Spotlights on the Scene: Distant Dialogues

This year has fast-tracked us into a digital world. Our lives have become increasingly virtual, and in-person interactions can be few and far between. Yet geographic distance doesn’t always have to be an obstacle to human connection.

Distant Dialogues is a cross-continental project which proves just that, using our remote reality as a foundation for new and creative collaborations. Radio platform Worldwide FM have teamed up with independent label Merrie Records and the British Council, supported by Chinese company Xintiandi, to show that our physical isolation is no barrier to creative collaboration. They have been working with audiences and artists across continents in the spirit of creativity and togetherness, with the aim of exploring human connections in ‘very distant physical spaces’.

In the COVID-19 era, geographical barriers diminish in importance, opening up opportunities for artists and other creatives to collaborate across the world. Distant Dialogues is born out of this reality, and is a celebration of the kinds of ideas and interactions that may never have come about in ‘normal’ times. The project began with UK artists Wonky Logic, Kayla Painter and Hector Plimmer asking Chinese audiences and artists for sounds and recordings which touch on themes of joy, vulnerability and geography, while Chinese artists Shii, Sheng Jie / Gogoj and GOOOOOSE asked British audiences for sounds and recordings exploring themes of staring, dancing and flowers. All six artists have used these collaborative pools of sound to craft and shape one song, together forming a six-track compilation of experimental material (Merrie Records).

To accompany the compilation, Worldwide FM have produced a two-hour radio programme exploring the tracks and themes in detail. Music from the six artists is interwoven with their thoughts on lockdown, creativity and collaboration, creating a multi-dimensional listening experience. Cross-continental music is meshed together while its creators act as cartographers, guiding you through their sonic network. The disjointed beats of GOOOOSE and Wonky Logic meet the ambient cuts of Kayla Painter and Sheng Jie in a mesmerising collage of cultures and sounds, interlaced with the lush dream-pop of Shii and the syncopated rhythms of Hector Plimmer.

With many of the songs being written in lockdown or isolation, the artists take it in turns to talk about their experience of creativity and productivity in solitude. Wuhan’s Shii found lockdown a rare opportunity to sit down by herself and make music.

“It’s a good thing for artists that you can always stay home and think and try to create something on your own, it’s not really a problem. I cherished the time when I was alone at home”

Meanwhile, Beijing’s Sheng Jie reflects upon the wider impact that the pandemic has had on her.

“I’ve become more passionate and tolerant than before, because life is so precious. I know that is a very cliche word, but only after this pandemic have we truly understood what it means”

These snippets of life in lockdown counterpoint and complement each artist’s solo soundscapes. Industrial beats intermingle with recordings of nature and everyday life, culminating in an extraordinary musical experience which lends itself toward introspection and contemplation.

Distant Dialogues is a one-off project, but out of it has come an exciting network of new connections and ideas across the independent radio and music industries, in both the UK and China. Its brave and original concept is testament to the determination of artists to continue creating and collaborating in an adverse reality. Distant Dialogues has produced a montage of disparate sounds and voices connected through the common thread of mutual experience, serving as a striking soundtrack to this digital world.

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