Perfect Sound Forever


Photo by Andy Moor

The Science of Sleep
Introduction and questions by J. Vognsen
(February/March 2020)

"All of those things that add up to what you consider you — your creativity, emotions, health, and ability to quickly learn a new skill or devise a solution to a problem — can be seen as little more than by-products of what happens inside your brain while your head is on a pillow each night," writes David K. Randall in his book Dreamland - Adventures In The Strange Science Of Sleep. Undoubtedly, there is hyperbole at play in the quote, but the logic is straight forward. Sleep not only makes it possible to function while being awake by re-energizing the brain and the body, it is also in itself an important engine of creativity and of physical and mental health.

It makes perfect sense.

Still, something puzzles me about this. In almost twenty years of organizing concerts, I have met a great many highly creative people, but very few of them getting anywhere near the amount or quality of sleep recommended by specialists. For example, a list of "Tips for Getting a Good Night's Sleep" prepared by The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in the US includes the following points:

This looks very little like the life of any touring musician I've ever known. If sleep is key to creative thought, it appears that a proper analogy would be that it is as if our top athletes were working on an exercise regimen of TV binge-watching and a doughnuts-only diet.

To learn more, I reached out to saxophonist, composer and bandleader Ken Vandermark. He is well-known for his strong work ethic and for keeping a grueling schedule that keeps him touring large parts of the year. In addition, he has also written in his public journals on the many challenges of being on the road, including the difficulty of getting sleep. At the same time, Vandermark is an extraordinarily creative and productive individual. To my ears at least, Vandermark has created some of the most exciting music of the last few decades, drawing on funk, free improvisation, contemporary composition and many other influences. So how does he make it work?

Vandermark's life as a working musician is portrayed in an excellent documentary by Daniel Kraus from 2007 called Musician. Among his current groups are Marker, Made To Break, DKV Trio and his latest, the 10-piece ensemble Entr'acte. Vandermark also performs regularly in duos with Paal Nilssen-Love, Nate Wooley, Terrie Ex and Mars Williams.

If forced to pick only one album, I'd recommend that new listeners begin with 35mm from 2009 by The Frame Quartet, a group with Nate McBride, Fred Lonberg-Holm and Tim Daisy.

Vandermark answered questions over email from May to November, 2019.

PSF: I know that you spend most of the year touring, so I'd like to begin there. How much are you usually able to sleep while on the road? And what would an extreme situation be like?

KV: Combining the work in the States with that in Europe and elsewhere, I'm probably on tour close to half of each year. The amount of sleep per night depends mainly on the hours of travel necessary the following day.

For me, touring in the States takes place most often by car or van (depends on the size of the ensemble- I recently went out with Nate Wooley as a duo and a car was possible, with the quintet Marker a 12 passenger van was necessary because we travel with all our equipment: amps, drums, guitars, horns, keyboard, violin). The drives are usually at least 5 hours or so, often longer, so if soundcheck/load in is at 5pm, the latests a band can leave in the morning is 11am (to account for stops on the way for food and gas). This makes getting a decent nights sleep fairly easy. I find it extremely difficult to go to sleep after a concert, it usually takes me hours due to the physicality, focus, and adrenaline involved. At most venues, shows usually start at 9pm in the U.S., so after playing two sets with a break between (that is most often the case when I tour) and packing everything up, a group isn't finished until around midnight and this means I can't get to sleep until 2am at the earliest. To hit the road by 11am, I'd need to be up at 10am, but that's without doing any work beforehand. Usually I'll get up at 9am to deal with email and logistics, for the current tour and for upcoming concerts and projects. So, at best, I'm getting 7 hours of sleep a night while touring in the States, and when that happens, that's not bad.

The situation in Europe, where I tour most often, is more complicated. Booking agents usually take a percentage of the gross fee each night, so this tends to motivate them to book shows with the largest guarantee- no matter how far apart the shows are. This means that most often 50% of the total income goes toward travel expenses because the best paying venues are now scattered further and further apart as city, regional, and state governments give less and less money to the arts, which is causing venues to close or have fewer concerts or pay less per show. To reach these performance spaces on a day to day basis, it is usually necessary to fly to each show because you're traveling from country to country day after day, not working within the same country night to night. Flights are expensive, and cheap airlines end up being risky or not cheap because they kill you on paying for luggage, bringing instruments onboard, etc. To save as much money as possible, and to make sure the ensembles reach the venues in time, the flights are often in the morning. To be safe, you've got to be prepared to check in 2 hours before departure, and morning flights mean dealing with rush hour to get to the airport. So an 8am flight, which doesn't sound so bad, really means being at the airport by 6am, and this means leaving your accommodations at least a half an hour before that. Concerts usually start at 8pm in Europe, but the timeline after that is pretty much the same as in the States- 3 hours from start to packing up, at least 2 hours to relax enough for me to sleep. That means that when I'm flying I'm on average getting to bed at 1am and up around 5am, night after night. Trains are somewhat better and, depending on the distances, often end up taking as much time as flying because it's not necessary to check in so early and contend with the amount of security and lines as occurs at every airport, and the train brings you to the city centers which are usually closer to the performance spaces. But often, you have to leave earlier to make it to the next city in time, so you're getting 5 hours of sleep which is better than four.

