Entering the Matrix - the Dream Director at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill

By Rosie Clarke | 07 April 2009
A picture of pods in a darkened room

The De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea was the setting for the Sussex leg of Luke Jerram's nocturnal experiment

Review: The Dream Director, De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, April 4 2009

We're lying in pods in a vast concert hall, eye masks taped to our faces, waiting for the lullaby that will take 15 of us on an overnight journey of sound art created in our dreams. This is not a bizarre sci-fi fantasy, but an art installation called the Dream Director.

The audience at the De La Warr Pavilion are a diverse group: students, parents, artists and council workers, from as far away as Essex and Stratford-on-Avon.

Artist Luke Jerram, a grown-up version of Roald Dahl's Big Friendly Giant, enthusiastically discusses the development of his years of sleep-based artwork while encouraging us to drink soporific hot chocolate.

Dr Chris Alford, a sleep psychologist from the University of the West of England, explains the phases of sleep and how Bertha the controlling computer would only play us sounds when the sensors in our masks picked up Rapid Eye Movement.

A picture of people waking up from pods in a hall

Fifteen daring guinea pigs took part in the sleepover

Our individual pods contain a speaker by each ear and a blue button to press if we want to escape the Matrix (that is, stop the sounds for 20 minutes to go into a deeper sleep phase).

A melody plays us into a relaxed state with the sound of a train journey to an exotic destination, laughing children and the evocative songs of a desert town.

A picture of pods in a lit hall

The pods contained speakers and buttons to press

Are dreams really messages from our subconscious? Growing up in the suburbs I experienced flying dreams for years – until I travelled around the world, at which point they stopped for good.

In preparation for tonight's dreaming, we're asked to report anonymously our most recent dream, how it felt, and whether it held a message for us. I recall a false waking and finding I was being watched by Victor Meldrew in a dressing gown, possibly expressing my nervousness about having my sleep observed and altered tonight.

My mind is racing with anticipation: when will this epic dream voyage begin? I'm afraid my expectations jinx the experience, though, as throughout the night I find myself asking questions, going over moments that happened during the week, making mental lists and trying to remember song lyrics.

It doesn't seem as if I’ve slept at all, yet walking out for a drink of water I'm astonished to see bright morning sunlight and clattering cleaners. Where have the last seven hours gone, and why haven't I had the transformative spiritual experience I hoped for?

A picture of the top of a pavilion with panoramic views from the windows

The group awoke to a sunny Sussex morning

Receiving my personal printout of sounds, I must have been in REM phase sleep at 00:52 when a forest sound was played to me. Between 04:39 and 07:43, six other samples played in my pod: canyons, cathedrals and industrial sounds – so why didn't they influence me?

Perhaps when I pulled the sleeping bag over my head, I muted the sounds that came through the speakers. Jerram puts forward the possibility of "First Night Effect" – the situation, and the fact of being observed, is so out of the ordinary that the first night's results are atypical.

A picture of a woman wearing a face mask lying down

Jerram cited "first night effect" as a possible explanation for the mixed results intrepid reporter Rosie Clarke experienced

Over breakfast, participants relay their night-time experiences. A paranormal investigator claims to have seen a friendly spirit in the auditorium, watching us with curiosity.

Another sleeper remembers four separate narrative dreams, while an artist believes that the sounds of birdsong and rain had both been incorporated into her dream narrative: "First I dreamed of a pigeon flapping into my face," she muses. "Then my pod flooded."

A picture from the balcony of a seaside building overlooking boats and towers

A paranormal investigator claimed to have witnessed a friendly spirit

Dream Director is a strange, deeply personal yet communal experience – not quite art for me, but still thoroughly interesting and definitely something I'd try again in future. There are worse places to wake up on a Sunday morning than a sunny seaside town with mysterious memories drifting through your mind.

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