20/20 is a new album by Alex May available for download on Bandcamp. This collection of layered improvised guitar works are an exercise in musical catharsis and communication. They actively avoid all traditional musical structures of timing, key, or resolution of phrasing to create a feeling of discordance that is felt not just in the ear but in the soul.
When the Coronavirus lockdown started in the UK in March 2020, there was a lot of confusion, mistrust, and fear. People reacted in different ways: from almost complete withdrawal from the outside world to ignoring the whole situation, not distancing, and not wearing masks.
What seemed like a relatively simple opportunity to exhibit a basic kindness and compassion for our fellow humans, for some became an invitation to loosen their reigns on common sense as they denied the existence of the threat; decried the impact on their “freedoms”; and blasted off from “planet reality” entirely by setting fire to 5G mobile phone masts that they considered to be spreading the virus.
I’m sure they had their reasons, but for the life of me I couldn’t understand them at the time. With this situation following the Brexit vote and the Trump vote, I was feeling distanced and weird about being human. Rather than adding to the echo chamber of social media by reposting stories that reinforced or offended my entrenched viewpoint, I picked up my guitar and, every month, created a piece of improvised music that attempted to embody the wordless feeling that I felt deep under all the chatter and pontificating without resorting to ambiguous noise.
After five months of doing this project, I felt like I had come to some kind of resolution. Listening back to these tracks, there’s a lot of moments and ideas in there that I really like. The predominate overtone, I feel, is one of discordance. And it is that word that I settled on as representing what I was feeling; that represents what it means to be human. To accept that human life is discordant, and we are all at odds in some way or another, but we muddle through, and we’ve got this far, despite our own weirdness and the existential threats of ever evolving disease and living on a tiny space rock circling a gloriously terrifying enormous fireball.
So now I share these tracks with you. I don’t know if they will have the same cathartic effect as making them did for me. Probably not. Instead, as you listen to them and let the discordance pinch and tweak your brain, you will feel like I did when I made them. It is the emotionality commonality that affirms our humanity and knowing that we share that, albeit in unexpected ways, propels us forwards into the void together.