The Black Sleep (2010)

The Black Sleep

The Black Sleep by J. M. Bowers

The Black Sleep appears on a limited-edition cassette-only release curated by Luke Abbott. To keep with the spirit of the cassette as a medium, I searched out a recording I made in the last millennium, when cassettes were still awaiting obsolescence. The old track provided backing to performances by the legendary Scum Auxiliary and mashed up snippets which I had recorded from a TV showing of The Black Sleep, a 1956 all-star horror movie with music by Les Baxter. The old cassettes still sounded good so I thought I'd extend the theme of multiple crossings between the contemporary and the outmoded and record some electric guitar parts using a 1982 Walkman WM-D6 Pro with some unused TDK chrome cassette tapes. All this material was then digitised.


The Black Sleep is a mixture of these remediations which, coincidentally, seem to repeat themselves at three-decade intervals (1950s, 1980s, 2010s). In the movie, a surgeon played by Basil Rathbone experiments on the brains of living human subjects who have been involuntarily drugged with an Indian anaesthetic called 'The Black Sleep'. Survivors, monstrous, mutilated and insane, are imprisoned in a hidden cellar under an abandoned abbey. Perhaps this story is a psychoanalytic parable for the accumulation of neglected recordings, bygone technologies and misshapen memories that we cannot be rid of. If so, reworking our legacies may be a better outcome than accidentally letting the prisoners escape, as occurs in the movie when, of course, they get their ample revenge.