Darwin: Okay. Today I have a real great opportunity. I'm getting a chance to talk to John Brien, who's, the label head for, some really important work. He heads up Important Records, which has a list of releases that is pretty jaw-dropping - and has been for quite some time. Also, there's a sister label called Cassauna that is for cassette releases. Very interesting stuff. I'll tell you, you go over on Bandcamp and just start looking around and it's jaw-dropping the number of people... whether you're talking about releases by Pauline Oliveros, Caterina Barbieri or - I got turned onto some new names. ELEH, (I think, I dunno if you say it or spell it, I don't know...). But I was really blown away; also relating back to an earlier podcast, there's about to be a release of some of Tod Dockstader's a work as well, which I'm very excited about because I'm a huge fan of that. So after all of that, I am going to stop talking and we are going to let John talk a little bit. So, Hey John, how's it going?
John Brien: Good. How are you?
Darwin: I am great. Thanks a lot for taking time out of your schedule to have a chat and especially for taking time away from your COVID hideaway. It's gotta be a little bit unnerving to have to try and simultaneously run a label and while hiding your home!
John: Yeah, I haven't even known really where to start. It sort of took me off guard. I mean I'm used to work, I work from home or office is out in a barn and then I have a little studio in the house and so, you know, I can work at all hours and usually do. But with this it's just been disorienting, you know, for everybody not knowing who's working and who's not working. And I've ended up actually taking more time off than I usually do.
Darwin: Right. Working from home is... as I recall from some of our email, you actually have kids and stuff, so that kinda has to change your in-home work dynamic a little bit, right?
John: It does. Yeah. It doesn't necessarily mean that I work any less. Sometimes I have to break up my time and take a kid somewhere, but yeah. There we go. They're time consuming.
Darwin: Sure. So I gave a a brief walk through of what you've got going, but why don't I have you - for people who might not be familiar with Important Records - why don't you give us a quick overview of the label, the people that you work with, some of the projects you've got going right now and what's upcoming?
John: Well, for the first... when I started the label, I definitely didn't want it to have any noticeable aesthetic and really wanted it to be more like a record store where it, you know, had interesting things in every section that was sort of well-curated. I was sort of opposed to the idea of branding and the idea of, you know, advertising or branding it. I just wanted to sort of keep it open ended. But inevitably over the years, I think as maybe I became more and more focused, in a certain way I think maybe the label became more and more focused. It's sort of an inevitable focusing of my attention in certain musical directions and that that's informed the direction of the label. Or maybe they just sort of have evolved, side-by-side. Definitely an emphasis on archival material. That's where I think I'm happiest working is when I'm digging deeply into an artist's catalog and archive. You know, those moments of discovery are very satisfying. Documenting, you know, thinking about my work with, Harry Bertoia and Pauline Oliveros. That's a sort of stuff that I find the most satisfying is when I can do a lot of investigation and sort of obsessively curate archivally-oriented work.
Darwin: Sure. Well, I think it's interesting to bring up Pauline Oliveros as well because, frankly, I had a really interesting experience last year - about this time. I was teaching a class at a local university about, sort of the history of electronic music. And, the way I did it was every day in class I would introduce them to another artist and then I would have a playlist that they would need to listen to, using the music archives at the school. And I would have them learn more about the artists so that the next day we could have a conversation about it and then introduce the next artist. And so it was one of these one-month really super-focused everyday classes. And so I just really shotgunned a lot of artists into people's brains, right?
I'm in this class of 30 people, and at the end I had an informal final where one of the questions was - "Of the artists that we talked about, who was the person that you most directly identified with and were most inspired by?" And out of the 30 kids in class, I would say that more than two-thirds pointed to Pauline Oliveros as the person that they found most inspiring. And it was really surprising to me, but at the same time it probably shouldn't have been because it was something that caught people's attention both from the sonic standpoint but also where she was coming from, with the textual scores and stuff. It was really inspiring to people, in a music school environment, in a way that they hadn't expected. Now I would imagine in digging through Pauline's archives, you must run across some fascinating stuff.
