BOTH a composer whose place in the great American musical annals seems pretty much assured and a passionate environmentalist, Gabriella Smith is set to release an album at the end of this month in tandem with the renowned cellist Gabriel Cabezas, which seeks to capture in fine music the fire-borne destruction which has become a part of the calendar in her home patch, the San Francisco Bay area: fire season, coastal erosion engendered by coastal erosion. More lives, livelihoods, homes, flora and fauna lost with each passing year.
The album is entitled Lost Coast, and hangs around a centrifugal triptych of title tracks, “Lost Coast I” to “III”, the third of which has just been released as a single; take a listen below. Propulsive, cantering, busy with percussive polyrhythm and snatched vocalising, thickly layering with cello melody, dissonance, at once folky and almost bebop jazzy, that cello is at times almost aflame itself, as the fires sweep through and the track burns up in outside-the-pocket expression and eerie chanting, It’s quite the track.
It’s one of seven tracks that make up the album composed as a reflection on the climate change-driven events which have devastated California.
“I felt like my home was being destroyed,” she says. “I needed some way to express grief for everything we have already lost and anger that so little is being done to address it; honestly, I am really angry about it.”
What you can hear is all those complex feelings Gabriella feels about the verdant West Coast; joy, beauty, awe, wonder; loss, rage, hopelessness and fear.
Originally conceived as a concerto for cello and orchestra, the take on the three-part piece uses only layers of Cabezas’s cello, Smith’s unaffected vocals, and found percussion. It was initially inspired by a solo backpacking trip Smith took through California’s Lost Coast, a portion of the coastline so riddled with eroding cliffs that Highway 1 has had to be diverted inland for a hundred miles. As Smith hiked, she had to keep a tide log handy, as the trail was repeatedly washing away in the ever-evolving intertidal zone.
A friend since the two roomed together as undergrads at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, cellist Gabriel was an automatic creative choice for the project.
“We listened to and talked about music all the time,” he says. “We have been talking about making this record for about a decade, but I’m so glad we made it now.
“The process was so collaborative: real ideas thrown at the wall in different configurations to see what works. This is definitely not how I work with most composers. The performance was a very big part of the compositional process.”
The album opens with previous single “Bard Of A Wasteland” – listen to that, here. While it was one of the last compositions to be written for the album, it came to reframe the rest of the work.
“I knew Lost Coast had somehow come to be about climate change, even though that’s not what I originally intended, and I wanted some track to show that,” Gabriella says.
“So ‘Bard Of A Wasteland’, with lyrics, evolved into a kind of prelude or exposition, and I really started thinking of the rest of the album as an expression of that raw emotion.”
Gabriella Smith and Gabriel Cabezas’ Lost Coast will be released by Bedroom Community digitally on June 25th and is available to pre-order here.