»Sonic Healing« is Martin Steer’s third full-length release under the Bad Stream moniker. The Berlin-based multi-instrumentalist first cunningly displayed his interest in blending conventional rock song structures with experimental electronica on his eponymous LP in 2018 and drew on hard-hitting techno, IDM and breakbeat music for his audio-visual live set »Homo Suizidalis Vol. 1 (Metamodern Cybertime Holes)« the year after. »Sonic Healing« now highlights yet another facet of the ANTIME founder’s intentions to create something bigger than himself. Bringing together twelve different musicians from the extended network of his label as well as the Iranian multimedia artist Arash Akbari, »Sonic Healing« is both a deeply intimate record and a collaborative effort that tries to imagine and propose new forms of community and collectivity.
Somewhat ironically, it was a Friday 13th on which Steer’s world was turned upside down. In the midst of global turmoil, personal tragedy unfolded. While the on-going COVID-19 pandemic continued to intensify the political and social crises that had previously informed the topics of Steer’s Bad Stream project, he also received a phone call informing him that his mother had suffered a stroke earlier that day. He was incapable of imagining how his mother must have felt in the weeks during her recovery period, he says today. Having lost her language ability, she could only communicate through a screen and also endured the absence of touch due to hygienic guidelines, thus suffering from threefold isolation.
That’s when music became a means of communication between the two, filling the gaps left by words unremembered or unspoken. »I tried to sympathise with my mother’s situation, tried to translate empathy into sound, merge pain and hope in order to create a medium for emotions that I could only speculate about,« explains the artist. »I had to transform my own feeling of powerlessness.« Sound thus became therapeutic for the two of them in both a very literal but also a metaphorical sense. »The improvisations on acoustic instruments were meant to be touching in the truest sense of the word, they were supposed to live, breathe, get under the skin, whisper and scream.« They would soundtrack the dynamics of healing and regeneration, following processes in the human body which otherwise can only be expressed by metaphors. Music’s ability to strengthen and foster the connections between people when individual strength alone all of a sudden seems insufficient became more apparent than ever.
While the aptly titled »Sonic Healing« was started by one person in response to a singular situation, it fully came to life as a product of collective imagination. The foundation was a single guitar loop created and modulated in real-time by Steer during the last days of March. The recording was passed on to friends from the music world who then used it at different speeds to create a dialogue between their artistic approach and the source material. The contributions, recorded independently of each other by Underspreche (vocals), Héloïse Lefebvre (violin), Gabriel Hertrich (violin), Uri Gincel (piano), Oliver Lutz (bass and double bass), Uli Kempendorff (saxophone), Kai Mader (saxophone), Sebastian Dali (bassoon), Ran Levari (percussions and drums), Hanno Stick (drums), and Hainbach (Roland TR-606 and test equipment) were then assembled and collaged by Steer to finally form a single 39-minute long track that stylistically ranges from feverish jazz to brooding ambient and abstract electronica. »Witnessing the album’s creation was incredibly inspiring,« says Steer. »It was like watching an organism reorganising itself - a natural algorithm of sounds, different voices speaking in a new and shared language, making change happen.«
The complex plasticity of the sounds and the development of new connections which resulted from the coming together of twelve different musical visions is further visualised by Akbari’s cover artwork. The Tehran-based multimedia artist, who previously has released music through ANTIME and also worked with the label’s founder on different audio-visual projects, has also contributed abstract yet tangible animations to accompany both the single »V« and the whole album. With generative algorithms and real-time image processing, Akbari created a bird’s eye view to construct a narrative of the always shifting behaviours in nature which define our perception of beauty, hope, fear, harmony, chaos, and ourselves as a species and a society. It is an impressionistic and poetic approach that adds another dimension to a work which brings together the personal with the global, merging individual voices through the synergies sparked by a new form of collaboration - an album that confronts sensory overload with outstanding artistic ambitions.
The title of »Sonic Healing« must thus be taken at face value: this is the ever-evolving sound of progress from one emotional status to the next, music that wordlessly speaks of the changes around us, in our minds and our bodies. It is a unique album that reflects the extraordinary circumstances under which it was conceived and recorded, but also responds to them, transforms them. It does not ask how one person can deal with turmoil in their life alone, but how new forms of solidarity can be made possible and how exactly social bonds can be redefined, taking culture and art as an experimental starting point. Bad Stream is still Martin Steer’s project, but it has long ceased to be a solo endeavour.