Sleep Piece

(for Julia)

I sit, rocking your cot.

Linking my lungs to the push-pull of my hands;

sounding a constant shhh…

Seeking out in the slack tide of my breath

a stasis upon which you might drift into that cryptic state

and parse this mad new flux.

Your tiny body - warm and soft, at rest.

Your brain, casting about in the freefall of those first few months

for the hooks on which to fix your circadian clock;

luring you to land and fall in step with our sun-cycling Earth;

sculpting in sleep your freshly minted consciousness.

© Laura Hyland 2021

Sleep Piece (for Julia) (for violin, viola, cello, double bass, clarinet, flute, trombone, percussion, guitar & piano) was commissioned by Crash Ensemble in 2021 as part of their inaugural Crashworks program , and premiered at The National Concert Hall, Dublin at New Music Dublin 2023.

In the early months of my daughter’s life I became fascinated with sleep. Observing her, it seemed an even more mysterious phenomenon than usual; as though she was in an intermediary state of being – a kind of existential limbo between wherever it was she had metaphysically ‘come from’ and here: Earth. Wexford, 2020.

My abiding memory of that time is sitting by her cot, in a trance-like state, as I ‘shushed’ her to sleep, imitating the white noise generators that have become fashionable as baby sleep aids in recent years. This experience inspired the sound-world and atmosphere of the piece.I was also inspired by neuroscientist, Matthew Walker’s book, Why We Sleep, and used much of what I learned from his research to shape the dynamics and temporal structure of the piece:

Sleep is currently understood to be the means by which we process our waking experience, thus making sense of the world. There are two types of sleep: Dream Sleep and Deep Sleep. Over an average 8-hour night, we pass through 5 sleep cycles, each defined by its alternating ratios and durations of these two cognitive states. It’s thought that Deep Sleep is associated with removing redundant neural connections, while Dream Sleep is associated with strengthening those connections the brain opts to retain. A graph of these five cycles is known as a hypnogram.

Sleep Piece (for Julia) maps the first of these 5 cycles, in which the sleeper descends from wakefulness into Deep Sleep, and ends with the onset of cycle 2, marking the first appearance of Dream Sleep.

Excerpt from Crash Ensemble’s premiere of Sleep Piece (for Julia), NMD 23, National Concert Hall, Dublin

“Review of Sleep Piece for Julia"

“My favourite work of this programme was Laura Hyland’s Sleep Piece. Hyland, the leader of the excellent group Clang Sayne, wrote this as a response to her experiences of lulling her infant daughter (also the work’s dedicatee) to sleep. It was mostly written away from the page, in workshop with Crash, and this is apparent in how unusual the piece is: it starts with Hyland on stage, back to back with the seated McAdams, breathing slowly, this breathing then taken up by the ensemble through their instruments. But to foreground these elements is perhaps a distraction. Sleep Piece was marked most of all by the love Hyland displayed for her daughter: every sound, from the slow ensemble chords to Máire Carroll’s tender piano cadenza that ended the piece, all seemed vulnerable, transparent, a gift.”

— JC McGuiggan, Journal of Music

Co-commissioned by Crash Ensemble and New Music Dublin, with funds from the Arts Council of Ireland