Music for Staying Warm by Justin Wright is a meditation on acceptance.

Cadence is a common term in the vocabulary of composers, however, to the average listener, like myself, it’s a foreign concept. Cadence is a chord progression that ends a musical phrase. In Latin, Cado means “to fall.” It also has different meanings in multiple contexts. For example, in cycling, ‘cadence’ is a measurement of a pedals 360-degree rotation. It’s the rhythmic chant of a marching soldier. To a rap artist, it’s a poet’s inflection and the sound of spoken word rising and falling. In other words, cadence produces a sense of closure and gives music the feeling of resolution.

Can you help me understand what cadence is and what role it plays on Music for Staying Warm?

In music theory, a cadence is a short progression, usually two or three chords, that concludes a phrase. It’s analogous to the way we change pitch when we’re talking, as a signal that our sentence is over, or using punctuation in written text. What I’ve done in a lot of these tracks is deliberately leave out any cadences and created musical run-on sentences, or mess with cadences in a way that things don’t conclude exactly where you expect them to. At first, It can be a bit frustrating to listen because you expect things to fit an expected pattern. However, once you accept that things are going elsewhere, or nowhere, it’s a liberating feeling and you can enjoy being lost.

Losing yourself in the cycle.

Chord progressions methodically repeat like a series of sine waves overlayed at various magnitudes. Over time, relationships emerge from repeating lines of cello, violin, viola, and double bass. The instruments intersect in unexpected ways that keep the repetition fresh and exciting. The relationships between layers of sound build cohesion and camouflage the composition’s cadence. Finality is tucked away. In its absence, your only option is to let go and lose yourself in the cycle.

The signature characteristic of Ethiopian Tizita is its absence of cadence. How has Ethiopian Music influenced the trajectory of your work?

I’ve always had a bit of an obsession with music from various regions in Africa, but mainly as a listener rather than a performer, because I don’t really feel it’s my music to make. (I do happily oblige when I’m asked to accompany though!). For a long time, certain styles of Ethiopian and Eritrean music have been my go-to music for unwinding. I really love the music of the begena. It’s oversized lyre with 10 strings that’s been used in meditation and vernacular religious events for centuries. It uses a pentatonic (5 note) scale and performers often sing along in unison. There’s no real direction or conclusion but rather a feeling it could go on forever. The tizita/tezeta as well. I briefly mention it in the liner notes. It’s a more recent style that’s often compared to the blues in terms of its emotional role. It often alternates between two chords, with a free-flowing melody on top. It never really begins or ends. Recordings of it often just fade in and out. I really love the effect that these styles create and I tried to come up with ways of channeling it conceptually rather than aesthetically.

An evocation of loneliness.

Listeners might feel melancholy while listening to Music for Staying Warm because Justin Wright’s sound evokes a feeling of loneliness. It brings to mind the American painter Edward Hopper, who famously captured the isolation and solitude of city living. Each repeating layer of Justin Wright’s music is like a figure in a Hopper painting engaged in the small and cyclical routines of life. Some are captured on their way to work, eating dinner, waking up, or on a commute. Similarly, Music for Staying Warm is tinged with sadness but also with acceptance. Like Hopper, who found beauty in the mundane and cyclical quality of living, Justin Wright finds beauty in the irresolute.

Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942, Art Institute of Chicago
Edward Hopper, Morning Sun, 1952, Columbus Museum of Art

Your album title, Music for Staying Warm, seems to counterpoint your music’s sense of longing. Is the album title a contradiction?

Definitely! The album may have begun as the title suggests but it turned into an exploration of our search for warmth and peace rather than just being music that cheers you up. There are happy and comforting tracks. There are also some really melancholic tracks and the cover art is not exactly cheerful. I think the album can still partly serve a purpose of helping us decompress, but it’s also a journey that goes deeper and tries to capture the challenges we face in trying to do this thing that we think should be so simple.

Music for Staying Warm by Justin Wright encourages us to let go of desire. It takes a special kind of music to bring a listener to a place of acceptance. Feelings of isolation, loneliness, and sadness may dissuade some from taking the journey. However, if you allow the warm rhythmic patterns of Justin’s cello to guide you, he will make you weightless.

Photo Credit Adrian Villagomez

Support and learn more about Justin Wright at his website.

All songs composed by Justin Wright

Violin: Kate Maloney

Additional violin by Taylor Mitz

Viola: Kate Maloney and Simran Singh

Cello: Justin Wright

Upright bass: Alex Kasimir-Smith

Recorded by James Clemens-Seely (Rolston Hall, Banff Centre), Jack Kelly, (McGill Studios) and Justin Wright.

Assistant recording engineers: Matthew Manifould, Anna Blachowsky, Alex Bohn, Fox Schwach, David Wilkinson, and Damian Wiseman

Mixed by Pietro Amato at Skybarn

Mastered by Lawrence English

Cover art by Amanda Durepos

Photography by Adrian Villagomez