Amplify 2020: quarantine festival

No live festivals this summer?  No problem ~ Amplify 2020 brings the festival to you!  This ongoing quarantine project is already up to an amazing 130 releases, which means there’s no way we can give it a closer listen ~ just like a live festival, we can dip in and out, check out the artists we like and hopefully stumble on some surprises.  Then instead of heading home with CDs ripping holes in our pockets (remember those days?) we can simply download and enjoy the songs from home.  The best part: the festival is free!  Not even Name Your Price ~ free.

As mentioned numerous times on our site, submissions have tripled during the pandemic, with so many artists recording from home, finishing long-shelved or dreamt-of projects.  The music industry seems to be the only one that has expanded during the crisis, and Amplify 2020 is the proof.  From tracks to EPs to full albums, the series (which is only just beginning!) represents a wide swath of experiments, and is bursting with creativity.  Names familiar to our readers include Giuseppe Ielasi, Eric La Casa, Kate Carr, Maria Ahti, Tarab, Francisco Meirino and many, many more.  The project is the brainchild of Erstwhile Records’ Jon Abbey, along with Vanessa Rosetto and Matthew Revert, who had to cancel the in-person festival this year but have been happily overwhelmed by the call for artists to submit new pieces.  The irony is that in a live setting, when artists ask, “Would you like to hear some new music?” many fans yell “NO!”  ~ but when at home, new music is exactly what we seek.

Everyone has their own tastes, but before the festival grew too large to handle, I spent the weekend checking out the first 130 releases and finally zeroed in on a few favorites.  A few things became apparent right away: some of the titles were clear references to the pandemic (which qualify them for Joe’s mix series); the cover art ranged from hasty to professional; and the timbres from minimal to dense, refined to abstract.  Not everyone can produce great music at the drop of a hat, but just as writers are told to write every day until something good develops, composers and improvisers alike often find gold in the practice of recording.  So while this river contains some rocks, it contains a good deal of gold as well ~ enough to justify bringing the pan.

The first entry to make me linger:  Leo Okagawa‘s Turntable Music (for those who can’t go out).  I was intrigued by the title, I liked the cover (“Hey, that looks just like my turntable!”) and was fascinated by the music.  The twist: judging from the art and sound, no records are involved.  These are the amplified sounds of the turntable itself: pops, grinds, whirrs and burrs.  The edges are electro-acoustic, the center pure drone: harsh and gorgeous at the same time.  The next to impress:  Vanessa Rossetto‘s soundscape perhaps sometime you have acted in a play, even if it was when you were a child.  This hour-long piece is actually better than some of Rossetto’s official releases, which speaks highly of the quality of quarantine.  Occasional found dialogue is mixed into the swing sets and bells, the traffic and cookware, creating a mesmerizing experience.

On A Salt-Set Seal (for Carole Chant), Fergus Kelly improvises on found metals from Iceland, bringing new meaning to the quarantine stroll; perhaps while we’re relaxing our souls, we may also procure our next instruments!  Percussion and field recordings mix to create a warm glow.  Michael Rosenstein captured beach recordings on a trip to Cape Cod just before the crisis began, editing the Outer Cape Sojourn into a last souvenir of normalcy.  Manja Ristić contributes an album rich in nuance: Out of Thin Air includes spoken word, poetry, music and field recordings, references to freedom fighters, a dedication to an influential uncle, and pre-pandemic “memories of the world soaked in noise, Ljubljana January 2020.”  This album (pictured right) may be the richest of the first round.

It’s fun to imagine Kiera Mulhern recording her entry on her roof with “flute, eggshells, electronics and voice.”  What did the neighbors think?  Who cares!  Cave outside of which celebrates the stir crazy and creative who are making the best of their quarantine.  Jason Lescalleet contributes a pair of field recordings taken from the Salmon Falls River in Maine, one sedate and one frantic, even frightening as traffic passes above the bridge.  The two tracks of The Feckless Dreamer are each 11:11, a nice reminder of the custom of making a wish when the clock reads the same time.  One of the more fascinating sets comes from Brent Fariss, whose “imaginary play” about Robert Lax includes field recordings, the sound of writing and a home-recorded trio.  The Juggler made me look up the poet, the mark of a successful tribute.

This may be strange to read, but replay quality is not the criteria by which to judge this project.  Like any experimental festival, it’s a place to check out what artists are trying: how they stretch boundaries, delve into unexplored territories, and map the possible futures of sound.  It’s also a celebration of the creative spirit.  If one thinks of all the unexplored ideas that might have gone forever unrecorded, one might even give thanks for the opportunities that were created by the pandemic.  Amplify 2020 is the sound of dreams translated into reality, thanks to the time that would not otherwise have existed.

Richard Allen

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