As we glide gently towards the end of 2021, it’s safe to say that the year has not been easy for anyone – including musicians and the music industry as a whole. Already on the ropes after a beleaguered 2020, and despite some brief periods of restored normality, 2021 was every bit as challenging for artists, from the limitations on physical collaborations and performing live, to the broader affects on mental health and motivation that isolation can bring.
And yet so many musicians kept on making beautiful music. Many, like long-time Polish friends and composers Hania Rani und Dobrawa Czocher, drew direct inspiration from the pandemic. The pair’s album Inner Symphonies, released in October, was made during lockdown with the firm belief that “music has an endless capability to affect people’s hearts and minds.”
Their first full album of completely original works, the pair collaborated using video calls when recording in person wasn’t possible, and enjoying forest walks and yoga sessions together whenever they were allowed. “The world seemed to be falling apart but we had hope for a better future,” says Dobrawa, adding that she hoped their songs “would make people feel good and give them hope, during the pandemic and beyond.”
California-born musician and composer Dustin O’Halloran also made his latest album, Silfur, during lockdown. After getting stuck in Iceland while everything shut down around him, he used the time and isolation to revisit and rework some of his older compositions. The results, mostly solo piano pieces, are peaceful and dreamy, creating an ideal soundtrack for imaginative escapism.
For Peter Gregson, whose Patina came out in September, it wasn’t so much the pandemic providing inspiration as simply the desire to create something that would provide an atmosphere of intimacy and connection: “We, humanity, have been through something seismic collectively”, he told Faze Magazine.
Recording the record with a state of the art 4K surround sound technology and a networked system of almost fifty speakers, the music on Patina soars with graceful strings, otherworldly electronics and deep rumbles of reverb. The intention was to bring the listener “right up close to the instruments, next to the scratches of the bow on the string, the fingers on the keyboard, the breath in the room. Together these sounds sit within something much broader and reflective and so allow you to hear not just the organisation of sound in time, but to inhabit the space in which it was created too. They are, as Leonard Cohen sang, the cracks which let the light in.”
2021 was a big year too for Joep Beving, whose trilogy of albums – Solipsism, Prehension and Henosis – were released as a box set in August. The calm, contemplative atmosphere of these fragile and yearning songs, what Beving calls “simple music for complex emotions”, is similarly infused with a quest for connection. “We’re all part of one thing, we’re all connected,” he says. “And so we need to love ourselves, each other, and this world we inhabit. The world is a hectic place right now and I feel a deep urge to reconnect on a basic human level with people in general. Music as our universal language has the power to unite.”
And finally, Clark’s Playground In A Lake, released in spring 2021, claims a range of influences, the biggest and clearest being climate change. But the album’s fluctuating moods—from dread and darkness to tranquility and hope—perfectly mirror the turbulence of the global health crisis too. As Clark himself says, “it’s about sublimating disturbing scenarios through aesthetics. It’s music through various stages of controlled degeneration. I was aiming for decay made beautiful, so you can experience the abject without having to actually experience it.”
As we approach 2022 with cautious optimism, it seems mandatory to take a moment of gratitude for this broad and powerful range of music that has helped us through these extraordinary times. We are grateful to you all for listening too.