For a more directed recommendation, I’ve found modern cello to be particularly fruitful (even if not used in a video game), especially by Zoe Keating—e.g. “Sun Will Set” and “Tetrishead”—and in the same vein, Julia Kent’s “Barajas.” Those three are really beautiful cello pieces. Do check them out, even if you don’t spend days researching the epic mixes above.
(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)
Reader M.J. has a wonderful find for the new series:
As a PhD researcher, it’s difficult to find the right kind of music to work to. Music with lyrics distracts from reading and typing. Absolute silence is just as distracting as a complete din. I’ve sometimes used one of the white-noise or nature-sounds websites, but they get boring.
After some searching, I’ve found that the classical music used in video games is very helpful. Thanks to sites like Bandcamp, it’s easy to find and buy music from indie games (ones that often aren’t focussed on shooting as many people as possible). My latest find is the composer Austin Wintory, especially the soundtrack to Journey. Highly recommended.
Journey won several “game of the year” awards and received several other awards and nominations, including a Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media nomination for the 2013 Grammy Awards. The music, composed by Austin Wintory, dynamically responds to the player’s actions, building a single theme to represent the game's emotional arc throughout the story. Reviewers of the game praised the visual and auditory art as well as the sense of companionship created by playing with a stranger, calling it a moving and emotional experience, and have since listed it as one of the greatest games of all time.
The full soundtrack is available on YouTube, and its most popular track, “Apotheosis,” is embedded above.
(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)
Yesterday—in attempt to get a new TotD series going, centered on songs that are great to listen to while working—a reader gave a shoutout to the post-rock band This Will Destroy You. I just checked out their eponymous 2008 album—which you can listen to in full on YouTube—and immediately recognized one of its tracks, “The Mighty Rio Grande,” but I wasn’t sure from where. A quick googling turned up the answer: the 2011 film Moneyball, based on Michael Lewis’s book of the same name chronicling the Oakland A’s efforts to revamp their struggling team based on sabermetrics. I’m listening to the moody atmospheric track as I type and it’s simultaneously soothing without slowing my productivity.
Do you have any recommendations for similar songs—ones with little or no lyrics that are great to have in the background while you’re typing away at work or trying to write something at home? Please drop us a note: email@example.com. Update from a reader, Jack, who mentions a movie that’s been high on my to-see list:
“The Mighty Rio Grande” was also featured in Room, which came out last year and was nominated for Best Picture. It’s in the pivotal scene of the movie and the music fits it perfectly. Such a great scene.
(Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)
Personally I can’t listen to music with lyrics; they’re too distracting. But curiously that’s not the case when I lack control over the music, like when I’m working in a coffeeshop and the lyrics over the speakers are melding with the ambient noise. (That mixture of sounds is so comforting that I often work to Coffitivity, an awkwardly named site that provides a variety of ambient tracks from the cafe.)
So what’s your favorite piece of music to work to, either as an individual track or a whole album? Please send us your pick to firstname.lastname@example.org and describe a little why you like the track or album so much. Benjamin, one of the readers in the Writers groups, sounds off:
I usually write to Radiohead, Sigur Ros, or St. Vincent. Sometimes I throw a little Nick Cave in the mix, but he has a lot of words and an imposing voice so ... not always.
Love, love Explosions in the Sky. Their music is an experience and it's really inspirational. Check out the band This Will Destroy You if you’re into the post-rock ambient sound.
Ria gets vivid:
Closing my eyes, I listen to Gabriel Faure’s “Pavane” [embedded above] and imagine myself sitting inside an ancient, ruined cathedral, while it’s raining outside. I rest my back on the damp, mossy wall of the cathedral and watch the blurred view of the green valley. I have a blank notebook and a pen. The notebook lies open on my lap. My heart longs to write something. I open my eyes and start writing.
(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)
The president’s mindless nationalism has come to this: Americans are not welcome in Europe or Mexico.
There is a lot of learned material written about nationalism—scholarly books and papers, histories of it, theories of it—but most of us understand that nationalism, at its heart, at its very deepest roots, is about a feeling of superiority: We are better than you. Our country is better than your country. Or even—and apologies, but this is the precise language deployed by the president of the United States: Your country is a shithole country. Ours isn’t.
