While I was away, Spotify released its annual “Top Songs of the year” list. I quite appreciate this feature from Spotify. Music, at least for me, reflects one’s state of mind, and the list gives you a window into your inner self. My musical tastes were biased towards jazz, blues, and electronica in the past. However, this year, my top songs list is dominated by what one would call “ambient music.” 

An unusually large number of pianists feature on this list, along with the likes of Mary Lattimore and Roger Eno. My top artist of the year is a Japanese musician (saxophonist and pianist) Akira Uchida, and other favorites include Rose Riebl, Nils Frahm, and Brambles. Uchida has 114 listeners on Spotify, which is such a shame. 

Why ambient? And why these artists? And what do they say about the year that was? After a challenging 2020, I thought of 2021 as a year of contemplation, paring down and stripping down life, ambition, and outcomes to bare essentials. Just as in winter, you let a field lay fallow; this is all in preparation for whatever is the next chapter in life for me. 

This continuous elimination of excess — whether it is superfluous ideas, possessions, words, or choices is reflected in my photography and writing (which has become more private and inward-looking.) The musical choices of 2021 created the soundtrack for this contemplation and this discovery process. 

Many of the artists I preferred in 2021 are “minimalists” and allow a handful of instruments to speak in a manner that conveys the feelings. I am grateful they created the music that helped my soul searching so pleasant. 

If you are interested, I created a playlist for your enjoyment

It has been a mostly gray, wet, and foggy New Year Weekend in San Francisco. And while it won’t qualify as winter in many parts of the world, the weather is chilly enough to stay indoors. I have been reading a new book, though the reading marathon was interspersed by a quick visit to the beach, and coffee with Chris.

The reading experience has been made most enjoyable by Jana Winderen‘s soundscapes. She is a Norway-based audio artist. She creates soundscapes from audio from “environments and to creatures which are hard for humans to access, both physically and aurally – deep underwater, inside ice or in frequency ranges inaudible to the human ear.”

Given my fondness for ice, snow, and the arctic, I have felt hypnotized by her work. I bought her entire catalog on Bandcamp — and it has been on a loop ever since. Her latest release isn’t available on Spotify. It is embedded below for you to listen to.

I am looking forward to resuming regular duties tomorrow.

January 3, 2021. San Francisco

I am enjoying this forthcoming track, The Sound of Someone Leaving (with Aaron Martin) by Phil Tomsett, a UK-based musician who is known for his organic sounding, lush and layered soundscapes. “Absence is powerful. When someone isn’t there anymore, the empty space is charged with emotional power. As if the act of vanishing leaves behind an ethereal, supernatural signature,” Tomsett notes. The song is a perfect soundtrack for our pandemic isolation and the changes it has wrought. I can’t wait for the full album to drop in early September.

August 25, 2020, San Francisco