Aaron Novik

(Astral Spirits)

Some very potent albums have been recorded in quarantine and released over the last year, and Aaron Novik’s Grounded is a great example. The basic concept is acoustic instruments doing electronic music, an idea many have approached but likely few have executed this well. It was made with the acoustic sounds of the clarinet, bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet using minimal effects, and it was recorded during lockdown in the Elmhurst neighborhood of Queens, New York, during April to May of 2020. These sounds are from right when COVID-19 was at its deadliest in the city.

Novik describes that time: “My clearest memories are of an eerie silence, no cars, no people walking around, interspersed with ambulance sirens every five minutes,” he said. “It was dread-inducing.”

You can hear this in the music. And his technique is certainly effective. It’s almost unbelievable that this was made using only clarinets, as the songs have a percussive base over which Novik explores simple melodies, then progressively weaves them together with increasing complexity. You picture him tapping on a drum machine and a keyboard instead of playing a clarinet.

The song titles don‘t give us much here; they’re just “Part 1,” “Part 2” … ending at “Part 10.” But as we move through these, Novik’s palpable dread at what was happening in the city is there. If you’re interested in the sound of a man contending with the pandemic’s start in a very unique way, this is recommended.

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