richard misiano genovese

. Sleep deprivation, audio, and visual hallucinations

When one thinks of surrealist sound in its raw and purest forms, or even the random application to musical forms it isn’t always apparent where the source or origins for these games of chance come from. For example these sound impressions might be driven by the subconscious disciplines of our thought patterns, or may be enforced audibly by illness or the introduction of pharmacological substances, illicit or not. These experiences are common to most if not all of us at some point in our lives. On the other hand, sometimes audible impressions may be the direct results of lack of sleep. Sleep deprivation can take alter our perceptions, audible as well as visual, and the more time the body has been deprived of sleep, the more likely as well as intensely it will react. These reactions can take the form of hallucinations in the realm of the visual as well as auditory. But does this qualify as a surrealist excursion into sound or vision? Perhaps a few points of reference might serve as examples of where visual hallucination has influenced and been transcribed in word and image. Max Ernst tells of his hallucinatory experiences and the simultaneous death of his pet cockatoo and birth of his sister, when he was a small boy. The free association between the two traumatic events gave fertile ground for his imagination as well as danced on the edges of hallucinatory daydreams. Is this then another form of hallucination brought on from the introduction of the traumatic sequence of events coupled with the association that appears rooted in some sort of logic, a logic that should be comforting but somehow isn’t. T hen too, ironically similar is the recall of René Magritte who relates the following:

One night, I woke up in a room in which a cage with a bird sleeping in it had been placed. A magnificent error caused me to see an egg in the cage, instead of the vanished bird. I then grasped a new and astonishing poetic secret, for the shock which I experienced had been provoked precisely by the aff inity of two objects — the cage and the egg — to each other, whereas previously this shock had been caused by my bringing together two objects that were unrelated.” (1) For Ernst and Magritte, these hallucinatory experiences appear founded in slightly different ways, however the ending results culminate in these fanciful expressions of thought translated into image, but does hallucination merely limit itself to only visual manifestations? No — auditory f lashes can also present us with the basis of that which is regarded as hallucinatory in nature and further allows us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in these reveries that we would surely be deprived of were we not actually in such a state. Now another consideration here — one which I have experienced on more than one occasion, was the direct result of sleep deprivation. The extended period of lack of sleep seemed to reach a saturation point where these hallucinations, auditory or visual seemed to plateau although reasonable “ordinary” judgments seemed suspended throughout the entire experience. For example, I went for two days without sleep — 48 hours — and I noticed a marked change in my senses after a period of wakefulness. In this experience it did not seem to be noticeable to me until I’d been well past the normal hour of repose and sleep. By this I am suggesting that when we are on a routine sleep schedule, our bodies seem to become lethargic and our concentration slips and we lie down and close our eyes and ultimately “fall asleep”. It usually occurs rapidly at the same hour, if we condition our bodies by our daily patterns of awaking and then going to sleep, but if we consciously make an effort to stay awake, there is a point where that need for sleep seems to be abated. It is only when we’ve gone past a certain point where we now find ourselves awake all night into the dawn and perhaps a bit physically fatigued, but noticeably our senses are heightened, our hearing, sight, taste and smell, perhaps even touch are increased. Is this some primordial genetic safety valve? Do we all feel quite the same way or react in the same way? After two full days of sleep deprivation, while the senses are heightened — I suspect that they have always been at optimal levels but we dull them down with too much sleep — the body is fatigued and so physical energies seem weakened. I have also gone three days without sleep and the same patterns seem to be in play although on the third day hallucinations are more frequent and with more severity and duration, whereas before this, they were flashes of images or perhaps odd sounds. Specifically I recall driving in the hours before dawn, although a full moonlit night, there was a heavy cloud coverage which hung over much of the wintry skies. I looked up at the clouds and began to see this as a sort of giant fishbowl surrounded by cloud cover and then the most curious visual assaulted my eyes. The sky seemed to crack everywhere with these crack lines crawling across the heavens like a skater on thin ice, only the ice appeared overhead and oppressively close. It was an hallucination which held a certain fascination, yet a feeling of discomfort deep within it. At other times I would hear sounds sharp and clear, even through the barrier of window glass. Objects, forms seemed to change shape, definition, and even texture, when felt. Overall, my experiences were one of heightened, if somewhat altered perceptions rather than dulled. It remains my contention that at some level we sleep, or are encouraged to sleep for far too long in a given 24 hour period. I attribute much of this to the rigors of contemporary, conventional societal expectations. Taken away, and restored to our natural, bestial state of existence.

In so describing this I must advise and warn that I do not recommend this to anyone and it is extremely dangerous. Essentially there are “poisons” in our system that sleeping relieves, and without sleep the body absorbs all of these toxins. But for this, it was a rather interesting experience and I urge that you do not follow this example but learn from my errors.


By : richard misiano genovese

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