Cabin Floor Esoterica has just unleashed a quartet of tapes, each containing its own unique ephemera: moss, twig, linen, polished stone. The physical textures draw attention to the textured sounds. Adam Cadell‘s album features acoustic fiddle; Sparkling Wide Pressure, guitar, reverb and ritualized drone; Steve Palmer & Matt Beachey, Fehey guitar and harmonium. But the strongest of the releases comes from The Knot, the duo of Nick Storring and Tilman Lewis, who offer some of the strangest, strongest cello noises one can imagine.
Tidewrack is a perfect name for this release, as the title refers to the items brought in on the tide: gnarled wood, crushed shells, pieces of boats and human debris. The album sounds like its title, reminding one of the tidal crash and churn, in this case the wreckage of notes, the vast unpredictability of what the ocean – or in this case, the artists – will bring. Beachcombers walk the wrack line, fascinated by an ever-changing array of treasure and trash. Listeners will be similarly fascinated by the morphing sounds here. Just as one begins to think the quarter-hour “Underbrush” will be dissonant and atonal throughout, the artists begin tapping out a steady tempo and producing percussive and string-laden melodies. Here’s a chipped stone; here’s a shredded Pepsi can; here’s a beautiful piece of beach glass. And like the ocean, the track suddenly decides to recede, to gather its energy before producing even more wonders: a potpourri of sounds teased from an ancient source.
How did they make these sounds? According to the artists, they used such things as “practice mutes, hair-clips, clamps, wine corks, mallets, egg beaters (and) plectra.” In other words, this is a work of prepared cello. If this leads to occasional abrasion, all the better: everything is fair game. And yet, there’s a method to the madness, which is to celebrate controlled chaos. Just as the tide may hurl and crunch and destroy, so does it soothe and smooth and wash. Even in its darkest expressions, it remains cyclical. And the album is not all warp and whorl; the percussive “Basalt” provides the album with its most accessible moments, making a holy racket with stick and bow. And for at least a few minutes at the start of “Powdering the Wig,” one recalls the courtly processions to which the title must refer: a different manner of preparation, more proper than creative, more stifling than free. The Knot creates the contrast by veering off course as the track progresses, purposely adding dashes of powder where no powder ought to be. By “Rustic Patina,” the notes disintegrate in chips and flakes.
Tidewrack may not be the cello album one might purchase for a parent; it experiments and investigates more than it entertains. But there are plenty of other cello albums for that. This is an album for people who like to take things apart to see how they work, and to put them back together in unusual, untested ways. (Richard Allen)