Poe – A Dream Within A Dream

Cover art by Paula Millet

“There’s some really beautiful music here. I highly recommend it. This music is so satisfying, You can listen to it on a deep level. The music is so filmic and cinematic that it creates pictures in my head. It is beautifully recorded.”

– Dereck Higgins

Cover art by Paula Millet

The music on this album was inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe. We were joined by some of the finest musicians in the world, who generously lent their talents to our creative vision. The album was completed in the age of the pandemic and the session musicians collaborated from the safety of their home recording studios.

The original inspiration for some of these pieces was a 2014 Washington, D.C. Capitol Fringe Festival show produced by Nasreen Alkhateeb, Jennifer Schwed and Doug Bradshaw. We thank them for inviting us to score their innovative stage production.

But that was just the beginning. In the years that followed, we took the initial seeds of ideas and expanded the melodies, harmonies, rhythms and orchestrations. We identified themes and motifs that would repeat throughout the album to create a broader compositional scope. We also added new musical pieces based on other works of Poe that were not part of the original stage production.

This album was produced by Silent Orchestra, mixed by Carlos Garza and mastered by Bobby Read, at Small World Music, Charlottesville, Virginia. Buy now on Bandcamp.

Silent Orchestra is:
Carlos Garza – keyboards, guitar, bass, mandolin, dulcimer, orchestration
Rich O’Meara – marimba, vibraphone, percussion, keyboards, ukulele (5), whispering

With our talented friends:
Sara Andon – flute, alto flute (5)
Perry Conticchio – clarinet (3)
Gabriel DiMarco – cello (5)
Joni Fuller – violin, viola (5)
Harriet Kaplan – cello (4)
Kevin O’Meara – ukulele (3), metal grinder (5)

1 Silence – A Fable
The album begins with a dream built on a rich tapestry of symbolism and imagery. Join us as we look upon “the dreary river Zaire, and upon the ghastly waters, and upon the pale legions of the water-lilies.” A place where there is “no quiet, nor silence.”
The track begins with one quick wind of the grandfather clock. Keyboards and percussion introduce the harmonic and rhythmic language for this album’s musical journey through the mind of Poe. The jaunty opening segment gives way to a darker feeling, which pulls us inevitably towards… the Tell-Tale Heart.
By the way, for the best experience, please listen to the complete album in track order.
2 The Tell-Tale Heart
You know what they say about the best-laid plans… The narrator of this story has a fatal plan with an unforeseen flaw. What is that sound? Is it a beating heart? Gradually the narrator’s sharpened senses overtake his fragile calm and his scheme is betrayed. As the narrator tries to convince us of his sanity, the reader follows the turbulence in his head.
The music and story dwell in the uneasy corners of the mind. A heartbeat rhythm on the piano and a harp ostinato are the motor. A melodic 4-note motif is introduced on piano and returns throughout the album on different instruments. Various sounds from inside the piano evoke the fear in the victim’s heart in that dark bedroom.
The recurring motif is created by bouncing a hard plastic mallet off the strings of an upright piano. By controlling the bounce, each tiny tremolo accelerates. It is a small representation of the main heartbeat rhythm, which also accelerates. Strings and woodwinds interject between the recurring motif and build towards the climax, providing a commentary on the narrator’s mental state.
3 A Dream Within a Dream
This 1850 poem ponders the matrix of reality. “All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”
The music moves ever forward, with each chord leading to the next, with resolution in sight but never reached. Rich’s marimba and Kevin O’Meara’s fluid ukulele strumming are the rhythmic and harmonic pulse. Perry Conticchio’s lonesome clarinet floats over the top, as if wondering which layer below is the dream, or the dream within.
4 The Oval Portrait
An artist is engrossed in his work, trying to capture the perfect vision of reality by painting his beautiful bride. When that vision is finally realized, she is no longer a part of that reality. The music follows the story as it questions the relationship between life and art.
At the start, the narrator sees a portrait of a young girl and learns that, “She was a maiden of rarest beauty, and not more lovely than full of glee. And evil was the hour when she saw, and loved, and wedded the painter.” Harriet Kaplan’s cello delicately illuminates the beauty and tragedy of this poignant love story.
As the story unfolds, we learn that the painter “had grown wild with the ardor of his work.” In the coda, the music reveals motifs and themes that are developed on other tracks on this album. The motifs are juxtaposed to reflect the painter’s madness.

