Regular readers of our site will likely recognize the name Dobrawa Czocher from her work with pianist Hania Rani, who will also be releasing an album this winter. Dreamscapes is the Polish cellist’s debut LP, following years of orchestral work; she is currently the lead cellist of the Neue Philharmonie Berlin.
When tackling a subject as general as dreams, one has an advantage and a disadvantage. The advantage is that the field is so wide, the variety of approaches so broad. The disadvantage is that it is difficult to get a hold on something so ephemeral. Czocher had to walk a thin line between the foreground and background, between putting people to sleep and getting them to stay awake. While Max Richter’s Sleep was intended as a sleep aid (although people did try to stay awake for the overnight concert), Dreamscapes, despite being constructed as the soundtrack to a nap, is intended as a meditation; and each sidesteps the pesky problem of nightmares.
The album contains a “Prologue” and “Epilogue,” analogous to falling asleep and waking; the middle tracks are fluid. Easing the listener gently into a speculative (yet still conscious) state, the cellist begins with light strokes of the bow and a backdrop that suggests theremins. As the opener progresses, the notes grow deeper, simulating the drift into dreams; and then the main melodies, like plot lines, emerge. If any track suggests a darker side, it’s “Doppelgänger,” its low timbre implying mystery, or the separation of sleeping body and active mind.
“Chasing the Now” grows incredibly active. Complimentary strings surge past the boundaries of “sleep music,” a wise choice underlining the narrative of what one might call a waking dream. The track is so vivid that it suggests one’s dreams may be more real than one’s waking life, a break from doldrums, to some a possible escape: for example, for a prisoner in a cell or a victim of a loveless marriage. “Forgive” addresses the subject of working on one’s dilemmas while asleep, producing eureka moments that stymied the sleeper when awake.
Less of a surprise is the peaceful “Lullaby,” nestled between the restless “Voices” and “Prayers” toward the end of the set. The track follows the album’s loudest moment and arrives as a respite: all dangers past, all sorrows salved. Semantically, the positioning of “Prayers” seems backwards ~ people are more likely to say their prayers before sleep than upon awakening ~ but musically, the sequencing makes sense. Dreamscapes is more a spiritual journey than a linear narrative. The starkness of the epilogue suggests a new challenge: if one’s dreams are more colorful than one’s waking hours, should one attempt to sleep more, or to quote an earlier track, “chase the now?” (Richard Allen)