Tag: dreams

The Animal Cracker Plot

We asked our contributor Yara Zgheib to write about kids, and she sent us a children’s story. At least on first glance.

“Someone told me it’s all happening at the zoo.” The little boy smiled. He hummed the familiar tune as he made the light and tumble journey from the East side to the park. It was not raining or cold, “just a fine and fancy ramble to the zoo.” Not that he knew what a fine and fancy ramble was. Or a cross-town bus. He did not understand most of the words in the song, though perhaps, if he concentrated, he could spell them. But of all the songs on the radio, he liked this one best. Because it had animals in it, not many grown-up songs did. Today, it was also the most appropriate; he was off to see his animal friends at the zoo.

The little boy always smiled.

Tigers, giraffes, kangaroos and sheep… All of them loved it when the little boy came to the zoo. They had much to tell him, and tried to listen too. He told them about school. Counting was difficult; he needed more fingers. The elephants sympathized, the monkeys offered toes. The zebras helped him practice, while the hamsters cheered him on. The little boy smiled, he always smiled.
He told them about the playground. The slides were painted yellow, the swings were red and green, but the seesaw was his favorite: blue. He did not ride the seesaw though, for that you needed two people. He put up his two pinkies to emphasize his point. The lion nodded gravely, the other animals understood. And the little boy who always smiled, even in his sleep, forgot to for a while.
Just a short while, for just then the bear’s stomach grumbled. The antelopes scoffed, the cubs giggled. The little boy’s smile returned, cheeky this time. He looked right and left; no zoo keeper in sight. He pulled out some crackers from the pocket of his favorite navy blue coat. Big square crackers that he had snuck from tea. He gave his hungry friend the largest piece. He had enough for all of course; even the plotting pigeons got crumbs. His animal friends loved it when the little boy came to the zoo.
But it was already twilight. His toes and nose were cold. It would soon be time for supper, and he should not be late. There might be waffles and syrup, or cinnamon toast, but he hoped there would be cocoa and crackers; those he loved most. He wished his animal friends would visit. If they did, he would certainly share. The grown ups, he thought, would surely not mind; they never had cocoa anyway, or time to talk to bears.
The boy waved his animal friends goodbye. The zoo, and the city, had gotten dark. Brave as he was, the little boy who always smiled, he was relieved to see the warm light through the kitchen window. He could even hear the kettle whistle.
He had had a nice day, he reminded himself, with all his many friends. And if there were crackers and cocoa for supper, it would be a grand day. He would save some for the animals of course, and tomorrow, again, make the light and tumble journey to the zoo.
But supper was even better than that, the day even grander! The cocoa, as usual, was on the kitchen table, all cream and froth in the boy’s favorite blue cup. But beside it, the crackers! He could not believe his eyes!

Chatting, till sleep caught him off guard.

Instead of the big square crackers, there on the porcelain plate were his animal friends from the zoo! The tigers, giraffes, kangaroos and sheep. The elephants and monkeys, zebras and hamsters. The lion and antelopes, even his friend the bear! They had all come to visit, just as he had wished. What a cunning disguise! An animal cracker plot! So that was what the pigeons had been whispering about.
The little boy gasped and clapped, and though there were grown-ups around, thanked his animal friends anyway. Disguised as they were, the animal crackers could not reply, but they too were all quite pleased.
The little boy had the most marvelous supper, spilling cocoa down his chin for he was smiling ear to ear. Then when the grown-ups were not looking, he slipped the animals in his pocket and took them off to bed. There he chattered away to them till sleep caught them all off guard.
The old man was still smiling when they found him the following day. He looked like he had been dreaming, in his favorite blue pajamas. They would bury him that same bright and sunny day, in the park by the zoo. And everyone would sorely miss him, the smiling old man.
One mystery remained, that the grown-ups would never solve. In the pocket of the old man’s pajamas they found animal shaped crackers. Surprisingly uncrushed, not even stale. Yet they looked sad somewhat. The bear’s head was turned away.

"Kids don’t suffer from the limitations we do"

A few years ago, Anne Kjær Riechert began asking children to draw their dreams. It has turned into a surprisingly insightful way to visualize kids’ minds and psyche.

