I’ve been following Cabin Floor Esoterica for a number of years. I’m a big fan. Since 2009, they’ve drifted from it’s beginning in a small town in Ohio, to Olympia, Washington, Portland, Maine, and are now located in Columbus. Focused on small run cassette editions, the imprint was founded by Jordan Spencer, and is co-run with Katy Phillips – a collaborative effort to draw connections within, establish dialogs, and support the community surrounding the music they love. At its core, are many of the ideas which form the foundation of The Hum, and as such, their work resonates closely with my heart.
There are a number of features which distinguish Cabin Floor. Almost none of the artists they have released are well known, while the quantity of the music the release is startling high. Their output forms a cohesive, diverse, and beautifully curated image of true underground, bubbling just out of sight – one shifting between outright free improvisation and folk tinged experimental works. The later which forms the body represented within their latest batch of releases – East of the Valley Blues’ Riverto de Konscio, Saguache’s Rider Road, and Rootless’ Sculptures Deep Within the Cave. Three cassettes which stand as emblems of the artistry and integrity at the label’s heart.
East of the Valley Blues – Riverto de Konscio (2017)
East of the Valley blues are the Toronto based Kevin and Patrick Cahill. They first caught my eye last year, with their beautiful debut LP which emerged on Death Is Not The End. The project is centered around the realization of unaccompanied works for duo guitar. While the word unaccompanied recalls an image of the grand tradition of soli, begun by John Fahey during the late 1950’s, and carried forward by so many others, East of the Valley delves well outside the movements defining tropes, presenting a fractured fluidity and a largely unexplored middle ground between Vincent Le Masne and Bertrand Porquet’s Guitares Dérive project, Lailson and Lula Côrtes’ Satwa, with a bit of Bill Orcutt and repetitive Minimalism thrown in. Across Riverto de Konscio‘s four parts, the duo’s acoustic guitars intertwine in endlessly surprising sequences of notes, each moment bearing the openness and life of an improvisation, while carefully considered and locked into place.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve returned to Riverto de Konscio again and again. It’s a rare album, which asserts itself slowly, evolving, developing, and growing in the ear. An effort of startlingly beauty, ambition, and surprise – its complex challenges housed in a seemingly approachable Trojan horse. Particularly in an era which has witnessed glut of players treading the well worn path of soli, the Cahills feel like a breath of fresh of air, reinvigorating the possibilities presented by their instrument, without taking an assertively radical approach. In more ways than one, they have done what few can do. As a serious collector of unaccompanied works for guitar, I can comfortably say that this is in all probability the best record of this sort we are likely to hear this year. Absolutely stunning on every count.
Saguache – Rider Road (2017)
Saguache is Cody Yantis and Seth Chrisman, who run within the same vibrant scene, spanning upstate New York and the Mid-West, which gave us the HMS cassette on Astral Spirits last week. Both have issued a fairly sprawling body of solo work, while Yantis also plays in Tilth. Rider Road represents a substantial leap for both, departing from the ambiences and kinds of harmonic interplay which has defined much of their work over the years. Built from field recordings, small sounds, acoustic and electronic intervention, and site-specific improvisations, all made during a single trip to the Southwest, its five works attack the sonic materiality of the known world – threading discrete moments of instrumentation – electronics, and either an accordion or reed organ, into a structured pallet of non-instrumental sound.
At first, the conceptual effort represented by Rider Road, might not appear to be radical or new. Artists have been improvising with both instrumental and non-instrumental sources for decades, while others have steadily embraced the ambiences and sonic clutter of the natural world. In truth, Yantis and Chrisman are delving toward a position which is young, in relative terms, and takes on far more than it immediately seems. Rather than embracing direct confrontation or the presumption of radicalism, gripped those who still endeavor to explore the dusty territories sketched by Cage, they have ventured into a far more open and interesting sonic world, one initially proposed, in part, by figures like Pierre Mariétan and Luc Ferrari, spliced with the many accomplishments of Free Jazz. It is a realm, which finally begins to shed dogma and rule. What previous generations of the avant-garde, hoped this music might ultimately become.
Across the history of avant-garde and experimental practice, few are willing to address the extent to which context has been employed as a tool for justification. No matter how radical the structures and sounds, they have rarely been allowed to exist beyond the halls of orthodoxy – to stand independently, completely breaking with what has come before. In other words, established contexts of music have almost always been employed to define and frame. What is significant about Rider Road, with the larger context and practice within which it sits, is that it largely sheds association to context beyond its own. It severs the threads, drawing on the broadest possible materiality of sound – the natural world in conversation with the creatively of instrumental and non-instrumental source. It is a music which feels no need to define itself as such. The possibilities of a single moment, standing outside the bonds of time. A series of improvisations which lay startling surprises in the mind and ear, leaving both in want of more.
Rootless – Sculptures Deep Within the Cave (2017)
Rootless is the moniker of the Brooklyn based guitarist Jeremy Hurewitz, who also dedicates much of his time to helping run Issue Project Room. I caught sight of him a year or so back, when he released a digital album via Experimedia, featuring a remix by one of my oldest and closest friends, Brendon Anderegg, as well as others by Ben Vida and Mark McGuire. His third release – Sculptures Deep Within the Cave, is a series of guitar improvisations recorded during a stay at a cabin in Vermont, threaded by the occasional imprint of the natural world.
Sculptures Deep Within the Cave doubles as an emblem of the virtues of the cassette format, falling within a sub-genre which might be call Bedroom Soli. While it skirts the territories which define the broader vision of Guitar Soli, it notably sidesteps placing ambition on its sleeve, or the active presentations of technique – both of which often take the front seat in this realm of guitar playing. The album is down to earth and mater of fact, allowing the idiosyncratic and intimate moments of creativity to become its most present force. It is a snapshot – Hurewitz’s fingers and mind wandering toward new spacious, melodic possibilities and arrangements of sound – his discrete moments, making their way into our lives.
Sculptures Deep Within the Cave is a beautiful effort, one which stands as an important reminder of the virtues of making and letting things be – how often we allow ourselves to be trapped by the expectations of some abstract calling for the heights of art, when so much brilliance and emotion rests within fingers’ reach. It is a profoundly important realm of creativity, which a cassette allows us to approach more easily than an LP. Yet another fantastic outing from Cabin Floor. A piece in the puzzle of what makes this label so great. You can pick up all three from them direct, and check out Sculptures Deep Within the Cave below.