Josephine Wiggs was a founding member of The Breeders. She collaborated with Vivian Trimble (Luscious Jackson) to make the album Dusty Trails (which includes a song written for and sung by Emmylou Harris), and music for the film Happy Accidents by Brad Anderson. Recent work includes the soundtrack for a short film by internationally acclaimed choreographers chameckilerner, commissioned by Performa09, which premiered at SFMOMA. Current projects include the soundtrack for Spectral Houses, a documentary about the Modern houses in Wellfleet.
CCMHT Kugel Gips House
Josephine Wiggs, Musician-Composer
September 18. 2011
I anticipated a seven-hour drive from New York City, but what with one thing and another it took ten, and googlemaps rattled my nerves in the final stretch by sending me on the dusty and rutted Old King’s Highway, which seemed as if it couldn’t possibly be right. I was relieved to reach Long Pond Road and find the K-G marker, headlights illuminating a tunnel of trees as I turned into the driveway, finally coming to a clearing where the house and Peter were waiting. Emerging from the car, the silence and darkness outside the city is always a surprise, and on the lawn, dimly visible and ghostly, a spectacular troop of Shaggy Parasol mushrooms add to the enchantment.
The next day I set up my recording equipment on the slab of the built-in desk in the office, looking out into the trees, and beyond them, to Northeast Pond. What could be a more perfect work space? I had just returned from England, where I had recorded piano (also in a secluded house in the countryside) and my plan was to arrange these pieces and record additional parts. While in England, I went out every afternoon on my bicycle looking for mushrooms, not to eat, but to photograph, and so the presence of the Shaggy Parasols was especially exciting.
My week-in-residence at Kugel-Gips was an opportunity to be immersed in the landscape that had inspired this and the other Modern houses in Wellfleet, with the idea of creating a soundscape for the houses, their surroundings, and the harmony between the two.
The last few times I’ve visited Wellfleet it had been cool and damp, so it was delightful to find the weather sunny and even warm, despite it being mid-September. After a couple of hours work, I went for a bike ride. Ocean View Drive to Lecount Hollow Road to buy a baguette from the French bakery, but, being Monday, the bakery was closed. I got one instead from the small bakery next to the General Store, and then rode south on the Rail Trail. I was amazed to see an astonishing array of fungi growing on the banks of the trail, puffballs nestling in the grass like eggs, and dozens of classic umbrella-shaped toadstools, including both Yellow and White Fly Agaric, False Death Cap, Powdercap Amanita, and Onion-stalked Lepiota.
The next morning after coffee on the deck, I walked down the slope from the house to the pond’s edge and launched a canoe. This pond is shallow and verdant, a dense underwater forest. I glimpse a fish here, a turtle there, emerging for a moment and withdrawing again. Around the perimeter, reeds stick up out of the water like bright green hatch marks indicating the edge. At the far shore, a row of small trees grows along a narrow ribbon of of sand, beyond which is Great Pond. I drag the canoe over, and as I push off, the white sandy bank drops off precipitously to empty blackness. I wonder how deep the water is, without wanting to think what the answer might be. Great Pond is so large it is like being on open water, very different from Northeast Pond. Approaching the other side, I notice that beyond another sandy ridge is another pond, Turtle Pond. I pull the canoe over into it. The water here is black too, but it is a stagnant, gothic blackness. Leafless branches poke up through the inky surface, and my oar snags on things submerged and invisible, and catching on Waterlily stalks and the pointy leaves of Arrowhead, with its spikes of white three-petaled flowers. A family of crows carouses noisily from tree to tree, almost as if they are following me, their garrulous cawing echoing across the water.
Back on Great Pond, I row toward a tiny cottage on the rim of the eastern shore. As I get closer, I see that the windows are blank sheets of bleached plywood – the house is closed-up, with no sign of occupation. There is a lilliputian fence, which I step over to look at a lilac-tinted Field Blewit growing improbably in the sand. The cottage is perched on a sliver of land separating Great Pond and the smallest of this family of ponds, Southeast Pond, whose surface is a patchwork of Waterlily pads on a background of algae-green water.
On my last day, my friend who lives in Wellfleet says it is likely the last day for swimming: rain is forecast, which will lower the water temperatures. After a short drive, we walk along a path through lichen encrusted trees, with bright red Russulas and rusty-colored Red-Capped Boletes growing in the springy grass, until we emerge through dunes to an open expanse of sand and sky – Balston Beach. To celebrate the end of my trip and the end of summer, we swim. We inch our way across the breakers and into the Atlantic, it is not cold at all. After rinsing off the sea-salt, we head to the almost perfect circle of Duck Pond. Along the path are Yellow Fly Agaric, more Boletes, and just before we reach the pond, a Beefsteak Polypore, sticking out of the mossy roots of a birch tree like an enormous tongue.
As evening purples the sky, we drive westward to the end of Bound Brook Island Road and walk onto the beach, where the dusky light reflected by the Bay has erased the line between sea and sky, creating a seamless luminous landscape. Behind us, tucked into the dunes, the Hatch House silently presides over another sunset.
My week in the Kugel-Gips House made me more aware of the two contrasting landscapes which are in proximity to the house, as well as how I experience these landscapes. There are the intimate, enclosed spaces of the pitch pine forests and the ponds which are encircled by them. Within the forest, the uniform verticals of the trees seem architectural, like columns, and evoke in one a sense of interiority, stillness and seclusion, as if in a sacred space.
At the edges of the land, where it meets the ocean on one side, and the Bay on the other, there is expansive, open space. Here, in contrast, the lines are horizontal, extending to a vanishing point. A white strip of sand stretching to left and right, the lip of the water ceaselessly advancing and retreating, frothy ribbons of surf atop the thick cerulean brush strokes of the sea, the pencil line of the horizon. And beyond this, the sky, an infinite expanse.
I wanted to try and convey in my music my impression of these landscapes, which, though very different, both possess a harmonious simplicity and calm (in profound contrast to the spaces most of us inhabit most of the time). My approach is minimal in both instrumentation and in structure, using simple motifs and linear repeated forms to create a mood of measured, quiet reflection, and using minor keys and unresolved, open harmony to evoke an atmosphere of immeasurable space.