John: Yeah, I think with Pauline, the inspiration that you're talking about in just her published texts, some of the books that she's written, interviews with her, it's really easy to get a sense of her philosophy - [it] is always there in her work and the way that she talked about her work and in her teaching; yeah, I can definitely understand how it could be liberating for the music student. Even just sort of like, you know, non-music students, her approach is universal in a way that I think encourages everybody to be a part of their sonic environment - whether they're making that music or just listening to the world around them. I mean, that's my connection to her work, I think, beyond the archival work. It's just when I think of Pauline, I think of her basic philosophy, which is so incredibly inspiring and liberating for everybody.
Darwin: Right. Well, it's interesting then to see that you also are, going to be doing... I noticed that you have pre-orders up for Tod Dockstader Aerial 1 in LP; I feel like he's a person who maybe isn't as well known but also comes from that place of, you know, in his own way, sort of like a very deep listening tradition but also his own kind of peculiar philosophy as well. And so I thought that that was a very interesting choice to draw on his work.
John: Yeah. I mean I was obviously a super fan of what he was doing without even really thinking about his background or where he came from or knowing very much about him. And I've learned quite a bit about in the process of putting these projects together. But one thing that he might have in common with Oliveros is that they were both, early on, sort of shunned institutionally or you know, they weren't part of established electronic music studios. Dockstader was rejected, but then [each] found their own path or created their own path forward, which makes that work sort of unique and individualistic in a way that maybe other artists who are more institutional aren't.
Darwin: right. Now in addition to some of the archival work, you're also working with some contemporary artists and I noticed Katrina Barbieri is listed as one of the people whose work you release. I don't know. So is it E-L-E-H? Or are they Ellie - or how am I supposed to say the name of that group?
John: I would, I say El-Lay. A lot of people say Ella. I think it's open-ended.
Darwin: Got it. Well, I don't know the history of that group, but when I listened to the work, it sounds definitely very minimalist, but modern. And so I'm assuming that these are some contemporary artists you're working with as well. How is it you determine whether someone who's doing contemporary work fits within the scheme of what you're trying to accomplish with Important?
John: Well, I mean, it's always been just a gut reaction and a lot of ways, but I really love something and it's new then I want to figure out a way to release it. But that's a hard thing to do for a label to put out, you know, an artist who's completely unheard of. And sometimes when we do it, we're successful and sometimes we're not. And that's challenging because that's my job as a record label is trying to help get exposure for new music. So it's so incredibly satisfying when those things work out and Caterina - it's probably been one of the biggest new artists that we've released, you know. Her work just has legs and people are so excited about her and it's still growing. But with her, it was easy because she expressed a real excitement for the label. And so she's drawing a lot of inspiration from the records that I've put out, which makes it, you know, it makes it that much easier to release her work because people who love the label are maybe going to hear some of that in her work.
Darwin: Sure - that makes a lot of sense. Well, one of the things I like doing in my podcast is talking to people about how they got to where they are. And, you span a lot of really interesting stuff. I mean, you're an artist yourself, but you have this label where you're working with artists, you have this practice that's digging into the archives and the history of electronic music. And you've put together this tremendous body of work. How many releases are you at at this point?
John: We're approaching 500. It is unbelievable. 20 years.
Darwin: Yeah. Wow. So the question that I, that I have is how did you get into this? I mean, what, how did you first get into music and get excited about music? What made you decide that, doing a label was, was part of how you were going to, to do this and what was the breakthrough that made that made it really work for you?
John: I think in terms of my earliest exposure to music, you know, music is so universal and I think to some extent everybody loves music. So my earliest memories are trying to play a Neil Diamond song on guitar that I was hearing at home and, you know, listening to my cousin's records, a cousin who's a lot older than me. And then growing up in a musical family and having a lot of - it seemed like all of my friendships were sort of based around being excited about music. It's always like music is sort of how I see everything, almost did just an obsession. And it's also maybe the only thing I've ever been really good at focusing on. Usually my top priority was with music, kind of an obsession. And then after college I just felt like, you know, looking at my collections of music and just feeling like knowing that there's a lot more - during college - knowing that there's a lot more out there than I wanted to have access to.
