“Hollow Tree Experimental Music Report” Review of Sweet Heresy


On March 25, 2006 Zeno Wrote:

An important premise of the Hollow Tree website is that entertainment in the West is undergoing deep and wide-ranging changes.  We are slowly beginning to see the decline of the top-down, centralized and standardized entertainment industry.  In its stead is arising an era of folkish, independence-oriented entertainment created for and by people who know, be it consciously or not, that the arts — music, theater, stories etc. — are magical endeavors which are best suited for the creation of reality rather than as a distraction from it.

Soon will be gone the days of midtech factory-produced artifacts such as the electric guitar solo.  Then we will be able to appreciate better the miracle of the low-and-high tech eccentrism of the modern minstrel, playing his or her hand-made self-invented instrument and wrighting the sounds on a home computer.


We’ve been trying to articulate this premise for a while now, with almost no satisfying success.  Fortunately, and as if by providence, we have stumbled upon Untravelled Path, a two-person soundmaking operation in Taos, New Mexico.

This duo, in an effort to create an entirely new kind of music, invent and build an array of instruments.  These include instruments in the bowus, kalimba and shoki families.  With these instruments, Untravelled Path improvise at home and edit their recorded performances using a “weeding down” technique.  Untravelled Path do not play live for an audience (the only exception to their perfect examplitude of our “new minstrel” premise), don’t use any conventional musical notation and they certainly aren’t chasing the A&R men off with sticks.

They do have a fascinating website which goes beyond the usual “hey lookit me!” myspace wankery and delves with a rare insight into matters much undiscussed.

After we mentioned their technically unsophisticated, but still deeply interesting website here just a month or two ago, the members of Untravelled Path were kind enough to send us a copy of their second and most-recent compact disc “Sweet Heresy.”

The disc consists of six tracks, three of which are less than 10-minutes long, and three which are approximately
12-minutes long.  Each track bears the sound of two instruments, one played by Mitsuko and the other by Arthur.

When I received this CD in the mail, I immediately subjected it to the usual tests, trying it in any and every player that I could find.  I soon found a problem in that much of the music on this disc is very quiet and I had to put the volume pretty high to get the sound to fill an average room.  Untravelled Path say on their website that the music they play is “slow, low and varied.”  The problem came about when the more exceedingly slow and low notes set the maxed-out speakers to rumbling and every tchochke in the room to rattling.

Far be it from me to call this problem a fault of the artists, though.  Rather I think its a charm.  Untravelled Path have made an effort to be askew to this corrupt world even to the point that someone’s going to have to design an entirely new kind of stereo system to play their music.  The sounds on “Sweet Heresy” are almost in direct opposition to the rock and roll, hip-hop and European classical music for which modern stereos are built; these machines can’t handle anything that isn’t compressed all to hell or takes an eccentric approach to dynamics.

Phase two of the testing process involved nap time.  Because the Untravelled Path website says that the music is good for helping a person go to sleep, I decided to try it.  Usually, it’s an insult to say that music is good for inducing slumber.  This is because sleep-conducive sound is generally boring, undifferentiated and not too stimulating.  ”Sweet Heresy” is really none of these things, but the music is subtle enough that stimulation comes only upon concentrated listening.  To have this on at an ambient volume, subject to superficial hearing, does allow it to mask unwanted sounds such as passing traffic, random thuds and shouts etc.  I’ve been working nights and sleeping days, so I had plenty of outside noises to mask for this test.  On the other hand, I’m a pretty good sleeper.  I could probably sleep in a hammer factory.
In that respect, I’m hardly a good test subject.

Nevertheless, I put this CD on, along with a fan and fluffed up my pillow for a good old wink session.  I slipped off to nod before the end of the first track and did not wake up until I was satisfactorily rested.  I can report no tossing and turning, untoward dreams or otherwise ill effects of playing this music during my sleep.  Therefore, I can give this CD a recommendation as a noise masker, but I do not believe such a use is the disc’s primary value.

For the third and final test, I listened to “Sweet Heresy” on headphones.  It is here that I came to a full appreciation of the music.  It dawned on me that this music is not about melodies or harmonies or rhythm or any of the other things that we are used to listening for in ordinary music.  To begin to understand this music we must appreciate the near-physical texture of the sounds within it.  All of the aforementioned melodies may or may not exist in the work of Untravelled Path, but they are not the predominant elements.  It’s the scrapes and the snores, the resonances and the splashback of one soundwave upon another that make this music a pleasure to listen to.

Textural music, however, is not new.  In fact, in some cultures it is ancient.  What’s new here is the combination of texture, and resonance, with traditional European musical concepts such as melody and scaled tuning.  Just as the Untravelled Path’s handmade instruments are customized and personal variations of traditional instruments, their music is highly inventive yet obviously related to a long history of human sound crafting.

Often, though, things that are built from widely collected parts are judged by the average of their sum rather than the glory of the best particulars or the thrill of the most novel juxtapositions.  This is the fallacy that 20th century minds bring to 21st century art, that a jack of all trades must be a master of none.

It is no wonder that on their website Untravelled Path devote an entire page to explaining why they are proud to be “unspecialized.”  They understand that in the new world that is emerging, specialization will soon be obsolete.

Or in the words of Robert Heinlein:

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.  Specialization is for insects.”

Human beings have survived and thrived because of their adaptability, their ability to react effectively to changing environments.  Right now, our culture is changing rapidly and radically.  When the transition is over, what has survived will most likely resemble the music of Untravelled Path.

Thank you Zeno !!!