April 2020 in Experimental Music

March 2020 experimental music (1)

We’ve been living from a social distance for nearly two months now, and I find myself establishing a routine, albeit a routine I don’t necessarily want to keep. I wake up and look outside each morning to see if it’s raining; in April, it usually was, but I’d still strap on my mask and take a brisk walk. I shower and then I wonder if I should wear something nice for myself, sifting through my bulky wardrobe full of clothes that are gathering dust. I watch my plants grow millimeter by millimeter over every 24-hour period, alternating between staring at them and staring into the concentrated brightness of my computer screen. The rainwater trickles down my window as I join another Zoom meeting, trying again to pick up the pieces of a world ravaged by disease and faulty systems. 

Perhaps the most disorienting phenomenon of living without physical interaction is the limbo of digital interaction, which plays out most prominently in our newly popularized live-stream culture. On Saturday evenings over three weeks in April, I would faithfully log into Facebook to watch Bearthoven’s “TV Dinners” live-streamed concerts. Facebook would kindly alert me to which of my friends were watching with me, and we’d say hi to each other in the comments; it felt as if those comments were holographic representations of what we’d do if we were all packed together at a show. In February, we stood together in the dimly lit corner of the bar at LPR, watching Bearthoven perform two new works, clapping and greeting each other with a hug. The internet is a simulation of that memory, a replica whose near-perfect alignment causes the disconcerting, uncanny valley experience that so deeply colors our lives in a world built solely on virtual connection. 

We’re all in solitude in our tiny apartments, but are we still together? The main difference in day-to-day living we’re experiencing now, in addition to the looming pain of disease, is that the foundational component of life is virtual interaction rather than in-person exchange. This is a reversal of our natural state. I see so many lamentations of the resort to digital connection, so many marketing ploys for us to “stay connected in these difficult times.” Yet we’ve been connected through our devices for years, we’ve held live-streams and joined Internet communities for ages. It’s just all the more prominent now, as it’s our sole form of communication. Of course, I don’t want virtual connection to be our only resource, due to the many complicating and disturbing factors of that reality, but doomsday ideologies never seem to offer solutions, instead, they make what life we do have all the more painstaking. Happiness is indeed a stretch while you’re living in a pandemic. But the ways in which we live our lives will ebb and flow between the systems we have available to us. 

While I miss my so-called normal life — going to concerts as I please, leaving my apartment at any time, socializing with my friends face-to-face — I’m thankful there are some ways I can still enjoy the most important part of my life, which is music. The album has really come forth as a primary method for listening, and I don’t necessarily mind that. To that end, here’s my roundup of experimental albums to check out from April. I hope you can find some digital solace here.

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Ian Chang, 属 Belonging (City Slang Records)

Percussionist Ian Chang, a member of beloved experimental ensemble Son Lux, explores dreamy landscapes on his first full-length solo album, 属 Belonging. The record is at once experimental and groovy, blending the catchiness of pop with the constant surprise of experimental music. Chang’s work revolves around expanding the technical capabilities of percussion, exploring a wealth of new methods for making sound with his instrument. The resulting music is intoxicating, immediately drawing you in with its vibrant pulse.

Matt Evans, New Topographics (Whatever’s Clever)

New Topographics is percussionist and composer Matt Evans’ debut solo album, and it’s a mesmerizing journey into the interwoven digital and acoustic musical worlds. Evans draws from a variety of inspirations in the worlds of philosophy, poetry, and visual arts to weave a musical story of what it means to be alive today, in a world made of simultaneous virtual and physical realities. The ambient music is hypnotic, using driving beats and unsettling harmonies to create music that feels like it has more questions than answers.

Grand Valley State University New Music EnsembleDawn Chorus (Innova Recordings)

For their fifth commercial recording, the Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble performs music by a slew of superb composers. Each piece on the record takes inspiration from America’s National Parks, illustrating the vastness of the remaining wilderness in the country. The music winds down different paths as each composer incorporates their interpretations of nature into sprawling and captivating melodies. The result is moving, drawing us once again towards the sublime in the meeting place of the natural world and art.

Ted Hearne & Saul Williams, Place (New Amsterdam)

With Place, composer and Pulitzer prize-finalist Ted Hearne joins forces with the extraordinary poet Saul Williams to tackle the topic of gentrification in contemporary America. The piece, which is split into three parts, combines lyrics from Hearne and Williams, synthesizing their ideas into a work that refuses to shy away from the complexity and rage behind its underlying story. The resulting music is eccentric and arousing, moving through glitchy choruses and fiery motives to form a piece that bursts with boundless energy.

Will Yager & Matt Nelson, Will You Break Bread With My Brothers

Bassists Will Yager and Matt Nelson come together on Will You Break Bread With My Brothers for a characteristically diverse set of improvisations. The music is consistently surprising, winding through patches of turbulence and moments of solitude alike. This is music made for contemplation, the sort of sound that continuously asks you to probe deeper.

Yves Tumor, Heaven to a Tortured Mind (Warp)

Yves Tumor infuses funky beats and addictive melody into the mundane topics of love on his newest album, Heaven to a Tortured Mind. A bunch of wonderful blurbs about this album exist over in the Tone Glow newsletter.

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Listen to the new releases mentioned here on the playlist below:

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/6osRwbQ3z6S8oB7aORaviS?si=B1QrLazaT0-4HhrRp5S7MA

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