James Woodard, the creative force behind veteran local experimental act The Grasshopper Lies Heavy (TGLH), wants to score your film. And, you should probably let him.
That's what San Antonio filmmaker Dave Sims did, with his short film Cavern, and the results are glorious and penetratingly eerie.
Truth be told, Woodard was made for this shit. A longtime fan of soundtrack/score work by acts like Goblin and John Carpenter, he has always displayed — through the diverse output of TGLH — the kind of knack for emotive, even image-rich atmosphere that is a hallmark of all the best practitioners in this particular field.
On TGLH's brilliant 2014 release All Sadness, Grinning into Flow, a masterful expression of the act's tension building dual-nature, now deliriously patient, now furiously immediate, this evocative gift was more apparent than ever.
The opportunity to score Cavern — "a haunting short film about survival, alienation and redemption set in the remote Mojave desert" that follows "a woman who finds an unconscious man while hiking in the desert and her journey to bring them both to safety" — came about as a result of serendipity, which found Sims and Woodard as colleagues at Rackspace.
Woodard, who usually works on TGLH material with longtime collaborator Mario Trejo (and sometimes others), quickly recruited seasoned musician
Bob Catlin (most notably of Evil Mothers, Pigface), who has frequently recorded, engineered, and mixed for TGLH, as his collaborator for this project.
From there, Woodard reports that the process went swimmingly, with the two in tune with each other's ideas as they went through the slow process, in turns improvisational and meticulous, of mapping out the atmospheric/emotional landscape of the film (which was originally 41 minutes, instead of the final cut's 24 minutes).
Using a slew of instruments, many of them Catlin's odd inventions, the duo strove to craft the atmosphere that they felt was demanded by each scene of the film, which features very limited dialogue, all the while remaining mindful that, ultimately, this was one full piece that they were creating. It's a tricky distinction to tip-toe, but the pair did it quite successfully (see the final cut of the film below).
Now, divorced from the film (now half relegated to the oblivion of the cutting room floor) for which it was made, Cavern the album (released on vinyl and digitally by Woodard's own Canon Imprint) stands exceedingly well on its own. It is, in fact, remarkable how well Woodard and Catlin are able to convey feelings of isolation, exhaustion, dread, and anticipation, in an almost painterly manner, throughout the course of Cavern's 14 tracks.
Even if you don't read the track titles, super suggestive stuff like "Night," "Body Drag," "Panic," "Fight," and "The Truth," there is a powerful sense of narrative at work. If you're a fan of experimental/ambient music, horror scores, and/or spooky-ass mood music for the season, Cavern is highly-recommended.
Long term fans of TGLH will find lots to love too. While the album doesn't offer the kind of crushing moments of catharsis that made earlier TGLH so satisfying, Woodard's signatures styles are still discernible in the use of aural space, the cultivation of tension, and the prevalence of dark, pensive vibes.