"An arbitrary succession of more or less irritating sounds"

Friday, 23 December 2011

Breaking the code

You could make too much of it, clearly. But still it seems significant that LMYE’s Labels of 2011 (like our picks in 2010 & 2009, for that matter) base themselves in somewhat out of the way locations. Geography surely helps explain these exemplary curators'  distinct, even singular aesthetics. 

So too do the double lives of this year's double choice (linked by one exceptional artist). Neither is simply a conventional label. One is also a leading global organiser of events, festivals & exhibitions; the other one of the most significant sellers & distributors of experimental music

The artist who links the two is Lawrence English, founder of Room40 (Red Hill, Queensland) and maker of the compelling, genre-defying/redefining Peregrine for Experimedia (Ravenna, Ohio). Both labels have shaped LMYE's listening in 2011 in important ways. Even with their decade-long journeys beginning to diverge - Room40 powering on, Experimedia at a cross-roads - each demands some recognition here. 

A diverting, challenging interview with Experimedia founder Jeremy Bible follows shortly. But first some characteristically thoughtful, engaging reflections by Lawrence English as Room40's 10th anniversary draws to a close...

Named for an assemblage of creative code-breaking talent, as English explains below, the label’s first decade has seen it emerge as a key sponsor of less obvious music - shrugging off its physical remoteness as an Australian label to deliver cherished 'Sound Parcels from the Antipodes’ 

Notwithstanding the label's rich history, this year marked a peak for Room40. Despite the decision to have Experimedia handle The Peregrine – arguably English's masterpiece, though competition in that category is tough (most of all from Kiri Ni Oto, another external release) – the label unleashed what to these ears was its strongest set of releases yet.

Pimmon - Passing, Never To Be Held

Holding, Never To Be Passed [edit] by pimmon

pimmon - the oansome orbit (album preview)

This great series ranges from John Chantler’s modular synth masterclass The Luminous Ground to Steinbrüchel’s densely rewarding Narrow & on to Pimmon’s magnificently moving The Oansome OrbitChihei Hatakeyama’s ravishing Mirror & Minamo's often lovely Documental. The label also marked its anniversary with 10, a sprawling, glorious compilation of 40 of its artists & co-conspirators. 

More recently, Reinhold Friedl's Eight Equidistant pure wave oscillators, while slipping very slowly to a unison, textually spatialised on eight speakers, concret, 60 minutes added an uncompromising musique concrete workout to the list. 

In addition, Janek Schaefer's National Portrait enlarged & enriched Room40's output - in its full form a 24-hour album embedded (appropriately but also fabulously) in a TV remote control, plus 1,000 MP3s on a circuit board, & all wrapped in a TV listings page...

National PortraitJanek Schaefer

Moreover, English's commitment to field recording & hearing yielded his Brisbane 'site listening' project & book to again expand the label's scope & range of operation

Several of this year's releases feature in LMYE’s forthcoming Festive 50 – 50 releases that particularly mattered to the blog’s co-authors in 2011. Several more are among 50 further commendations that help make up a celebratory century…

Below read English's further thoughts on the label’s longevity, its landmarks, prospects & challenges. 

Steinbrüchel - Narrow (edit)

How has Room40 developed this year (has this been your biggest year for new releases)? Have you done anything different in 2011? Anything new you want to keep doing now it's started?
2011 has been a fairly interesting year for us. 2010 was the tenth anniversary (although technically finished in the first part of 2011....) and in some respects a marker for what room40 has been and continues to be. It was great to take stock and get a sense of part of the journey we've been on. In 2011 we started to make a few changes for the next phases of room40 - things like John Chantler's LP and Janek Schaefer's Remote Control edition is more something we want to move towards - special objects that take on a great meaning than simply 'releases' as such. I mean we've always had a pre-occupation with making 'editions' rather than releases - specialised packaging, design aesthetics etc - but in 2011 we've started to take steps more into a new way of approaching these ideas.

Did you always expect to make it to your 10th anniversary? Do you anticipate following Touch's lead & making it to your 30th?
It's a good question. These kind of celebrations remind you how quickly time flies. I think, at least in my mind, Room40 is an ongoing organisation. I guess this is heightened by the range of activities we undertake - everything from releasing editions to curating festivals and performance series and putting together sound art exhibitions.

Is being an Australian label significant for Room40? How do you assess the state of Australian 'experimental' music currently?
It's significant in that there's not many of us down here I guess....especially older labels. There's been some amazing labels over the years, but a great many of them have ceased or have really cut back on their release schedules. At the same time there's an amazing crop of new younger labels starting up - some really killer labels putting out all kinds of music. In terms of experimental work, I think we're blessed with some amazing artists here, working at all levels - there's your longer serving artists like Oren Ambarchi, Robin Fox and Philip Samartzis, and then a younger generation too - all of whom are active and creating some pretty special sound!

