Emma McGann's latest projectReview
Years ago, being a reviewer may have been in some respects a little easier: music arrived as artefacts and you knew that to do so, the artist had "released" them (I'm deliberately ignoring bootlegs for the purposes of the point I'm trying to make). Today, we engage with it in a myriad of ways: hard copies & digital and in the latter case, there are many grey areas wherein "released" music may not necessarily be categorised as a single, EP nor album.
Does it matter? Not really I think. Although "I Know Myself" (if that indeed is the track's name) may not be an "official release" by Emma McGann in a traditional sense, it is on her YouTube and so surely counts as one in 2024 terms: it's accessible at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRiV3_QmNOk to be precise.
As you know, the past months have presented Emma with very significant emotional challenges and whether her creative burst during this period can be seen as her way of dealing with it, or catalysed by it, isn't terribly important in terms of critical analysis: it's something we need to acknowledge & respect as part of our support for her. What is significant from a reviewer's perspective is the stunning originality of how that creativity has been expressed.
Thinking back at least as far as her ‘Monsterverse' EP which we reviewed in November 2022 ("…an immersive world where the listener is cast as the main character, exploring new worlds and battling with their own monsters they encounter along the way"…) where the music was part of a broader concept also embracing an online experience, through her building a studio apparently on a jungle treetop (if you've not seen her fascinating video of how she achieved this, I thoroughly recommend you to check it out at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAkPz-WnHKM) to this current challenge of creating a track from four items (and only those four) sent to her from Temu by a friend, Emma has broken new ground where so far no-one has yet followed. (I personally think the upcoming Monastery EP might make an excellent game but I'm sure the amount of work to realise it must be immense).
The items (Emma seems to query necessarily calling them all instruments) were a (twelve hole) ocarina, a kalimba, a foot tambo & a singing bowl: basically she took them and sampled them (in a self imposed four minute window) to offer herself traditional structures of rhythm, melody etc and frankly I'm staggered by how she managed to create a much broader palette of sounds than you'd guess from hearing the "natural" output us mere mortals would get out of them. I'll be honest: the result is pretty much the sort of thing you might expect from Emma had she had her usual range of tools available: and she's even created some nice lyrics to go with it.
As an act of comparison, between 1971 & 1974, Pink Floyd, searching for inspiration, experimented with found objects (in their case non instruments) as alternatives to what they normally played and eventually gave up. Emma had a slightly different hand given her to play (in fact she had no choice which they did) but took to her challenge & emerged more triumphant: in fact despite her (understandable) caution in some respects, such as the querying of whether the instruments counted as such and the apparent lack of title of the emerging piece, you can taste Emma's relish for the task in hand and her positive rising to the gauntlet thrown her.
"I Know Myself" (if that's its name) is not, I suspect going to be her next single, nor am I putting money on it appearing in a set, but I wanted to tell you about it because of the picture it helps paint of Emma McGann the confident, flexible & innovative writer: one in fact who seems to have fun as part of her creative process (and she is also so articulate in her "process" videos) and that I believe is worth taking into account when savouring & considering her more formal releases.