As KEXP celebrates its 50th anniversary, we're looking back at the last half-century of music. Each week in 2022, KEXP pays homage to a different year and our writers are commemorating with one song from that year that resonates with them. This week, Dusty Henry looks at “Degree of Change” by Nairobi and Berlin-based sound artist KMRU and turning to ambient music as a place to reflect during chaos. Read the piece or listen to it below.
2020 was a year of pain. One we're all going to be living with, repressing, remembering for the rest of our lifetimes. A year it seems we're somehow still living in, prolonged by a never-ending pandemic and unresolved questions.
l hardly wanted to listen to any music at all that year. At least for a while. it felt hard to indulge in something while everything else crumbles. Music has always been a refuge for me. it was disconcerting to have it bring me anxiety instead. But, somehow fell into ambient music and it felt like a lifeline.
Ambient music is peaceful and longing. Well, at least most of the time. Synthesizers, harps, zithers, drum loops, and all sorts of serene and/or celestial sounds. It’s often wordless, formless, and meditative. Ambient music felt both like an escape and a quiet place to think about what to do next. Artists like Hiroshi Yoshimura, Nailah Hunter, Green-house, and Khotin became staples for me to lose myelf in. I think sometimes ambient music sometimes gets misconstrued as passive. So many of these albums are immersive, drawing you into their sonic world. KMRU’s 2020 album Jar is like that.
KMRU is the moniker of Nairobi and Berlin-based sound artist Joseph Kamaru. KMRU’s process relies heavily on field recordings. Often wandering around places he’s living or visiting with a microphone in his hand recording his surroundings. Walking through markets. Kicking around rocks. Sitting by streams or busy street corners. On Jar, KMRU manipulates recordings from Nairobi, Uganda, and Montreal into beautiful sonic landscapes. Every so often you'll hear the chirps of birds or distant chatter. Shrouded in loops of hums, you can conjure up murky visions of these places. Or at least your own interpretations. Each location blurs together. You never know exactly where you’re hearing. But your imagination is given endless prompts and possibilities.
Jar is an act of transportation. But when I put it on the other day, I felt a new sensation. I was being transported back through time instead of space the second the first track “Degree of Change” came on. I felt called back to 2020. Those familiar feelings of looking for refuge came rushing back to me. I can remember reaching for this album again and again when my mind felt overwhelmed. The way “Degree of Change” slowly swells at the beginning felt like a gateway I could step through.
There were plenty of times I just wanted to put my head in the sand and avoid the harsh reality of the world we were experiencing in 2020. A reality we’re still living in. Ambient didn’t solve my or the world’s problems, but it at least gave me a space to breathe. To think. To clear my head and approach the world with some focus instead of mania. While I don’t want to go back to 2020, KMRU’s music at least gets me back to a place where I tried to choose healthier ways to cope. It’s music that reminds me to make space instead of hiding away.
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As KEXP celebrates its 50th anniversary, we’re looking back at the last half-century of music. Each week in 2022, KEXP pays homage to a different year and our writers are commemorating with one release from that year that resonates with them. This week, Kevin Cole reflects on New Order's 1983 class…