In this sense, nationalism is not patriotism, which is the desire to work on behalf of your fellow citizens, to defend common values, to build something positive. Nationalism is not community spirit either, which seeks to pull people together. Nationalism has nothing to do with democratic values: Authoritarians can be nationalists; indeed, most are. Nationalism has nothing to do with the rule of law, justice, or opportunity. At its core, nationalism is rather a competition, an ugly and negative competition. There’s a reason nationalists build walls, denigrate foreigners, and denounce immigrants: Because our people are better than those people. There’s a reason nationalism has so often become violent in the past. For if we—our nation—are better, then what right do others have to live beside us? Or to occupy land that we covet? Or even, maybe, to live at all?
In France, where I live, the virus is under control. I can hardly believe the news coming out of the United States.
I returned to Paris with my family three months after President Emmanuel Macron had ordered one of the world’s most aggressive national quarantines, and one month after France had begun to ease itself out of it. When we exited the Gare Montparnasse into the late-spring glare, after a season tucked away in a rural village with more cows than people as neighbors, it was jarring to be thrust back into the world as we’d previously known it, to see those café terraces overflowing again with smiling faces.
My first reaction was one of confused frustration as we drove north across the river to our apartment. The city had been culled of its tourists, though it was bustling with inhabitants basking in their reclaimed freedom. Half at most wore masks; the other half evinced indifference. We were in the midst of a crisis, I complained to my wife. Why were so many people unable to maintain even minimal discipline?
The disease’s “long-haulers” have endured relentless waves of debilitating symptoms—and disbelief from doctors and friends.
For Vonny LeClerc, day one was March 16.
Hours after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson instated stringent social-distancing measures to halt the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, LeClerc, a Glasgow-based journalist, arrived home feeling shivery and flushed. Over the next few days, she developed a cough, chest pain, aching joints, and a prickling sensation on her skin. After a week of bed rest, she started improving. But on day 12, every old symptom returned, amplified and with reinforcements: She spiked an intermittent fever, lost her sense of taste and smell, and struggled to breathe.
When I spoke with LeClerc on day 66, she was still experiencing waves of symptoms. “Before this, I was a fit, healthy 32-year-old,” she said. “Now I’ve been reduced to not being able to stand up in the shower without feeling fatigued. I’ve tried going to the supermarket and I’m in bed for days afterwards. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.” Despite her best efforts, LeClerc has not been able to get a test, but “every doctor I’ve spoken to says there’s no shadow of a doubt that this has been COVID,” she said. Today is day 80.
In the beach towns south of Melbourne, everyone, it seems, knows someone who’s been attacked.
About a week after Steven Mikac began taking antibiotics for the strange spot on his leg, the flesh around his ankle started to tighten and swell. The moist orifice of a wound opened up and took the form of a small bullet hole. A plug of tissue had gone missing—dissolved into pus and slime. Walking was excruciating. Working, unbearable. In early October of last year, Mikac showed his ankle to a colleague at the hospital where he works in Melbourne, in the Australian state of Victoria. She suggested that it might be Buruli ulcer—a disease caused by a strain of flesh-eating bacteria.
Though Mikac had seen local television reports about an outbreak of this tropical disease in Victoria, it sounded so freakish, so unlikely, that he hardly considered it a possibility. But like hundreds of Australians before him, he was about to become all too familiar with Buruli, a slow-moving horror show that has proved, in many ways, even more baffling to infectious-disease researchers than the novel coronavirus. After decades of research, scientists still aren’t certain who, or what, is spreading this strange malady around the world.
The writer and activist has the painful, powerful words for this political moment. America just needs to heed them.
“There are days—this is one of them—when you wonder what your role is in this country and what your future is in it. How, precisely, are you going to reconcile yourself to your situation here and how you are going to communicate to the vast, heedless, unthinking, cruel white majority that you are here. I’m terrified at the moral apathy, the death of the heart, which is happening in my country. These people have deluded themselves for so long that they really don’t think I’m human. And I base this on their conduct, not on what they say. And this means that they have become in themselves moral monsters.”
