by Mark Wilkins
Life during the lockdown and one finds oneself turning to the online world for community, support, and solace. The pandemic is a global phenomenon after all, and it would seem by the swell of blogs and posts on social media that millions of people the world over are doing the same. Social media explodes with information, disinformation, misinformation, distraction, and instruction.
One of the most shared posts by the online artistic community tells me ‘use the pandemic and the new reality to write that song, that novel, that screenplay you’ve always wanted to’ but this merely serves to impose a feeling of guilt -after all learning to adapt to the restrictions is difficult enough without the added pressure of trying to summon the muse and create new music.
What if I have no new ideas at my immediate disposal to inspire new tunes or fresh ideas to share with other musicians, let alone an audience?
Listen to the album while reading the text.
A post by the Irish poet Thomas McCarthy appears on Facebook and catches my eye:
As a poet you have absolutely no public duty to write Covid-19 poems. If you’ve been writing good poems set in Ancient Rome or in the Italy of your honeymoon, by all means continue. Poems are more likely to come from the places you’ve hoarded rather than the place you’re in.
Digging in the Archive
I’m no poet, I rarely read the stuff, but its sentiment can be applied to music or any other art form. I re-read it and no longer feel pressure to start composing fresh material. What’s more, his quote serves to remind me that there is a lot of recorded material in my own archive, hoarded in boxes of cassettes, CDs, and MP3s on old memory sticks. Finished and half-finished songs and instrumentals written and recorded long before the pandemic and lockdown, before the rise of social media and online platforms for independent artists.
I decide to listen back to some of these tunes with a certain air of dread, like looking through old photo albums and wincing at the embarrassing haircuts and fashion disasters or friends I’ve lost touch with. But to my surprise, some of these tunes sound surprisingly fresh, and the memories they evoke of the writing, recording, and performing of this music are vivid and strong.
“Blues for Kali” was written late one night in Calcutta, during a bout of insomnia when I worked there as a volunteer for an Irish charity in 2000. “Haunted” was written in a half-renovated cottage in Connemara during a power cut on Halloween night not long after. “Vandeville” written in a terraced house of the same name during the Cork Jazz Festival in 2010 and so on. The music is a crucible of styles I’ve been drawn to at different stages, roots, Irish, ambient, jazz, rock, contemporary, Middle Eastern, and folk.
Remixed, Remastered, and Released
I decide this material needs to be remixed, remastered, and released using technology, not at my disposal when originally composed. I toy with the idea of re-recording, but social restrictions imposed as a response to the pandemic nips that idea in the bud. Instead, I contact an engineer and producer I’ve worked successfully with over the last few years who lives nearby. I drive to his studio and leave a batch of CD’s, MP3s and WAVs along with handwritten instructions regarding mixing and mastering. I feel like a painter asking a trusted frame maker to re-frame unseen paintings for a fresh upcoming exhibition.
I call the collection of instrumentals “Gan Focal”, which is Irish Gaelic for “wordless”. I realize this re-representing of older largely unheard tunes is a form of creativity every bit as important as writing new material. It had never occurred to me to use the confines of lockdown to revise and refurbish older tunes and that this was simply a further stage in the creative process. From finger to string, to cassette, to CD and now to Bandcamp, iTunes, Spotify, and eventually to be written about for a blog.
Never Really Finished
I realize creativity needs not stop when the venues are forced to close, audiences forced to stay at home, and new ideas are put on temporary hold. The possibilities opened up by online music platforms for independent artists can be daunting to embrace but are vast and to be explored.
I once heard Sting say in a radio interview about songwriting that a song or piece of music is never really finished, it is abandoned, and for once, I agree with him. Once the feel and mood of the music or message in the lyrics are achieved, you cut the cord and send your music out into the world. Remixing and remastering these tunes have led to their being sent out into the digital world to be listened to, streamed and downloaded and hopefully make a few bobs along the way.
And as lockdown is slowly lifted, some new ideas are starting to appear hopefully to be recorded in the coming months. In the meantime, I hope you like the tunes on “Gan Focal”. Stay safe and well.