CD Reviews

Carrie Olivia Adams, Joseph Clayton Mills, Deanna Varagona – Huntress

February 11, 2015

CD & Book

The latest edition from the continually excellent Suppedaneum label from Chicago is an intriguing affair. Not a label to settle very often on standard formats, Huntress consists of a small book of poetry and images that accompanies a CD in an envelope. The project is a collaboration between the poet Carrie Olivia Adams, her fellow Chicagoan and Haptic member Joseph Clayton Mills and the ex-Lambchop vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Deanna Varagona, who contributes piano and cello interludes to the project. Huntress declares that it sets out to “reimagine the moon”. Quite an impressive feat by any standards, but this project has a subtlety and multi-faceted beauty to it that is at once both intriguingly unusual and joyfully simple. The trio set out rethink the moon as a “recording device”, both literally and metaphorically as they use various parts of the moon’s visual geography as a kind of score, firstly for Adams’ poetry, the illustrated book it resides within, and later for the improvised and electronically sculpted music that accompanies it.

Adams took the twenty “lakes” of the moon and wrote a poem divided up into twenty five line stanzas, one each reflecting a different lunar lake. The texts are lovely, each written as if talking to the moon, reflecting metaphoric and imagined personalities, romanticising on losses, joys, sorrows as she talks to life itself through the prism of the big cheese in the sky. I rarely read poetry, but found each these little vignettes a real gem, and for once (I rarely find this to be the case) the poetry really seemed to prescribe the accompanying music perfectly, though ask me to explain how and I will struggle. Here’s an example of one of the stanzas;

[blockquote]Lake of Sorrow

Like your memory of it on a gravel road
The meridian between youth and the distillation
Of weakness is an invisible line
Waves accelerate towards the conjecture
Of water and bodies easing in[/blockquote]

The poem’s twenty parts are separated by found images, printed black and white here, each tangentially relating to the moon and each inspired by either the poetry or its accompanying music, and so in turn the moon, some quite literal, others more oblique. So we see transcriptions of astronautical radio conversation, what appears may be a tiger moth airplane, various stages of an eclipse and other less clear reference points. If the images aren’t as arresting as the poetry, perhaps they aren’t meant to be, instead providing some kind of angular commentary on the rest, pulling us away from the traditional notions of aesthetic beauty so often applied to the moon and its daily activities.

The music is stunning. Following on from Mills’ excellent 2013 book/CD project The Patient, the audio aspect of Huntress manages to have a thoroughly visual, perhaps cinematic, perhaps photo album feel to it. To begin with, Mills created a kind of score made up of pitch relations, durations and other descriptions from topographical data about the landscape of the moon. Exactly how this was achieved isn’t known, but the end result was a framework that was handed to Varagona, who improvised with piano and cello along Mills’ guidelines. These instrumental parts are each slow, gently half-melodic and restful, perhaps even languid in tone. These pieces were then added to by Mills, and quite brilliantly so, with muted electronics punctuated by a catalogue of lunar related field recordings and archival samples. The CD is divided into five tracks, each a construction of Mills’ assemblage and Varagona’s wistful playing, and if the more musically abstract parts have a quiet, mournful stillness to their gently humming tones and glowing textures so the insertion of various lunar ephemera break up the honey coating. Odd spoken word samples, sometimes about moths, church bells ringing out the night, thunderstorms, more lunar radio commentary, Dvořák’s Song to the moon and cartoony monster voices appear amongst it all. My favourite is a sudden bold burst of what seems to be nostalgic description of flying alone in the dark in days gone by as narrated by an ageing man who describes singing out loud to avoid the loneliness of the situation. Such is the variety of the multitude of found articles inserted into the musical field. Listening through to the work as a whole reflects it feels to read through the accompanying book. The beautiful instrumental sections mirror the poems perfectly, and the added selection of neatly placed lunar bric-a-brac sits between the parts in a manner that is at once both awkwardly obtuse and yet completely appropriate, as the photographs interrupt the text. The sensation of the cinematic remains throughout, but if at times I am left thinking of silent movie soundtracks broken up by flashes of written onscreen exclamation at other points the motionless oddity of Bela Tarr spring to mind.

Somehow, and don’t ask me how, everything in Huntress works together seamlessly, and yet describing this project in few words is impossible. In many ways it is as conceptual as they come, and after all didn’t Pink Floyd make a record about the moon? This is a million miles from such narrowness though as while the framework and material here is derived completely from our diminutive celestial neighbour or from meditations upon it, so it builds outwards into a work of sheer beauty that stands alone. Turner’s remarkable Moonlight, a Study at Millbank springs to mind- a painting clearly only made possible through the power and beauty of the moon, and yet no existing as a work of huge intensity, detail and beautiful drama of its own. Only fifty copies of this release were made, and it has been out a month or two now, so move quick to secure a copy and I really recommend you do. fantastic, unusual work.

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