In one sense this is a quarantine record. It was made during that long and still unfolding time when it was best we didn’t see each other. I was sleeping in a small bedroom off of a dance studio in the woods, without a partner or a single roommate cohabitating in the building. It was, in fact, the most totally alone I had been save for a hurried and, in hindsight, frankly kind of terrifying drive to rural Ohio when things were at their worst in the city. Social distancing is funny that way - it actually caused me to spend way more time with specific people and way less time with everyone else.
But increasingly I saw everyone else I missed online, in zoom calls and live streams and news feeds. And when I got to my little bedroom off the dance studio in the woods with the baby grand piano I was suddenly at yet another remove: I had no connection to the internet at all and no cell phone service for miles. My only tether to the outside world was a solitary cordless phone that could only receive incoming calls. I couldn’t reach a website or a text message if I tried. And I almost never tried.
So this is a lonely, contemplative record of piano, made with a deep yearning for connection with other people, and that act of throwing open the windows and letting the cicada wings sing is one of invitation, of invocation. It’s as if I hoped that if I turned the microphones up loud enough I’d be able to hear my emails being auto-replied to.
But that’s only half the truth of it.
Because though I was profoundly alone for most of my time spent in Rabun Gap, they served us meals most evenings and most of us - writers, photographers, documentarians, etc. - would sit six feet apart on a screened-in porch and talk about the various failures and triumphs of the day. Where we swam or where we ran to, what hiking trails were full of chanterelles that week, what we had managed to get done since the last time we saw each other. It was often ungainly conversation - it’s hard to make a convincing point to someone sitting six folding tables away - but there was companionship and, crucially, that special universal feeling of camaraderie that one gets when you treat a stranger with kindness and interest and are treated that way in return. An outlining of the invisible lassos of human decency.
Beyond decency, there was actual fun and loveliness.
One night after filming me play piano Hal invited me to a cookout on the lawn in front of his studio and after dinner his wife and his son got out the family sing book and we found some ragged three-part harmonies hiding underneath John Prine songs while the turtles snapped in the pond, almost like applause (less important is the fact that I got absolutely lost on my way to their place and found myself on foot and up a mountain road in the next county over, but Hal realized my mistake and picked me up in his station wagon and barely laughed at me through his mask).
A couple of times a week we’d set up the projector on the screened-in porch and share our work with one another, which was always remarkable because no matter how much I talked to someone and got to know them beforehand the things they showed us always surprised me. I had no idea this person made such wild shit, I often thought to myself. I sang a few songs through a paper mask, so nervous to do it that my fretting hand was shaking, but everyone always asked for more.
And there was real friendship, too - Jeff and I got in the habit of walking the mile or so to the glass placid swimming pond on the other side of the highway and taking a dip while talking about avant garde jazz or experimental sonic wizards or hardcore bands.
So I was alone, yes, and totally disconnected from the glass rectangle which I had started mistaking for the world. I was making myself lunch with my groceries from the Piggly Wiggly and reading Ursula K. LeGuin all morning long and regularly jogging across the border of North Carolina. And I was playing that beautiful, old piano for hours a day, articulating my fingers on the keys until my forearms ached. I was often as alone as I’ve been in years. From one vantage point this is absolutely a quarantine record.
But - and this is the important part - when I played that piano, other people could hear me. When I threw open the windows to let in the birds and the bugs and the weather and all the encountered sound I also let the chords and melodies out. Jeff could hear me on his porch in the next building over, and anyone passing by would catch a vibrating piano string or two on the wind. Just as there is never real silence, you’re never really at a total remove. So this is a quarantine record, but it’s also a record of new connections, that invisible lasso.
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good morning -
I hope you enjoyed this first written expansion on CICADA WAVES - - I’ll be sharing writing and videos like this here for the next few weeks until the album comes out.
Today’s video is by me - I really went and shook my stuff shirtless in a blizzard, and I tried really hard not to give a shit when people passing by saw me and my tripod in the snow, haha.
I want to thank the honestly a little overwhelming number of people who reached out to me yesterday excited about these recordings, both here and like everywhere else I can receive messages. I am so glad! True to the spirit of today’s writing, I spent most of the day driving back to my little crumbling city upstate after getting to spend the weekend actually playing music with people for a gig. I feel the lasso so strongly now (by the way, if you want to watch that Matt Evans & Ensemble stream, it’s now archived here).
Links to stream and purchase the record below, by the way - - I would strongly appreciate you sharing, however you want to do that.
But what about you? Are you throwing open the windows? If so, what are you letting out? If not, what are you keeping tapping at the glass?