The circumstances described above are pretty standard these days. Sometimes, you get lucky and the departures are later, or the distances between gigs are short, and these factors lead to more sleep. The only way to deal with this is to learn to sleep while en route- on the planes, in trains, or in cars- in order to try and make up for what you're not getting at night.

PSF: You've been touring extensively since the mid-‘90's. How has the situation changed over the years that you've been on the road? Are there things that are making it easier or more difficult getting sleep now than before?

KV: On pretty much every level, it's gotten harder. During the mid-1990's in the States, there was a crossover between the audiences for alternative rock bands on labels like Touch & Go, Amphetamine Reptile, and Dischord, and the audiences for improvised music played by bands working with more aggressive/ecstatic aesthetics. This made it possible to find more options for venues in each city since many underground rock clubs were willing to book bands playing this kind of improvised music, and the turnouts for the concerts in these clubs pooled many listeners from both sets of audiences. Another factor was the sales of albums at shows. While on tour in the States, merch sales would often equal or exceed the fees taken in at the door. So if a band had a $500 guarantee or made that amount on a door gig, they could often expect to make close to that in record sales, doubling the payment per show. Now merch sales are closer to one third of a band's fee for a performance. That is a huge financial loss.

In Europe, the situation regarding sales of merchandise is essentially the same now as compared to two decades ago. In addition, there are fewer venues, and lower guarantees than in the mid-1990's. This means that distances between shows have increased, raising the touring costs while income through sales and performance fees are going down. Often, in the last few years, a band is not only playing in a different city each night, they're playing in a different country. This means it's necessary to fly to many of the shows, which is expensive and exhausting: early flights, cabs to and from the airport from the city centers, hours stuck in aiports before flight and making connections, etc.

One thing that has improved in certain ways are the systems of distribution of recordings and information. The first time I played in Sao Paulo, in December of 2010, the audience that came to the concert all knew my music from seeing it and hearing it on YouTube. This would have been impossible ten years earlier. The print versions of music journalism, whether in city newspapers or magazines, is diminishing but online writing has increased; as has the ability to circumvent reliance on the media to preview or review concerts and recordings, now the artists and fans can do this on their own. The loss of the independent record store was a huge blow to music (thankfully, this type of shop is having a bit of a resurgence). Now, however, people can access and order LP's, CD's, digital albums, or stream music from any musician or band online and get it delivered to their homes pretty much anywhere in the world, if they have the finances and access. Especially when they can order direct from the artists themselves, this is a way to overcome diminished sales at gigs.

PSF: You mention how new technology has made it easier for audiences to discover and listen to your music. What has been the effect of the technological developments - particularly the arrival of smartphones and social media - on your ability to get sleep when you tour? Does it free up time for sleep by making time management easier, offer further time consuming distractions or simply quicken up the pace of everything?

KV: The advent of social media platforms has created options for potentially informing listeners about concerts, recordings, developments in the music, but it has also complicated communication by producing additional systems of correspondence. At this point, I have collaborators, presenters, and journalists getting in touch with me via email, cellphone texts, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram Direct, plus the exchanges that occur on social medial posts. Keeping up and keeping track of the correspondence, and remembering where and when all of these exchanges have taken place, is incredibly time consuming and complicated. So far from freeing up time, these different platforms have made communication and time management much more difficult.

PSF: How do you try to manage the challenges of getting sleep and experiencing jetlag while on tour? Do you - for example - bring any tools for sleeping, such as pillows, earplugs, sleeping pills, etc? Or do you try to organize your day in ways leaving time for naps?

