New Interfaces #7: Notice Recordings
I think this is becoming a common theme for me, but I first became attuned to the Notice Recordings label via David Perron’s FFFoxy Podcast. Evan Lindorff-Ellery and Travis Bird have been slowly dropping cassettes from artists equally rooted in improvisatory exploration, avant-garde theory and process, and a devotion to music as a form of artistry. The aurally adventurous but pleasing sonics of the label’s releases are highlighted by the pair’s devotion to the visual aspect of each tape. Graced by a common typeface and layout, and featuring intriguingly detailed artwork, there is a craftsmanlike air to the Notice Recordings catalog. Such attention to detail and focus on having an overarching aesthetic is uncommon, and certainly laudable. I wanted to highlight a few of the label’s more recent releases in this column, and I was also lucky enough to be able to ask Evan and Travis a few questions, which I’ve included below.
Ryan Jewell – Radio: Vol. 2
Jewell is a member of Columbus, Ohio’s self-proclaimed shitgaze pioneer ensemble Psychedelic Horseshit but his oeuvre is far more deep and complex than that. The selected discography from his website lists over 70 releases, with varying personnel configurations. He’s collaborated with the likes of Dylan Nyoukis, Mike Shiflet, C. Spencer Yeh, Christopher Riggs and Wasteland Jazz Unit, which should give you an idea as to what he’s all about. A percussionist who really transcends any notion of traditional percussion, Jewell offers up two slabs of electronics-addled buzzing, wheezing, rubbing and scratching. “O-O” on the A Side is tremendously motley in execution, with passages of low rumbling amid jets of steam and blender-on-drumskin skree. On the flip, “OO” feels a touch on the beefy side, with thick low frequency shuffling and what appears to be feedback or a cymbal affixed to an out of control grinding wheel. Both pieces were produced for radio (hence the cassette title), and each offers a distinct window into Jewell’s singular world.
Jack Harris & Samuel Rodgers – Primary / Unit 11
British sound sculptor Samuel Rodgers co-curates the Consumer Waste imprint with Stephen Cornford; as of last count the label was up to its 17th issuance of handmade sonic artifacts. Rodgers and improviser/composer/recordist Jack Harris have been collaborating for about 5 years now, and have a number of releases under their collective belts. Theirs is an exploratory music: room sounds, feedback, electronics, amplified objects and digitalia all factor into the duo’s body of work. This cassette offers a pair of lengthy pieces — recorded a year apart from each other — in which the two performers engage in very subtle manipulation of objects in varying states of amplification while a microphone (or microphones) capture the ambient sounds from the surrounding atmosphere. This is music that causes the hair on the back of your neck to stand at attention, stimulating a variety of mental states: confusion, tension, contemplation, and visualization. It’s certainly an arresting affair, suitable for cerebral adventuring.
Chik White – Jaw Works & Behind a Dead Tree on the Shore
Darcy Spidle is the Nova Scotia-based curator of the Divorce Records empire, which includes the OBEY Convention festival and the Heavy Fog tape label, from which arrived the lovely Bespoken Plays Nick Storring and Daniel Brandes cassette a couple of years ago. He also goes by the alias Chik White, and on this cassette brandishes the jaw harp with considerable aplomb. With Jaw Works, he coaxes a considerable variety of timbres from the instrument, each piece drifting along at its own tempo, arriving at a unique destination upon completion. With Behind a Dead Tree on the Shore, the North Atlantic Ocean acts as a second instrument to Spidle’s harp, the crashing of waves acting as a mesmerizing backdrop for the unique vibrations emanating from the instrument. I highly recommend tuning into the solo jaw harp musings of Chick White, it’s an unforgettable experience.
Ben Owen – Birds and Water, 4
This is the fourth installment of Brooklyn-based Ben Owen’s Birds and Water series, which he produced while in residency at the Experimental Television Center in Owego, NY. In this series, Owen produces drone fields that ripple very slightly, revealing micro-textures with a complexity that can only be understood through very deep listening. The pieces were created using David Jones’ image processing system, through which a number of patches were run and allowed to hover for extended durations. What results is a pair of rich, drawn-out tone clusters that etch their way through the skull of the listener, permeating the mind itself, complementary material for examining the contents of your consciousness.