So I figured I would either work at the college radio station or a record store where I had some friends. And the station was... I trained at the station but the schedule was booked and I was lucky enough to end up getting a job at Bull Moose Music in Portsmouth, New Hampshire where I worked for two and a half years. And during that time I did some buying, so I knew distributors. And when the manager was fired, I was the assistant manager and I wasn't going to stay and work for anybody else. So I quit, and I'd been buying from distributors and selling online for a little while, even when I was at the store and I had a little bit of money saved up because I had been selling - we were basically getting promotional posters to hang up and everything else is getting thrown away. And the guy who sold used records at the store said, "You know what, you should really be selling these on eBay." And I did. And that helps just sort of fund early releases, you know, maybe I wouldn't have been able to pay for otherwise. And that actually made a huge difference. And so I have a teaching degree and it was [either] grad school or just have a go at selling records and, you know, starting a label. And I figured I had time. Fortunately and...
Darwin: ...and you had a bit of passion behind it too, right? You said you have a teaching degree. What did you study to teach?
John: I studied English. So I was hoping to teach secondary school literature where you sort of sit around in a circle and talk about books and stories and poems. That was - I still would love to do that.
Darwin: Oh that's interesting. So I think it's pretty fascinating, though, that you basically parlayed a record store position into running a label. Now obviously this, your interaction with distributors that had to help set the plate for you. What was other stuff that made you feel like you could make a difference - because when you started the label, this is just at a time that, in a way (to me at least) the record label and the music business as a whole was just kind of falling to pieces, and that's when you decided to jump in. It seems curious at the least.
John: Well, it's just when it happened. It was like September 11th was maybe three or four months after I started the label. I do you remember somebody saying that, nd I don't know if this is true or not, but just the businesses that start during really difficult times have a higher rate of success. And it seems like a strange statistic, but I can believe it.
I should also say too, though, going back to your last question about how this all came together. A huge part of it was just, you know, sharing music with coworkers at the record store and then learning about music from them. Everything that I'm excited about now I learned about while I was at the record store - from people who I worked with, and music coming in, and customers and just that whole community just turned me onto so much stuff, and it just kind of grew out of those relationships in that store. Yeah, I left the store in 2001 so I mean it's just when it happened, but yeah, everything was... It was a crazy time because Napster was happening and people were still buying records at stores, but everything was starting to change.
Darwin: So, so true. Now when you first started the label were you focused on any particular style, or was it just whatever caught your interest or whatever you had access to was something you were going to try to release? I mean because now you do very...
John: All of that! I mean the first record was Daniel Johnston, who I was obsessed with, and the second was Merzbow, who I was also obsessed with. And I think that's sort of just sent me on my course.
Darwin: That's funny. Well at at what point did you... So it seems like you have ended up focusing on pure electronic experimentalism. I don't know if that's a fair way to classify it, but it seems like that's where you've landed. What was the process to go from, you know, a shotgun approach to ending up with a pretty specific focus? What are the things that funneled you in that direction?
John: It might be in part technologically-oriented because when I was at the record store, I overheard a conversation about analog synthesizers. At that point, you know, I grew up through playing guitar and stringing pedals together. I never played keyboards. I didn't know about that kind of technology. And when I heard about an analog synthesizer, just - oh, it was like all everything I wanted in one thing and I got super obsessed with them. I really think thinking about synthesizer technology, thinking about music technology and then learning about like the technological origins of electronic music was so exciting. And also, part of my personality, or part of how I approach music is I always want to deconstruct what I'm listening to. I want to know where it came from and want to hear everything that inspired it. And so backtracking and looking into the past is something I do naturally when it comes to music. So getting close to the origins of electronic music was something I really wanted to do and I feel like I'm still doing it. I mean, that's how I approached this whole thing anyways is that I'm learning as I go. Looking backwards technologically brought me to the origins of electronic music and the classical electronic studios.
Darwin: Yeah. I think that that's something that actually is going to resonate with a lot of people. It resonates a lot to me. This idea that when you get something in your head, part of what you do is you dive into the history of it and really understand where it's coming from. There's a lot of fascination for me in that. And also it's one of those things that to me, I don't know, I'm inspired by history. I'm inspired by the power of history and the work that people have done to get to where we are today. And so I think that's some of what really rings true for me. In the things that you're mentioning now, when you decide to dive into this, when you decide to get obsessive in archival stuff, what does that look like for you? I mean, are you combing through libraries and texts? Are you trying to track down release material or unreleased material when you're working on some of this archival stuff, what does that process look like for you?
