After 25 years of city life, musician Tom Caufield and his wife Rebecca Hill are leaving Los Angeles to live and work in a small North Carolina town.
The porch door is swung open to let a cool breeze in, and the sound of various bird calls and squirrels rustling punctuate the kitchen air. This morning, Tom is looking back on over thirty years of his life in music – the first twenty as a singer-songwriter and the last ten as a composer of instrumental, contemplative music. His wife Rebecca is out shopping for shower curtains and a day bed for the new apartment, making sure to be safe, as the pandemic precautions are still in place. For years, she’s also been pursuing arts and entertainment in various ways.
Tom and Rebecca are recent returns to the south after spending over twenty-five years living and working in Los Angeles. He’s originally from Michigan and lived in North Carolina for a few years in both the late 70s and early 90s. Rebecca is originally from the Florida-Georgia border. Though they loved California, they often yearned for a quieter life. In the late summer of 2020, with the pandemic lockdown grinding on, the time seemed right. With some help from Tom’s sister, a graphic designer who lives nearby, they found the two-bedroom apartment that Rebecca calls ‘Little Creek’ for the small stream that runs through the woods behind it. They both consider the quiet, simpler surroundings a welcome change after years in the big city.
Tom wrote and performed the score for a short film entitled ‘The Fix,’ which will be making the festival rounds this summer and fall. The short synopsis of the film provided by the production team says “To say Girl is down on her luck is an understatement. She struggles with debt, health, career, her landlord, and hasn’t had a hot shower in two months. She cannot catch a break… until she does. And what she does with it is a sad and relevant commentary about how women see themselves.”
In Gramophone’s June 2017 issue, Kate Molleson reports on how the ‘classical’ music label is proving outdated for many of today’s creative artists and speaks to several musicians for whom the whole notion of genre is entirely irrelevant. Generic labels have always been more widely used by listeners, retailers and record companies than by musicians themselves (no musician wants to be put in a box!), and the artistic integrity of the experimentation and intermingling of musical traditions by many of today’s artists leaves all memories of ‘crossover’ far behind.
As Molleson says: ‘I’m not talking about crossover or fusion. Naff appropriation has been part of the music industry for centuries – plenty of Romantic composers plonked folksy songs into their music, but for the most part they plundered material out of published anthologies from the safety of their armchairs, and the complicating contours were smoothed out, prettified, made polite and assimilated into an acceptable language of formal composition. Porous boundaries between genres are only interesting when respect for and integrity of both genres is upheld.’
In the course of the article, Molleson speaks to composer Anna Meredith, conductor Ilan Volkov, violinist Pekka Kuusisto, and harpist Rhodri and violinist Angharad Davies. Below is some of their latest work, but there are many, many musicians and composers worth investigating, so I’ve added a few more…
At 77, Harold Budd’s career has taken him from bebop to avant-garde minimalism to the lush, atmospheric soundscapes he’s become famous for. Critics call Budd “the godfather of ambient music,” an honorific he rejects. “My reaction is very visceral and immediate,” Budd tells Kurt Andersen. “Maybe it’s just being called something — anything — that annoys the hell out of me.” But the label he absolutely cannot abide: “I used to go into record stores — when there was such a thing — and complain, ‘Get me out of New Age!’”
Whether releasing sadness or sending shivers down our spines, the songs in our ‘emotional toolbox’ can transform daily life … if we learn how to use them
Music is so much a part of almost all our lives that it seems peculiar to stop and ask what it might be for. It just appears straightforwardly to benefit us in ways that are too diverse and ineffable to start to take apart; this might be one arena where we keep the dread hand of the theorists away. Musicians themselves have tended to reinforce such an approach, rarely venturing to supply an additional prose commentary around what their chords are already communicating.
Canadian born, Argentine raised, American by choice – photographer Julian Escardo has provided all the images for Tom’s distinctive album covers. Like the music, his precise and formally composed pieces hint at the deeper, hidden poetry of underlying spirit and energy that the surface only implies. More of his work can be seen here.