Plague Song: Musical responses to a graphic score by Nick Gill

100% of Plague Song’s proceeds will be donated to Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), and the compilation details the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, moving through the initial first wave of Chinese news reports concerning a new and deadly type of pneumonia which emerged in Wuhan to where we are as of today.

This is what followed. Entire nations went into lockdown as the virus swept the globe, but another plague, made up of doublespeak, confusing slogans, contradictory claims, misinformation, anti-vaxxers, and internet scientists, gathered pace, too. The most powerful man on Earth suggested the ingestion of bleach as a cure. Children were without formal education or socialising for months Millions of jobs were lost. People flocked to the beaches and ignored social distancing guidelines and then the same people clapped the NHS on a Thursday night to show their support and thank them for all their amazing work. There was a redundant, dead-on-arrival claim that 5G could be to blame.

The American president insisted that it will just miraculously ‘go away’ on its own. The UK went into lockdown a week too late, which resulted in thousands of additional deaths. This was just before the Prime Minister was hospitalized and moved to an intensive care unit after becoming infected, when he was shaking hands with doctors and nurses who were treating patients with the virus. Other politicians went on holiday and broke lockdown rules without any reprimands, while the majority were cut off from family and friends, sometimes living in isolation (‘no interactions with anybody’, as Ben Walker’s track highlights). The economy tanked. The pathogen was politicized. Some citizens refused and still refuse to wear a mask. The virus was renamed by the American president as the ‘Chinese Virus’ to stoke tension and lay blame elsewhere.

Nobody on the planet is immune to the effects of the virus, and its detrimental impact can be felt financially, mentally, and physically. It’s all taken a toll, and things are only getting worse in the USA, India, and Brazil, to name a few. The opening, spliced sounds of news footage bubble up like a Corona hotspot, leading to a highly infectious opening track that spawns more and more snips and clips, all of which froth at the front of the track, vying for control and your attention. Tiece’s vocals refresh the compilation before Philip Jeck’s darker, nine-minute trip eradicates its helium with a sprawling uncertainty, covering it up in spiderwebs of stress. Overdriven notes add spikes to the sound, sometimes moving between two notes like an ambulance siren, and the experimental tracks really hammer home unbelievable levels of anxiety. Others are out of sync, shrieking, anxiety-ridden, and disjointed. The clock seems to skip out of tune with everything else; time melts away during the sanity-draining tick of the clock and the passing of another indistinguishable day.

Quieter interludes fill the gaps of time, when the skies were clear and the planes were grounded. Half a year has gone by, and the world still feels like it’s on pause. Some of the tracks on Plague Song highlight a strange stillness which to this day permeates the air, and, depending on interpretation, it either feels eerie or extremely peaceful. This graphic score, written by Nick Gill during the pandemic, has been reinterpreted by a number of all-star artists specializing in ambient, classical, and experimental music. No instructions, durations, or styles were offered, so the musicians had full control and range over their recording. Musicians such as Sebastian Reynolds, Benoit Pioulard, Julia Kent, Will Samson, Nico Muhly, Philip Jeck, and Nicole Robson are all included, but every single artist is able to uncover a different angle of the pandemic and its varying shudders across the world.

Their own experiences in lockdown has made this a personal and connected album, split and separated from others but united in a universal, shared experience. The very nature of Plague Song is generosity and respect, walking away from the selfishness we’ve witnessed throughout the year, from the hoarding of toilet paper to the masks-interfere-with-my-rights brigade. With 20 tracks and all proceeds going towards the real heroes, it’s a generous record all around. Once again, music helps to make the world a better place.

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