Haptic – Excess of Vision: Unreleased Recordings, 2005-2014
The Chicagoan improvisational trio Haptic originally formed with a primary purpose of live improvisation, and frequently feature a rotating fourth member to augment the core of Steven Hess, Joseph Clayton Mills and Adam Sonderberg. For the pair of recordings that makes up Excess of Vision, Tony Buck (The Necks) and Salvatore Dellaria are the lucky fourth wheels that complete the Haptic vehicle. “So For the Remainder” is a pile of slowly smoldering embers that seems to grow steadily as the piece unfolds. What feels like electronically sourced tones and rubbed/scraped percussion elements are poured over each other until a dense concoction emerges. Things really heat up with “And Otherwise,” as field recordings and electronic chirping evoke a swampy atmosphere highlighted by a periodic thumping that really sets the heart aflutter. The piece becomes less organic as time goes on, as more electronic tones and what appears to be a bell-like structure reveal themselves. I almost detect subtle whisper-singing, just barely audible in the mix until the proceedings appear to become raveled up in a high-pitched ball of electronic squealing before an abrupt shove sends us into nothingness. I can’t get over how intricate yet ultimately thick and gooey this music is — it’s sheer artistry, plain and simple.
Joda Clément – I Hope you Like the Universe
Based in Vancouver (but originally raised in Toronto), Joda Clément is an example of how much the Notice Recordings camp appreciates the Canadian avant-garde. Clément has been an active composer/performer in the Canadian scene for over a decade, and has performed all over the world, even plying his trade at a few venues/events that I’ve been known to frequent in Toronto (The Music Gallery and Extermination Music Night [RIP] are just a couple). With I Hope you Like the Universe, the composer combines synths, field recordings and a harmonium’s drone into a pair of vibrating sound fields, the energies of which continuously evolve and grow. Elements both recognizable and uncanny come into focus and dissolve in a shifting pattern of interleaved ideas, mostly calling to mind the interstitial atmospheres of human ports of call: images of lonely boatyards, deserted railway stations and highway bypasses immediately spring forth in the mind’s eye. This music is as evocative as it is pleasurable to take in.
Prants – Hot Shaker Meet Lead Donut
Bhob Rainey may be known to some readers as part of the understated free improv group Nmperign alongside trumpeter Greg Kelley or as the founder of the much larger BSC improv troupe. Chris Cooper records as Angst Hase Pfeffer Nase, is in Fat Worm of Error and is/was involved with both the prankish Caroliner ensemble and those loveable outré minstrels Deerhoof. As a duo, the pair engage in a serious stew of synthetic and tape-based sounds. “Vapor Viper” evolves from an ear-splitting synthesizer shriek into a peal of bells and low-volume shortwave radio sounds. Then, a very subtle low-end humming armwrestles with what sounds like wave upon wave of digitized noise. A variety of guests join the fray on “Igotu Otius.” Mary Lattimore and Jesse Sparhawk employ harps, while June Bender, Eric Coyne and Matt Stein manipulate viola, cello and contrabass, respectively. The deployment of “dry ice” is credited to various personnel. The two main confabulators seem to focus on synths and tapes throughout, resulting in a mutant hybrid of synthetic wails and acoustic instrumentation. The entire experience is a pleasure, as always.
Bryon: The first eight or so releases under the Notice banner were either the pair of you playing together as Dense Reduction, one of you solo, or one of you in combination with others (our very own Nicholas Zettel is featured on NTR008 with Travis and Kelley Dailey). I guess it’s almost silly for me to ask you if you originally started the label to put out your own material then… So, how did you eventually come to begin releasing the music of others, I guess starting with the Tarr cassette?
Evan: Yeah, we definitely started the label in order to release our own material. I stumbled upon a box of C90 tapes containing religious sermons in a Chicago thrift store, called Village Discount. I wasn’t familiar with recording to the computer, so Travis and I began recording directly to them, sometimes directly to a stereo cassette deck, and more often to a 4-track. Sometimes the talking would unexpectedly emerge as snippets here and there, and that was always interesting. Those sessions were often quite internal and domestic, indirectly influenced by my apartment and its contents (plants, artwork, bricks, iron, statuettes). We sent them to Brad Rose of Digitalis Industries, and he was very encouraging. Travis and I had many recording sessions there that would become the Dense Reduction releases.
I think once we started playing some shows, we started getting submissions. I think we met Philip (aka Tärr) at a show; I can’t remember.
Travis: We did meet Tärr at a show. It was basically a coincidence that we released his music, because he asked. When Evan and I started, and he might disagree with this, but I recall being sort of like little brothers of the scene, fascinated outsiders. We would often marvel in the early days how stuff actually got released, and speculate absurdly how certain collaborations came about. I especially came to this music very much through Evan, and absorbed his own fascinations based on who he is.
