It’s difficult not to feel like everything’s already been discovered and documented, posted, scrolling under our compulsive thumbs; that what we have to look forward to is, at best, only a novel combination of well-worn elements. Micaela Tobin and Joshua Hill’s Tent Music presents a significant rebuke to this feeling. Born of a fascinating process, Tent Music is a whim turned into a staggeringly deep, psychomytholgical excavation.
Playing at times like a more brutal, fractured version of Laurie Anderson and Kronos Quartet’s 2018 song cycle, Landfall while careening from bone-rattling fuzzed-out violin drones that wouldn’t be out of place on Stephen O’Malley’s Cylene to glorious psychedelic pop songs, Tent Music centers intuition to the point of channeling spirits-cum-archetypes. Tobin’s avant-operatic background, including work with Pulitzer Prize winner Raven Chacon, and her celebrated work as White Boy Scream certainly serve as reference points for this work, but the circumstances surrounding Tent Music set it apart from that work, as from the rest of earthly existence. It is in no small sense ritual music in the footsteps of Coil, perhaps automatic music, in the spirit of Austin Osman Spare’s automatic drawing.
In June 2021, Hill, violinist –– noted film composer and multimedia artist –– was staying with his parents in Northern Arizona, simultaneously retreating from the pandemic and caring for his father, in the throes of dementia. Tobin, passing through on her way from Los Angeles to New Mexico, stopped to stay for a few nights, pitching a tent in the Hill’s yard. On a whim, Hill and Tobin decided to set up microphones and a few instruments in the tent and record, only miles from then raging wildfires, a hundred feet from Hill’s ailing father –– and yet, evidently, a world apart from any of it: sealed off from the smoky skies and from Hill’s father, swept up in a mind cutting itself loose from reason.
Whether despite or entirely because of the fact that Hill and Tobin had very few expectations and established no particular goals for this activity, and certainly owing something significant to the tent itself and the context that it created, what emerged over the next two nights seemed to establish itself in channelings and visitations. The textures and tales that Hill and Tobin entirely improvised over those two nights, when revisited again and again over the course of the next couple of years of sculpting and additional recording, bore a variety of unexpected fruits. “Both of us have a pretty long practice with improvised and experimental music,” Tobin says, “but there were voices coming out of me in those two nights that I’ve never used before. It felt like channeling something. When we started listening back to it, the story emerged.”
While upon reviewing the recordings Hill and Tobin were frankly shaken by the otherworldly and ancient qualities of what emerged within the tent over the course of two nights, Tent Music is also undeniably modern in the way that it moves from utterly abstract to patently catchy, blending sounds both organic and technologically shaped. Tobin and Hill seam it all together with fourth wall-shattering, hyperclose, ASMR textures, sounds of mouth and body and devices that would not be out of place on a claire rousay recording. This spectrum is brought into vivid relief by mixing engineer Michael Krassner, who took Hill’s meticulous sculpting a step further.
Hill and Tobin tapped the inimitable visual artist Garek Druss to generate oracular illustrations and sigilizations which deepen the sense of Tent Music’s relationship to the archetypal and will undoubtedly lead the listener further into the sense of myth that the recordings present.
In all of this wild reaching and imaginal exploration, there of course lies something a bit simpler, something universally relatable. That is, simply, the need for space, the need for some place away from our everyday lives, where our imaginations can breathe and our conscious minds can make way for the muses. In those times, in those spaces, our unconscious minds can do their best work processing what’s just outside, back in our everyday lives, hanging above us like wildfire smoke or preoccupying our thoughts, like concerns for an ailing parent. The tent itself was this for Joshua Hill and Micaela Tobin. And Tent Music can now be that for the rest of us.
releases August 25, 2023
Micaela Tobin: Vocals, electronics
Joshua Hill: Violin, electronics, vocals, harmonium, percussion, cello, bass, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, additional composition and arranging
Ray Belli: Drums