Bradford Bailey – Untitled Collage, 2007.
Roughly a week ago, provoked by images and sounds emerging from Italy and Spain, tears gathered in my eyes. Both countries were under lockdown, their citizens having entered states of social distance and isolation, trying to stem the march of the relentless virus that is cutting a path of destruction across the globe. To come together and give thanks to the healthcare workers who risked their lives on the front lines, thousands choose to go to their window and balconies each day. In Spain they clap. In Italy they join in song. These gestures are among most moving manifestations of creativity that are likely to occur during any of our lives. Phasing tones. Clattering, chance polyrhythms bouncing in the air. Intuitive, simple, and elegant. The human spirit, transcending the boundaries placed between bodies, rising collectively in sound. Against the magnitude of such a thing, designations of high and low fall away. This is music. This is art. This is thriving life. On entirely different terms, it is the sonic manifestation of what Kant once designated as the sublime. It is the point at which acts of human creativity tell us who are, while offering a glimpse of freedoms that we are yet to know.
As the coronavirus virus began its rapid march, it unwittingly sparked an era of change. Almost no one on the planet will ever be the same. The curtain has fallen. There’s a line in the sand. The fragility of all aspects of life has been laid bare. Most of us will wish to go back to the relative, carefree blindness of what was before, but as with all shrouded truths, what we now see, has been there all along.
We are at the beginning. The full scope of what lays ahead is yet to be known. Despite this, we have already been offered glimpses of other, far greater sicknesses that plague the globe. They tell us not of our frailty or mortality, but of who we are as a collective whole. They tell us of our ethics and values. Rather than a society within which we can be proud to play a part, they paint an image of individualism, selfishness, and greed on a profound scale. Wealthy, asymptomatic individuals are tested, while doctors and nurses, not to mention thousands of sick, are not. Politicians act out of concern for their careers, and the corporations that fund them, over the lives of the citizens they are elected to serve. Racist scapegoating echoes in the air. Workers are placed at great risk, while owners hide and profit from afar. Food and necessities are hoarded, while countless are left without. Profit driven healthcare in the United States is staged to callously plunge thousands upon thousands into devastating debt. Socialized medicine in countries like the UK, stripped to the bone by years of neoliberal economic policy, is now unable to take the weight and will carry the cost of unnecessary suffering and death. Perhaps most shocking, are the scores of individuals who selfishly refuse to socially distance and self-isolate, subsequently putting the lives of an exponentially greater number at risk.
There is a simple truth, laying left of what is generally defined as the left. The ills of society are ours to bear. We only have ourselves to blame. If an individual is drawn to crime, we all proportionally share responsibility. If a child is poorly educated, the sick do not receive adequate care, people are made homeless, or iniquity exists in any form, it is not the fault of individual, but of each of us, collectively gathered as a society. When we witness the worst qualities among us, we must accept that they exist because, through complacency, we have been complicit to their presence. Through inaction, we have participated and given our consent. Through self-interest, however mild, we have failed to take responsibility, neglected the well being of others, and allowed this to come to be.
Brushes with mortality tend to provoke questions regarding the nature, character, and quality of one’s life. Many of us will be compelled to challenge every aspect of what has drawn us to where we are. Faced with a possible end, we will ask if we’ve truly made good use of our time. We will ask if we are content with, or proud of, what we have done, and who we have become. Many of us, particularly those in the arts, have already been given a sense of crystal clarity regarding how fragile and precarious our economic realities are – our privilege swatted away in blink of an eye – giving us a taste of what far too many feel every day. All of us face incredible hardship and difficult questions and decisions ahead. From it all, we must learn.
We are afraid, and rightly so. Fear is a natural response to the danger that we all face, but we must remember that, while it protects us, fear is equally a powerful, isolating force. As such, it is destructive. It drives us, against reason, toward individualism and protectionism. It allows us to lose sight of the collective whole, and thus the societies and communities to which we belong. Fear is what brought us to where we are.
When what is coming has been and gone, there will be rebuilding to do and change afoot. Within whose hands it transpires, will determine the image of society to come. Faced with such a task, fear is the one thing that we can not indulge. We must feel hope. We must take responsibility. We must put the well being of others before our own, building a society within which everyone protected, and of which we can finally be proud. As I leave you with the second installment of A Power Stronger Than Itself. Sounds For Communal Isolation, I ask that you remember that we now belong to society that, in the face of adversity, has risen in clatters and song. Within those sounds are a glimpse of freedoms that are yet to be known.
A Power Stronger Than Itself. Sounds For Communal Isolation. Vol. Two.
Tsege Mariam Gebru – The Homeless Wanderer
John Cale & Terry Riley – Ides of March
J.D. Emmanuel – Wizards Part IV: Expanding Into The Universe
Gamelan Son of Lion – D.N.A.
Raul Lovisoni – Hula Om
David Casper – Early Moments
Erik Satie – Gnossienne No. 1
Costin Miereanu – Terre de Feu
Alain Presencer – Bowl Voices
Anthony Moore – A.B.C.D. Gol’fish