John: The process is often times determined by the archives of the artists themselves. Like with Harry Bertoia, that's been probably the top experience for me, archivally, because I all of a sudden had access to hundreds of quarter-inch tapes that hadn't been transferred, hadn't even been listened to. Thousands of slides. I mean, all the writing, so much material was available.
Darwin: Where did this material come from?
John: This was all in Pennsylvania. All the tapes are in his barn. A lot of his selected sculptures were still in the barn. You know, so his sort of orchestra of really sympathetic sculptures that just sound wonderful together that he had curated, [were] still in the barn with all of his tapes. His microphones still hung from the rafters. And then, you know, all of the slides, there's the archives of American art, all of his paper, his paper archives, and it was easy to get access to that stuff and just start putting it all back together. I got some interviews that were full interviews that weren't published and the more I looked, the more I found. Whereas Dockstader is kind of the opposite. There's not... I should say too, that this guy Justin Brierley brought me the Dockstader archives. He had done all the audio archiving as part of a PhD project.
Darwin: Yeah, I did an interview with him a while back and it was fascinating: the history he was able to bring in for that.
John: Yeah. But so a lot of like the, a lot of the Dockstader materials were lost over the years. I think some of it was maybe even lost in a storage container - that was unsettling because I came at the Dockstader stuff coming out of Bertoia and just like wanting to recreate that rich experience of having access to so much material. And I had so many questions and it was so curious about it all, but there was just very little to deal with. Somebody like Oliveros, you know, most of that archiving has already been done. So it's a matter of borrowing or getting access to materials and the various universities that she taught at. So it's always different. It depends on the circumstances of the artist and their archives.
Darwin: So how do you make the decision of who to dig into? I mean, is it like in researching one person you're turned on to the next? Or is it more like in the process of you looking over the history of the canon and deciding? How do you make those decisions? How do you decide when you're going to pursue something?
John: Following my own curiosity. And yet, you know, sometimes it's just about the canon, and thinking about these names that you hear a lot, and diving in. Or, you know, sometimes it's just someone mentioning someone and then I'll start listening and get excited about it and try to figure out what can I try to release from this artist that hasn't been released? Or, should I ask this person if they have material, you know? I spend a lot of emails and ask a lot of questions, make a lot of phone calls, but it's really just, most often it's just following my own curiosity - which has been peaked, usually, in just the same way it was when I was a kid reading an interview with an artist and they mentioned artists who they like, and you go to go find those artists to get closer to the source. And there's a lot of paths that you can take.
Darwin: When I see some of these names, they're almost, I mean they represent the names of, for me, a lot of my heroes. And it seems like it has to be intimidating to make that email or making that phone call and saying, "Are there archives that I could dig into or is there...?" You know, it's going to sound funny, and this is gonna maybe belie my Midwestern roots here. But in a way it's sort of like saying, "Hey, can I dig in your underwear drawer for a minute?" You know, I would be really intimidated asking that question. How do you get to that first question?
John: The relative anonymity of emails makes it easy to just sort of blindly send a message to somebody. I'll labor over what the note will say and I'll take my time to write it. But it's not like having a face-to-face conversation. But then again, I've done it face-to-face. I can do it face-to-face easily too because I think really people know that you want to help. You're truly passionate about their work and you want to do it. You really want to do what you can to get it out there and you're proposing, like, you want to team up with these people and work together to bring something nice out into the world. And I think most people are pretty open to that. I haven't worried about it in a long time. I think because I have more of a track record these days.
Darwin: Sure. Right.
John: Early on I knew that I could do good work, but why would anybody work with me?
Darwin: Why would anyone trust you to do it? Right? Yeah. Well because I imagine in some cases you're having to work with either people who are trying to protect the work of someone that's no longer with us or or their estate or something like that. And so then there is this desire for them to be just as concerned about protecting the historical record as it as it is to like get stuff out, right?
