Go To Sleep

Professor Toshihito Matsui headed off on the ten hour drive to Kyoto as scheduled today. Although he left some measuring devices in action here, his blue van with the automatically shutting side door was even now packed with boxes and bags full of other equipment as it rolled down the drive.

Still in place around the farmstead are sound pressure level meters which monitor noise and two Sleepscan devices. These latter record physical attributes of a sleeping subject through a ridged sheet that is calibrated and placed under the mattress and on top of the tatami mat. You can see Rupert and Matsui’s Sleepscan devices in situ above. The raw information is then fed into dedicated software and the results become available for interpretation by an expert like Matsui. All three of us were dutifully activating the Sleepscan pads – holding the white blister button until you heard a beep before falling asleep and then pressing it once after waking to switch it off.

As the kettle came to boil on the stove and we gathered around the two low-slung tables for our breakfast, Matsui would feed the data into his laptop and someone would invariably ask: “How did I sleep?” Although I am waking in this unfamiliar environment very suddenly – startled by the pulses of vibrating molecules sent crashing down through the sky and past the roof and the ceiling and the air in the room above my head by the first over-flying jets – I have been feeling quite refreshed. The data, however, tells a different story. The graphs indicate that I am just not managing to fall into the depths of sleep that are associated with a healthy body and mind. With a score of 50 being on the way to a healthy indicator, on the first night I managed 27 and on the second 42.

Yesterday afternoon, we were talking about how best to integrate the findings of the different disciplines that together contribute to this Wellcome Trust sponsored project: anthropology, art and science. Sonification – turning numerical data into sound or using data to modulate our recorded sound – might be one profitable approach; providing accessible graphic or textual interpretations of the health research might well be another; but there may also be ways of bringing the data directly into the frame, through superimposition or through some rhetorical or illustrative devices.

Matsui told us about the research work that has been undertaking for many years that focuses on untangling the complex knots of relationships between sleep and sound. We talked about recent developments in sleep science; about what is beginning to be understood about the significance of the first stage of sleep; about the consequences of sleep deprivation and sleep disruption and about the different methodologies that can be devised to account for the impact of environmental circumstances on sleep, particularly as those circumstances relate to noise. These issues are not matters of abstract academic formality. How these bio-medical matters are articulated and appreciated have the potential to influence regulatory frameworks and, in turn, the lived experience of individuals’ and families’ lives. At the farm, with the violently agitated air molecules bearing down on us from above and from the sides all day long, it is becoming harder and harder not to look across to the airport with increasing resentment. Popping into the terminal building for some more powerful cream to soothe the variety of insect bites that have now marked my skin felt like something of a betrayal. A precious sentiment, of course, given that I will be climbing aboard one of these very planes in a matter of a week. A precious sentiment, too, in that for me this is an experience from which I can walk away.

I guess, for me, the primary way to collaborate across and between disciplines is to build and then inhabit a shared ‘concept space’. You can furnish your rooms in the way you want to. Yet the individual rooms depend for their value on their initial construction as part of a communal endeavour and, even if independently decorated, each forms part of the same house – indeed without each and every room there would be no house. Perhaps it is the experience of ‘shudanseikatsu’ (= group living) that we have been involved with that is nudging me towards this metaphor but I think that there is more than to it than the convenience of association.

The other image above is an output from the Sleepscan device which I will be using over the next few weeks, sending the data to Professor Matsui. I have also included a short recording made on a low-res recorder that I placed on the table above my bedding. I have normalised the recording a little (bringing up the perceived amplitude) and applied a little EQ (filtering it so that some of the hiss added to the sound by the recorder’s circuitry is diminished). Getting up in the middle of the night, Rupert heard an owl sounding from the trees to the east of the farm buildings but, unfortunately, the bird didn’t reveal itself to this inert microphone.

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