A lot of the early releases of others (Red Electric Rainbow, Yellow Crystal Star, etc) were based on who we could muster up the courage to talk to about our label at shows in Chicago — Dense Reduction being a band that was very domestic and didn’t get out much. Brad Rose really was an early catalyst, someone who not only responded positively as a respected person, but also submitted to Notice something we liked, so that was likely a turning point.
Do you typically curate from within a circle of acquaintances, or do you accept demos and approach musicians directly?
Evan: It’s definitely both. I guess lately we haven’t been approaching folks as much, because we get a lot of submissions, and certainly just decide to release someone with whom we already are in correspondence. We’re always open to receiving demos. I think a really enjoyable part of running a label is to receive unexpected and unknown material that turns out to be very exciting. I’m often confused why some labels don’t accept demos. I guess they’re probably receiving much more than we do, so I can see how that would be overwhelming.
Travis: I also love the unexpected, and by this point I feel we receive a comfortable amount of submissions we like. Personally, I would only feel good about reaching out to most artists if I could pay them appreciably.
The text on your releases is done at a printer in New Orleans, where Travis is based. You worked with an entity called ArEn before that, correct? First modern printing and then foil stamping. Now you’re solely getting your stuff letterpressed. Do you prefer letterpress printing?
Evan: I don’t even know ArEn is. We had our first handful of releases printed at a foil stamping wedding and party invitation shop outside of Chicago, at which our friend worked, who gave us quite a deal. I think ArEn was the alias of someone who ran the presses there, but I don’t know if he or she worked on other projects like ours. We also had one release, Ben Owen’s Birds and Water, 1, silkscreen printed by Sonnenzimmer in Chicago, as I briefly had a connection with them. A small few have been digitally printed here and there, and now we’re working directly with the letterpress printer John Fitzgerald, in New Orleans.
Travis: We have always appreciated the tape as a physical object, and initially we were reacting to the uninspiring cheap printing on many tapes. Heavy card stock, analog printing, a subtly cultivated bookishness…these things all added to the significance of the object for us, and continue to, even as we’ve tried various new things and have weighed those affinities against costs of various printing methods we’ve had to use.
We were also initially, at least in my mind, offering Notice as an outlet for Evan’s original artwork. That’s developed into a consistent style for the label, and it usually responds well to the colors, texture, and depth of the letter press on thicker stock. Kind of like how we privilege music that we think will benefit from being specifically on tape, as opposed to some other format.
John’s just a cool guy who quit commercial printing to do something archaic and personal, and in some way we’re just on the same page of life in general. I work on film projectors, he uses like a 100-year-old press, we both are New Orleans transplants and Evan lived there for a time as well. So we appreciate his mise-en-scene.
Evan, we spoke briefly earlier about how you do most of the artwork, but the two of you work together to ensure the final product is something that you both agree on. Given that you are divided geographically, with one of you being in New Orleans and the other in Portland, how do you manage? I guess the Internet is a big help here…
Travis: It is a challenge aided greatly by technology, but I think this question is more interesting in terms of how our local scenes influence our taste with regard to the label. Portland is an extremely active place in terms of experimental and chamber music and innovative, challenging programming; New Orleans is extremely different. So, after initially being in the same place, we’re now exposed to very different musical experiences, and we have to look beyond them to see to the core of what we want the label to be.
Travis, you and I both contributed to Foxy Digitalis back in the day, and Evan, you mentioned that Brad Rose was very encouraging of your early releases as a duo. How much of an influence was the Digitalis Empire on Notice Recordings, in terms of both content and how you guys operate?
Evan: Brad and Digitalis was a pretty significant influence on us. I think his tapes were the first ones I ever bought — no, I take that back; the first tape I ever bought was either a Raglani tape, who was opening for Yellow Swans, or a Locrian tape boxset at one of their shows — anyway… What I enjoyed about Digitalis was how organic it all was, at least in the early years. A lot of really textural drones, slowly moving, settling, flittering, moving about in unassuming ways. It was really perfect for overcast, snowy days in Vermont, but also coincided with the pressing heat of the summer. I associate a lot (if not most) music with certain types of weather, times of the year, and locations, such as rural/urban organic/industrial, and the stuff on Digitalis was perfect for that. Labels like Housecraft and House of Sun kind of continued that aesthetic when Digitalis branched out into more encompassing territory. In terms of Brad specifically, I just remember our interactions as always being very positive, very encouraging. He and his wife Eden seemed so passionate about that label and all its permutations. I do want to clarify that I think Digitalis had an initial influence on the label, but as we progressed into more “academic” or “contemporary” types of music (for lack of much better words I don’t care to conjure at the moment), I would say labels like Digitalis have less influence.
Travis: My primary influence as I was entering this world was Evan, so by proxy, Brad and Digitalis were important. In a subtler way, Brad and Eden were just nice to be around — meeting them and John Twells, for example, revealed to me a different type of social fabric than going to local shows with a handful of intimidatingly shy people, or people who were more into just being on the scene, which neither Evan nor I really felt comfortable with. Brad et al. were just really into music, only without obvious categories. It takes a lot of courage to do your own thing, and Brad’s own thing — the label, Foxy Digitalis, etc — happened to be really expansive, which I think was good for us to see, looking back. Less so on content, as Evan says.
Personally, I think I benefited more from actually writing for Foxy Digitalis — again, Brad being inclusive and being like, ‘Yeah man! You can write… and be the copy editor too!’ and then mailing me a big box of promos like it was Christmas morning. Listening to promos and writing about them for Foxy was more musically influential than almost anything I’ve ever done.
Can the two of you briefly give us all a run-down of the work that you do musically, besides Dense Reduction? What are some of the more recent musical projects that you’ve undertaken?
Evan: I actually haven’t recorded anything in the past few years. I have a huge box of tapes I made alone and with Travis that I want to dig through. A number of 4-track collage/layerings of late-night/early-morning radio mysteries, microcassette recordings of various objects, and few recordings I made in Vermont of storms, a broken guitar, and the echoey sounds of rocks and bricks bouncing around in the woods. I’m eager to get back into producing sound and music. That said, I consume vast quantities of a wide variety of music, as well as work with a non-profit music organization in Portland.
Travis: This is such a demoralizing answer from both of us, but I’m also not exactly what you’d call productive these days, sadly. I spent a lot of time some years back recording more conventional songs — some have been released and most have not. Nowadays, I’m studying jazz, but my life is dominated by cinema: working at film festivals and starting Shotgun Cinema, a nonprofit cinema in New Orleans. Music has to muscle its way into my daily life. Perhaps making music is just more therapeutic or by necessity for me, although I feel I’m slowly approaching something that resembles the musical self I envision. I can’t decide if it’s important to record or provide evidence of that. If a musician plays alone in a room and no one hears it, does he really play? Clearly yes, but…
A little birdie told me that there is a new batch of tapes coming soon; do you mind if I ask you to give us a short run-down of what we can expect to arrive shortly from Notice Recordings?
Evan: Sure, next up is Jason Kahn & Tim Olive, featuring two recordings from live performances in Osaka and Fukuoka, Japan. In addition to that there will also be a tape featuring the compositions of Bruno Duplant, performed by himself and Ryoko Akama. After that will be two separate tapes by Chris Strickland and Nick Storring. They are two really fascinating and prolific composers from Canada. And finally, at least in terms of concrete releases, there will be the cassette version of a new record by Rafael Toral from his Space Elements series. As well as a tape by Portland, Oregon local Loren Chasse, entitled The Sodden Floor. Theoretically those will both be ready by Loren and Rafael’s Oct 3rd show in Portland, as part of Rafael’s US tour. So if you’re in Portland, please come out ! It will be at The Projection Museum.
I like that you guys aren’t limiting yourselves to artists from the U.S.A. to release on the label (there are a lot of Canadians on the roster). Was this a conscious choice or merely serendipity?
Travis: Mostly serendipity. A fair amount of what we come across that we feel fits best with our vision of the label is not U.S.-based, it’s true — one snap theory is that the conditions to create academic-type music are more favorable in other countries with more of a possibility of grants, state arts funding, etc. We never discuss it, except in terms of shipping and logistics. On the other hand, there’s a word-of-mouth element — like, we get a lot of interest from people with connections to Milan, which I suspect is from being acquainted for some years with Giuseppe Ielasi and Attila Faravelli, who are both innovative artists who also do mastering, thus working with many people on that scene and maybe (again, I imagine) repping us somehow.
Thanks so much to Evan and Travis for agreeing to take part in the column. Notice Recordings tapes are available directly from the label’s BandCamp site, so dig in!