The "instrumental isolation collective" is a collaborative Spotify playlist of soothing instrumental tracks which are open for anyone to contribute to. The initial aim was to create an unobtrusive but varied backing track to work from home to, or to simply chill to. Here, I curated a selection of some of my favourite tracks in the playlist accompanied with a short sleeve note from each contributor explaining why they suggested the track. I have also included links to the full playlist and my selected selection below, to listen and contribute to. Music can often be a force of solidarity - a form of art that can bring people together, no matter where they are in the world. We hope they bring you some calmness, if not coolness, in these unsettling times.
Full playlist: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3owA31HT03HmRY7xDbejIZ?si=BCoEK_XPTKyXnBppEiT3LQ
Selected tracks: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/2trkITCPuQ5eSiVpBis2VV?si=FtREQwe-RcORMGF-zKuEoQ
Portico Quartet - Pompidou
This is a lazy song - great for when your brain isn’t doing much (personally, a state which my brain has gotten very used to over the past few weeks). This is why I think it would be enjoyable on the isolation playlist. It makes me think of the times I’ve been half asleep sitting on a Megabus heading back to London. The kind of journeys where you sit down with the intention of doing something productive for the next few hours but really, you just end up listening to songs like this the whole trip. It's the perfect song for idle moments, and a calming backing track to some of the less calm conversations you get to hear on long coach journeys.
Mack Brown & The Brothers - Bumpy’s Lament
Bumpy’s Lament is a very slow, very simple, groovy tune and I think that is why I love it. Honestly, I have no idea where I first heard it. My older brother is a PROLIFIC playlist maker, so most often when I have ‘discovered’ new music, it’s through him. In this case I think I was more conscious when I first heard it because it has been sampled so many times, so I might have recognised it from elsewhere! In writing this, I went back and listened to all the different times it had been sampled which was a wild ride. It is a 'lazy' song, meaning it requires no extra effort from the listener. Alongside adding my own music choices, I love hearing what other people have added to the playlist. Spotify is such a great way for people to share their current emotions, through music. I feel like doing so is helping us keep the normal soundtrack to our lives going.
Miles Davis - I Wants to Stay Here (aka I Loves You Porgy)
I have always had a quiet fascination with Porgy and Bess. It’s filled with inconsistencies and contradictions. So much of the language and the original score feels jarring and uncomfortable, yet it has been taken on in such an innovative loving way by musicians, performers, and civil rights activists alike. My favourite song has always been I Loves You Porgy and I find myself returning to both this version and Nina Simone’s amazing performance. The piece means a multitude of things. It first means travelling. It is in a constant state of flux and movement and for me, has accompanied many of my own train and bus journeys. The Miles Davis arrangement gives just enough of the song: a shape or a curve. It doesn’t outline but fills in the gaps between empty spaces. It paints in large brush strokes. I think the first time I heard the arrangement was on an early summer afternoon whilst walking from the bus to a dentist appointment and I had to physically stop moving to just take it in for a moment. I still haven’t really grasped a proper way to describe the emotions it evokes but I think the arrangement encapsulates the same inconsistencies and contradictions that the whole piece provides. Miles Davis was a talented and deeply angry person and so, should be remembered for the pain he caused as well as the joy. In this arrangement there is so much restraint, delicacy, and space in which I can just exist in for the brief time it plays for. We are currently living in a messy, sad, and uncertain time and a big part of my daily life is existing in a succession of slightly different spaces. However, with this song I am able to imagine something just a bit further, outside of the house, past the street, into a small room where colour is being made with brushes.
Brian Eno - Ambient 1/Music for Airports 1/1
Music for Airports 1/1 is truly my 'ride or die' calm music. I will happily put it on repeat for hours at a time. My brother has just told me, “in sixth form I remember you would get in the bath for a long time and I would just hear the bass notes from Music for Airports and think ah, she’s had a hard day." I don’t remember this, but it definitely sounds true. The fact that I don’t really remember this behaviour is also an interesting reflection on the actual music and what it is meant to represent.
It is suspended. Its circular, resonant fluidity makes it perfect to bathe in - not literally but I guess with the above anecdote, also literally - especially if your brain is a bit stressed or needs a calm kind of focus. I can remember the first time I heard it so vividly: my 18 year old self was shocked by this weird floaty beautiful music and (it’s a cliché but) it was like nothing I had heard before. Even though it is aesthetically adjacent to a lot of minimalist classical music, it is somehow fundamentally different; less rigid, less pretentious maybe? It was then interesting to find out that Brian Eno is from a pop/rock background. It contextualises the honesty and intensity of connection I felt with this music. I love looping, flexible forms in all kinds of music, and that is what this piece does, without the rigidity of exact repetition or strict tempo that sometimes hampers more ‘classical’-oriented music.
