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The Musical Amoeba

a dream inspired by the music of The Incredible String Band

Dreamed spring 1979 by Hermester Barrington
Website: Cenotaph of the Jackalope at


I am hiking among beautiful green rolling hills in the Catskills early one morning, just after sunrise. Looking back over my shoulder, I am delighted to see a gigantic amoeba rising over the hills behind me and sliding into the valley below. I notice that its body is covered with musical instruments, and that every time its pseudopodia touch the earth, it sings out with notes from the various bagpipes, balalaikas, mbiras, dulcimers, panpipes, harmonicas and conga drums that cover its body.

I know somehow that this amoeba has travelled all over the world, and has picked up an instrument in every distant land it has visited. The music that arises in the wake of its passage is unlike anything I have ever heard--harmonious in its chaos, its time signature shifting constantly, from waltz to 2/4 to 2/26th and back to 3/4, all a short span, so that the earth and sky ring out with this mellifluous rejection of order.

I am alive with ecstasy as I hear this beautiful music, watching the amoeba slide down into the valley below, up the hillside on the other side, and thence over the crest and out of sight, its music still present in the air about me. In my dream, I imagine it sliding across the globe, visiting lochs, lakes, and wadis, slithering through Picadilly Circus, over the Leng Plateau, through the swamps of Louisiana and up the Congo, adding to its repertoire as it goes.


I discovered that I had not, in fact, been hiking through the hills. Rather, I had been sleeping as my wife Fayaway drove through the night. To entertain herself, she had put on a tape of The Incredible String Band's album The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter, and it was their distinctive sound that inspired my dream. This was the first time I had ever heard their music, and the power of the dream that their music inspired made me a life-long fan of this band.

The Incredible String Band flourished in the late '60s and early '70s; the members borrowed harmonies, lyrics, and musical instruments from the round earth's imagined corners and incorporated them into their songs, often switching time signatures, musical traditions, and harmonies in the same song.

The amoeba came to me out of my studies--I am an amateur protozoologist--and, in its shapelessness cohesiveness, serves as a perfect symbol of the band's chaotic beauty.

--Hermester Barrington


  1. Sorry it took me so long to post this one. The reason is strange: Hermester's email got shunted into my bulk mail. No idea why. Naturally I overlooked it among the 650 ads for a larger penis. Nearly deleted them en masse today before noticing one ad for a larger... amoeba? Looked again, opened it, and found this. I'll never bulk-delete again...

  2. Hermester doesn't mention it, but he didn't dream of a musical amoeba only because he studies protozoology. Listen to the longest track on The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter. It's called "A Very Cellular Song". It's thirteen minutes long--a folk/world symphony. And its core is a love song, sung first-person by an amoeba as it divides...
    "Here we go, slithering
    Here we go, slithering and squelching on..."
    It closes with a blessing from singer Mike Heron's cells to all of ours.
    "Black hair, brown hair, feather and scale;
    Seed and stamen and all unnamed lives that live:
    Turn your quivering nerves in my direction!
    Turn your quivering nerves in my direction!
    Feel the energy projection
    of my cells
    wishes you well."
    And Hermester bloody well "felt the energy projection" in his sleep from that song. The musical amoeba slithered and squelched from that tape into his ear and down to his sleeping brain! Subliminal dreams like this one prove that sleep's not as passive as we think.

  3. You can't imagine how gleeful this makes me. The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter was my OWN introduction to The Incredible String Band, and for decades now I've particularly loved "A Very Cellular Song". An ambitious, crazy folk/world symphony that deserves your attention. Awake or asleep.

--Chris Wayan


As far as the inspiration for the dream being "A Very Cellular Song"...It was a long time ago, but Fay and I both recall that I awoke before the end of the first song on the album, "Koeeoaddi There". I think that we are accurate about that. But then time flows strangely in dreams in any case, so a pre-retroactive influence cannot be discounted.



Unless of course you dream the answer before the riddle. A pre-retroactive influence cannot be discounted.


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