We are currently well into a fashionable* panic over a virus whose name we won't recall in 30 years. The world is urged to avoid groups of ten or more humans, to work from home if possible (or just possibly lose your job), do regular therapy sessions over Zoom, focus on buying beans, et cetera. "Social distancing" is the hashtag. I'm doing what I can do to cling to normalcy and avoid dark days, and I hope that anyone not accustomed to physical isolation and being alone with their thoughts can change their lens before madness takes over. With that in mind, let's talk about, per everything I read and saw online in twenty minutes, the loneliest place on Earth: Saint-Petersburg.**
Loneliness in Saint-Petersburg is a curious exercise in imagination while listening to a conversation between, for lack of better words, music and whatever you hear after opening a window or sitting in a park. Members Ernesto Rodrigues (viola, violin, harpsichord, guitar, e-bow, field recordings), Denis Sorokin (ukulele, pitch pipes) and Guilherme Rodrigues (cello, pocket trumpet) lean heavily on fourth member, Nature, for the entirety of the album. Their choice of environmental source is carefully planned, or terrific happenstance. (From the press release: "It is unclear which sections are improvised...") Instead of laying out long stretches of backdrop for the performers, (Ernesto) Rodrigues assembles the soundscape 1) with the larger (loud, wider ADSR) environmental sounds serving as formal landmarks 2) in a way that nothing is filler during the 51-minute piece; even the wind is interesting. Rodrigues and Co. are successfully playing God.
The introduction is a long stretch sans "music" where the group (or maybe recording engineer Joel Conde) does a great job of sonically conveying numbness. However, as prescribed above, this nostalgic moroseness is overhauled if you can close your eyes, limit other senses and let your ears interpret. Are these vehicles driving by, or is it a viola fed into something that makes it go WHOOSH? When divorcing your expectations from each WHOOSH, you can hear them as percussion and patterns. The trail of whatever is splashing on the curb is teeming with tiny particles that sound as bbs pouring onto / ricocheting off cement. Due to either the nature of the noise source or mixing choices, this gesture moves in the shape of an L across your speakers. It is an official character in this film.
After several minutes of adapting and nearing a lucid dream state, the listener is greeted by a single, sustained pitch pipe note that barely registers as anything the flock or revving motors should care about. More minutes pass, and an enormous rumble and splash cause mayhem and even more species to join in the chatter; It's hard to say if it's anger or ecstasy (I always assume birds are gossiping or repeating "look at me!" over and over), but it's an intense release. Another tranquil patch, and gently rolling harpsichord arpeggios manifest. Around the point when the scratch and rasp of bowing strings appear, it dawns on you that this trio - the entity purposely making sound - is the interloper. Music is one not on the guest list. It's stepping on Nature's toes.
Tell your friends, coworkers, professors, and elderly family members: Loneliness can be comforting. And the back and forth of a rumbling cello and osprey is neat.
* Per one popular site's recommendation, some locations one must visit in Saint-Petersburg include "10 Key Places from Dostoevsky's The Idiot" and "10 Key Places from Tolstoy's War and Peace". Suggested Saint-Petersburg-centric Instagram accounts feature a photographer who specializes in weathered and "I've seen some things" faces. Glamor shots of cathedrals are filled with opulence with very little audience to appreciate it.
** My grandmother told me the world would end in the year 2000, so I've been over this scenario so many times. This feels like a flea when compared to the ultra-crocodile-sized fear I had at age ten. I'm in Mexico writing this paragraph by a moonlit pool while a bar's Berlin House tracks compete with a band covering "Play That Funky Music" and "Wild Thing" with a full horn section and a singer screaming and snarling like Frank Black. I might be more problem than solution. Sorry for the war journal.
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