KV: The simplest answer is that I can now sleep anywhere, at any time. Often, I catch up on sleep when in transit (on planes, trains, and in cars). As a tour progresses and the itineraries become more exhausting, the late nights/early mornings mean that to maintain the amount of rest needed to keep the focus and energy necessary for concerts, I start sleeping in increments during each day, maybe 3-4 hours at night, 90 minutes on a plane, an hour nap in a hotel room before soundcheck... At this point, I don't really notice jet lag much. On my latest tour, I flew to Amsterdam from Chicago, did a week's worth of work in Belgium and Netherlands then flew to Rio from Amsterdam, did about 8 days of work in Brazil; then flew from São Paulo to Gdansk for another two weeks of work in Europe before heading back to Chicago from Vienna. Keeping awake the first day on each continent after the transatlantic flights was difficult, but I just slept for a couple of hours in the afternoon and forced myself to stay up past midnight to reset my internal clock. To help with the reset, I take melatonin the first couple of nights after the transatlantic flight.

PSF: You mention that you can now sleep anytime, anywhere. I imagine this is an extremely useful skill when traveling as much as you do. Was there a period of adaptation involved in getting used to the irregular hours of touring, or did it come quite naturally to you from the beginning?

KV: That's a funny question. I actually have always been able to fall asleep when traveling, even when I was in high school, I'd fall asleep on the bus during student field trips. Initially, recovering from the transatlantic flight was tough. Traveling to Europe was exciting so I wouldn't be able to sleep on the plane, and then I was told by other musicians to make sure that- no matter what- I didn't sleep or take a nap during the day. I can remember practicing in a hotel room in some country in Europe after arriving on one of those early trips from the States, and almost falling asleep while standing up. Now I sleep when I'm tired, and that is most often while in transit. During the recent week long residency in Krakow with the Entr'acte large ensemble, I was getting up at 9am to prepare for morning rehearsals that went until 5pm, had concerts every night that went until 11pm, went to bed at 3am, and couldn't sleep more than a few hours because my mind was racing, processing information from the current day and preparing ideas and plans for the next one. Once I am in a plane, train, car, I know that I can relax and, always being sleep deprived, I now fall asleep almost immediately.

PSF: What are the main negative affects you experience from lack of sleep? Do you find it affects your ability to think creatively, interact socially or to get practical work done? Does it hamper your ability to actually enjoy what you're doing?

KV: I find that as the lack of sleep accumulates during a tour the primary issues are that my rigor of my concentration deteriorates and that I get depressed. Playing the concerts, or recording in the studio, remain at a consistent level while on the road because adrenaline almost always kicks in and creative focus returns with sharp clarity. And then I'm wide awake for several hours after a performance. The issue is the rest of the day, the rest of the work that needs to be done, and also social interaction.

Because I am away from home for extended periods of time it has become more and more necessary to complete my composing and recording projects while on tour. This can be a struggle due to compounded exhaustion, which is why it is absolutely mandatory for me to have specific deadlines- the deadlines create a sense of anxiety that pushes me to get things done with discipline and quality. This level of stress isn't positive, but it's the only way for me to complete the projects.

Though I am extremely fortunate to travel to so many different places to present my music, it also means that- in addition to often being sleep deprived due to the amount of travel- I also often need to be a "public person" with social responsibilities. When this involves people that I know and am close to, I feel that I can just be myself and enjoy the company. This aspect of my life is essential to maintain what I do. In a sense, over many years of touring, I've been included as part of an "extended family," a community of creative people, whether musicians, artists, organizers, or certain fans of the music. It gives me a psychological foundation that centers me while I am constantly moving to a new location day after day, week after week. However, much of the time I am encountering people who do not know me, both before and after the concerts, who expect me to be courteous and professional no matter what frame of mind I am in, no matter how tired I might be. This is completely reasonable on their part (I should be courteous and professional!). But I am human, and it can be a challenge to be social with people you don't know when all your resources of energy and focus are going into maintaining the creative work while traveling. This is why it's really necessary for me to have a private space, whether a hotel room or a place in someone's home, at the end of the day so I can recuperate as best as possible, both in terms of rest but also in terms of psychic space.

PSF: You are engaged in a diverse range of creative activities. For example, you play and write compositions, you perform in fully improvised contexts and also do photography. Do find that the "stress and adrenaline"-method for keeping you going works better for some of these areas than others?

