On the Mission of Making Music Useful to People During Hard Times
Life is uncertain and it is hard to presume when difficulties and challenges will haunt us. Ultimately, when we have to pass through the struggles, we need some prescription to bring some respite and show us that things can improve for the better. To help the brethren struck amidst troubles, persons in different capacities try inventing their own remedies. Musicians are not an exception. We do see quite many experiments across different genres in music attempting to soothe troubled minds. Created as a remedy for the ailing soul, ‘Music For Hard Times’ was produced when the world was passing through trying times.
The story of its birth
In 2020, the world gripped into the pandemic found its hopes shattered and the future bleak. Confined to the little production space at his home in San Francisco, Danny Clay, the composer was busy developing a set of eight strategies to answer the pressing questions haunting his mind around that time including, “How can composers and conservatory-trained instrumentalists use their specialized skills to help people feel better? And if the music they are playing makes musicians feel something as they’re playing it, is there a way to transmit the same feeling to the listener?”
Finally, when Clay had developed his musical tools, he named them “Calming Strategies”. Now, all that he needed was a test rig to prove that his set of eight strategies can open up the gates to a novel kind of experiment in music. Danny’s long-time collaborators – the electric guitar and percussionist duo – Andy Meyerson and Travis Andrews, developed 16 hours of recorded raw material spending 16 long weeks, which turned into ‘Music For Hard Times Volume-1’. Subsequently, this venture also served as the much-needed test rig to validate Clay’s ‘Calming Strategies’.
The process helped perfect Clay’s notation and vision besides creating a gestural and timbral palette for consecutive realizations of the mission in front of the team. The duo then enlisted the students of the San Francisco Conservatory and the San Francisco Girls Chorus to move the experiment with ‘Calming Strategies’ to the next level. The entire team collaborated remotely with a passion to create something new and unprecedented. These scattered forces recorded hundreds of hours of music that would seed the production of ‘Music For Hard Times Volume 2’.
Volume 1 & Volume 2: What is common and different between them?
Volume 1 features 150 to 200 sound files created by Andy and Travis making up the musical materials lasting for 16 hours. Volume 2, comprises over 1,200 sound files stretching over 100 hours, recorded by more than 100 musicians.
Volume 1 treats simple dialogues of a chord cycle in different inversions, but the vocal version of Volume 2 is more expansive, including voices pouncing from different directions, each of them breaking down in different musical cells. In fact, it is hard to tell that Volume 1 and Volume 2 can have their roots in the same notch. Nevertheless, what binds them is a timbral and harmonic palette.
Volume 2 is a kind of puzzle pairing related sounds. Layering them and adding musical substrate in layers to fill out the textures and achieve harmonic richness. The musical materials gathered for Volume 2 ranged into sound qualities, acoustic environments, and innovative recording techniques. Even incidental noises and environmental sounds were not brushed aside during the production. We can say, Volume 2 is a kind of catalog synthesizing individual spaces in time. The musical materials were recorded during the same hours in January 2021 and sent to Clay’s home studio for producing Volume 2.
About the title
The music in ‘Music For Hard Times’ does not seem to relate to any personal or geopolitical message. As the title suggests, the music of the album is meant to serve a social cause, facilitating self-care during troubled times. The ‘Calming Strategies enjoin humanity to create something for itself to overcome the difficult times. The album intends to create a tool for musicians, and a panacea to heal the souls of listeners. The production team later said the ‘Calming Strategies’ were “improving their own senses of well-being too”. These two Volumes facilitate meditative exercises by training the audience to use their own emotional responses as a gauge.
Characteristics of the music in the album
The entire listening experience across the two Volumes is enveloped by a sense of coziness drawing the listener to an inner world. The artists have played with the audience’s sense of distance and space. Intertwining melodies sound zooming out to suggest wide landscapes and juxtaposing incongruent melodies result in an immersive experience bestowing the album an element of perspective, and dimensional depth. The audience confined into their little spaces due to quarantine would find a suitable vehicle in the music to experience a wider world accompanied by the artists. The non-invasive approach prepares the listeners to sublimate their perception and escape into a comforting and healing calmness within them.
What the artists have achieved?
The producers of the album have given a meticulously constructed space for the listeners to enjoy a soothing respite during troubled times. The album has helped break the barriers to enjoying music and benefiting from it to heal the otherwise unapproachable hurts pronounced by situations and times. In the process, they have also challenged our conventional definition and understanding of music and have proved that musical talents can turn even unfamiliar instruments and ambient noises into a bed of sounds suitable for meditation.
What is the format of the album?
‘Music For Hard Times’ consists of 15 tracks. The first eight tracks list the 8 parts of Volume 1. The subsequent tracks are the 6 parts of Volume 2, with the final and the 15th track containing the ‘Epilogue’ of the album.
The Washington Post wrote on Sunday, January 23, 2022, “The duo of percussionist Andy Meyerson and guitarist Travis Andrews, can expand into large-scale works (see Raven Chacon’s “Tremble Staves”) or compress into intimate studies of sound (see “Music for Hard Times” their set of lockdown inspired “calming strategies” with composer Danny Clay). This year, their in-house Earthy Records label will premiere works written for TLES by Clay, Zachary James Watkins, Sarah Hennies, and Samuel Adams – whose “Lyra” (with choreographer Vanessa Thiessen and filmmaker Ben Tarquin) arrives in February. “No other new music group out there is doing projects of the scale and ambition they are”, says the nominator (and 21 for 21 albums) Timo Andres, “They might be my generation’s Kronos Quartet.” Source: Thelivingearthshow.com.
In publishing an album, every producer wants to set a trend. Deviating from this common approach, ‘Music For Hard Times” has become a kind of research project providing an educative experience for everyone concerned with the album – the producer, artists, and the listeners at large – showing them that the efficacy of ‘Calming Strategies’, invented by Danny Clay. The Living Earth Show has broken the conventions and taken musical production to an altogether different plane in the process of inventing music that heals. In short, this album is into “The Mission Of Making Music Useful To People During Hard Times”.
Listen on Spotify: