TMW Quarantine Stories: Ingrid Kohtla and Virgo Sillamaa

TMW is presented by Telia
14 April 2020

Today’s Quarantine Stories are by Ingrid and Virgo. Our brilliant chief of content and communications Ingrid Kohtla has been with us since the very beginning. She is a true heart music lover, who has worked as a journalist, contributed to several TV projects (e.g. Eesti Top 7) and just celebrated her birthday yesterday. Ingrid’s good taste, depth and attention to detail is an important part of TMW’s soul and foundation. The head of Music Estonia, the Estonian music export office and industry development center – smart, dedicated and utterly pleasant Virgo Sillamaa is a jazz musician and guitarist, a co-founder of a boutique creative music agency Avarus, but also a board member of the EMEE (European Music Exporters Exchange) network, and a member of the council at Baltic Film, Media, Arts and Communication School (Tallinn University). Music Estonia is a strategic music industry partner to TMW, their contribution to the development of our music scene should never be underestimated, they are working on relief measures for the music sector in the crisis as we speak. We’re lucky to have these two around!

What are you listening, watching, reading etc?

Ingrid: I’ve been in nearly total physical isolation for weeks, but my audiovisual travels have sent me far away over the Zeitgeist hills. Among the objects that my radar has picked up on these travels are a number of dystopian music videos, among them “Moor” by Zebra Katz, in which Katz discovers his doppelganger in an abandoned hotel in Lithuania, fashion designer Mowalola’s nightmarish featurette “Silent Madness” and Mart Avi’s tech-noir / “bygone dreams” miniseries “Spark / Soul ReaVer.” I have watched the afrofuturistic sci-fi madness “Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway”, which takes place in a future megapolis called Tallinn, which is in turn under attack by a virus called the Soviet Union. While seeking answers to questions haunting my subconscious, I’ve rewatched the finales of “Twin Peaks” and “Mr. Robot” series and delved into the 1930s Depression Era escapist movie fantasies, full of Busby Berkeley’s military-psychedelic human limbs kaleidoscopes and Fred Astaire’s absurdly sublime rhythm poetry.

My isolation era soundtrack has featured saxophonist Jon Hassell’s narcotic “Vernal Equinox”, recently departed Gabi Delgado’s “History of a Kiss”, new releases by Childish Gambino and Yves Tumor as well as by TMW performers, which I try to track on daily basis. Last night I started an online mega-tournament of singles released between 1930 and 2019 with a friend of mine. At the moment it seems that an A.I. won’t be able to generate my favourite pop song yet as most highly scored tracks tend to have some “accidental” little glitches.

While in not so distant busier times I was mostly on a diet of podcasts and Audible, then now I’m finishing Mark Fisher’s posthumous collection “K-Punk” and the Futures That Have Never Arrived” and 19th century “architecture poet” Paul Scheerbart’s glass architecture manifesto “Glass! Love!! Perpetual Motion!!!”. This resignated indoors existence needs more madness and exclamation points!!! One  morning, even before entering my home office (read: turning on my laptop) I re-read Estonian postmodernist writer’s Mati Unt’s first novel “On the Possibility of Life in Space”. Yesterday, I received the classic Moomin book ” The Hobgoblin’s Hat” as a birthday present and immediately read the first chapter where five pink clouds appear to forecast the exciting times ahead.

Virgo: In fact, I am quite busy with responding to the emergency situation, but there are still few activities besides that. I recently watched the Frontline online documentary about Amazon and Jeff Bezos, which raises some very interesting questions about the new territories where the rapid spread of the digital society is taking us. Consumers arrive before national regulations, innovation flourishes on the one hand and inequality and exploitation on the other. Is there a possible future where Amazon and a few others own the entire web architecture?

Since I go to school, I have a lot to read about the public sector and digital developments. It is very exciting, very specific and mainly in the form of articles. One interesting journalistic case study I recommend reading is “The End of Bureaucracy” (Harvard Business Review, 2018, Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini), who are talking about a large Chinese corporation, whose structure is built not as a rigid bureaucracy, but as start-up teams in the form of internal market.

Finally, to get rid of the daily business, I rinse my brain at night while reading sci-fi. The most important of the recent series is The Expanse series of books by James S A Corey. It is a decent space opera, where under the guise of some fantasy lies a very ambitious and detailed socio-technological, predominantly dystopian model of the future, where humanity has expanded the entire solar system. Political, economic and social problems are largely the same, but psychological issues are in many ways also quite different.

What are you feeling and thinking about in this situation?

Ingrid: I feel as if I was on the chase after something, trying to get to the core of things, so to speak, to consume, create and mediate in order to get at the “truth” out there. And sensing that maybe that quest is useless and I should just try to breathe in what’s left of the former “real life”. But we have already changed – for example, risqué memories of shopping barehanded and touching our faces without a second thought might end up being what distinguishes us, the pre-coronaites, from future generations in a major way.

Like Mike Tyson said, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. At a time when substantial part of what we thought was our ace card turns out to be a weakness, what’s at stake here is not just  the survival of an individual or a certain sector, but our whole way of being so far. At the same time, I find that our disjointed existence still holds immense sentimental – aka human – charm and maybe even something truly meaningful worth preserving and revamping.

Virgo: Of course, I am anxious about the near future of loved ones and society in general. Hard times are probably ahead. At the same time, we hope that we will not only allow this crisis to come as a negative and devastating wave, but also exploit the accompanying transformative potential. Many attitudes, beliefs, practices or business as usual attitudes probably do not pass through untouched. If we are given the opportunity to run on new rails, what do we want them to be? Opportunities for building the future have now intensified.

What kind of future are you dreaming of?

Ingrid: I hope that some forms of the pre-corona political correctness, which at times took on a rage all its own, will be replaced by actual politeness and conscious attentiveness, that merciless stigmatisation will be replaced with contextual analysis and, if possible, humour. But music and art, of course, should not be polite. I’m expecting more poptimism and finally getting out of that eternal era of retromania, which still clings to too many mediocre 20th century sounds and poses, and, unfortunately, also festivals that simply clone each other. I’d love to see more glocal perspective instead of the still Anglo-American dominated music industry, incl. media.  And even though I’m quite the collector myself and I very much understand the charm of physical forms – records, books, THAT piece of clothing, etc. – I welcome an even more digitalised future. Perhaps we could do without less show-off luxury goods and the constant fast fashion after this period of making do with what we have. And while adjusting to life without live events has been a relative no-brainer for me, then it’s kind of nice to realise (quoting Bowie) that “I never thought I’d need so many people”!

Virgo: The most important challenges are global and planetary. I dream that human society understands this and acts accordingly.