KV: To get things done on time, which is a perpetual challenge, I'm always looking at deadlines. And the deadlines, especially involving music, are always arriving and this keeps me in an ongoing state of stress. For example, I just got back from six weeks of work in Europe, and have a rehearsal on Monday with a new project involving seven other musicians and a video artist, and I am working to complete the compositional materials with that deadline just around the corner. Adrenaline, creative and otherwise, helps get these projects done on time and possible. The writing I do (articles, liner notes, journal) is often also connected to hard deadlines, which means more anxiety. The photography, however, I usually do on my own. Generally, this occurs while on tour, and this is more meditative- about looking and walking. So, to actually answer your question, I'm not sure if the "stress and adrenaline method" helps me work better, but it is part and parcel of how I work.

PSF: There was an interview with Derek Bailey where he said that one of the most useful ways he'd found to prepare for a gig was to sleep just before going on stage, as it would put him in a "semi subconscious state" that he found useful for improvising. Do you consider sleep to be a part of your creative process in any way, like Derek, or perhaps by sometimes consciously deciding to sleep on a problem before proceeding?

KV: I often feel most exhausted right before going onstage to play a concert. It's almost like the final conservation of energy takes place right before performing, but once the music starts, I'm in another state and the energy and clarity comes from somewhere. For example, I can have a bad head cold but during a gig I can suddenly circular breathe. Then, once I walk offstage, the cold hits me again. Somehow, the body takes over while performing, and the mind does a similar thing, even when exhausted.

Sleep is helpful to the creative process when I'm composing material and I get stuck. Rather than forcing a way out of a dead end, I'll "sleep on it" and come back to the piece the next day. I'm a firm believer in the creative activity of the unconscious and letting it do its work uninhibited. Nine times out of ten, when I look at the problem I've had with a composition the next day, the solution is there right in front of me.

PSF: Some of your music moves in what sounds to me like a dream-like, associative fashion between very different sections in larger long-form pieces. Do you in fact find any inspiration in your dreams? Do you have good dream recall that you can draw on?

KV: Though I have very good dream recall and can almost always remember their content when I wake up, dreams have no real impact on my compositional process. The main influence on my composing is the cinema, and concepts regarding film editing are key to my approach to improvising.

PSF: A question from Sonja LaBianca, saxophonist and member of Selvhenter:

"Have you experienced musical ideas occurring right as you fall asleep? Do you think that there is a parallel between sleep and creativity?

I find myself that there are two ways for my brain to work with music. One very logical, structured and analytical, for instance while practicing a specific rhythm, phrase, scale, changing a habit or learning something new and getting to understand it. The other intuitive, kind of like acting before even thinking consciously about it, built into the ear and body. Both states require deep focus and concentration, total engagement with the music. Both are creativity to me and can give rise to new ideas and directions. Maybe the latter could be compared to sleep while the aforementioned a state of being awake? Just a thought, what do you think?

Could you elaborate on your own experiences and reflections about the way your brain works creatively?"

KV: I agree with Sonja's idea that there are can be more distinct sets of activity that take place while developing music, one perhaps more intellectual and one more intuitive. Most often for me, these threads overlap to varying degrees. But, perhaps because I often remember my dreams, I don't associate the intuitive with a sleep state because in my dreams I often make "conscious" and "logical" decisions. The important thing is to not give creative precedence to intellectual decisions in the "awake" world because intuitive thinking is often more crucial to innovation.

PSF: Personally I feel that lacking sleep is almost completely destructive to my ability to think creatively, but there is perhaps one exception. When very exhausted, it seems like a certain quality control can disappear and ideas are allowed to flow more freely. Sometimes the results look pretty awful the next day, but not always. Do you find that sleeplessness ever helps you create? By putting you in a creative space mentally or making you see the world in a different way?

KV: I'd have to say that lack of sleep never helps my creativity. I'm often required to play concerts or compose when completely exhausted, and the responsibility of having to perform and meet a deadline pushes me to overcome the deficit of being tired. It comes down to rigor and discipline, the same as for anyone else. I often find that when my mind is distracted with an activity not associated with my work, I come up with musical ideas that are very useful but this is not because of exhaustion, rather, in spite of it.

PSF: Does creating while sleep deprived ever colour the mood or character of your work? With sleep loss often comes a decidedly bleaker sensibility and outlook on the world, I find. Your experience might be different, of course, but do you feel any influence of that nature manifests itself in your work?

KV: No, I don't think often being sleep deprived colors the character or mood of my creative work. The world does, other creative work- whether based in fields of music, art, film, literature- does. It is true that a lack of sleep can make it easier for things to impact me on an emotional level, and it is extremely difficult not to become depressed by the state of global politics, but when it comes to "the work" other sets of principles and processes take place and override this feeling of being emotionally "raw."

