When Sean Peoples’ experimental pop label, Sockets Records, shut down in early 2013, he was eager to take a break. The reprieve ended up being short-lived, however, as a confluence of personal and professional realizations led to him start laying the groundwork for what would become his next label, D.C.-based Atlantic Rhythms.
The first was that Peoples had begun to listen to music differently. Having just lost both of his parents to cancer, Peoples wanted to submerge himself in healing music; the idea of sound healing and tuning the mind and body for repair held a very strong resonance. He also really wanted to collaborate with his friend, Nick Apice, “to build something that could explore patterns, color, and graphic identity.” With a renewed sense of purpose and an interest in continuing to support the work of the collaborative community of independent artists he’d met through Sockets, Peoples founded Atlantic Rhythms in 2015.
Under the leadership of Bob Thiele, who took over from Taylor during the label’s first year, Impulse! would be a beacon and a bellwether, through the 1960s and into the late ‘70s. As Ashley Kahn put it in his 2006 book The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records: “The label’s devotion to the mostly African-American, mostly avant-garde players collectively responsible for the last significant leap forward in modern jazz — the point where most jazz histories and timelines tend to end — stands today as one of its most important accomplishments.”
That devotion, which now also extends to present-day Impulse! artists like the Black British saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, will take center stage in a celebration of the label’s 60th anniversary — spanning new releases as well as deluxe reissue packages and strategic partnerships.
One of the more positive things that happened in 2020 was the relaunch of Neuma Records. In 1988 Shirish Korde and Jerry Tabor launched the label. They built a catalog that included recordings of well known twentieth century composers such as Xenakis, Cage, Boulez, Messiaen, Nono, Scelsi and Varese. But the catalog caught my attention in the early 90’s because it was releasing recordings of works by contemporary electroacoustic composers and recordings by performers who focused on the work of lesser known contemporary composers . The catalog includes works by Dashow, DeLio, Dodge, Gaburo, Johnston, Karpen, Lansky, Laske, Lippe, Martirano, Oliveros, Reynolds, Risset, Saariaho, Subotnick, Yuasa and many many more.
By the end of the 90’s Neuma’s release schedule had really become sparse. In 2020 the label relaunched with Philip Blackburn taking over. Blackburn is a composer who spent almost 30 years working at Innova Recordings. Innova focuses on assisting composers and performers through the recording, publication, marketing and distribution process. As a result, Innova has curated a diverse body of contemporary music spanning more than 650 albums. Blackburn has brought this assistive and curatorial approach to Neuma.
In December of 2020 Neuma released three new recordings. The first was from composer Wesley Fuller (1930-2020). It is a nice collection of seven electroacoustic pieces for instruments and computer.
Fuller ‘s works skillfully blends acoustic instruments and computer generated sounds with a focus on gesture, shape and color.
The second release is from composer Robert Moran. It is a nice collection of eight diverse works for orchestra. On this album Moran’s work is primarily neoromantic with occasional minimalist tendencies.
The third release is a concert recording from 1967 of composer Kenneth Gaburo conducting the New Music Choral Ensemble in a diverse program of twentieth century choral music. This is a really interesting release. If you don’t have any contemporary choral music in your collection then this would be the disc to have. It is not hard to imagine that in 1967 very few people in the US had heard live performances of choral music by Luigi Nono, Anton Webern and Olivier Messiaen. But practically no one had heard any music, never the less choral music from Pauline Oliveros, Ben Johnston, Leslie Bassett, Charles Hamm and Robert Shallenberg. Under the direction of Kenneth Gaburo the New Music Choral Ensemble took on the extreme technical challenges of performing such a diverse and difficult program. The program’s compositions included everything from 12 tone serial music to 31 tone just intonation to graphic and descriptive notation to works with live and or prerecorded electronics! The spirited performances on this disc are extremely well done. Also included are two interesting electronic pieces by Gaburo that were used to allow the singers a short break in between some of the pieces on the program. I highly recommend that you give this album a listen!
As I was getting ready to post this, Neuma released several additional titles – Robert Moran’s opera “Buddha goes to Bayreuth”, Gina Biver’s “Nimbus” which is seven miniatures for electroacoustic chamber ensemble, spoken word and soprano voice, James Caldwell’s “Pocket music” a set of concreté miniatures made with “small” sounds usually of things found in his pockets, and Spanish composer Juan J.G. Escuerdo’s “Shapes of Inner Timespaces” a collection of eight acousmatic compositions. Perusing their online catalog today it looks like several more titles are being released in February including a recording of Harry Partch’s “The Bewitched” ! I am glad to see that Neuma is back and that Blackburn has established an aggressive release schedule of diverse contemporary music. You can hear more samples of current and upcoming releases as well as selected back catalog on the Nuema Soundcloud Page. So check it out!
The 12 November edition of The Wire’s weekly show on Resonance FM explores the music of Australian sound art label Room40 as it celebrates its 20th anniversary, with music from Rafael Toral, Akio Suzuki, Ellen Fullman, Ueno Takashi, Julia Reidy, and label boss Lawrence English.
One important through-line in the Earjerk catalog is improvisational recordings from a wide array of ensembles, some of which played together only once or twice, and some of which have re-convened over the years with wide and shifting memberships. The most sprawling and prolific of those is Second Family Band, whose members over time have included Ennis, Woodman, Troy Schafer (Kinit Her), Clay Ruby (Burial Hex, Wormsblood), DB Pedersen, Brian Steele (Wife, X-Ray Mirror), Dave 3000 (of WORT-FM’s Kosmik Radiation show), Ian Adcock (Conjuror), Clay Kolbinger (Maths Balance Volumes, Private Anarchy), and quite a few others. (Full disclosure: Pedersen and I are friends and have played some music together, and Adcock writes for Tone Madison.) The Grass Magic, EJK000 in the label’s catalog, captures many of those same players jamming with other noteworthy experimental musicians, including James Ferraro and Glenn Donaldson, ahead of a 2004 festival in rural southeastern Wisconsin.
Experimental music label Recital is home to many essential documents from the Fluxus movement— sound poetry, contemporary classical, and more—shining a theatre-grade spotlight on beautiful music that once lived in the dark. But it didn’t quite start that way.
“From 2007-2012 I had recorded and released 30 or 40 cassettes, CD-Rs, or LPs of my music. I felt embarrassed about my music,” explains label curator, musician, and composer Sean McCann. “I needed to put a harness on myself, an ornate harness. So I began designing a saddle.”
For over twenty years, KRAAK have built relationships with artists from all over the world, giving them the space they need to develop or to try out new things. A hybrid organisation, moonlighting as promoter, label, publisher and fixer, they are bound to no city in particular, taking full advantage of Belgium’s central location in Western Europe. According to KRAAK’s Gabriela González Rondón, what unites the releases on the label, all quite disparate in style, is “an immense honesty in all of these records, something that makes them relatable and straightforward, no matter the genre”.
The dawn of the ’70s were heady times for keyboardist Doug Carn and drummer Michael Carvin. Both men had recently relocated to Los Angeles from points south; Carn came from Florida, Carvin from Houston. Carn was getting gigs with well-known bands like Nat Adderly and Earth, Wind And Fire, while Carvin was getting work in television bands as a sideman. Most central to the pair, though, was the demo the two had recorded along with Carn’s wife, vocalist Jean Carn, that they thought marked the future of jazz. Inspired by three legendary African-Americans – Dr. Martin Luther King, John Coltrane and Muhammad Ali – Carn had written lyrics for music composed by Coltrane, McCoy Tyner and Wayne Shorter, which were then sung by Jean, who imbued the songs with an energetic vibrance. “I felt we were creating a new set of standards,” Doug Carn tells NPR Music.
“Growing up in Belgium, there wasn’t just one dominant scene or style of music,” says Marc Hollander, who founded Aksak Maboul with his friend Vincent Kenis in Brussels in the spring of 1977. “There was stuff coming in from everywhere, and so I created my own musical world. I was listening to free jazz, classical, psychedelic rock, blues, and was also going a lot to a record library where I would borrow lots of records from all over the world. So I became a geek for all this.”
Hollander is recalling the musical inspirations for the duo’s debut LP. Described as “a significant record…way ahead of its time” by Gilles Peterson, Onze danses pour combattre la migraine was a visionary album that incorporated minimalism, fake jazz, avant-pop, world exotica, and proto-techno into something that is still hard to pin down more than 40 years later.
In 1997, Taylor Deupree, frustrated by his own experiences with record labels as an artist, penned 12 principles that would become the pillars of 12k, a New York-based label that has lasted over 20 years. The 12 principles are straight-forward and testimonial, and you can hear each of them play out in each of 100-plus releases on 12k, from artists like Ryuichi Sakamoto, Simon Scott of Slowdive and Marcus Fischer.
12k releases are carefully made, often glacially paced, and full of crackling textures and minute details—Deupree also runs a mastering business, 12k Mastering—and are musically bound together by principles like “Evolve constantly, but slowly,” and “Don’t tell listeners what they want to hear, let them discover that for themselves.” The releases are quiet, sometimes in a traditionally ambient manner, sometimes neoclassical, sometimes neither.