ACL 2020 ~ Pandemic Playlist

Time is an unusual construct.  The pandemic made spring feel like an entire year.  Yet the year is only half over.  Or is it already half over?  It depends on where we live.  The pandemic has mostly passed in some places (congratulations, Iceland and New Zealand!) while in others it continues to rage.  In the United States, the two biggest COVID-19 deniers are the president and vice-president.  One potential side effect: far fewer rude Americans in Europe this summer!

During this time, we’ve covered a number of releases that were inspired by isolation, while others, recorded earlier, were released just in time to relate to current events.  In our first roundup of the year, we present some highlights of our socially distant spring.

BJ Nilsen ~ Pending/Auditory Scenes Amsterdam
The largest single-artist field recording project of the pandemic, BJ Nilsen’s two months of daily recording span over six hours and provide a reflection of lockdown and emergence in real time.  This project would make an incredible multi-room installation, and we hope to one day see it on a USB card.  Nilsen’s devotion to craft, and the valuable information collected, will be studied for years to come.

Original Review ~ Pending / Original Review ~ Auditory Scenes Amsterdam

Cities and Memory ~ #StayHomeSounds (volume one) (Cities and Memory)
More field recordings that one might ever be expected to play can be found on the Cities and Memory website, organized by topic.  The most relevant: recordings from around the world, recorded during the pandemic.  BJ Nilsen has Amsterdam covered, but for other places, this is the master source.  A call for volunteers imitated the SETI program and yields mixed results in terms of sound quality (as so many entries were recorded on cellphones); but the raw material is invaluable.

Original Review

Ian Battenfield Headley ~ NYC Field Recordings Vol. 1
The New York Public Library released an EP of pre-pandemic city recordings that got all the attention, but this album is far better.  From a Christmas street recording to the sonic gold of pots and pans being struck to honor health care workers, Headley’s before-and-during project offers a ton of perspective on the sounds we cherish, the sounds we miss, and the sounds we only think we miss.

Original Review

Ká ~ In the Land of Lonesome Vicarages (V kraji opuštěných far) (recordings on the road)
One of the positive side effects of the pandemic has been an increased appreciation for nature, which we can only hope might translate into a renewed dedication to environmental concerns.  Ká wanders the Bohemian forests of his youth, seeking spirituality and meaning, comfort and consolation.  What he hears in the trees he translates into this recording, which also includes a beautiful piece recorded this quiet Easter.

Original Review

Kate Carr ~ Where to begin (Flaming Pines)
Many albums released were during the pandemic but recorded before.  Some of these seemed eerily prescient (Zoon van SnooK) while others offered uplift exactly when it was needed (Rone, Inventions).  Of these, the most fitting was Kate Carr’s Where to begin, a love letter to the writing of love letters and a reminder of the need for communication when distance is enforced.  Using the sounds of glass beads, international voices and pen on paper, Carr manages to make us feel less lonely ~ all while celebrating the power of love.

Original Review

Various Artists ~ Amplify 2020: quarantine festival
With live festivals cancelled around the world, Amplify saw an opportunity to hold a giant festival online.  Now approaching a staggering 200 albums and EPs, this rush of creativity is enough to keep even the pickiest experimental music fan occupied for days.  Now all we’re missing are the t-shirts!

Original Review

Various Artists ~ At Home With (songs for solitude) (La Petite Chambre)
Twelve weekly EPs of various genres, rudely interrupted by the coronavirus itself: nearing its midpoint, Brazil’s cases began to peak and the series was forced to take a break.  Finishing with perhaps its best selection (Jeanann Dara’s The Protectorate and the Protector), the series wrapped up last week.

Original Review Part One / Original Review Part Two

Various Artists ~ Home Diaries (Whitelabrecs)
A laudable 30 albums deep, this digital Whitelabrecs project took the place of CDs for a season, as the local post office remained closed.  The result was a soft explosion of measured ambience, each release accompanied by an interview with the artist describing life under lockdown.  Like the series above, this one just concluded, leading to the label’s first physical releases since March.

Original Review Part One / Original Review Part Two

Various Artists ~ The Isolation Tapes (Castles in Space)
This isn’t just a pair of tapes; there’s a CD involved, as well as digital bonus material.  Faced with over 250 submissions, Colin Morrison whittled down the selections with an intensive screening process.  All pieces had to be recorded (not reworked) between March 23 and April 17, and the overall timbre had to be if not uplifting, at least not discouraging.  The end result: five hours of enjoyable electronic music recorded on the fly, all with a positive purpose.

Original Review

Various Artists ~ Touch: Isolation (Touch)
These 28 tracks encompass five of our seven genres, and include beautiful photography along with a sense of immersion.  Originally intended as a project to support the label’s furloughed artists, Touch: Isolation became an alternate soundtrack to lockdown, one that made listeners want to stay inside.

Original Review

Richard Allen

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