Sounds of silence: how isolation has unleashed great music on the world
From Bruce Springsteen to Bon Iver, solitude has been responsible for some incredible music over the years
In 2006, struggling musician Justin Vernon packed up his meagre belongings and headed into the Wisconsin wilderness. He had broken up with his band and his girlfriend, and drove through the night to take refuge in a ramshackle hunting cabin built by his father decades before.
Hunkering down for a winter alone, he chopped logs, hunted for food, drank too much beer and binge-watched old 1990s TV series Northern Exposure. After a few weeks of solitude, he started writing songs again, recording on basic home equipment. Vernon stacked up ethereal choral vocals on top of acoustic guitar, singing lyrics that were as much sound and feeling as actual words, groping his way back to artistic health. The result was an odd, beautiful album called For Emma, Forever Ago, released in 2007 under the moniker Bon Iver (a French greeting Vernon misheard from Northern Exposure, “Bon Hiver”, meaning “Good Winter”).
It’s a record on which you can sense the wilderness all around and feel the wispy, gauzy songs taking shape. It became a critic’s favourite. Sampled by Kanye West for his track Lost in the World in 2010, Vernon’s introspective innovations were absorbed into mainstream pop culture. Today, Bon Iver is one of the most acclaimed and influential musicians in the world, helping frame the downbeat sound of our digital pop era...