5 The Fall of the House of Usher
The narrator, acting on invitation from a boyhood friend named Usher, discovers an old mansion by a swamp. The bleak dwelling holds the last of his line, Usher and his sister. As Usher tells his woeful tale to the narrator, we hear Gabe DiMarco’s emotional cello paired with Joni Fuller’s playful violin and viola. The string trio represents the three characters in the story.

Usher’s only solace is in playing guitar. Usher may have imagined a small ensemble of stringed instruments to share in his brief joy. The bouncy stringed instrument “jam” yields its brief respite to the impending doom. The despondent Usher returns to his earlier mood and soon his sister succumbs to her ill health, or so we think. We hear her ghostly knocks in the distance before it all comes crashing down.

A cantankerous choir of brass and woodwinds is joined by Rich on multiple overdubbed marimba tracks and Kevin O’Meara on metal grinder. Sara Andon’s sonorous alto flute introduces the somber mood in the beginning and returns after the string jam.

Later her sinuous piercing flute lifts us to the final shrill conclusion. The massive percussion hit reminds us that this is literally the fall of the House of Usher.

6 Mesmeric Revelation
This is a hypnotic rumination on the nature of the human soul and the universe of ideas we use to describe it. A doctor speaks with a hypnotized heart patient in grave health. By bits and pieces, the doctor gets a new perspective on life and the universe.
The percussive prepared piano, ambient echoes, and ever-searching harmonies are a type of “mesmeric phenomena.” In Poe’s world, “the matters of which man is cognizant escape the senses in gradation. We have, for example, a metal, a piece of wood, a drop of water, the atmosphere, a gas, caloric, electricity, the luminiferous ether.” The music explores these “interspaces.”
7 The Pit and the Pendulum
It is the suspense and build-up of living out one’s final moments in a torture chamber — drip by maddening drip. The narrator knows that no one is coming to rescue him. “The blackness of darkness supervened; all sensations appeared swallowed up in a mad rushing descent of the soul into Hades.”
The pounding drums propel the mounting dread while organ, bass and guitar provide the architectural overtones for this gothic tale. Suddenly the pit returns to a quiet, maddening drip.

8 The Raven

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door-
Only this, and nothing more.”

A raven caw sound was stretched to an extreme degree to set the tone for our “midnight dreary.” Since it’s unclear whether the narrator is awake or dreaming, this piece recalls the themes and harmonic structure of “A Dream Within a Dream.” This time, the music is more brooding and lamenting. The grandfather clock reminds us that we are not fixed in time even while our thoughts linger on each phase of the journey.

9 Annabel Lee

“It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of ANNABEL LEE”

The ever-present memory of lost love is the theme here. “For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams of the beautiful Annabel Lee.“ The music is full of intention and recollection but eventually leads to a loosening of reality as the pulse falls away and the jumbled harmonies drift from their grounding.
The style draws from several contemporary camps, including ambient film music and progressive rock. As with several other pieces on this album, the coda is our cue that we are drifting gently to another place. For one final time, the grandfather clock reminds us to move further into “Dream-Land”.
10 Dream-Land
The musical journey is almost complete but first the jaunty vibe returns with a jazz-inspired trading of solos between Carlos on piano and Rich on vibes. Rich drives the beat forward on various hand percussion instruments.
The improvisations are punctuated with a descending string line, which reminds us that nothing is permanent. Finally, the mood again turns somber and echoes a tone that haunts most of Poe’s stories. Harp and fretless bass provide the motor that propels the piece even as it is winding down. The music gently consoles the listener as the pull of sleep returns and we are slowly lifted back from one dream to another “Dream-Land.”
Was it all a Dream Within A Dream?

Photo credits

Poe photo (1885)

Painting by Rudolf von Alt (1881)

Poe/raven illustration (1875)

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