If this year has delivered any sort of message about our field, it’s that artists will inevitably find a way. Creative people will always find new ways to innovate and stay connected. This year was an absolute dumpster fire–and yet, the albums highlighted below are a reminder of the importance of art-making through dark and challenging times.
I never set out to create these lists with any sort of preconceived theme or through-line, but the albums I’ve selected this year can be categorized as celebrations of Black artistry, pandemic projects, and socially-conscious art that speaks to our present moment. With I CARE IF YOU LISTEN’s move to join American Composers Forum this year, our commitment to historically underrepresented and marginalized artists has really crystallized into a primary focus on racial equity. All of the projects listed below embody these editorial priorities and are highly deserving of your attention.
A COCKROACH’S TARANTELLA (MODERN SKY) – DU YUN & JACK QUARTET
Recorded in June 2020 with special attention to health protocols, A Cockroach’s Tarantella (Modern Sky) brings together superstars Du Yun and JACK Quartet for performances of Tattooed in Snow for string quartet (2017) and A Cockroach’s Tarantella for string quartet and narrator (English version, 2006; Chinese version, 2019), bookended by two short improvisations (“Epilogue” and “Prologue”).
The eponymous work is certainly the showstopper, utilizing cerebral experimental high art as the vehicle for telling the story of a lowly cockroach seeking socialization and love. While this “tarantella” subverts the expected lively musical connotation, JACK Quartet still captures the erratic, make-your-skin-crawl scurrying of these undesirable multi-legged creatures through tinkling col legno battuto, creaking bow overpressure, and hocketed bursts of short, rapid note clusters. The presentation of A Cockroach’s Tarantella in both English and Chinese provides a fascinating case study in the inherent characteristics of language. Du Yun’s narration in the English version is measured, careful, and pragmatic, while the Chinese version brings a different intensity and urgency of storytelling that is more animated, quickly articulated, and tonally contoured.