Gently Breaking The Silence [2019-06-11]Launched in June of last year, Elsewhere Music is one of the up & coming labels in the modern composition / modern classic genre. So far the label has put out six releases - moving from the 3CD release ‘Blurred Music’ that smudged the line between drone, modern composition, and improv, onto the sparse piano ambience of Melaine Dalibert's ‘Musique Pour Le Lever Du Jour’, through to the eventful & subtle surreal modern compositions of ‘Works On Paper’ - which brings together works from both Lance Austin Olsen & Gil Sansón. Shortly the label will be releasing three new CDs focusing on piano recordings. We caught up with the label curator/producer Yuko Zama for an email interview.
M[m]: What are some of your earliest sonic memories, and do you think any inspired your passion for modern classical/modern composition?
Yuko One of my earliest sonic memories is from age 3 or 4 when I went to a Sunday Baroque organ concert at a church near my hometown with my father. I still remember the large room with a high ceiling, green leaves on a tree branch reflecting the sunlight that I was looking at through the church window. Then, the overwhelming thick sounds of a pipe organ suddenly jumped into my ears. I was frightened at first but soon became captivated with the mesmerizing layers of the rich, complex, colourful sounds of the pipe organ. Later on, when I grew up, I was particularly fascinated with the harmonic overtones of instruments (especially of the piano), which might be associated with this early memory of hearing the pipe organ sounds.
Yuko While I loved Baroque music and early music, I was never into modern/contemporary classical music in my early years. One thing I can relate my later passion for contemporary classical music to was probably back when I discovered the minimalist art of the 60s, particularly Donald Judd's three-dimensional works, which struck me when I saw in some art magazine for the first time at age 20. I grew up in Tokyo where every place was so crammed with numerous cheap junk with uncoordinated colours (that bothered me so much...) scattered all over at stores and on the streets (as well as those heavily compressed, MTV-style hyperactive J-pop songs and Michael Jackson’s screaming all around in the 80s), and I was often depressed with such a chaotic environment I was living in. But seeing such minimalism art like Judd's in the magazine always comforted me deeply with its clean openness and an intense, essential beauty with no unnecessary fringes around. It was something I was desperately longing for in my early life in Tokyo.
Yuko I guess it was not really a sonic experience but it was a tremendous influence on my later taste for both art and music, and perhaps could be the reason why I was fascinated with minimally and reductively composed contemporary classical music like Wandelweiser's.
M[m]: You talk about growing up in Japan- were there many places selling experimental sounds when you became interested in more out-there stuff?
Yuko Yes, we have Disk Union which has a variety of hard-core experimental/contemporary music CDs in store, where we can listen to some of the new releases in store. There are also several small record/CD shops in Tokyo area, which specialized in selling experimental music. That surely helped me to dig into many different CDs including very rare stuff.
M[m]: How & when did the idea for Elsewhere Music first come about? And
how long was it before you started the label?
Yuko I have been working for Erstwhile Records (my husband Jon Abbey's label) for 16 years, first as a photographer, then as a designer and co-producer. I have also been working as a designer and co-producer for LA-based contemporary classical composer Michael Pisaro's Gravity Wave label since its launch in 2010. While enjoying every stage of music production via many exciting projects on these two important labels, I have gradually developed my own taste for music - more toward classical music.
Yuko The first trigger for me to consider starting my own label was perhaps back in 2016 when Jon and I launched a new imprint named ErstClass, to feature contemporary classical composers’ works that contain experimental edges. We have released Michael Pisaro/Reinier van Houdt’s 3CD 'The Earth and the Sky' (2016), and Jürg Frey's 5CD 'L’âme Est Sans Retenue I' (2017), both of which I worked as a lead producer on. Both were two of the most exciting projects I had ever been involved with and I wanted to pursue this contemporary classical music direction more intensely on our label. However, ErstClass was not really the main focus of Jon, and I was getting a little frustrated with the situation especially since I myself was more and more into classical music then, either contemporary or earlier works, than the experimental/electro-acoustic music that Erstwhile primarily focuses on.
Yuko The idea of launching my own label ‘elsewhere’ came into shape very quickly actually - in a week or so - when we received a release proposal from David Sylvian last January, of the three live recordings of Biliana Voutchkova/Michael Thieke 'Blurred Music', who hoped we might be interested in putting it out on Erstwhile. I loved the recordings and hoped that we could put it out on ErstClass, but it was not really the kind of music Jon would pursue on Erstwhile. After a week-long discussion with Jon about the possibility of the release, he came up with an idea that perhaps I should start my own label to put it out if it was really important to me. I was excited with the idea and came up with the label name “elsewhere” immediately, making the red logo design overnight. It was so thrilling for me to know that I can decide every detail of the label by myself.
