• Nikos Papanikolaou

Space, lyrics, and warped sounds: Ben Howard and the music from the whiteout

Credit: Ben Howard

Many argue that live music, without an audience, is not live music. And it’s true. There are, however, some times when the absence of the audience can create a magic atmosphere, a mystagogy. Ben Howard is one of those musicians who can create an eerie set almost without any effort. And when you add a satellite earth station to the equation, you have the perfect result.

By Nikos Papanikolaou

Howard’s latest record, Collections From The Whiteout, was released when all the touring is halted. But then again, his record is everything but this pandemic, even if it was written during the pandemic. So for a moment, imagine someone who ignores everything that happened during the last year and dedicate himself to things that have nothing to do with the pandemic. Now imagine this man, taking all these things, composing them, and releasing an album. Now you have the record’s whole concept in a nutshell.

Credit: Ben Howard

Sage That She Was Burning’ – one of the most astonishing tracks of the new record – is the opener of this live streaming. In the background, the Goonhilly Earth Station and Howard standing beneath the two enormous white dishes – the lyrical metaphor of space’s quiet, the whiteout, the Earth during the last year. The sound and the colours are distorted and warped, like post-apocalyptic survivors trying to send a desperate signal on a dead planet.

“If you think about it, everything is about the coronavirus. So even if you don’t talk about it, you think about it. And when you don’t want to think about it, someone else talks to you about it. Ben managed to write a whole album into the pandemic, talking about things that kept him distracted and sane during this period. This is the ultimate will to live and go forward,” said Anabelle Jenkins, 27, a cinematographer in Edinburgh.

As the set progress – with the tracks ‘Far Out’ and ‘Sorry Kid’ – Howard seems to become more earthy like he opens up an imaginary hug to everyone watching him. Music has no boundaries; music connects us even if we all are in different places. We can all get the same feeling at the same time. The background visual effects – created by Allan Wilson – visualise the music and translate the music and the lyrics into glitched visuals.

“There were times I felt like I was living the World War Z. I was alone in my room, trying to find ways to connect. Ben’s songs kept me company; it’s like my isolation soundtrack,” said Loretta Ceidate, 29, a flight assistant in Ryan Air.

If there was an ideal way to perform without an audience, it’s the way Howard did it. Don’t pretend there is an audience in front of you. Instead, assume the audience is somewhere out there – like the alien signals – and try your best to reach them.