It’s perhaps no surprise, given the glorious restlessness of the critically-acclaimed idiosyncratic folklore pop that formed his previous two records, 2011’s Witchazel and last year’s KillThe Wolf, that Matt Berry’s forever fertile mind has been affecting his sleep. About a year ago, the celebrated actor, comic, writer and musician found himself staring at the ceiling night after night in his London flat, suffering from insomnia. With his creative stimulus in overdrive, however, he turned the deprivation into a new expressive outlet: two long-form musical pieces under the title of Music For Insomniacs.
A huge fan of producer Mike Oldfield, most notably his famous 1973 opus Tubular Bells, Berry places Music For Insomniacs in similarly rarefied air. The 45-minute work twinkles in an outer orbit of isolated space, away from the more explicit themes and earthy locations of his previous musical endeavours, using languid and otherworldly Moog and synthetic sounds to create a feeling of calm. For Berry, who recorded next door to his bedroom in the dead of night when sleeplessness struck, the album’s creation became a therapy of sorts, as he sought to find the balance in the music that could equate to serenity in his mind. “I looked into the kind of music I was listening to during bouts of insomnia and found the ambient minimal pieces were sometimes too uneventful and just kept me awake, but then the pieces that were too hectic ended up having a similar effect too,” he explains.
As such, Music For Insomniacs is constantly changing shape even within its dream-like constancy. Occasionally it breaks the long, sweeping electronic brushes with nursery-rhyme keyboard motifs; at others it brings the listener back into the real world, samples of human voices and whispers drifting through his ethereal constructs. He’s also not afraid to pool layers together to form louder passages, creating dense swells of sound that rise and fall away. In contrast to his previous record, Music For Insomniacs was recorded alone; “insomnia was something I suffered on my own so I wanted the creation of this album to be an equally solitary experience,” he says. “It had to be completely personal so I knew I had to record every note myself.”
After doing this, Berry would listen to every recorded segment backwards and pick out anything that would work as part of the composition by adding to its lucidity; “the results hopefully give the listener the effect of slowing down, moving backwards or stopping and resuming the journey in slow motion,” he says. The onus is very much on personal and the abstract space, leaving any themes as blank as possible so that the listener can form their own images. This way of soundscaping, creating a uniquely vivid but vague tapestry, stems from Berry’s long love of long-form electronic works, of Oldfield’s and also the likes of Jean-Michel Jarre. “The draw of this long form music was that it felt like I was embarking on a journey that I knew was going to continue longer than the usual 2:35 or a bunch of 2:35 songs stopping and starting,” he explains. “Albums like Tubular Bells and Jarre’s Oxygene hugely affected me as a youngster. I found greater stimulation brought about by the range of different emotions felt by persevering with one side of an album of continuous music. Not a month passes still that I don't revisit one or both of those records.”
Thankfully for Berry, he has beaten his insomnia, thanks to this project and advice sought from, among others, magician Andy Nyman on inducing sleep. However Music For Insomniacs remains behind, left as an aid to others suffering from the affliction, but also as a beguiling document of his own state of mind during this period, resulting in a wonderfully still 45 minutes of music, set apart from the non-stop bustle of 21st century living.