John: Yup, yup. Definitely. I mean the difference between working with an artist versus working with an estate, and then sometimes you're working with an artist and unfortunately it becomes an estate. And that's heartbreaking.
Darwin: Right. So one of the things that you mentioned, and I'm going to actually ask you to help me come up to speed on something (because you mentioned it a couple of times in our preparatory conversations) is something called Seastones. Can you explain it? It's something that I know that you're into, could you explain a little bit about what that's about? It came up first when we were first having a chat; You were trying to get something put out that was going to be available for Record Store Day, and it's come up again in some of our discussions. Could you fill me in on that? Because again, for somebody who works with as many different releases, when I hear you really be focused on a thing, it makes me imagine that there's something important there. But I have to tell you, I don't know what that means. I don't know what Seastones is. Could you fill me in a little bit?
John: Yeah. Seastones started in the late sixties at MIT. This guy Ned Lagin, who was a student there, was studying jazz piano at Berklee and was a student at MIT. And I think it started with him extracting sound from an early computer. It wasn't an Altair or something, like couple of years before the Altair and he had managed to get sound out of it and then was sculpting these sounds in ways that were inspired. I mean, I could, there's so many inspirations for Seastones. The early Renaissance polyphony was stuff that he was listening to and thinking about, not really electronic music. This was like the late sixties. So he basically was working on electronic music at MIT privately when he wrote a letter to the Grateful Dead because the Dead were coming to Boston. I think he was a fan and he wrote about himself, you know, what he was doing at MIT, talked about Seastones and the electronic music video he was producing - and when the Dead came to MIT, they tracked Ned down. They hung out. Ned's also a jazz pianist. So I think there was some interest there because the Dead - I believe we're probably thinking about replacing Pig Pen, and so he ended up friends with the Dead and jamming with them a lot. And this is still early days. So they were working on a session in California together and Ned had been working on all sorts of... You know, you'd be better off talking to him about this to really get the backstory right.
He just basically ends up weaving together all manner of electronic technology that was available (by this point, it's the early seventies) and creates this sort of organic network of technology and musicians to create Seastones. So he's jamming with Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart, David Crosby and a couple people like Grace Slick and, Spencer Dryden. All these musicians are there and they're jamming. But because it's all really getting routed through Ned and all of this technology that end result is pure electronic music. It's not really beholden to the musicians who contributed to it. It's just very pure electronic music. And the Dead put it out. You know, they recorded all the Seastones stuff.
John: Ned was a touring with the Dead. He would do Seastones sets in-between Dead sets and then he'd come out and play with them. And of course, you know, Phil Lesh from the Dead does has roots in the San Francisco tape music center, right? He was friends with Ramon Sender and I think he and Steve Reich shared a Nagra maybe; they had a tape machine that they shared. So Phil's no stranger to this. And the Dead put it out, and then Ryko put it out in the 90s, but it always gets overshadowed by the celebrity status of the people who contributed to the source material. But technologically speaking, you know, he's using tape, he's using computers. He's using envelope generators to sort of interconnect all of it, envelope followers to interconnect all of the musicians. And so it is this sort of groundbreaking little electronic record, but it's always been... I got it as a Dead fan in high school. And so it's always sort of been passed around through Dead fans, but kind of ignored or forgotten about or not even noticed really by the electronic music world - most likely because of the celebrity status of the people who are on it. And when I started working on it, it wasn't supposed to be a Record Store Day release, but I'd never done one and I wanted to. And it seemed like a good choice. It became a Record Store Day project.
Darwin: Well this is definitely something that I want to dig into because not being a Dead fan means that I hadn't run across it and I can imagine where this celebrity status thing - probably initially it seemed like that was going to be a really great [aspect], but it probably does mess with the historical nature of this [work]. I mean, it sounds pretty fascinating because it sounds like this was one of those train wrecks of tape-meets-computer-meets-synthesizer, and a person with the time to work on it. And it sounds pretty fascinating.
