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Malachi Del Rosario’s Insomnia Invokes the Metaphysicality of Nightmares and Dreams

Written by Joanna Malvas

September 29, 2023

Students packed into the first and second floors of Berklee College of Music’s cafeteria, forming a line that trailed from the entrance to the stairs for Malachi Del Rosario’s show, Insomnia. Despite the show’s late night start at 10 p.m. Wednesday, September 27, the crowd waiting bubbled in excited anticipation.

According to Del Rosario, Insomnia was an ensemble performance composed and directed by him that promised an hour of introspection and exploration of the deepest emotions, conveyed through the theme of sleep.

“In the beginning, you’ll feel some sort of melancholy, maybe a bit of sadness, but within the first 10 minutes, you'll be hit with an experience of wonder and inspiration, filled with creativity,” Del Rosario said. Del Rosario explained in an interview before the show that Insomnia invokes a whirlwind of emotions, tapping into the listener’s anxieties and fears, as well as ambitions and dreams.

Admittedly, I questioned the feasibility of creating a shared experience for the audience at such depth, as Del Rosario and I discussed how mainstream, commercialized music can often glaze over complexity in favor of relatability with the listener.

Of course, my doubts about the show were completely blown out of the water as I found myself grasping onto every message and word of spoken poetry assigned to each song. When the lights dimmed and the strings subtly emerged at the start of the show, the audience (including myself) was entranced. Turning to observe those sitting next to me, I saw a collective sense of captivation, with one girl gaping in surprise completely, while the other sitting next to her intensely stared at Del Rosario conducting. Truly, Insomnia reframed my previous mentality—the idea that to make something universal, one must forgo complexity—to the understanding that the shared human experience is intrinsically knotty and complex. More importantly, I believe the show’s resonance with the audience was born out of its intimacy — each composition holds a piece of Del Rosario and his own coming-of-age narrative.

“I think the reason why I have created such elaborate pieces of music is because my whole life I’ve been trying to search for those pieces of music that can encapsulate how I feel,” Del Rosario said. “And, in a way, with that ambition to try and create something so uniquely me, I eventually did — which is the entirety of Insomnia. It’s something you can’t find anywhere else.”

Del Rosario describes his music as experimental, being inspired by artists like Claude Monet and Maurice Ravel. The production included strings, brass, harp, drums, piano, bass and a vocalist and a poet coming together to create an ambient, monumental sound. On stage, Del Rosario pivoted between conducting and soloing on the guitar. Despite being on a time crunch due to complications with booking and holding only two five-hour long rehearsals, the ensemble still managed to deliver an elaborate set of 11 songs. Some of the instrumentalists had previously performed in the first Insomnia showcase in front of a smaller audience of about 30 people on July 13. This time, the audience filled over 160 seats.

An earmark of Insomnia’s program was the multitude of buildups and exciting crescendos in songs such as “Alternate Reality.” Many of the songs would unravel until each part or section seemingly had its own personality, as certain instruments were heard distinctively for their own melody. Violist Cedrick McCafferty stated that one song demonstrates this idea, having an “aleatoric” or spontaneously improvised nature.

“My favorite song is easily ‘Sleepwalking,’ ” MacCafferty said. “At its core, it’s very ‘by chance,’ and [Del Rosario] trusted all of us to make sounds that fit within the soundscape that he was looking for and the very haunting sound world…To me, that’s very fulfilling when a director puts that much trust in you to be able to fulfill the sound that they're looking for.”

Chris Fong Chew, who spoke poetry throughout the show, exercised similar creative freedom. Del Rosario reached out to Fong Chew after seeing Fong Chew’s videos of spoken word, and in the process of writing, Del Rosario would give Fong Chew anecdotes to work with.

“We’re both actually from the same area. We both grew up in the Bay area. So he was talking about this scene of just driving down the freeway of California at night, and that invoked so many feelings and thoughts for me,” Fong Chew said, describing the inspiration behind his poem for the track, “Warmth.”

Del Rosario also made several tributes to his family, childhood, and past. One of his songs, entitled “Dear Child,” is representative of his mother's love, emphasizing his mother’s internal struggle of both desiring for her son to succeed while missing his dependence on her care. While much of the setlist involved the grandeur of the full ensemble, this track was led by the harpist and vocalist.

“I wanted to capture the tender, motherly love that parents have for their children,” Del Rosario said. Furthermore, he expressed how Insomnia was a reflection of his gratitude toward those around him. “We essentially are the embodiment of everyone and all of our friends and family who put their trust into us, simply because we wouldn’t be there without them.”

Ultimately, Insomnia encourages its listeners to think about the metaphysical emotions that interrupt our realities, motivating us to find agency in how we fear and how we dream.

“By the end of it, you may have a different perspective of how you sleep,” Del Rosario said. “But more importantly, you’ll be left with some kind of motivation and left with hopes and dreams to pursue something greater. One of the main messages of Insomnia is that the dreams we have for ourselves pave the way for those to follow”.

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