Bradford Bailey – Untitled Collage, 2007.
Sometime during toward the beginning of 2014, at the end of a particularly wine soaked evening, I sank into the sofa next to my dear friend, Koen Holtkamp, each of us immersed in sound, gazing at a pile of LPs, leaned off on the floor. It wasn’t the first time. Nor would it be the last. The events that led to its making – long listening sessions, threaded by conversation and the repeated line, “do you know this one?” – wind their way across the entirety of my life. They are the thread that binds.
Epiphanies often arise from the most banal and benign; those moments so familiar and expected that, on most occasions, we fail to pay their significance and potential much mind. Every once in a while, as it was on that night, something clicks and the dominoes come cascading down.
A simple truth lay before me on the carpet. A diamond in the rough. As was nearly always the case on these evenings, no two of records had shared idiom, culture, or moment in time. Cumulatively, they amounted to a sprawling journey across the globe, history, and methods of approach, manifested in sound. Through the process of listening and response, we had placed each into an unlikely conversation with the next, forging connections as we went. Through the process of listening, we intuitively acknowledged, placed value on, and celebrated voices far removed and different from our own. Through sound, we came know others that we otherwise could not.
As the seeds of these early thoughts began to flower, I came to view my own record collection, markedly similar to those my friends, as a metaphor. Its contents were, to a fairly reasonable extent, diverse and democratic. Across its breadth, countess discrete cultures, ideas, and states of being, sat side by side, claiming equal position and voice. Through the act of collecting, I offered value, attention, and recognition to others beyond and over myself. When acknowledging that sound, particularly in recorded form, does not heed the divisions and restrictions placed upon us all – be they temporal, experiential, linguistic, cultural, or geographic – it travels and joins – its social and political potential becomes profound. When organized by the human hand and ear, not only does it express a multi-faceted body of meaning about its source, doubling as a marker for being, it compels us to listen, acknowledge, and seek common ground.
Resonating closely with Simone Weil’s belief that “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity”, these simple observations began to lay the groundwork for The Hum, and ultimately the entirety of my subsequent work as a writer. While it’s easy to understand the fundamental forms of joy that music brings into our lives, there are countless processes that this art-form has the potential to activate, many of which are difficult to quantify and remain under-recognized.
Most serious fans of music eventually stray from the common path, forgoing popular culture in their quest for more exciting and engaging artists and sounds. For many, this process draws their ears into eras, geographies, and cultures that lay at great distances from their own. Unexpected love affairs are born, provoking us to wonder how we might feel so clearly connected to the thoughts and emotions of individuals so different from ourselves, and thus that we could not presume to know or understand. The answer, in all probably, is simple enough. Music, through its many, diverse and nuanced realizations, is a means through which we can acknowledge and celebrate that which we are not. It helps us transcend the persistent human faults of fear, narcissism, and individualism. The fact that it holds the capacity to provoke empathy, emotion, and the perception of common ground with listeners who share little with its creators, indicates that it communicates and activates something fundamental in us all. It is a space for communing, translating an experiential proof for the fact that, despite our distances, differences, and discrete, individualized experiences, we are all more or less the same. It is the antidote to isolation.
Upon reflection, while moving me deeply on emotive terms that defy the clear descriptions offered by language, my lifelong immersion world’s many musical landscapes is rooted in a simple, secondary fact. When listening, I feel less alone. Within the cultures, or counter-cultures, that spring up around music, I have found a deep sense of community, and nearly all of my friends. The debt I owe it, and the artists who create it, is beyond calculation.
It is here that music presents a counterintuitive remedy for the situation that each of us faces, beholding the pandemic that is currently sweeping the globe. In order to survive we must isolate ourselves. We must do this, not only for our own safety, but even more pertinently, for that of others. Yet, in many way, to be human is to belong. We can often only see ourselves, and know ourselves, when reflected by, or in relation to, others. In order to survive this pandemic, we must also be social and connect. We must find platforms and new terms through which to commune. While we wait for a vaccine, we need an antidote to isolation.
While often experienced collectively, listening to music is an internal, solitary act – a momentary escape from the structures, pressures, and isolating forces of our day to day realities – within which we find and acknowledge others who share some form of common ground with ourselves. In music, we encounter an abstract rendering of the emotions and experiences of others, often mirroring our own, where the method of communication doubles as a tool for the management of the very thing it describes. Is there a better balm for a broken heart, than a song about a broken heart? For this reason, I have decided to embark upon a series of mixes, in the hope that they might communally offer the solace that their sounds have given me. Because of its perfect resonance, I have borrowed the title of George Lewis’ incredible book on the AACM, A Power Stronger Than Itself, for the series. I’ll do my best to keep them coming. Stay strong, and stay together at great distances.
A Power Stronger Than Itself: Sounds For Communal Isolation. Vol. One.
Cluster & Eno – Ho Renomo
Luciano Cilio – Primo Quadro “Della Conoscenza”
William Penn – Moonshine
Takahashi Chikuzan – Shamisen Jongara
Laurie Spiegel – A Folk Study
Chris Spheeris & Paul Voudouris – Mosaic
Tom Smith – If I had Wings
Kirby Shelstad & Richard Allen – Gentle Flow
Steve Roach – Quiet Friend
Stuart Dempster – Standing Waves
Harold Budd – Templar