Yuko On the very next day, I went to a recital of the French pianist Melaine Dalibert in the West Village, whom I met for the first time. He played 'Musique pour le lever du jour' (the very piece that was featured on my second release on elsewhere) and I loved this piece and his piano very much. A couple of weeks later, Melaine contacted me and said that he was looking for a label for the piece, so I immediately thought it would be a perfect fit for my label. (The French title of the piece means "Music for The Daybreak" which was also perfect for the very beginning of my label :) So, it was really a lucky coincidence to discover two extraordinary works of music that I loved particularly around the same time.
M[m]:What inspired the labels name?
Yuko I have been using the word "elsewhere" for the title of my music blog "view from elsewhere" since long before that, so this name popped up in my mind naturally.
Besides that, I have been experiencing long flights a lot since I began to cover the New York jazz/experimental music scene in the late '90s for Japanese music magazines. Every time I was on the plane, I always felt some sort of a big relief as if I were completely disconnected from the reality where I belonged - whether in Japan or the US or anywhere else - and I loved the feeling of not belonging to anywhere for the moment. I love my family and staying at home with them, but this sense of ‘being alone all by myself’ was always something very special and important to me. Music sounds different when I listen in such an isolated situation on a plane as if it were seeking deeper into my soul. I used to love to listen to Morton Feldman 'For Bunita Marcus' (John Tilbury) during such a long flight, which was perfect music to listen to when I was disconnected from reality. But now I rather like to listen to my ongoing elsewhere projects. During my last long trip to/from Japan in April, I was listening to the rough mixes of Melaine Dalibert's next solo piano works and Reinier van Houdt's solo piano compositions based on Bruno Duplant's letter scores, both of which were truly beautiful and resonated with my soul so naturally when I was being myself.
Yuko So, I named my label as 'elsewhere', wishing my label's music to be a comfort or encouragement for people to be their own selves, being far away from the chaotic reality where you live in, either physically or hypothetically, to float in somewhere you can face your own soul alone. This is how I wish my listeners to feel when they listen to my label's music, experiencing something ‘off’ out there, being liberated from the reality where they live in this physical world.
M[m]: You talk about flying back & forth between the states & Japan- are you still doing this a lot now? And out of curiosity what do you use to play back more subdued music on flights?...as I personally always found this an issue- like the sound on a plane can often be very intrusive?
Yuko I always use Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones on a plane. They are not perfect headphones for serious music listening (I normally use SONY MDR 1A as monitor headphones) but work great when I want to listen to music on flights.
M[m]:Merzbow, and Japanese scene have always been of great interest to me. Growing up in Japan did you have any contact with this scene yourself?
And are you a fan of anything from the noise genre?
Yuko I was into the scene at some point, but only for a couple of years. I went to Merzbow concerts a couple of times in the late '90s. In the last several years before I moved to NYC, my workplace was in Shibuya, one of the noisiest towns surrounded by so much chaotic noise like drunk people shouting on the streets, loud vehicles of right-wing campaigners or election campaign cars (with screaming voices of their political statements), weirdly memorable (but not in a pleasant way) 'train arrival' music at every platform (every platform plays a different melody while the train doors are open), notoriously noisy pachinko parlors that could make you deaf, and the numerous loud J-pop songs coming from many stores on the street (every store played a different song, all manipulatively promoted by major ad agencies as the latest cool 'trend' to brainwash the majority of the public). All those noises bothered me so much every day in commuting to and from my workplace, to the point that I thought it might drive me insane. So I used to listen to noise music or Mego-area music (Pita, Fennesz, etc.) or My Bloody Valentine 'Loveless' on my headphones at a very loud volume to protect my sanity from those unpleasant ugly noises. I remember the tremendous comfort I used to get from that music in those days, but I seldom listen to things like that anymore.
Yuko I guess many people have a different image of Japan, more like some peaceful, tranquil place where people are very quietly living and behave well with each other, like people in Ozu films, but in reality, a big city like Shibuya area is much crazier and noisier than Times Square in Manhattan. When I came to NYC for the first time, I was surprised by the fact that Manhattan was so much quieter and peaceful than Tokyo. So, after I moved to Jersey City, I kind of stopped listening to noise music probably since I did not need a shield to protect my sanity from the environment anymore.
M[m]: What made you decide to put your releases in the CD format? And what do you like about the format? Any plans for putting out releases on other formats?
Yuko Putting out our releases in the CD format is mostly for convenience for the listeners since CD is still a major format to listen to the music.
Besides CD format, we also offer digital albums of HD FLAC (96kHz/24bit) files via our label's website and lossless digital (44kHz/16bit) files via Bandcamp, so the listeners can choose either format that suits them best. The reason why I love 24-bit HD files is that it feels the closest experience to listen to the music as I do at a live concert since HD files can convey the subtle harmonic overtones and the wide dynamic range that are very important for me when appreciating music.
