Gabi Vanek is the “label boss” of Oxcart New Music, but she isn’t precious about it. She didn’t use the word “curate” once in this interview.
“So I have wanted to use the name Oxcart New Music for quite some time, but I kind of made it a catch-all,” she told me. It’s almost as if the sound of the name informed its mission as much as the meaning. It sounds cool.
Is it cool? As I said in my review of Vanek’s collaboration with Chris Wiersema, Death Bag: If you hear “experimental live electronic music” and shout “where do I sign up?” this is a label for you. The two releases so far — Justin K Comer & the Unblessed Rest of Us and Ghost Actions (by Vanek and Will Yager) are resolutely experimental free improvisations. That kind of music is by definition new, insofar as no one hears it until the moment it’s performed, including the performers.
Both releases came out on cassette in addition to download, through the casual arrangements of musicians who don’t expect to make any money. Vanek said to Comer, “Hey, do you want to just put it on Oxcart so then it can live in two places: your bandcamp website and then Oxcart? I can just bring it with me when I’m playing gigs or post about it on social media.”
Improvisation, to Vanek, is not an arbitrary practice.
“Insofar as practicing and knowing your scales and music theory, it’s exceedingly helpful … because you develop a syntax. Kind of like languages, you know all these words and phrases and then how to put them together in an interesting way, whether that’s melodically or experimentally, if that makes sense. Yeah, I’m a composer, but by accident.”
As for her own playing she says, “I’m more interested in exploring the boundaries of the instrument, specifically the bassoon, because I’m a bassoonist.”
The COVID-19 pandemic was difficult artistically.
“I started doing some of the daily Instagram video Bleep Bloops for a bit, and Ghost Actions came out during the pandemic. I had been testing vocals for my bassoon [i.e. singing while playing] but I wasn’t work on specific projects for myself.”
The freedom of Vanek’s free improvisation is not without structure or intent. “When I’m performing, I should not be practicing for you. I did stuff in my laboratory, which is my practice space, right? And figured out that X and Y go together to make this sound or weird thing Z. So I would never perform being, like, “Oh, can X divided by Z make Y? Because if I didn’t practice that I don’t know if it’s going to work.”
As for Ox Cart New Music, Vanek has no particular plans but said, “I would mostly like to be able to just release things for, you know, new music, experimental buddies in town or even just friends out of state who just need an opportunity to have something on a label and put it on their CVs.”
Vanek stamps her personality on her label and her work as a performer: playful, but with serious intent.
“There’s a whole world of free and proposatory music out there,” she says, “and I think every player must come at it a little different. You have some ideas, but you don’t know specifically what’s going to come out. You’re just not trying weird shit to try weird shit in front of people.”
This article was originally published in Little Village’s November 2022 issues.