Music For Hard Times
The Living Earth Show
2022 / Earthy Records
Review by Kathy Parsons
It has truly been amazing and inspiring to experience the huge volume of music that has been created during this time of pandemic, lockdowns and travel restrictions. Quite a bit of that music has reflected various artists' personal feelings and emotional reactions to the pandemic while other artists have focused more on making other people feel uplifted and more relaxed with their music. It was the latter intention that arose from composer Danny Clay asking how composers and conservatory-trained instrumentalists can use their specialized skills to help people to feel better. Clay approached longtime collaborators, Andy Meyerson and Travis Andrews of the SF Bay Area electric guitar and percussion duo, The Living Earth Show, and they, in turn, spent the next several weeks recording the sixteen hours of raw material that became Vol. 1 of Music For Hard Times. The eight parts/tracks for Vol. 1 were based on a series of eight "calming strategies" that were basic, written/verbal guidelines (not traditional music notation) for each piece. Quoting the liner notes for the album, an example of one of the strategies is:
"Imagine the most warm, enveloping harmony you can think of - build this harmony to sit in, indefinitely. If you'd like, play within this harmony, emerging in and out of it imperceptibly."
The eight parts/tracks of Vol. 1 were recorded by Andy and Travis in the spring of 2020 and then edited and layered to create the individual pieces. Although this music is referred to as "new age" by its creators, it is very ambient and more experimental than most "new age" music.
Again based on the original strategies of Vol. 1, tracks 9-15 make up Vol. 2 of the project and are much more expansive. Along with Travis and Andy, the San Francisco Girls' Chorus and students from the San Francisco Conservatory were enlisted in a project that offered them "room to experiment with process, collaborate with each other remotely, and create something new, reframing classical music's traditional emphasis on faithful execution of unchanging scores. Vol. 2 emerged as the collective product of hundreds of hours of recordings by these scattered forces." (quoted from the liner notes for the album.) Vol. 2 was constructed much like a puzzle or collage, finding sounds that were related to each other and then layering them. Once tracks started to take shape, The Living Earth Show recorded more supporting material to fill out textures and add harmonic richness. The duo also coached and guided students in their interpretations. Again quoting the liner notes: "Vol. 2 is essentially a catalogue of individual spaces united in time - in many cases, recordings made literally during the same hours of January 2021, all over the world, then Dropbox-ed to Clay's home studio in San Francisco." More than 1200 sound files recorded by more than 100 musicians went into Vol. 2 - well over 100 hours of music. Voices and a wide variety of musical instruments blend together in unique ways for the second half of this fascinating project.
Music For Hard Times is definitely an unusual, one-of-a-kind album! I can't really call it a favorite, but both the process and the end results are well worth exploring. It is available from Amazon, Apple Music/iTunes and streaming sites such as Spotify.
February 23, 2022