John Chantler - Untitled #2

john chantler - the luminous ground (album preview)

Do you see yourself & the other Room40 artists as working in any kind of tradition? Is there a Room40 sound or typical artist? 
I think everyone and every label fits into a kind of 'ecology'. We all fit together in different ways and the degrees of separation in this area of work aren't so huge and I love that. There's a real sense of community, in a global sense, and that's something I value and try to foster in whatever small ways we can. 

I'm not sure there's a typical artist as such, but I do like to think all the artists on the label are equally concerned with delving deep into the work they're doing and creating in a deep and personal way.

Any Room40 artists you believe merit more attention than they've had so far?
Quite a few of them. I'm just glad to see many of them doing well and being in a position to continue creating their work. That's one of the most important elements for me - ensuring we don't see attrition. I think we've lost some great musicians over the years due to the lack of consistency and support etc.  

Chihei Hatakeyama - Alchemy

Chihei Hatakeyama - Renitency

chihei hatakeyama - mirror (album preview)

Suspect you've been asked this before, but why have your own releases have often come out on other labels - as with this year's superb The Peregrine on Experimedia?
To be honest there's only a certain number of slots available for us to release editions this year and I feel it's important for me not to occupy those. Occasionally if there's some addition income to cover the production costs - for example, the recent Site Listening Queensland edition - then it's possible me to me publish the editions via room40, but I feel it's important that the labels focus lies with the artists we want to support and not my own work.

Will Lonely Women's Club be releasing on Room40? Or anywhere else?
The first record in that series will be published by Important Records. I'm very pleased to have the chance to work with them.

How soon can we expect the new Chris Abrahams - & can you persuade him to release some of his many solo piano recordings?
Actually in 2012 we will be re-issuing both his solos and I know Chris has been working away solidly on a new solo LP, so there's a chance that might also be ready in 2012. He's such an incredible musician - truly one of our great musicians in Australia.

How do you see Room40 developing in the future? Any new artists you can mention &/or forthcoming new releases from established Room40 artists? 
There's quite a few new projects on the boil. For example in the first quarter of 2012 we're venturing into some concrete territory with editions from Thembi Sodell and Anthea Caddy, ErikM and a wonderful pulsing work from Andrea Belfi - really something amazing. There's a swag of new editions on the way in 2012....a good few from artists we've worked with before, plus some new artists. There's going to be a series of editions from Eugene Carchesio - a collection of all his amazing electronic works - I'm very excited to have the chance to published these wonderful editions.

Will you be releasing more vinyl? Cassettes? Other media (DVDs/TV remotes/etc)?
I think it's all pretty well open for comment. I want to encourage the artists to think about what might make sense for their works and we can collaborate on coming up with unique ways to create an object with which their sound might work alongside.

Best thing anyone's said/written about Room40 music? Worst?
At one of our shows, a bar staff member remarked 'I'd rather be fucked in the ear by a cheese grater than listen to more of this.' Needless to say I'm very friendly with this person now - I respect anyone who has such an articulate way of enunciating discomfort!

How important is artwork to your releases? Who decides it?
I think one of the elements that ties together the catalogue is the print work and style we've developed. The monochrome artwork, matt celo covers and also the type face and font size are all basically deal breakers for us, but at the same time they lend a linkage between releases that I think feels great when you hold up the releases next to each other. I guess this was a centre theme for me when we started out - making sure we weren't just making regular cds in jewel cases, but unique objects (via the diecut for example) that people could see as something different from what else was around.

How challenging a time is this for labels? Are you tempted to go digital-only? Or the opposite?
I think for some labels it a very challenging time, but for us it's not a question of either/or. Honestly I think some music is best served digitally - as the quality can be much higher than cd. A great example is Reinhold Friedl's new edition which we offer in a 24 44.1 format. Other music sounds pretty damned amazing on cassette in my opinion. Other works really work best on vinyl - for example the Grouper 7" last year really works for me on wax. The cut added something a little special to the sound. So I think it's about finding the fit for the artist and looking to create something special with them. I honestly feel the most important thing we can do as label directors is honour and respect our artists work - I know, as an artist, how much of yourself you pour into the works - so it's important to true and realise the best fit and space in which the artists work can be presented.

Minamo - Bound Letters by ROOM40

minamo - documental (album preview)

PS Where does the label's name come from?
It's actually based on the Room40 of Bletchley Park fame. It resonated with me in terms of what I want from Room40 - a place in which many different artists from all over the place came together to explore a similar theme - sound. To me it still very much fits what we're trying to do and foster.

Important: LMYE only makes music available that artists/labels have chosen to share freely. Let us know if something here shouldn't be.

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