Hypnotica: A Short Story Discography

“The Yoshira is a dream city, and there are breeds of magicians here that only exist between sunset and sunrise. The most famous ones, the ones only the Yoshira can make, are the dreamwrights, who play their music for the ghosts and the dreamers, carrying their tools in their bones…”

Almost a year since the first draft was completed, my short story “Hypnotica” is going to be serialized on The Fantasy Hive! It’s one of my crazier, fantastic story, and I’m glad I finally get to share it. Here’s the description:

“Hypnotica” revolves around dreamwrights, mages who use music to shape dreams into surreal raves, and the Yoshira, a ghost-city that exists at the boundaries of waking and sleeping. In “Hypnotica,” two dreamwrights are left picking up the pieces of their lives after one of their shows in the Yoshira turns into a nightmare.

The two main characters, GRIN and NO-FOOT, were based off of different electronic artists, while the Yoshira was based on the Yoshiwara, the famous pleasure district in Japan. I wanted an image that conveyed the wonder, mystery, and danger of the story (as well as incorporate triangles), so one of the editors at the Hive, A.Z. Anthony, created this:

hypnotica chris mahon fantasy hive

Since the story is so heavily rooted in music, I’ve made a list of the songs that inspired it to celebrate!

1. Daft Punk, “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”

As I said in my previous post, the idea of the story originally came from the Alive 2007 concert and the 2014 Rolling Stone interview with Daft Punk, the masked electronica artists whose crazy, elaborate light shows turned concerts into dream-like, surround-sound experiences. This was one of my favorite songs in the Alive 2007 set, showing the two of them rocking out atop their pyramid.

2. Aphex Twin, “Come to Daddy”

Aphex Twin was the inspiration for GRIN, the virtuoso composer partner to NO-FOOT. In the story, GRIN wears something akin to a hannya mask, which mimics Aphex’s famously creepy grin. “Come to Daddy” is one of the songs I have on constant repeat, and the signature scream at 2:36 became the inspiration for a key moment in the story.

3. Deadmau5, “I Remember”

When I needed calming, lullaby-like songs while writing, “I Remember” kept coming up. It lulls me into a trance, and its echoes and synthesizers brought to mind pictures of the dreamscapes and slow-motion dances in the Yoshira.

4. Black Midi, “Pi”

At one point in the story, GRIN composes something called a “death waltz,” a piece of music that’s so complicated it’s considered physically impossible to actually play. The original inspiration was a piece of music called “Fairie’s Aire and Death Waltz,” but the Black Midi series helped me visualize what it would sound like.

5. Me!Me!Me!

Besides being one of the most disturbing, sexually charged videos I’ve ever seen, the song is an ultra-catchy mix of something like Vocaloid singing, J-Pop, hardcore EDM, and glitch music. I wanted to capture the energy, vividness, and pure insanity of it all in the dream sequences of the story, especially the final one.

6. Knife Party, “UKF Birthday Set”

Besides Daft Punk’s Alive 2007 show, the  UKF set Knife Party played a few years ago became one of the main soundtracks I listened to while I was sketching out the mechanics of narcomancy and trying to visualize what NO-FOOT and GRIN’s shows would look and sound like.

7. Cowboy Bebop, “Blue”

I wanted the story to be a bit melancholy, something that touched on both the freedom of dreams and the knowledge that you have to wake up and leave it all behind. At heart, though, this song is about transcendence, and as I went through seven drafts, I found that transcendence was at the heart of the story, too.

8. Paprika Soundtrack, “Parade”

Anyone who’s seen Paprika remembers the insane parade scene. This song seemed to sum up the chaos, madness and bursting imagination of the Yoshiwara.

Hypnotica: A Short Story Discography

Dreamwave: Fantasy Writing, Quantum Theory, and Daft Punk

Almost two years ago, Rolling Stone ran an interview with Daft Punk, who I’ve had an ongoing obsession with for the past five years. Before I started college, I had already built my own prototype of Guy-Manuel’s gold helmet. They’re triangulists after my own heart.

daft punk conspiracy illuminati

Besides sweeping the 2014 Grammy awards with Random Access Memories, the two are famous for the visuals of their ALIVE 2007 concert tour, playing live remixes from a 24-foot-tall aluminum pyramid covered in screens, flanked by giant honeycombed triangular panels that synched images with the music. ALIVE 2007 elevated kaleidoscopic sensory overload to an art form, and to be in the crowd, looking up at glinting figures enshrined in a monolithic pyramid of sight and sound, it must have been surreal.

At home in their Paris studio, though, Daft Punk showed the Rolling Stone interviewer another side of their work:

“He moves toward the room’s centerpiece: a massive modular synthesizer roughly four feet tall and six feet wide. “This is a custom system, new and handmade for us by a guy in Canada,” he says. Bolted into four dishwasher-size wooden cases are dozens of oscillators, noise generators and envelope followers; above these are Borg filters, Boogie filters, step sequencers and a vintage oscilloscope. Blinking lights, silver switches and 933 different knobs sprout from the facade within an overgrowth of red, gray and yellow cables…

Bang­alter shows me a little magic on the fly. He tweaks an oscillator on the massive synthesizer, and a piercing drone rings out. He drops to a knee, runs a cable from an output into an input, turns a knob a millimeter. Scratchy distortion musses the edges of the signal. He fiddles some more, and the drone flips into a hypnotic hiccup, then down into a mighty house-music thud. Bang­alter beams like a kid with a chemistry set.”