PSF: It appears to me that in the broader public there's an increasing focus on sleep and it's connection to health and creativity, with numerous books coming out on the topics, for example. How do you view the interest in the topics we've discussed in this interview among the musicians you interact with? Has there been a similar shift? Are these topics often brought up in conversation, or would you say they are a minor concern?

KV: I can't say that there has been an increased focus on how the lack of sleep affects health and creativity among the musicians I collaborate with. However, shared stories of recent tour challenges related to logistics and travel are a frequent subject of discussion; a comradeship of shared struggle in "getting to the gig." To give a clear picture of just how severe tour conditions can be, I've included a journal entry below that describes what occurred during a tour with Made To Break in October of 2016 over the course of 24 hours, from leaving Barcelona in the morning of the 20th to fly to Avignon and then to leaving Avignon to fly back to Spain and play in Santander on the 21st.

A Day In The Life:

The point when the real becomes surreal and the surreal becomes real... After going to bed at 2am, following a dinner of potato chips with friends (Made To Break arrived 5 minutes after the restaurant kitchen closed), I got up at 7am. The band's scheduled pickup for a train was 8am and I planned to prepare for a workshop I was scheduled to give that afternoon. At ten to 8, I got a text message from the person scheduled to drive us to the train station stating that traffic was so bad they'd be at least 20 minutes late. Waiting for him meant that making our departure on time was in jeopardy. "Should I order taxis?" was the next text. I verified this and told Jasper, Tim, and Christof to get ready to meet the cabs downstairs. The train tickets were printed for each individual. As I was passing them out, another text came in stating that one of the cabs had arrived. Because Jasper and Christof don't have working cellphones, I sent Tim with Jasper in the first cab, so I could get ahold of them in case anything went wrong. I got my things together and then remembered that Jasper's bass was in the original driver's van. I texted the driver that he had to meet us at the station, and did a dummy check in the apartment, found Jasper's scarf. Another text came in- cab 2 had arrived. Christof and I went downstairs and got into the taxi.

Then I got another text, "Yes, I will meet you at the station with Jasper's bass." I checked with Christof to make sure he had his train ticket. "What ticket?" I suddenly realized that in the confusion of last minute texts, taxis and packing, I had somehow forgotten to give Christof his boarding pass for the train. As the adrenaline hit me, Christof said, in a completely calm, Zen-like voice, "It should be fine, I have a reservation, so I'll be in the system." Traffic was brutal, and any money saved by putting the band in an apartment vs. a hotel was lost because it was located ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE CITY from the train station. We finally arrived, running late, got Jasper's bass, and found out that Jasper's last name was spelled incorrectly on his ticket. So he, Christof, and the driver rushed to ticket information to try and get their reservations sorted out. We were down to 20 minutes before departure and still had to get through security before we finally found someone who could give Christof a passcode for his ticket and confirm Jasper's reservation was fine. We made the train.

After traveling four hours on two trains, we got to the performance space at ten past 2pm; my workshop started at 2:30. Luckily, there was extraordinary food and access to expresso backstage, both saved me. I wolfed down something to eat, swallowed two double expressos in quick succession, and started my class, which centered on the impact of John Coltrane as an avant-garde inspiration to the jazz mainstream (that was sorely missed after his death), the creative renaissance that occurred on an international scale in the improvised music "underground" that almost coincided with his passing in 1967 (the ACCM, BAG, artists associated with FMP, ICP, Incus, etc.), the idea that the jazz conservatory system has developed a point of view toward the music that parallels the attitude which the Paris Academie and their annual Salon de Paris took toward the Impressionist painters, and that the skills developed in academic institutions would be better served through individual research into new territory instead of repetition and codification of jazz as a style. After 45 minutes of talking and not getting one question or contrary opinion, I realized that almost no one in the class understood English.

After a superb dinner, Made To Break played two sets and an encore to a fantastic audience. We packed our equipment, had a beer, and the group got into a van and drove over an hour to an airport hotel that we were told was "100 meters" away from the terminal. Having been to a number of airport hotels that were literally next to the departure terminal, I imagined that it was possible that the place we were staying could be as close as described. However, I've learned that "100 meters" and "a 10 minute walk" are often international shorthand for "1 kilometer." At 1am, when we arrived at the Budget Ibis (until this night, I didn't know that such a thing existed), it was clear that, in this case, "100 meters" definitely needed an extra zero added to it.

