Arcane and evocative, elegiac and eerie at the same time: when we first listened to this album we all agreed that it was an authentic spell, the work of a high-level wizard. We later discovered that "Exploring the Cave" is the only record testimony of a Californian singing teacher named Joy Willow, released in 1992. We wrote to Joy some time ago and she was kind and helpful enough to answer us (with the availability that we didn't expect from a high-level wizard!).
Joy's passion - today, as in the days of "Exploring..." - is painting. She told us: “My desire was to do abstract painting with sound. In my visual art-making I focus not on representing what is in my mind, but on a process of layering acrylic paint, gestural marks, and collage elements until something emerges that begins to point toward subject matter. What happens out of the mess is (most often) a delightful surprise. The elements of nature - earth, fire, air, and water - are the guiding movements that influence me, but represented abstractly”.
We asked Joy for some technical details about the “Exploring the Cave” recordings: “While preferring analog sounds and simple instruments, I did appreciate the Korg M1 for its creative capacity to produce just about any imagined sound. I used a nice warm Audix mic and a Tascam four-track to record myself. Working after everyone had gone to bed, I put my headphones on and dove into the soundscapes of my imagination. Then I used a Phillips home stereo system in our living room to mix the tracks.” Pure D.I.Y. spirit driven by crystal clear inspiration! But let's take a step back.
Joy was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and from an early age cultivated a passion for piano and singing. In college and graduate school she studied music and literature, earning a B.A. and M.A. After college, she got married and taught English at a local community college for a few years.
When her marriage ended, Joy, in 1974, moves to Philadelphia to make a fresh start. She is 29 years old at the time. Then her life takes an adventurous turn: in the late 1970s, with a marriage behind her and fresh out of postgraduate music classes at Temple University in Philadelphia, Joy packs her bags and for a few years wanders around the United States, singing and playing her songs in clubs like her heroines Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell. Then, in 1982, tired of the nomadic life, she settled in Sebastopol, California: here she began giving singing lessons and studying composition with experimental musician Allaudin Mathieu. That was a very creative period for Joy, who, in 1990, began recording "Exploring the Cave."
Who knows how many more fantastic albums she might have recorded if fate had not presented her with painful challenges: in the early 1990s her husband was diagnosed with cancer, and in the following years health problems in other members of her family would follow. "I would teach singing in the afternoons and then focus on healing and survival. When my world began to shatter with the years of care-taking, death and dying in the Nineties and beyond, I realized that I could never live and breathe with the rapidly developing technology involved in ambient composition. So even though I had the rough sketch of a new tape project finished, I gave away all my equipment and returned to the art studio where I felt more grounded. Today I am still composing for piano and voice, and listening to inspiring music while I paint, the likes of Jonn Serrie, Pauline Oliveros, and David Parsons."
It's great that Joy did not let the discouragement and the thousand difficulties she faced overwhelm her: we love that she is still dedicated to art today, whether it is music, painting, or poetry; we realized that for her, the different art forms are the expression of one unified inspiration. This inspiration is so deep, so sincere that it has accompanied her throughout her life and gotten her through so many dark moments. Those who want to learn more about Joy's other art forms can do so by getting her two books of poetry (offered on Amazon) and visiting her website as a painter (www.joywillow.com
This tape is a faithful reissue of the "Exploring the Cave" cassette self-produced by Joy Willow in 500 copies in 1992. This reissue updated in layout and completely remastered was desired by HDK to perpetuate the memory of Joy's music and to give new listeners a chance to own a physical version of this great piece of music. Of course, our big thanks are for Joy Willow and her kindness and helpfulness.
released September 28, 2022