Selections: Music for self-isolation
Along with all the other changes happening around us, the way we listen to music has also shifted. Just a few weeks ago, many of us were regularly rinsing club-worthy techno mixes or maybe even dancing in a club itself. Now, as we find ourselves confined to home, the type of music we crave has also changed, sometimes in unexpected ways.
Like many of you, our collective is now spread across the globe, with some of us in quarantine in Europe, while others are back in Australia and unsure about when they can return. To inspire your music choices through this uncertain time, we’ve compiled a list of the albums that are accompanying each of us through these challenging days. Each selection is presented alongside views from our windows, whether from our apartments in Berlin or Helsinki, or even our family homes back in Australia.
We hope the list below gives you some small comfort for the time ahead, inspires you to seek out something new, and encourages you to support the artists with a purchase, wherever possible.
Selected by Zilka
I stumbled upon this album by chance a few months ago and have been revisiting it often since we began self-isolating. Sato started making music after the 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami washed away her hometown in coastal Japan. This short album, featuring field recordings from the town Arahama, is so much more than just beautifully crafted ambient music. There is nostalgia and wonder and hope oozing out of these tracks. Set in context, it’s a timely reminder that we humans can withstand so much. Sato says of this album: “I understand what happened to us is a tragedy. However, predominantly, these experiences are part of my personal life experience. I accept the reality of what happened as is, rather than being in despair. “Making music” was at the heart of that process of acceptance.” My plan for this period is to practice a similarly mindful approach, while also spending time listening, deeply, to all the music I never have enough time for. We’ve been forced to put everything on pause and I believe we can choose to see this as an opportunity for reflection and respite, if we wish. I hope you can also find solace in music when things get difficult the next while.
Selected by Andreas
I first discovered Ethiopian pianist and composer Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou through another pianist and one of my oldest friends, Gideon Preiss. Guèbrou’s story is worthy of a treatise in itself, so I will do my best to briefly summarise it before coming to her music.
Born into a high-society family in Addis Ababa, Ethiopa, in 1923, Guèbrou attended primary school as a boarder in Switzerland, where she trained in violin and piano. However, soon after returning to Ethiopia in 1933, Guèbrou – along with her family – was captured by Mussolini’s soldiers and imprisoned in Italy as a prisoner of war. Soon after the war ended, Guèbrou had a profound spiritual experience, which led to her renunciation of music and a ten-year period of self-imposed asceticism atop Ethiopia’s “holy mountain”. Only after she relocated back to Addis, now a devoted nun, did she continue her work as a pianist and composer, expanding her influences further to include early Ethiopian religious music, which shares features of its distinctive pentatonic modes with modern African music forms, as well as American jazz, blues and roots (these are discernible in Guèbrou’s compositions, too). Forced out of Ethiopia a second time in the 1980s, this time by a Soviet-backed dictatorship that opposed her religious practice, Guèbrou has spent the past few decades in Jerusalem, where she continues her lifelong mission to bring musical education and instruments to disadvantaged children in Ethiopia and abroad. By all reports, now well into her 90s, she continues to play, compose and improvise on a daily basis.
This recording, from 1963, captures her at the relatively youthful age of 40. An effortlessly beautiful synthesis of classical western and Ethiopian tonalities, Guèbrou’s melodies and rhythms dance gracefully up and down the keyboard, evoking both the profound, sacred and enigmatic, and something very intimate and personal, like the diffused memory of a peaceful summer day from one’s childhood. Such qualities make this music, for me, the perfect accompaniment to these weeks (and possibly months) of stillness, reflection and solitude.
