Music in a time of Global Crisis #14 – Sound Awakener

Hanoi-based musician and sound artist Nhung Nguyen joins the conversation on music making in a time of global crisis. Readers will be familiar with Nhung’s work, not only appearing on RTR over the years as both Sound Awakener and (as one half of) Oblivia (with Gallery Six), but with an impressive discography spanning many independent labels and international collaborations. Nhung’s solo work Sound Awakener and under her own name has been consistent since entering the scene in 2011, exploring ambient, abstract, and modern classical styles with an emphasis on time and place.

In this feature, Nhung discusses making music during lockdown, recent listening recommendations, the state of the wider music industry, the benefits of live streaming, and the importance of openness.

How have the widespread lockdowns in response to the Covid-19 crisis affected your music making?

In some ways it hasn’t and some ways it has. I live a very quiet and private life and my studio setup has always been simple, so I got used to the quarantine lifestyle quickly. Here in Vietnam lockdown started on 1st April and ended after 3 weeks but I spent most of my time at home long before that. I was fortunate enough to be able to work from home easily and have all my basics covered. Lockdown gave me more time to work on stuff that I postponed: a couple of collaborations, old tracks from my studio diaries, lots of recordings and photos from the field recording trips that I didn’t have time to edit. And of course, more time to learn, read and research for my upcoming projects later this year. Overall the lockdown created a positive impact on my music making despite the stressful and uncertain situation we have been in since the end of January.  

What music, new or old, have you been listening to lately, and have your listening habits changed as a result of the current situation?

My listening habits haven’t changed much actually – I still browse Bandcamp to listen and buy music although it’s quite hard to buy physical releases these days (and I guess it’s hard for labels to put out albums this year too). So, I rely on digital albums mostly for my listening choice. Otherwise listening to music on cassettes and vinyl was truly a comfort during the lockdown time. Apart from that I’ve been revisiting old albums and discovering new ones critically because I have more time to listen and reflect. Some of them I want to mention here are Chew Kosaka’s 1977 album ‘Morning’Cucina Povera’s ‘Tyyni’ and blochemy’s ‘nebe’, both out at the beginning of this year. 

Consequence of Sound reported the worst week of album sales since the 1960s (28th March 2020). Do you think the coronavirus outbreak will have a lasting negative effect on the music industry?

Not really. I think it might take a long while for the whole industry to recover from the pandemic but once things are back to normal, record sales and live events will slowly go back to the pace they were before. 

With more musicians live streaming from their homes than ever before, do you think this trend will continue once things improve?

I think so – live-streaming has given both artists and fans many benefits during this difficult time. For artists it continues to be a good way to promote their stuff and stay in touch with the music community. For fans it’s a convenient way to enjoy live performances from the comfort of their own home. But I don’t think live streaming can replace the atmosphere of live events – I consider it as an alternative way to enjoy music. 

What do you think we as music makers can be doing to create positivity right now?

Keep making music no matter what we are going through – this applies to my life at any time but during this strange time it’s more important than ever. Be open about your struggles and worries, reach out and support to each other are good ways to stay mentally healthy. 

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