Welcome to the Voka Gentle Journal. Imogen, Ellie and I (William) have been keen to do something like this for a while; a running point of contact that isn’t quite so dependent on the whims of social media algorithms, where we don’t have to worry about ‘reach’ or ‘engagement’ and can instead simply keep you up to date with what we’re doing, what we’re enjoying and, I guess, what we’re thinking. If you want to know what we’re listening to, subscribe to the monthly Voka Gentle Selektor playlist. We’ll probably take turns to write, maybe with a guest every now and then.
In this particularly depressing month, in this particularly discouraging year, there are still many, many reasons to be cheerful and so many wonders to discover in 2021, whatever it brings. Covid has broken the ordinary rhythm of things, which is jarring to say the least, but the more I think about it, probably necessary. I’m pretty sure the natural world agrees.
Don’t worry: this isn’t going to be another ‘what I learned in lockdown.’ I haven’t really learned much, to be honest, other than it’s not really a good idea to eat pizza three nights in a row. This entry is actually mainly about an idea for a show I had, which takes place in a swimming pool. Firstly, though, an update on Voka Gentle. When the first lockdown hit back in March 2020, we had already started pre-production on our second full-length record in London and all the recording sessions had been booked in for a while, so things were in motion but we thought we might have to cancel everything. As it happened, though, we managed to honour those sessions in May and get up to Blank Studios in Newcastle to start recording with Sam Grant: engineer-mixer extraordinaire and also the guitarist in a Voka favourite band Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs. With a tentative autumn release date in the diary we were mixing through the summer and mastered the album at Abbey Road in September, but decided to hold off on the release as it became clearer and clearer that the pandemic wasn’t going away anytime soon. Sorry to make you wait, we’re exceptionally proud of this record and it also features some very special guests, so bear with us and have a few more sessions on Start Clanging Cymbals while you’re waiting. Some of you might remember we played some songs from LP2 in our WOMAD At Home live set at Real World Studios in September; if you missed that then don’t worry, everything will be available eventually!
In the absence of live music, it’s definitely been interesting to see how different artists have responded to the conditions of the pandemic (some of you might also remember us doing a couple of instrumental live-streams during the first lockdown, as well as putting an ambient EP out called ‘Eleanor-19/William-19/Imogen-19’). Some people have played socially distanced shows, some have filmed sets in empty venues, some have collaborated over Zoom. One place that was open, at least during the summer and autumn, was my local swimming pool. As I was in there one day I realised that chlorinated water probably isn’t such a bad environment to be in during a pandemic (disclaimer: I am not a doctor), and also that rarely do you get too close to someone you don’t know. Pools are usually amazingly reverberant spaces with a really particular sound. I suddenly imagined how amazing it would be if one of the poolsides was turned into a stage with a band on it and the audience was in the swimming pool! I then thought it would be even cooler to have a quadraphonic (or more) speaker system surrounding the pool. If it was done right it would be an amazing sonic experience, not least because sound travels through water so well. If you had some kind of waterproof speakers or sub-woofers vibrating through the water in the pool (almost like giant versions of the ones you get in hot tubs), you’d literally be immersed in sound. Add some flashing lights into the mix (and maybe a vigilant life-guard) and you’d have a pretty amazing show.
Anyways, that’s something that’s in my brain this month. Who knows, maybe we’ll need to continue thinking of novel show formats to keep up with Covid, but lockdown or no lockdown I would love to try it.