Tell us how you came up with asking kids to draw their dreams.
In 2006, I was working in Johannesburg, South Africa, for an organization called Nkosi’s Haven. It takes care of HIV-positive mothers, their children, and orphans.
The shelter was named after a Nkosi Johnson, a child born HIV-positive who died at a young age. His dream had always been to help children with the same fate as his, which is exactly what the organization ended up doing. When I was there, it was in the process of expanding to take in more people. Of course they needed money for that, and as my final university project, I helped them come up with different strategies for fundraising.
Inspired by Nkosi’s dream, I had started to wonder how we could help the kids to express their wishes, aspirations and dreams. I eventually figured that we could just ask them. And since we were fundraising, we decided it would make sense to have them put their response into a drawing, since that would be more visual and colorful.
And the results inspired you to turn it into an even bigger project?
Looking at the dreams of these kids from South Africa, I wondered what kids in Norway – where I was raised – were dreaming of. Would they draw the same thing? Would it be different? Maybe it would be the same thing, but they would express it very differently.
The impact of two very different childhoods on their thinking and drawing?
Exactly. What difference does it make if you’re an orphan in South Africa in comparison to a wealthy Norwegian child? So I organized a workshop with about 70 kids at a Norwegian school. Then I had about hundreds of drawings and wondered what to do with them. Conveniently my mother works at a museum, so I called her up and asked whether we could do an exhibition…

Puente Piedra, Peru Girls, 10 years old I have a dream to plant trees

How can we picture the exhibition?
We wanted to give people space to make their own interpretations. At the back of every drawing we always ask the kids for their name, date of the drawing, age and location – and what the drawing shows. We put that on the front for visitors to see but it is still unlimited amount of information for a viewer to work with.
How did the kids react to seeing these images?
Before showing the images to children, we usually tell them where the pictures are from. “Do you know where Mumbai is?” And they say “Yes, India” and say whatever their parents or teachers have taught them about the country: That it is really poor and that people have nothing to eat. And then we show them the pictures, which – in the case of India – often feature dreams about a clean environment. “So you thought they would dream about food, but what they really dream about is conserving the environment. What can we learn from that?” The kids then figure that is wrong to make assumptions. These guided tours are very interesting, because it allows us to interact with he children. Kids often see the wildest things in the images, things we would not pick out as an adult. Small things, tiny details.
Kids draw some things we don’t understand and other kids see things that we overlook. Maybe it is a project not meant for adults?
I think it is suitable for adults as well. But kids just see things so differently. It makes an even bigger difference where we show it: In Japan, they will look at it differently than in Denmark. It really depends on the cultural and socioeconomic background.
Denmark, Aarhus Female - 11 years I have a dream that nobody will leave somebody out. Don't bully!

Denmark, Aarhus
Girl – 11 years
I have a dream that nobody will leave somebody out. Don’t bully!

You have shown us some pictures in which African kids have drawn themselves with white skin…
It is common to just draw outlines and to not fill in faces. So even if it is a black kid that uses a brown outline, the inside will always be the paper color. Since that is usually white, it appears to us as white. But in their minds, it might be a very black person. And keep in mind that many kids don’t like to draw themselves into the picture.
Why do you think that is?
I am not entirely sure. It is harder to do.
Does it have to do something with age? Younger kids have more trouble relating to themselves?
That is true for very young ones. But the older ones will be way more self-conscious and say that they can’t make a portrait of themselves. They feel insecure about seeing themselves on a piece of paper.
What is the scale of your project today, almost ten years later?
We have done workshops in 33 countries and with about 4000 kids in total. The actual number of workshops I don’t have, but we have about 4000 drawings.
What are you planning on doing with them?
When I started the project, I didn’t know much about databases or big data, so after a few years, when my parents started getting a bit upset about having to store so many pictures, I made a selection of the ones with the best stories and threw the others away. In retrospect, I can’t believe I did that… not just because so much work went into the drawings but also because I threw away all the data they contained. Now, I am keeping images and I am hoping to some day build a database – a database of dreams – to index them, see which ones are the most popular and to see how they change over time.
Turkey - Ankara Boy - 11 years I dream of Peace in Space