James Baldwin made this somber observation more than 50 years ago. I included these words in my film I Am Not Your Negro, which explored Baldwin’s searing assessment of American society through the lens of the assassination of three of his friends: Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. It is a film that cruelly shortens time and space between acts of police brutality in Birmingham in 1963 and images of the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after the killing of Michael Brown; recent images of protests over the death of George Floyd extend that tragic connection to the present-day.
Imagine if the National Transportation Safety Board investigated America’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Coping with a pandemic is one of the most complex challenges a society can face. To minimize death and damage, leaders and citizens must orchestrate a huge array of different resources and tools. Scientists must explore the most advanced frontiers of research while citizens attend to the least glamorous tasks of personal hygiene. Physical supplies matter—test kits, protective gear—but so do intangibles, such as “flattening the curve” and public trust in official statements. The response must be global, because the virus can spread anywhere, but an effective response also depends heavily on national policies, plus implementation at the state and community level. Businesses must work with governments, and epidemiologists with economists and educators. Saving lives demands minute-by-minute attention from health-care workers and emergency crews, but it also depends on advance preparation for threats that might not reveal themselves for many years. I have heard military and intelligence officials describe some threats as requiring a “whole of nation” response, rather than being manageable with any one element of “hard” or “soft” power or even a “whole of government” approach. Saving lives during a pandemic is a challenge of this nature and magnitude.
The revolution wasn’t only an effort to establish independence from the British—it was also a push to preserve slavery and suppress Native American resistance.
“We hold these truths to be self evident.” Say these words, and many Americans will be able to recite what follows: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The opening words of the Declaration of Independence—and easily its most remembered part—are widely celebrated as signifying the beginning of an exceptional American history, one characterized, despite setbacks, by a progressive expansion of rights.
The closing words of the Declaration are far less known. The last of a list of 27 grievances against King George III, they read as follows: “He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.” These words call attention to hard truths about America’s founding that have often been brushed aside.
For most of the past three years, the only thing more futile than looking for Donald Trump to pivot was expecting the American people to do so. No matter how successful the president was, or, more often, how chaotic and disorderly his administration was, nothing seemed to be able to shake up people’s views of Trump.
Popular approval of Trump hovered in the same narrow range, roughly from 39 to 45 percent, through Charlottesville and tax reform, supposed border caravans and mass shootings, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report and impeachment.
As the election approaches, the president’s approval rating becomes less important than how he’s polling against his challenger. And in the past few weeks, something has shifted. After months of Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, leading by single digits, a series of polls has recently shown him building a sizable lead. Surveys from The New York Times/Siena College and Harvard/Harris have Trump trailing by 14 and 12 points, respectively. A series of swing-state polls shows Biden tied or leading in states that Trump won comfortably in 2016.
My wife, kids, and I left our apartment in Brooklyn for my wife’s home country of Iceland, where the coronavirus is mostly under control. What we found is what Americans will not have for a long time: ordinary life.
After 24 hours of travel from our home in Brooklyn, we landed exhausted and disoriented in Iceland on a Saturday night just two weeks ago, the midnight sun shining through the airplane windows. The otherworldly feeling I always get landing on this volcanic island in the middle of the North Atlantic was more intense than usual, because we had left one reality—the crisis-induced confinement of our small apartment—and were entering another—a country that has by and large stopped the spread of the coronavirus. We gathered our sanitized belongings, roused our young children, and exited the plane for the empty airport and our COVID-19 test, which we needed to get through customs. With the national contact-tracing app installed on our phones, we felt free for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.
Power comes before freedom, not the other way around.
His impatience had thinned like the length of his letters back home to his wife, Abigail, in Boston. On June 7, 1776, John Adams finally had the opportunity to second the resolution that led to the Declaration of Independence at the Second Continental Congress. Though it was drafted by Thomas Jefferson, the declaration’s editors and defenders behind history’s scenes piloted its approval on July 2, mostly notably Adams.
He pleased his wife, Abigail, impatient, too, as she was about declaring independence that year. But she desired more. “In the new Code of Laws … I desire you would Remember the Ladies,” she wrote to him on March 31, 1776. “If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no … Representation.”