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Retrospective: All This Here by Jonas Bonnetta (2018)

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I'm listening to my favorite albums of 2019 right now, and doing a retrospective of them, how they came to me, how I feel about them, what I like about them.

I was awestruck the first time I listened to this album. I'd been sort of interested in ambient music, or at least ambient-adjacent for a long time, but this is something I grabbed on to and kept as a safety blanket through some of the hardest parts of this year. I love how well Bonnetta mixes the tape footage found on and around Fogo Island with the strings and piano which drive the album forward. As soon as a vinyl pressing was available for this album, I bought it and added it to the list of albums which appear twice in my bandcamp collection.

I walked through the rain a lot this year, usually on purpose. I needed a lot of quiet solitude this year, as an outlet for stress and anxiety as well as a meditative space to chew on those emotions. All This Here is a great companion for this, it's slow and thoughtful and forces you to keep speed with it, rather than a piece built to fit in to our (mis)connected world.

Coming to ground, returning to the land, re-establishing communion with this planet. I spent a lot of time this year thinking about this place, and my relation to it, while walking through the rain and listening this album. My neighborhood is pretty quiet during the day, especially if I walk up to Sunset Hill Park, a sliver of a public space overlooking the Puget sound from 250 feet above it. It's a beautiful view, especially on the days you can see the Olympic Mountains. I listened to this album a lot during and after reading Jenny O'Dell's How To Do Nothing, a book about this coming to ground, and about how we lost it in the first place. Remembering how to reconnect with the part of the world I'm involved in, the real physical place I live in, has done wonders for my psyche, and having tools to do that has helped immensely.

Rural Nova Scotia is a far cry from the Seattle neighborhood I live in, and the downtown I worked in, and perhaps it's weird that All The Here captures a very similar sound and motion. It's especially clear as the winters wind close. Back in January and February we got an abnormal amount of snow. For the first time in my life, adult or not, I woke up to snow on the ground in front of my own home. I remember the crunch of fresh snow as I walked from home to the bus stop after that first snow fall, and I remember tossing fresh snow off my jacket after spending 40 minutes in the wind waiting for a bus that would not come. I don't remember listening to All This Here that day, but over the coming months, walking through Seattle's snowy icy streets, I spent a lot of time with this album, thinking about my place in a world that seemed to want me and my friends and my family dead.

The rising flow of Stag Harbour reminds me of a particular day in late February, maybe the first decent day since the snow fall. I rode a JUMP Bike to the lighthouse at the end of Discovery Park with a tea set and a gallon of boiled water. I sat out there at a little table enjoying tea and the first real peek of winter's end. I rode the bike down to the lighthouse, but I left it in a bike rack and decided to hike out, through some of the nature trails and back up to the locks and home. Seeing fresh green buds hanging off of plants that could have been covered the week before in ice was uplifting, we'd made it through and things would get warm again.

All This Here, How To Do Nothing, and an increasing anxiety and depression over climate collapse led me to start making changes to my life and my lifestyle. I quit my job, I went on that road trip back in September, and I began to better understand how my time in San Francisco shaped me1. But turning that in to action, the movement from being reactively angry at the state of personal privacy rights, the state of our inaction on reversing the collapse of our ecosystems, the steady corruption of western liberalism, I've found myself stuck, falling in to the same patterns as before I found these things. I can choose to be mad at myself for that, and a younger self has been, but I hope that I can instead choose action. Of course two pieces of media weren't going to save me, and they won't save you either. But like much of the other music which has stuck to me it's a valuable lens and helps me build an ethic I can be confident in.

As I was first drafting this, Jonas's Bandcamp page has a preorder for his next work, "a full-length ambient collaboration … written and recorded in situ during the pair’s seclusion at Big Sur." I've listened to it a few times and I think it's really exceptional, it feels completely at home with me on a rainy afternoon here in Seattle and I can't wait to share it in March.

Footnotes:

1

Even now, I think and talk about that time as though it were a prison stay, a thing which Happened To Me.

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Ryan Rix is a privacy rights advocate and net-art wannabe. Reach them on the Fediverse as @rrix@cybre.space, twitter as @rrrrrrrix, via email to ryan@whatthefuck.computer or on Facebook or on Matrix as @rrix:whatthefuck.computer.