Turkey – Ankara
Boy – 11 years
I dream of Peace in Space

This has long stopped being a fundraising project and has become an exploration of what kids aspire in different contexts…
…and how that is changing over time. We can see that kids in the West – including Russia – now dream about becoming a YouTube star. That platform was still in its infancy when we started. But over the years, it has become very popular among kids. And the great thing about that is that we can tell this to kids to show them that the future is way beyond what they can imagine: There will be jobs that don’t exist yet.
You mentioned that you also want kids to see these dreams and think about their own role in the world.
I want them to be inspired by each other. During a workshop we had the other day, a kid from Palestine drew a very colorful airplane. It was remarkably similar to one from Japan that he had seen beforehand. It is symbolically nice that a kid from Palestine is inspired by something drawn two or three years ago on the other side of the world. Whether that is an accurate reflection of his dream is a bit hard to tell, but at least there is a symbolic value in that inspiration.
That inspiration also manifests itself in the composition of the images.
Kids put drawings together in another way than we would. There usually has to be something on the top or the bottom of the image, grass or water.
Everything has to stand on something…
It shows you that they think in a very modular way and stack elements together.
Funnily enough, that way of thinking doesn’t have to be logical. On one of the drawings, a soccer field is being shown from above – but the players from the side. It looks as though the players are laying on the pitch.
Perspective is one of these things that each kid has their own take on. We recently worked with a child that wants to become an architect – and she drew using two perspectives at the same time: Her images show a view from the top and from the side.
A kid who draws like this now probably won’t do it five years down the road. Which is a shame, because in a sense it means that certain elements of creativity are being killed off during the aging process. Why not show two perspectives at the same time? After all, drawing has the ability to do what a human eye can’t.
She intrigues me because I thought she was younger. The way she draws is more like that of a younger child that I have seen in other workshops. I thought she was 8. But when I realized she was 12, I was surprised, because 12 year olds usually draw much more realistic. These are two girls in the same workshops, drawing very differently. Is it based on education? Experience? Will this girl start drawing like the other?
She probably will.
But that means she will stop using this style we now find more artistic, exciting and intriguing. Something happens in their development and in how we teach kids in school or how they teach each other.
Berlin, Germany I dream of being an architect.

Berlin, Germany
Girl, 12 years old, from Albania.
I dream of being an architect.

One of the skills we are trying to teach children is to think outside of the box. In that sense, drawing a picture like this is an ability we lose as adults, since we try to make it as lifelike as possible.
When we put down the paper on the kids’ tables, it is in landscape format. This girl was the only one of the group who decided to turn it into portrait format – she was already and outlier doing just that. Her ability to think differently than other children is possibly something she should try to hold on to if she wanted to become an architect.
Isn’t it ironic that adults will try anything, from meditation to drug use, to return to this child-like state of creativity after having shed all through a combination of nurture, education and conformity.
It is – especially because it is a useful skill. For instance, companies often need a certain creativity for their brain-storming sessions. And yet so many people struggle to express themselves visually. They have lost their ability to draw. Many companies feel like as long as they have post-it notes, they are a creative company. But there is a whole methodology on to how to use them properly and in a way that people understand them. Don’t use too many words. Try using drawings and people will remember it – even a bad drawing contains so much embedded information.

Japan, Tokyo Boy I dream of being a dog-trimmer and having a Formula One racetrack around my business.

Can companies tap into children’s creativity somehow?
IXDS, an interface innovation company from Berlin has created hackathons for under 10-year olds, where they get their employees to spend their Saturdays working with kids. By bringing adults and kids together, you can tap in to that resource in order to inspire the employees. And when I was in Brazil, I spent three days with a lady that has started Moleque de Idéias, a tech start-up where the employees spend 50% of their time working with kids. They are saying: Its not just us who teach the kids. They teach us just as much as we teach them.
Kids don’t suffer from many of the limitations we do – they don’t take the impossible for granted.
That is useful, but also a fine line to walk. Younger kids are more likely to use fantasy. But the older they get, the more they try to copy society in order to do what is expected of them. Just as adults, they are influenced or maybe limited by what they have experienced. Younger ones are more likely to make these leaps, to put two cool things together – like being a pilot and having a car.
They combine them in the image?
One time, a Japanese kid drew a dog-trimming business he wanted to run – in the middle of a Formula One racetrack. It might not exactly be possible to combine a race track with a dog trimming business, but there is something to be said about combining two exciting things.
Trondheim, Norway I want to be a turtle.

Trondheim, Norway
I dream of being a turtle.