John: Yeah. And it's all done so well that it just sounds like beautiful dynamic electronic music. And the idea, too, is that the idea of Seastones is the way that every time a wave breaks on the shore, it rearranges the rocks and they're always perfect when that wave recedes. And so digitally there are all these little - you know, none of the pieces are too long and you're supposed to be able to listen to it on random and have it just work seamlessly, which doesn't really work that well on LPs of course. But it sounds beautiful in any order. So the record that we're putting out is some released materials, some unreleased material, and hopefully we'll be doing more in the future as well.
Darwin: Right. Now, one thing for your label, I noticed that an awful lot of stuff that you put out is at this point LP only, although you still do occasionally put out CDs. Are you doing digital releases of everything simultaneously? Or do you only do digital releases of certain work?
John: We tried to do everything that we can digitally. Sometimes there's stuff that we can't release digitally, but it's also challenging just to keep up with the organizational aspects of digital. Digital wasn't really my focus. I was really late, Important was really late to the download game. We weren't authorizing anything for download, it was just working. I didn't have time for it and had to get talked into it by distributors - and I'm glad we do offer things digitally and I try to get as much available as possible, but there's no real infrastructure here for managing the digital stuff, which there probably should be. But we try to get everything available digitally and try to do CDs again as much as possible just because I love CDs and they're so easy to do.
Darwin: Well, it's interesting because you're one of the few people I've heard say that they love CDs. And I actually I get it, because there are things about the CD as a format that are fun and interesting and convenient and [have] clarity and sound. I have to say, I often joke about being as old as dirt. I remember the first time that I got an album that I had on vinyl that I listened to a lot, and the first time I got a CD of it. And I was amazed at things that I had never heard before that I could hear. I thought it was quite remarkable and for certain kind of music that really worked for me. I also do like things about LPs, there's things about it - particularly the play length - that is very engaging. But it's really interesting to hear that you actually do have a love for the CD format.
John: Well, I mean, what I really love is, of course, music - so I'll listen to something on YouTube. I'll listen to a tape, listen to a record, and try a quarter-inch tape. I mean, any format - I would prefer not to have to listen to something on YouTube, but if it's the only way to hear it I'm satisfied.
Darwin: Now you also have, the Cassauna label, which is focused on cassette releases. How do you decide what's going to be released on cassette versus what's going to be released an LP? Is it just a quantity, or is it that certain things lend themselves more to the cassette environment? What makes the decision?
John: I think sometimes it's quantity, but it's more just [that] the pressure's off. In order to make money and pay bills, I have to invest my own money into a project, which can be a scary prospect. It's oftentimes a scary prospect, but on cassette there's a lot less to worry about. And I've made a lot of cassettes myself, which makes it even easier to put things out with Cassauna. It's much more of a free for all. And if some exciting artists who've never put anything out sends me something that I loved and I can just put it on out on tape. And it really frees up the process from the terrifying financial components.
Darwin: Well, I would, I would have to guess that like printing up a bunch of double LPs has to be a little bit of a nail biter.
John: Yeah. Especially when you're doing 500 because the price per unit is just so high. So you know, 500 copies of a double LP is just - not only is it expensive to produce, but it's also expensive at retail, which is frightening to think. And even 500 single LPs, [are] pretty expensive at the store level and so I'm grateful to people who are willing to buy those records.
Darwin: Sure. Well there's something satisfying about not only getting the record and holding it and playing it, but also feeling like you're supporting both the artists as well as the label. And I think that you've put together a label that really feels good to be supportive of. So congratulations for doing that. I think that's something a lot of people would love to do. Now, you mentioned that you have a studio yourself and I know that you've done some work. Under what name do you do releases, and what kind of work do you do personally?
John: Well, I haven't really been too forthcoming about any of this. But ELEH is my project.
Darwin: That's you? I didn't realize that. Well, see now - how funny, because that's actually one of the artists on the label, one of the contemporary artists, that I really got drawn into. So surprise. That's cool.
John: Well, the weird thing about it is (like I said before) when I was at the record store and overhearing a conversation about analog synthesizers and this light bulb going off cause it just had everything that I wanted to do with sound in one box. And this was years before I started the label and I just sort of drifted off into analog synthesizers. And you know, even without knowing that much about the controls, I was able to just sort of intuitively close my eyes and get somewhere that I just found to be really exciting. So I was recording a lot and realize, like, "I do run a record label!" and I could put this out. And I was really loving the music that I was creating. So I did and, and people responded, which I didn't expect at all. And it really determined for me the course of the label, as well. Because that's what I was interested in and that's what I was doing.
