will be a long time before she experiences any of that and even longer for her to know the feeling well.

At the time it was composed (the version available for streaming is a reissue of the 1986 original) Yoshimura fit snuggly in the Japanese stylings of ‘kankyō ongaku’ — which mixes ancient Japanese ritual with the modern soundscaping of paragons like Brian Eno — the umbrella term for minimalist sonics specifically designed for “environmental music.” Interested in how sound coalesces, collides and builds upon human perceptions of physical and linguistic space, GREEN represented the part-time architect’s retreat from Japan’s postindustrial fracas. The meditative physical, rendered in splashing riverbeds on the opening song “CREEK” or the keystrokes like tender ripples in a puddle on “FEET”; the metaphysical linguistic portrayed in the late artist’s (Yoshimura died of cancer in 2003) preoccupancy with long “ee” sounds each song’s name as well as the central sonic refrain to which all the other musical layering scaffolds.

Before discovering GREEN, I used my own playlists to usher Leone to dreamland. It’s become a choreographed game: the first few tracks would open my hips for swaying (something like Cyanca’s downbeat bump “New Phone, Who Dis?” or Dianna Lopez’s soft desire for quiet, “Internal Lullaby”) before settling into a saccharine drawl of berceuse and love joint (the sensate charm of Raveena’s “Sweet Time” is a precious addition here that usually leads to the little one losing grip on her active consciousness). My muscles lock, attempting to maintain a consistent motion for REM sleep to start its precious process as we enter the game’s final act. Each sound, though lovingly made, featured nature only insofar as it featured the human voice. GREEN felt like her first introduction, not to the way nature sounds, per se but more an inkling of what a realized connection to the natural evokes from the body and the mind. I wonder where she goes, what hues spring to her limitless imagination when she hears it.

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This past weekend was the first time I sat alone with GREEN and it played a most beautifully unnerving role in coming to grips with what isolation has taken from us. As I listened, staring out my large bedroom windows, the effects of seclusion on my subconscious began to unravel. I’d realized that just about every sound I’d heard while alone in my home for the last year has been filtered. Distorted. Through Zoom calls and voicemails. Through the deteriorating bookshelf speakers with the troublesome short in the AUX cord that sometimes requires a jiggle here or there. I realized that it was happening to me, too, the distortion. I was losing my sense of self. Losing my sense of “I” meandering through the day, following the same footsteps of the day before, over and over again. I see weeks flying by in the speck of a moment. I’m less and less here. My “I” slowly becoming ghost.

It wasn’t the instance, sitting there, in GREEN, phasing into the liminal space between here and elsewhere, that shook me most, though. Privy to my body and mind unlatching for spans at a time as a result of quarantining, I can “Om” myself through the dissociative chaos with a calming acceptance. I’d lasted up until the end of Yoshimura’s study, when, “TEEVEE” settled into my ear and I began to channel the truth of how distortions were transforming my subconscious. I realized that my dreams were once rare vivid scenes of fun, confusion and fear that had gradually become frequent occurrences with almost no visuals at all. I’d lost the sense of sight in my dreams.

The Google Machine tells me that blindness in dreams might signal internalized uncertainty. Which…I mean, yes, obviously. But another thing they say about dreams is you can only dream of faces you’ve seen in your conscious world. But over the last year those faces have slowly become a smudged mess. Eyes, nostrils, and lips blotted out to a deathly blandness. I don’t perceive their bodies anymore, only the presence. I don’t perceive my body anymore either, just a blank canvas of dark subconscious. The most I hear in my dreams are voices — of the living and the dead — carried by fogs of different colors and intensities. “Hey Tirhakah, gimme a call,” my mothers voice with a lurid purple thunder, bursts into my psyche. The voices carry their original distortion. “You know, I sho love you boy,” my late father’s deep boom filtered by a clumsy phone connection; azure crackles through the mist.

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The pandemic has placed us in the spaces that mostly reflect us. This is my bedroom of my own design. I purchased this dinner table because I liked it at the time. And, there, sits the photo of my grandfather and me, maybe six, playing chess. But the lie of isolation is that this is all there is, what we can see. We’re suffering from an overrepresentation of our selves in our space. In GREEN’s attempt to re-suture our engagement to the natural, it humbles us into the heartening truth of our reality: we are, even during an international crisis, still incredibly small. It’s a truth that our dreams try to tell us, no matter how disembodied, the presences around us, the ghosts, and the ones that came before are still swirling around us, they make each of us up even if we cannot see them anymore. I don’t know how long this fact will remain encouraging. I’m not sure if or when the terror will creep back in and cast this psyche skyward and outside of its vessel. But for now we play the swaying game, the infant nodding off in aching arms, the serenity of her little imagination dreaming up new sounds to describe the rays of the sun.

African from Texas• Staff Writer at LEVEL • Black politics, Celebrity interviews, TV & Film Criticism • Previously: MTV News, San Francisco Chronicle