Of the many drawings we have seen, one of the most interesting ones was from a boy who wants to be a turtle – because “turtles are slow”. That is the most badass answer, because it is so nonconformist.
That one is interesting on so many levels. Because he does something very different from what we want him to do. He still feels like he should be there and draw, which he doesn’t necessarily have to. And his turtle was perfect. If he was so nonconformist, he could have drawn it in a million different ways, could have drawn a cross and claimed it was a turtle – but he didn’t. There is some conformity in the nonconformity. And he was really slow. One of these soccer players, who just wasn’t into drawing. But he didn’t dream about being a soccer player – but about being a turtle.
What happens to all this creativity children can express so vividly?
It’s not just creativity but also the willingness to do something new. Ask kids to draw their dreams and they don’t blink. Try doing the same with adults, and they would be reluctant to – not because we have run out of dreams but because it seems irrational to put them in a drawing. When we grow up, drawing becomes a skill and is no longer seen purely as an expression of creativity. It would be interesting to talk to teachers and ask them what they actively nurture: A way of drawing or a way of thinking.

"Sleep is a problem-solver"

Max Richter has composed an eight-hour long lullaby to help listeners fall asleep and to pay tribute to the most enigmatic of human activities. On an album that is not intended to be heard.

You have just released an album called Sleep. What fascinates you about this topic?
It may sound strange, but it’s actually one of the things I’m best at (laughs). I think of it as a very valuable human activity in the sense that it is a break from our daily life. In a way, it’s a moment of non-being. Your lucid mind is on a break and something else takes over. It’s a mystery because you never know what will happen.
When you say that you’re “good at it”, what exactly do you mean?
I mean it in the sense that I sleep very well – always have, actually. It’s a very important privilege because many people don’t sleep well nowadays. And yet it’s so important for your creativity and productiveness.
Are you referring to the idea of productive sleep? That it is the gateway to one’s sub-consciousness and creativity that can be tapped into?
There is a part of our mind that is arguably more substantial and richer than our conscious mind and sleep establishes a connection to this part. We’ve all had this experience of working on a problem, going to sleep, and then somehow obtaining more insight into the problem. That’s why we have the phrase “I’m going to sleep on it”. Sleep is a problem-solver. Neuroscience teaches us that sleep can consolidate learning, memory and all other cognitive processes.
You once said, that you started composing before you even knew what composing was and that as a little 5-year-old, you already had all these melodies in your head. Do you think that your subconscious is at the source of your compositions?
Music is interesting in the sense that it involves a lot of technical and hence conscious cognition such as conceptualizing, planning, arranging. It’s a lot of computational thinking. But it’s also about emotions and inner thoughts and, by extension, the subconscious. Composing is really a high-wire act between the conscious and the subconscious mind. I usually just follow the ideas that are created in my mind and see where they take me. If you do that, the idea receives its own identity and intentions. I know that many other composers such as Philip Glass work in the same way. Composing in that sense is pri-marily listening to what the music wants to do.
Do you think that there is a difference between composing and making music when it comes to this?
Composing is a little bit odd because it is imagined. Most of it happens in your head and it’s therefore a largely theoretical activity. Then there’s the actual process of making music, which is a very external and practical activity. I think that composing and making music are two different cognitive processes, yes.

“Passenger on a bigger cognitive structure”

You collaborated with the renowned neuroscientist David Eagleman on your lat-est album Sleep – an eight-hour long musical sleeping aid that is intended to accompany the listener during his sleep. What was the most significant insight you gained during the recording?
Working with David on this album, I wasn’t really looking for hard data or evidence but more for general ideas and concepts. I think neuroscience really confirms our instincts when it comes to sleep. One of the questions I wanted to try and look at with this piece was how our listening experience is influenced by certain factors. The whole album is eight hours long to represent a normal sleep cycle, but then there is also a shorter one-hour version of the album that represents a daydream or just a quick nap. I was inter-ested to see whether people would listen differently to the two versions. If somebody had listened to the whole thing and would then listen to the short version, would he or she recognize it? Would the general experience be any different? These were some of the questions I wanted to find out more about with this album. But I also gained more in-sights into the science of sleep…
For example?
One of the things I’m most interested in, is the function of slow-wave sleep which is one of these irregular phases of sleep where all the neuronal activity in the brain is synchronized rather than just being random noise. There is a point in sleep where your learning and pattern recognition and everything that is linked to your memory works at full speed and scientists are still trying to find out more about that and how it can be trained and triggered. Music has been proven to be a very good trigger to reach this state of consciousness. To me, that’s interesting because you get like a feedback-loop where music helps you create new music. It’s like a compost heap out of which sounds grow organically. One of David’s books is called Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, and I quite like this idea of being a mere passenger on a much bigger cognitive structure that we can’t really grasp. Sleep is your boarding ticket to this.
You called Sleep an “eight-hour long lullaby” which reminded me of what John Cage once said: “it’s useless to play lullabies for those who cannot sleep”. Is Sleep intended to be a sleeping-aid or a sleeping-companion?
It’s both, really. It is supposed to help people fall asleep as well as accompany them through their sleep. What I find very interesting is that the concept of the lullaby is so widespread in human culture. It is one of the archetypes of musical forms. So why do we do it? There must be a human reason why we create songs to help us fall asleep. What I set out to do with Sleep was to create a landscape that can be experienced. Both sleeping and wakefulness are part of that landscape. It’s about variations. You could fall asleep during the piece and wake up and you would recognize where you are because it’s a variation. So it hardly matters if you sleep through the whole thing or if you are awake sometimes.

