Soundlab: Music recommendations in times of uncertainty SE01EP02: Haunting Uncertainty

The times we found ourselves in make it difficult to be certain about virtually anything. What once was treated as a boring daily routine, now turns into an endearing memory of relative tranquility. In these times, conversations about art may seem out of place. Are they really? 

That is a question everyone needs to answer using their own moral compass. I believe that art, especially the kind I write about in this series, is more often than not treated as a commodity. However, if you search long enough, you will find works that were created to raise awareness, encourage discussion and sometimes to bring much needed refuge from an overwhelming reality. 

Those are exactly the records I would like to talk about today. We will listen to a modern-day, witchcraft-inspired deconstructions of organ music; Caribbean folk-inspired political statement; a minimalistic approach to the outsider house music and an alternative R’n’B showcase of emotional fragility. We will finish off with an oneiric highway-drive accompanied by one of the most interesting British producers. 

Maria w Horn – Kontrapoetik 

Deconstruction seems to be one of the most popular approaches to creative process in contemporary sonic art. It may sometimes seem overly past-oriented for artists seen as avant-garde. Nonetheless, while the source material for the deconstruction might be an age-old art, the finished work rarely resembles conventional music. 
That is probably the case with Horn’s Kontrapoetik. The Swedish producer used an organ, an instrument usually associated with liturgical music. She digitally modulated the organ’s sound to create a record that aims at remembering victims of witchcraft trials and reviving Satanist traditions as a way of opposing the patriarchy. The project resulted in tense, cold sounds backed by a sense of tragical loss. By all means, it could serve as a soundtrack to one of the silent cinema’s most haunting works: Carl Theodor Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc.

Sons of Kemet – Black to the Future 

Mercury-prize nominated quartet returns with an album that combines beautiful, visceral afrobeat-jazz with a political statement so bold and direct, it is simply impossible to miss it. 

The warm and extremely danceable tones of this record serve as a counterpoint to the themes depicted in the lyrics: racial inequality, colonization, and oppression. The minimalistic set of instruments used by the band (several kinds of horns and a percussion) results in a unique and full sound, albeit clearly distinct from what you would usually expect from a typical jazz band. The tuba, playing the parts that would usually be performed by a double bass player, creates a pulse that stays with you long after the music is over. 

Huerco S. – Plonk 

One of the pioneers of the so-called outsider house, comes back after 6-year hiatus. If you are familiar with his earlier work, you might expect somber, quasi-industrial soundscapes meshed with distant melodies and occasional lo-fi drums. 

While the general premise of the industrial atmosphere is still there, Brian Leeds took a major shift in his production style. The sounds are much more direct, the compositions are much more structured, and the characteristic ambient is moved to the background, making place for more conventional drum beats. 

Despite the mentioned changes in producer’s palette, Plonk still maintains the street-light infused vulnerability that turns it into a sonic manifestation of murky urban environments. 

Dawuna – Glass Lit Dream 

Ian Mugerwa found himself in a midst of a stormy period in his personal life just as the world was coming to terms with the reality of first lockdowns. This resulted in an album that now feels like a letter to yourself from the future. The hushed vocals, the reserved, yet diverse instruments and the general atmosphere of a cold, lonesome,  sleepless night in front of a bottomless social-media abyss pull you in with a genuine, emotional honesty.

The relatively short album features a wide array of lively and anxious rhythms, as well as meticulously crafted melodies and clever production ideas. They portray feelings of a person tormented by uncertainty, but certainly focused on getting out of that phase through an artistic expression of their feelings.

Actress – Karma & Desire

Did you ever happen to doze off in a passenger seat of a car going down a highway at night? The steady rhythm of passing lights, blurred shapes of trees on the side of the road, occasional car driving by; it feels like a fever dream in a way. Everything tells you to sleep, but the car seats are not recognized for being comfortable enough to be sleeping pods. 

This is exactly what Karma & Desire feels like. With this album, British producer Darren J. Cunningham reinvented his approach to music creation. He set aside his trademark white noise/lo-fi tonality for a matured, softer sounds that allow you to immerse yourself into his oneiric soundscapes. You can hear an occasional kick here and there – his extraordinary sound design abilities are still present. However, they seem to be reduced to providing a rhythmic backbone to sampled classical music and guest appearances of vocalists (including Sampha!).

The album is accompanied by a visual work, but by no means should it be treated as the music video. See for yourself!

Piotr Wojnar, a music aficionado, producer and aspiring philosopher presents a series about sonic art, and the way sounds in general combine with other aspects of human creativity. Subsequent monthly entries include album recommendations, descriptions of their tonalities, cultural context and overall vibe.

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Soundlab: A listening guide for post-winter reminiscences SE01EP01: We’re all ears – a listening guide for post-winter reminiscences

Piotr Wojnar Feb 16, 2022

Hi and welcome to the first installment of my series! Today I’m going to talk about a few albums that were particularly present in my every-day playlists during winter months. I appreciate short winter days a lot, because I believe it’s easier to focus on music when it’s dark. You might even say this selection is seasonally affected.

We will listen to some other-worldly sound-bending; a bit of delicate IDM; new approaches to solo instrumental work (with a saxophone, of all instruments!); a Scandinavian soundtrack to a sunny Saturday morning and last but not least an urban-noir epic that happens to be my favorite release of the last year. Headphones on and let’s go!

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