Finally, I think that the actual idea of Music for Airports is just beautiful. ‘Music for’ immediately calls to mind muzak, made to serve a purpose and exist in the background. This interpretation gives this piece a nice sense of deference to the listener and whatever they want to do. In doing so, it nods to a rejection of Brian Eno’s ego, which I always appreciate from a composer. The title situates the music to a perhaps boring, transitory, chore of a place, suggesting that it wants to help the listener find a gentle mental space in order to cope. I think Brian Eno is letting us know that he wants us to relax and we do not have to focus all the time on this music - it can just be a balm, a background, for doing our own thing.
John Martyn - Small Hours
John Martyn has been one of my favourite musicians to listen to during this solitary period. His whispery tones, oh the whispery tones... His music transports me wherever I want to go. Small Hours is so ethereal and beautiful. It has so many layers and it allows the listener to go at their own pace. It's got a deep bass underneath like a heartbeat too. It just gets me.
Takatsugu Muramatsu - Land
I love the constant sense of movement that this piece expresses - it just keeps turning. This is a nice sentiment to hold on to in our current situation. I first heard it when a good friend of mine played it as an encore. I was sat in the orchestra, transfixed by this intimate sound despite the concert hall being filled with one thousand people. The percussion concerto my friend had performed beforehand was so busy and loud, and so this piece was the perfect contrast. I chose to include this solo piece because self isolation is an odd solitary space to function in. Our longing to be with others is growing. However, this piece shows that even when you're riding solo, there is still a lot of bliss to be had and heard.
Madredeus - Oxalá
I heard this sound for the first time in Lewisham, in the flat I am currently staying safe in. I had just arrived back from a cycle ride. After removing jackets and shoes, I was handed a cider. It had been a warm day, as most days have been now. Oxalá was playing on the speaker. My friend Elle wanted to show it to me because her mum had always played it when she was small. She fondly remembered how her and her sister would try to sing along, despite the unfamiliar words. We sat together quietly, and listened as the last light from the window fell on Elle’s cheeks and away into her glass. It is a Portuguese song and Google (although absolutely not 100% accurate) translates it roughly to:
Oxalá, give me the headache, oxalá
Oxalá, the step does not slow me down;
Oxalá, Carnival happens, oxalá,
Oxalá, the people never forget;
I wish I didn't walk without care,
I wish I didn't have a hard time;
I wish I didn't do everything in a hurry,
I wish my future would happen
I wish that life goes well for me, that I
wish for your life too;
Oxalá, Carnival happens, oxalá
Oxalá, the people never forget;
I wish, time passes, hour by hour,
I wish that no one
leaves, I wish that Carnival approaches,
I wish that everything goes less badly.
The lyrics were seemingly foreign, but oddly accessible. They are relatable and now, increasingly relevant.
Penguin Cafe Orchestra - The Sound Of Someone You Love Who’s Going Away And It Doesn’t Matter
What first attracted me to The Sound Of Someone You Love Who’s Going Away And It Doesn’t Matter was the long, melancholic title. Expecting the resemblance to a The Smiths or a Billie Eilish song, I was pleasantly surprised by the alternative, indie finger stylings of the electric guitar at the beginning of the track. The best way I can describe this piece is if the album Sing Me Home by Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble and the bands, Wilco and Whitney, were to collaborate. Something resembling this track would be born. I am sure that everyone listening to this piece is currently going through the complex emotion of someone they love - whether it be a friend, a family member or a romantic interest - leaving them either temporarily or for the foreseeable future. Due to our current situation, the best thing to do is to try to put aside feelings of dread, to focus on the more positive aspects of life to make isolation feel at least, a little bit easier.
KOKOROKO - Abusey Junction
It had been a typically sweaty, swelling day, the type you can only get in London when refusing to accept it had hit autumn, when I first heard this track. We had got the tickets for the KOKOROKO gig so far in advance that when I remembered the concert, I had to re-convince myself to go. Abusey Junction starts and ends with a guitar solo that is both expressive and unobtrusive, accompanied by a gentle groove on drums and keys. Slowly, the all-female horn section joins in with parallel harmonies and later solo parts which are thoughtful and powerful, like an old activist who had already achieved what she had advocated for and was now taking a step back to tell her story (imagine Angela Davis in an armchair, sipping coffee). I imagined one woman, not three - maybe it was how together the three women were musically. I chose this track for isolation because it reminds me of that feeling of gratitude that you get when even after a long day, you find small joy and calm.
Collated by Angela Lochmüller
Edited by Ketki Mahabaleshwarkar