To me, there’s something magical about this moment in the article. To anyone who’s seen a studio mixing board, an old-school modular synthesizer, or even the exposed circuits of a motherboard, there’s something mystical about the person who has the knowledge to create wonders out of those hidden patterns.

And there’s something fascinating to me about the connections between music, mathematics, and reality. A couple months ago, I decided to write a story that would involve all three. It started, as most of my story ideas do, with psychotropic drugs: if listening to music on substances like LSD and MDMA transported your mind to a higher level of consciousness (as claimed in the 70s), what happens when your body gets used to that high? What happens to the people who are looking for an even higher level of mental ecstasy? Is there a way to get to an ever higher level than Timothy Leary’s Eight-Circuit Model of Consciousness? We’ve already gotten to a point that concerts like Tomorrowland and ALIVE 2007 have become surreal bacchanals, but there’s one step farther, one that takes you outside of reality altogether: dreams.

DREAMS AND BRAINWAVES

I wanted to write a story about two musicians who would play their music in a dream-city, sort of like the bathhouse from Spirited Away. Instead of spirits, through, the city would be filled with dreamers and ghosts. The two musicians would bend dreams into intense, nightmarish raves and push the limits until they finally came to ultimate transcendental state: breaking the barrier between reality and dreaming. But to build the framework of a story around these ideas, I had to figure out the mechanics. Here’s how my thoughts began.
There are patterns called “sinusoidal waves,” which you’re probably familiar with as regular sine waves, the rolling hills of an oscilloscope. There are also non-sinusoidal waves, which are more jagged or irregular, like a sawtooth wave or a square wave, or not smoothly repeating. But all kinds of waves can be expressed as graphs of points over time, and summed up by their amplitude, frequency, period, etc. All of these characteristics, then, can be compressed into simple patterns, like the equation F(t) = Asin(Bt – C) + D.

Human thoughts and emotions can be expressed as brain waves, which fall into several different categories based on their characteristics: these include alpha, beta, gamma, theta, and delta waves. Neural oscillations can indicate someone’s mood, their conscious and unconscious thoughts. Theta waves are of particular interest because they’re the brainwaves associated with dreaming. There are even patterns called “K-complexes” and “sleep spindles” that can reveal what kind of thoughts or stimuli the dreamer is experiencing during a dream. What’s really interesting is that theta waves have a specific rhythm, between 4 and 7 hz, or 60-106 beats per minute (techno or drum and bass music, on the other hand, has a bpm of around 120-160). Depending on who you talk to, listening to another kind of rhythm, binaural beats, allows sleepers to attain lucid dreaming, in which they’re able to consciously control aspects of their dreams.

Both binaural beats and theta waves, however, are just that: rhythms, waves. The same as sound. Synthesizers, which have a lot of similarities to medieval church pipe organs, can stretch sound waves, or oscillations, and change them into any pitch desired. Along with changing the ADSR envelope of a sound (the short attack and release of a piccolo, or the decay and sustain of a piano), a synthesizer can simulate almost any instrument. With the right kind of techniques, maybe theta waves (and by extension, dreams) could be warped and altered like the oscillations of a synthesizer. Music and dreaming, then, would have no real distinction: all of the experiences of dreams, whether that be strange mish-mashes of memories, the sexual excitement of a wet dream, or the anxiety and dread of a nightmare, could be played like a giant synthesizer, or some kind of mood organ (thanks, Phillip K. Dick).

QUANTUM WAVES AND THE ULTIMATE HIGH

So, anyway, the sensory, emotional, and auditory experiences of an ecstatic dream-rave can be controlled and manipulated via the same medium: waves. It all comes down to how you want to manipulate them. I like the idea of a theremin.

Now, here’s where we take a step onto a higher level, where we start to hit the Timothy Leary-type stuff. If (and this is a big “if”) all of the information present in our brain activity is the basis of what it means to be human, and that activity can be expressed as the non sinusoidal waves of brain waves, and someone had the ability to control the shape and patterns of those waves, you might have the ability to tune your brain waves to the de Broglie wavelength.

Back in the early 20th century, a physicist named de Broglie hypothesized that particles, like electrons, could behave like waves instead of solid matter. In fact, after some experiments with double-slits and electrons, all “solid” matter was proven to have a wavelength associated it, as predicted by quantum theory. Going a step further, it was proven that matter and energy are manifestations of the same thing. So the question becomes: can you take human consciousness, which behaves like a wave, and free it from the matter of the brain? Maybe, if you could take lucid control of your brainwaves, you could escape the flesh of your body using de Broglie wavelength as bridge to make the leap from matter to pure energy, then back to a wave. And that’s about as transcendental as you can get: becoming music itself, escaping your body to explore a world of infinite waves, transcending human thought to see the underlying patterns of the universe, partying with the fucking rhythm of the four seasons as your four-on-the-floor beats.

What party could beat that?

Some people party to feel alive. Some people are eternally searching for that higher level. Maybe, one night, on some dancefloor, they’ll find it. Me, I just want to make it last forever.

READ PART 2 HERE

Dreamwave: Fantasy Writing, Quantum Theory, and Daft Punk