Our flight left at 6:20am in the morning. I asked the woman checking us in if there was a shuttle that left at 5, which should get us to the airport in time to check in an hour before departure. She said no, the first shuttle was at 5:30, which would get us to the terminal at 5:40, cutting things too close for check in and boarding. I asked if we could book taxis. She said no, the terminal was too close for a cab driver to be willing to take the fare. I asked her how long it was to walk to the terminal. She said, "10 minutes." I knew what this meant. We planned to meet in the lobby at 5am to walk the kilometer to the terminal. Then she said that the charge for the rooms, which was on the presenter's credit card, wouldn't go through. I asked her to call the organizer to get it approved. He didn't answer. 260 euros of CD money went to the Budget Ibis rooms with the hopes that we'd be reimbursed later on the tour. At 1:30am the band headed to bed.

Three hours later, I got up, packed, and went downstairs to meet Christof, Jasper, and Tim. At 5:00am a group of people waiting in the lobby all got up and got into a shuttle heading to the airport. I felt something in my jaw snap and went to the front desk. The woman from the night before was still there. "I thought you said there wasn't a shuttle until 5:30. Is there another shuttle coming?" "Yes, at 5:15." "Is there room on it??" "Two seats." Breathing deeply, I told Christof and Tim (so there would be phone contact if necessary) to take the shuttle, and said that Jasper and I would take the early morning hike to airport, then left to head there on my own.

The air was bracing, and as I dragged my suitcase along the sidewalk watching for signs indicating the terminals, I had to admit I was thankful that I wasn't dragging the baritone too. The signage was perfect. On each, if an icon of a figure was "walking" left, the direction arrow pointed right, and vice versa. Twenty minutes later and covered in sweat I got to the main entrance to the airport, which was Terminal 1. My flight was out of Terminal 2. As I walked into the building a large sign stated, "Terminal 1 Check-In" to the right. I turned my head to the left and there was another sign, "Terminal 1 Boarding." Straight ahead another sign, "Terminal 2, 3, and 4." Pretty much every airport check-in I've been to takes place in the terminal where the flight departs. Based on that practical research I walked to Terminal 2 and was faced with a security line. Being too sleep-deprived to question why, I got into line. And then saw that everyone else had their boarding passes. I tried to get out of line and of course this alerted security. I explained the guard that I didn't have my boarding pass and had a flight from Terminal 2, where did I get one? "Oh, in Terminal 1." For some reason, out of all the airports I've ever been to in the world, at this particular facility they've decided that ALL CHECK-INS ARE TO BE DONE IN TERMINAL 1. I texted Tim this factoid, hoped Jasper would figure it out better than I did, and I ran back to the proper check-in area. Luckily, there was no line because I was so late, and I dropped off my bag, got my ticket, got back into the security line, got to the gate and saw the rest of Made To Break waiting for me, all of us in time to board. I got onto the plane and sat down, several days in a row like this had tired me to the point of near delirium. Even so, when the crew went through their safety precautions and as I started to drift off to sleep, over the airplane PA I distinctly heard the words, "Fasten your seat belts and hold on tight." My eyes were again wide open, and the plane took off.

Part of what is discussed among touring musicians who play this music is the fact that, when faced with conditions like the ones described above (which were extreme but, at least in part, not uncommon) we are expected to still perform at an extremely high level, creating music based on spontaneous creativity. Granted, that is the responsibility. But when you are struggling with circumstances that include a lack of sleep and travel that often takes 8 hours or more, day after day, it takes a toll. Almost always in my experience, the musicians rise to the occasion and find a way to access the creativity and energy they need to present an excellent concert. The irony is that by doing so, this nearly impossible task becomes expected by presenters and booking agents who seem to have little empathy for what is involved. Which means that the musicians are asked to deal with logistically extreme and demanding conditions over and over again because they are repeatedly successful in overcoming the odds against them.

PSF: And finally, are there any works of art that deal with sleep or dreams that you are particularly fond of or impressed by?

KV: Fellini's 8 1/2 comes immediately to mind. Many paintings by de Chirico, Magritte, and Picabia seem to directly deal with "dream states" and are favorites of mine. The surrealist photos of Man Ray access this realm for me. And the short story by Borges, The Circular Ruins, and the collection of poetry by John Berryman, 77 Dream Songs, are key texts in this regard.

For more on Ken Vandermark, visit his website His music is available through Catalytic Sound, a music corporative he co-founded in 2015;

Thanks to Sonja LaBianca, Chris Cutler and Steve Venright for comments and ideas. Thanks to Andy Moor for the photo.

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