Darwin: That's fascinating. That's amazing. But sorry, I, you know, maybe I should have, maybe I shouldn't have known that. Maybe it's better that I didn't,
John: I mean, there were a lot of reasons not to put that information out there...
Darwin: Well, probably because, if nothing else, you don't want it to look like "Here's my label with all these important people and me!"
John: You're right. There's like the vanity label aspect, but more than anything, it was just like self-consciousness I think. And now, I like the idea of [it], and it went back to like literary criticism for me where the idea of reader response - the lesson from it - whatever your response is, it is valid. So by putting the least amount of information out there with something, it sort of gives the listener more power. And I love that about it. But I also like... growing up, my friends were the artists. I was like the musician's friend who also played music, but I took my friends seriously - but didn't really take myself seriously. And so I was not prepared to own up to the music that I was making and talk about it because I felt like that was something other people did, or my friends did. And I didn't really feel like, at least verbally, I didn't feel like I had much to offer talking about it.
Darwin: Well that's interesting though because this idea of particularly the analog synthesizer as being something like speaks to people almost at the cellular level. I've actually known a number of people who didn't really consider themselves even interested in making music, or they just peripherally felt involved in music, and then they got into the analog synthesizer and there was something about it. Maybe because simplicity on modular synthesizer or an analog synthesizer can still have like tremendous depth.
John: Oh my God. Yeah. I mean, I consider them to be very organic acoustic instruments. It's the sound of electricity and electricity is a naturally occurring thing.
Darwin: Yeah. It's a vibrating, atomic elements.
John: Yeah. They don't need anything else. I just need a couple of oscillators and I feel like a world of music is in there. There's rhythm and there's harmony and there's thickest imaginable timbres. It's all in there. An analog synthesizers is a magical thing.
Darwin: Yeah. It really is. Well, John, unfortunately our time is just about out, but before I let you go on, can you fill us in really quickly on what are some of the upcoming things that both labels have up their sleeves? What's going to be coming out shortly?
John: Well, I recently sent off five Cassauna projects to be manufactured just before we all went into lockdown mode. And I would assume as long as the factories are still operating - I'm not really sure if they are. I mean, eventually this stuff will come out, but there's a bunch of new tapes that I'm jazzed about. Alexandre Bazin, David Barston, who were NYZ, who's an artist we didn't really talk about, but somebody who had just put out some stuff with. And you know, of course we have Seastones coming. There's some Daphne Oram archival material coming. John Chowning, Dr. John Chowning, the inventor of FM synthesis. I'll be putting his work out on LP, which, you know, I mean I couldn't be more excited about it and I hope that people get excited about it too because his work is so important, so good for so many reasons. There's some reissues thing Caterina Barbieri stuff is coming out on CD, which hasn't been on CD before. There's a lot more Bertoia coming, my own work as ELEH. Of course we're just at the tip of the iceberg with the Oliveros material that will be coming out on LP. More Radigue on LP, a lot more Dockstader, Shasta Cults. There's a lot coming.
Darwin: Yeah. Well boy, get back to work - whenever that is. Are you actually finding that? Like, you're gonna find out whether the cassette manufacturers are working. What's the story with LP production? Is that continuing, or is that kind of frozen in place? I'm just curious.
John: Well, it depends on where you're manufacturing. Right now, of course, there was just Transco, the lacquer company, burnt down two months ago. So that was problem number one. Fortunately, the people who I cut records with use the Japanese lacquers so they've slowed down, but they're still cutting records. But now RTI in California, who is the plant that I prefer to use, they are closed. So I would imagine most plants are going to close down.
Darwin: Yeah. That's going to put a a womping on your ability to get stuff put out, that's for sure.
John: Yeah. And so I really need to just keep plugging away here and preparing for the day when I can send projects off.
Darwin: Right. So John, I want to thank you so much for taking the time out of your schedule and having this chat; it is really great. I know that you're busy. And so I do appreciate you taking the time to have the talk. With that, I'm going to let you have for your day.
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