Photo by Mike Terry

Photo by Mike Terry

You have performed the long version of the album to an audience that was not sitting but lying in beds in the concert hall.
Yes, I really wanted to perform the long version live and see what would happen in the audience. The idea of all-night concerts isn’t new, it goes back to people like John Cage or the Black Mountain College. I was hoping to see people sleeping to the music and luckily, many did.
What’s interesting about that is that music is usually composed in order to be heard consciously. This album, however, is intended to be heard subconsciously.
One of the main things with this album is really the difference between hearing and listening. Listening is a conscious and intentional act. So the one-hour version of Sleep is really a listening piece. With the longer version, it is more about experiencing the music. Usually, music has a specific overarching theme that it follows, something like a love experience or a specific event. With this piece, I wanted the experience of listening to it to be the overall theme. That puts the listener in the focus, rather than the composer.

Sleep is an anti-rave”

For most people, sleep is associated with nighttime. How do you feel about this time of day?
I’ve always been fascinated and inspired by the night. Many of my compositions were done at night. I think all my compositions are inspired by the quietness and the reclusion or solitude of that time. As a composer, these aspects are very appealing. At night, almost everything is on hold, night is like a huge pause button that gives you the time and the setting to concentrate on things that you did not manage to do during the day. It is a refuge from the stress of our everyday life and in that sense, it almost has a ritual quality to itself.
Sleep is very much a nocturnal album. What I always found very interesting is how certain types of music are composed for a specific time of the day. Techno for example works best in a club at night.
Absolutely. The idea of music being composed for specific times of the day goes back to the Middle-Ages if not before. With some compositions like Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik or Edvard Grieg’s Morning Mood, it’s very clear that they are linked to a specific time of the day. The same goes for many Indian Raags. As you say, Techno is mainly made to be played in a club, at a specific time and a specific volume. The other day, somebody told me that the long version of Sleep is sort of an anti-rave; you listen to it over eight hours at night but it’s not exactly appropriate for dancing (laughs).
But it’s also very much anti-classical in the way that it doesn’t fit the classical, seated concert hall.
I’ve always had a problem with the rituals of the classical concert hall. There are valid reasons for these rituals and I admit that they enable a concentrated listening of what’s happening. But these rituals also alienate a lot of people who are not used to it. It has a specific vibe and also a political dimension that feels very oppressive. It sometimes feels like the music is smarter than you and you are being handed this great thing that you have trouble understanding. I think we are somewhat stuck in classical music. The American Minimalists cracked it open back in the day and I think it’s time that something like that happens again.
A lot of people are discovering classical or neo-classical music through film scores. Do you think that the cinema could be an alternative setting for classical music?
What’s hilarious is that very often in movies, the music feels somewhat dissonant, the orchestra is just screeching away for an hour and a half, and the people sit there with their popcorn and don’t mind this dissonance at all. But if you would put these people in a concert hall, they might just get up and leave. It’s almost as if they only tolerate classical music as background noise in the cinema.
Why do you think that is?
In the cinema, nobody tells them that they are too ignorant or stupid to really grasp the genius of this music, which was very much the vibe of the modernist era. So we have ourselves to blame that concert halls are becoming less popular. But coming back to your question: I think the movies have been wonderful for classical music. You can experiment a lot and there are no rules or limits. The concert halls can learn a lot from that.
You have yourself composed a lot of film scores. How difficult is it to establish a connection to the audience with these compositions?
It is very hard, because the piece is only part of a movie and the people don’t come to the cinema to hear the music of the films but to watch the films. It’s very different from a composition like Sleep that is not part of a larger project and that you play to a live audience. But the popularity of classical scores in recent years shows that the audience appreciates it and that there is a demand for it. That’s certainly something to be optimistic about.
Sleep - album cover
You can listen to the full eight-hour version of “Sleep” here. Sweet dreams.