Selected by Hysteria
Whenever I need an escape from electronic music, my favourite space to jump into is world music, genres from across the sphere ranging from J-pop to Anatolian rock. Recently however, I’ve been slowly crawling my way through Molam, traditional folk music from Thailand (mostly from the 70s) with a very psychedelic rock flavour. Also known as ‘taxi driver music’, I first discovered it during a trip to Bangkok last year during a visit to ZudRangMa Records, a store which specialises in vintage vinyls from this genre. Originally folk ‘villager’ music from the countryside, it was mostly locals who enjoyed it until a recent surge in popularity (due to interest from the west) has seen it spread to a much wider audience. This compilation was released by the owner of ZudRangMa and a great way to jump into Molam and traditional Thai music for those who fancy something a bit different. I’m still discovering the genre, but whenever I need a reason to smile, I search for one of the artists on Spotify, start a radio and off I go.
Selected by Steve
I first came across the works of Pauline Oliveros after reading about and listening to her pioneering experimental electronic material from the mid-late 60’s. Tracing her work along, I was struck by the themes of resonance and vitality that flowed through her music, and although her body of work is impressive, her releases alongside Stuart Dempster and Panaiotis (and others) as the Deep Listening Band have stuck with me the most over time. Their album “Deep Listening” is a seminal example, and also one of my personal favourites in this space. Recorded in 1989, deep under Washington State in a massive, disused and uniquely reverberant water cistern, the various ambient, drone, experimental and regal melodic qualities of this album still sound radical and cutting-edge today. Alongside her musical output, Oliveros’ writings and teachings regarding Sonic Meditation and Deep Listening practices are also highly regarded within the music community and beyond, and can help to soothe stressed minds during these times.
Stemming from a period of retreat and self-exile from the traumatic happenings of the 1970’s, she found mental and physical solace through deep listening and long, droning notes played on her accordion. Wanting to share the healing properties of these practices with the world, she first held deep listening sessions with small groups in intimate settings, before releasing her first book “Sonic Meditations” in 1974. This book teaches deep, attentive and conscious listening, and aims to provide healing, mindfulness and expanded consciousness. Her writings invite readers to ponder on questions like: “Are you listening while you are hearing?” and “What sound is most meaningful to you?”. To me, her music is the perfect companion for these stressful times. It flows with and through her practices, and mirrors the healing and revitalising qualities for conscious listeners. Not only has it provided me with energy and escapism, but also calm, focus and mindfulness. I don’t follow her practices every day, but even reading through her exercises gives me a sense of peace. If you haven’t already, I recommend taking a look here. During this period of self-isolation, I’m trying to stay as positive and active as I can, which of course is not always easy. I find that this situation has made me appreciate the world, music, family and friendship even more than before, and I can’t wait for us all to get out and enjoy each of those things once again.
Selected by Bianca
If you’re like me and the outlook of your windows are met with concrete and more windows, then I highly recommend listening to this mellow EP by Green-House. The LA-based artist’s first release under this project couldn’t have arrived at a more perfect time. Six Songs for Invisible Gardens provide exactly as the title suggests: six environmental soundscapes with transcendental qualities, both calming and whimsical. I love how the unhurried melodies are balanced with just the right amount of atmosphere and noise. Combined, they arouse strong visual cues of tranquil moments and memories. Sansevieria, in particular, takes me back to my childhood, when I used to climb onto my parents’ garage rooftop and watch the sunrise above the horizon of our backyard fence. I would just sit there and smile as the world would wake up and it would just be me, the rising sun and our garden. It’s corny, but those still and peaceful moments are so precious to me and with more music like this, I hope to discover even more serenity and grace. So in the coming weeks, my immediate future will look like this: slowing down and tuning in.
Selected by Kim
I’m forever grateful to my friend Morgan for introducing me to The War on Drugs a few years back. After moving to Berlin I had drifted away from acoustic music, but this discovery reignited my interest, transporting me back to my youth and the music I grew up with. Watching them live a few months later, I was blown away. The synergies between all six band members and their instruments were absolutely spellbinding. Featuring psychedelic guitar riffs and dreamy reverb, A Deeper Understanding is a nostalgic and emotional trip. At the same time, the music can be super uplifting and positive, which to me makes this the perfect album to get lost in during the moments of solitude that are now becoming everyday life.