Long before 2020, musicians had been constructing tracks virtually and long-distance and rather than through face-to-face interaction, particularly in hip-hop, electronic dance music and what's loosely termed bedroom pop.

But the pandemic made working in isolation - alone, perhaps as a family unit, or via the Internet - closer to universal.

[There was a considerable learning curve as the musicians became their own recording engineers]. Musicians were also processing their upended routines and the same emotions as everyone else in 2020.

Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, claustrophobia, agoraphobia, doubt, distrust and, at the same time, the political furies of the 2020 election and the Black Lives Matter protests.

IN 2020, pop musicians experimented with ways to create despite isolation. So the last time I applauded live with a roomful of strangers was sometime back in last February.

Applauding was an unremarkable reflect : the punctuation between one song and the next, a wordless expression of approval, clearing the air for the next organized vibrations.

In decades of concertgoing, I had often heard applause as a distraction, not noise that interrupted the musical experience. But during these long pandemic months, I've realized that applause is really a bond.

Listener's communicating with performers listeners communicating with each other, and sometimes musicians applauding what they have just done together, with the audience as both witness and co-conspirator.

I took it for granted. But in 2020, so much what listeners and musicians had taken for granted disappeared - including, for touring musicians and all the people who worked because of them, their entire livelihoods. 

Theaters went dark : historic clubs closed, some forever. Musicians, well known and unknown, lost their lives to Covid-19.

There were no more [safe] concerts, no more physical communities, no more offline connections, no more random encounters with fellow fans.

For those who took public health guidelines seriously, making music together at all was harshly curtailed; indoor rehearsals, studio hangouts, jam sessions, dance parties and in person collaborations disappeared.

At best, they re-emerged with all the old acoustic cues disrupted : musicians performing spaced apart, or outdoors, or hooked up online.

It wasn't just the applause that went silent. All of the music's real-time feedback loops did. The instinctive, intuitive things that musicians learn as they practice or improvise together, and the signals that they pick up from a concert audience, were shut down.

No amount of videoconferencing, chat scrolling or drive-in-concert horn honking could compensate. When it vanished, we learned how much simple physical proximity affects music.

Artists, as they do, coped. They weren't getting anywhere during lockdown, either. Since tour dates evaporated, many made music at home.

Some - Norah Jones, Phoebe Bridgers, Jorma Kaukonen - appeared often online, keeping their voices and fingers limber, seeking connections with the fans they could no longer see.

Some sequestered themselves themselves to work on their own, then revealed unexpected projects that were recorded at home[s] and completed via file-sharing : like Charli XCX's candid, self-recorded and frantically meta-poppy -

''How I'm Feeling Now'' and two full albums by Taylor Swift, ''Folkslore'' and ''Evermore,'' along with a pristine sequestered living-room performance, ''The Long Pond Studio Sessions,'' that physically united Swift and her main collaborators for the first time.

Music's social expectations unraveled and atomized. The immediate responses of musical collaborators working together - a raised eyebrow, a bobbing head, an involuntary grin - gave way to video latency at best and obliviousness at worst.

The honor and serving of the Latest Global Operational Research on Present Times, Pandemic and Music, continues. The World Students Society thanks author Jon Pareles.


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