Escaping the viral spiral.
by Dave Skipper
I am writing this in the middle of strange times, with most parts of the globe in various states of lockdown in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the buzzwords we can’t escape these days is self-isolation, and I’ve been pondering that idea a little.
In music production, ‘isolating a track’ is a common technique during composition, recording, and mix down. It simply involves muting all parts and instruments in a mix apart from the one part that you want to listen to. There are a number of practical reasons and instances when this is done, for example to check for errors in that part, or to compare the timbre of the sound against the whole mix in order to ensure that its desired characteristics are not drowned out by other instruments/parts.
It’s not just a production technique though. In live performance it finds effective and dynamic application in highlighting or contrasting different elements that are otherwise being mixed together. In this context this is more likely to be called ‘soloing’ the part rather than isolating it. Isolation tends to have more of a trouble-shooting vibe to it.
Then there is ‘sound isolation,’ or sound-proofing. Recording studios employ sound-absorbing materials and sound-dispersing design features to insulate the room from external noise that would compromise the recording, and to minimise echo and and natural reverb that would cloud the purity of the sounds being made. These function for the dual purposes of listening clearly and recording at high fidelity. Insulating also plays an important role in live music spaces to cut down noise pollution to the outside world to a minimum.
These various forms of audio isolation (especially the first example, isolating or soloing individual tracks/sounds) serve to show up and accentuate the undiluted details and characteristics of the sounds in question. You get to hear the sounds as they really are. They have no place to hide (a little ironically as going into isolation is almost synonymous with going into hiding!).
This is like real-life isolation, isn’t it? When we are forced to be inside for long periods of time, whether completely alone or with family, it tends to reveal who we really are, deep inside. Our flaws and character shortcomings rise to the surface. Our priorities also crystallise – what really matters? What do I truly need? What can I do without? What do I miss? What am I worried about? We are forced into a re-evaluation of our identity, our values, our purposes and desires.
I think this time is a great opportunity to reflect on these things, irrespective of how uncomfortable and testing the situation is. Introvert or extrovert, stable income or facing unemployment, safe or vulnerable. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like everything I see about myself in this situation!
And for most of us we are not utterly isolated. Being able to keep informed and to stay in contact with people online means we at least have the possibility of some form of connection and community beyond the physical walls that surround us.
As I write this I can’t help but remember the greatest and most intense isolation ever experienced in human history. Today is Good Friday. Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, went willingly to the cross to die. This was no hero’s death or pointless act of demonstration. The crux of what was happening is brought to the fore in his cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He was bearing the full weight and punishment of all our sin upon his perfect timeless being. He experienced that total separation from his Father that is the final destiny of death that we should be inexorably heading towards. That moment of isolation is beyond our fathoming.
In the isolation of Jesus on the cross we see God as he really is: just and merciful. We see Jesus as he really is: righteous and full of love. And we see ourselves as we really are: sinners deserving that terrible isolation, but instead perfectly loved, redeemed, adopted, changed, welcomed, and forgiven by God’s grace. For what he was accomplishing was the great exchange: his death in our place, and his life and righteousness given to us.
This is the Christian hope: though we may suffer a little for a while, we are united with Christ and will enter his eternal glory made perfect, to be in unending fellowship and community with him and with everyone else who has been united to him.
So what of our isolation now? One of Jesus’ names is Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.’ And when he left this earth to return to heaven he sent his Holy Spirit, known (amongst other things) as the Comforter. If you have his Spirit living in you then you are not alone. You are never alone.
When we are feeling even a little bit lonely or anxious, the Psalms in the Bible are full of the nutrition we need. I’ll stop here with one example.
You have searched me, LORD,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, LORD, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand –
when I awake, I am still with you.
If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
Do I not hate those who hate you, LORD,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
Here are some related articles I’ve written on this blog about Jesus’ death and what it means for me and for noise: