Sound-based artist Stuart Hyatt was searching the Texas Hill Country last year for a new project, audio recorder in hand, making tape of animals and other localized curiosities, when he saw on a map a place called, Cave Without a Name.
As myself a longtime resident of Central Texas, I could probably name five caves within a few hours’ drive of Austin, but I’d never heard Cave Without a Name, situated 11 miles northeast of Boerne, in Kendall County.
“It’s remarkable how many people haven’t,” the Indianapolis-based Hyatt said recently via cell phone. “I spent a lot of time in there. It’s lit up and feels like a tourist attraction, for better or worse.”
The cave’s owners (Cave Without a Name is a privately owned and operated as an attraction) do allow solitude for the visitor, Hyatt said.
Hyatt explored the cave to make music and art for three separate but related projects — all named Glen Rose Formation, for the geological formation of which Cave Without a Name is part— for Texas State University’s art galleries in San Marcos. There’s a physical exhibit up now till March 4; a commercial album; and a performance inside the cave itself, featuring musicians who played on the album, including horns and Bob Hoffnar on pedal steel.
In San Marcos, and for the recording, a major component of the music is the voice of Mary McGrath Curry who, as a child in the 1920s, was the first documented person to find the Cave Without a Name. Hyatt tracked her down, and asked Curry, now in her nineties and living in Alaska, to tell her story of discovery and read a poem by Cecily Parks.
For Hyatt what inspired was that sense of discovery and adventure, that Mary “had the courage to descend into (the cave) as a seven year old.”
Hyatt works from field recordings, and in this case enlisted sound engineers to find the cave’s resonant bass frequency. In the gallery show at Texas State you can hear that frequency as a low drone which forms part of the gentle, pulsing musical loop.
The gallery is attractively lit, quite dark actually, with physical objects like pottery and some animal’s teeth (presumably from Hyatt’s excursions), a sound board linked via xlr cable to locations on maps of the region, and and a looping video which accompanies the music. The video features chalky blue river water, a woman with pearls, caves splattered with light, ripples of orange rock, grasses, juniper trees. It’s a trip through the Hill Country, minus the drive, and although the video projection isn’t quite as crisp and bright as it could be, the gallery embodies a soothing, cave-like atmosphere.
Why the gallery’s audio component plays a single excerpt of the music instead of the full album is perhaps a bit of a head scratcher (especially since a major component is a site-specific performance that takes place off-site). It certainly lets each component occupy its own compartment, though whether that is desirable for the viewer/listener is up for debate.
“The show is up for a month, the album lives on,” Hyatt said.
Glen Rose Formation, the album, is a gentle, approachable ambient work that also features remixes by notables like Dntel and Matmos. It’s the fifth album in Hyatt’s seven-album Field Works series, scheduled for release in September on record label Temporary Residence LTD.
On one track of Glen Rose Formation, Curry opines on finding Cave Without a Name: “You have to experiment. You have to do as (my) mother said to, to investigate and not be afraid of every little thing you come across. This makes you live life fuller.”