Here’s another perfect pandemic production, whether conceived during lockdown or not. (We suspect that it was.) Library Tapes (David Wenngren) has gathered a small supergroup comprised of Olivia Belli, Julia Kent, Akira Kosemura, Hoshiko Yamane and Michael A. Muller. But before our readers get too excited, thinking how loud this is going to be, look at the title: The Quiet City. Ironically, it took a lot of people to make sounds this soft.
The quiet global city has been one of the most unique experiences of lockdown. Many city dwellers have never experienced such a thing before: stripped of traffic and construction, with limited passers-by and an increase in birds and natural sounds, our cities became cleaner and quieter this past spring. Now as pollution, construction and roadkill have begun to return, some of us gaze back on those golden mornings during which we could sleep unencumbered. Not that we’re wishing for an extended pandemic, but we cherish being able to control the amount of noise.
Enter The Quiet City, a brief and beautiful suite that pays tribute to this temporary ideal. Olivia Belli ushers us in with “Entering,” and will later bid us adieu. Her piano is warm and welcoming, at times even ebullient. But in “Through the Woods,” a note of wistfulness is introduced. Are these the woods that surround the city, or a parable of the modern condition? Are we through the woods yet, or stuck in them? If so, do we prefer them to the city? At the end of “Brighter Lights,” the notes grow as sparse as the people in public; and Kent’s cello in “The First Signs” feels forlorn.
Have we learned anything from this crisis? In Stumbling on Happiness, Daniel Gilbert writes that we are horrible predictors of our own state of mind should crisis or windfall occur. Given the facts, one might think that the crisis would be horrid in every aspect, but despite the death and fear and uncertainly, it hasn’t been. Some cities have seen the stars for the first time in ages. Others have taken a look inward and resolved to be kinder to their most vulnerable and ostracized citizens. “It Wasn’t Always Like This” may be received in a myriad of ways: it wasn’t always this good, it wasn’t always this bad, we thought it was better before but we were fooling ourselves. The title track doubles down on kindness, one of the world’s most sustainable resources.
The fact that “Entering” leads to “Through the Woods” and “Brighter Lights,” while “Fading Distant Lights” leads to “Through the Woods II” leads to “Leaving” implies that the set can be folded over like a map. The city lies in the middle, and for a brief period sparkles in quietude. The only commentary is in the title “Where a Yellow Light Still Means Slow Down.” The implication is that a gentle, peaceful life may still exist somewhere, and that the experience of lockdown may prompt a greater compassion even in cities. It’s an incredibly hopeful mindset; we hope that it comes to pass. (Richard Allen)