“Wood, Winter, Hollow” is the first collaborative album from Seaworthy (Cameron Webb) and Taylor Deupree, drawn from field recordings and instrumental improvisations made during a three-day session in Pound Ridge, New York. The release continues the 12k label’s drift towards more acoustic ‘singer-songwriter’-style instrumentation, with acoustic nylon-string guitar and glockenspiel dominating, though the sparse, reflective mood is characteristically 12k. The guitar is very forward in the mix, with all the scrapes and fret buzzes and occasional bum notes left in, which greatly enhances the sense of intimacy and spontaneity that pervades the record — as with the recent 12k live album “Between”, the music is audibly a document of a moment in time, with the usual sonic tidying and tweaking either convincingly hidden in the mix, or abandoned altogether. The resulting effect is one of ‘being there’, a kind of presence that is still largely staged (the field recordings hushing and crackling in the background weren’t captured at the same time as the guitar, for example), but is nonetheless very tangible.
As hinted at by its title, the album was made during a period of cold and snow, with many of the sounds drawn from sources such as water trickling over ice or the scrunch of frozen leaves. To my mind “Wood, Winter, Hollow” doesn’t evoke an archetypal winter atmosphere quite as strongly as some of Deupree’s solo work, for example. However, if one examines environments less shaped by human activity, and in particular the effects of weather upon such environments, it is clear that they are characterised by a high degree of complexity, diversity, and contingency, in the spectral and temporal qualities of their acoustics as much as in any other way. Webb and Deupree allow this complexity to seep into the very bones of their music through their choice of instruments, the ways in which they are played, and the open approach to production that values the contribution of each little noise, however unintended. In this sense, “Wood, Winter, Hollow” opens up and lets the world and the weather in more powerfully than anything else I’ve heard from either artist. There is still a fine degree of restraint and precision exercised over the final results — the intention, after all, is to make music, not just noises. Yet it seems that the relatively short recording phase and quick production turnaround (Webb’s visit was as recent as this past February) has encouraged a partial relinquishing of control in favour of spontaneity and immediacy, which in turn perhaps reflects the environments where the field recordings were made more faithfully than the most precise and exacting imitation could.
What this record exemplifies, then, is an attitude and a sensibility that is arguably far more central to the work of both artists, and to the general aesthetic of Deupree’s 12k label, than any references to style or genre. It is this attitude and sensibility that recommends the album both to 12k devotees and to listeners who wouldn’t usually be interested in the styles of music the label has traditionally been associated with. Despite the nods towards the singer-songwriter genre in terms of instrumentation, the approach to music-making taken by Webb and Deupree is far more innovative than such references would suggest: rather than seeking to impart a personal message and vision, their wordless ‘singer’ is content to co-exist with the burbling water and cracking ice, allowing his voice to mingle with those of his environment. More than anything else, perhaps, “Wood, Winter, Hollow” is a fine lesson in how to listen to the world.