Yuko My wish is to give the listeners to experience the music at its fullest if they want, especially for piano pieces. The musician/engineer Taku Unami whom we have been working with for a long time for our labels has a great skill in recording, mixing and mastering, with high-end software and equipment that enable us to do DSD or 24-bit recording/mixing/mastering at the highest quality, so I am lucky to have such a devoted engineer like him who is as enthusiastic about sound quality as I am. I did not expect so many customers for HD files initially, but to my happy surprise, there were some people who particularly asked for HD files, so I am glad I started it.
Yuko However, I also think that CD media could somehow sound almost as good as the HD files if it was recorded in a great condition as a 24-bit or DSD recording and was played back in a good audio environment. So, we are aiming to record every elsewhere release as a 24-bit data at least (hopefully as DSD if the circumstances allow us) even though the CD format is the main medium for now.
M[m]:Elsewhere music releases have a fairly distinctive visual look to them - please discuss how you go about choosing images?
Yuko As a music fan and a designer, I am always attracted by album covers with distinctive colours and memorable images in minimalism aesthetics, which stand out among the covers of numerous releases out there.
Yuko The initial and major inspiration for me to decide my label's cover design was perhaps one of my favourite composers Jürg Frey’s first composition Stück (1974), a 41-page Fluxus-influenced artwork/scores composed with minimal elements such as small sideway letters and tilted images sparsely arranged in a wide open white space. I love the sense of being slight 'off' in Frey's artworks as well as his music, which resonated with my aesthetics perfectly. In fact, two of the artworks from his Stück scores were used in my cover designs for Frey's two albums: 'l’âme est sans retenue I' (ErstClass 002-5) in 2017 and '120 Pieces Of Sounds' (elsewhere 003) in 2018.
Yuko To me, these tilted images and tilted/sideway letters seem to liberate the design from rigidity, giving an organic life and an open possibility for a new composition on a design canvas, to be mixed with well-balanced other images. This is exactly how I feel about some of the contemporary classical composers' works that I love to feature on elsewhere, which have minimal elements in the openness but attaining a perfect balance in a certain frame (score). I also loved the old cover designs of the Blue Note label in the 50s, in which you could see a coherent aesthetic concept for all the titles even though each cover has a distinctly unique design (I loved the colours on their covers), created via the close relationship among the producer, engineer, designer, photographer, and musicians both in sounds and visuals by sharing similar aesthetics. That is something I am aiming at on my label, too.
Yuko As for the actual artwork, David Sylvian (who was also a co-producer for elsewhere 001) kindly offered me some of his early digital colour drawings for the first two covers and for later releases, which I loved instantly. David has a keen eye for art, and I found a genuine beauty with a sense of cloudless innocence in his choice of colours and compositions, which were exactly what I was hoping to have for my elsewhere cover design. From the very start of my label, David's advice has been a tremendous help for me to make design decisions as well as mixing decisions, so I feel I owe him so much. Some of the future elsewhere releases will have his other artworks or photographs again while other titles may have the respective musicians' artworks or something I might make or find myself among my favourite artist’s works.
M[m]: How do you decide what you're going to release on the label and what particularly attracts you to a certain artist?
Yuko For elsewhere label, I would like to feature contemporary compositional works with classical music aesthetics that I love personally. I have a list of my favourite composers and performers, which might be modified as time goes by if I discover some new artists who I find extraordinary. What particularly attracts me to a certain artist is completely subjective, it will all depend on whether I like his/her works or not, but I would say the artist's extraordinary talent and genuine creativity/originality, as well as their pure devotion to the music, are essential keys to my choice.
Yuko I would also like to release something that people may want to listen to for many years beyond generations for its timeless value, just like I love to listen to Monteverdi’s and Schubert's music that gives me great joy and comfort in my life. I am not intending to have a wide range of musicians on my label just for the sake of variety (although my label musicians happen to be very diverse geographically), but would rather like to feature my favourite artists whose talents and mindset I believe are genuine of devoted artists.
M[m]: So far the label has put out six releases - have you any favourite release thus far? And if so why are they?
Yuko I love all the six releases on my label, but if I have to choose my favourite titles among them, they would be Melaine Dalibert's 'Musique pour le lever du jour' (elsewhere 002) and Jürg Frey's '120 Pieces of Sound' (elsewhere 003). Other than that both of them are extraordinary talented composers/musicians in the contemporary era, I feel particularly attuned with their music as something close to my heart and aesthetics. To me, their works have a touch of humane warmth in the frame of an open, minimal composition that seems to breathe in organic life to the music and do not feel like cold minimalism or rigid compositions at all. These natures applied to all the six elsewhere titles, but particularly Dalibert's album and Frey's album resonate with my own wavelengths very strongly.
M[m]: I believe you're setting up a new sub-label ErstPast, for releasing older/ achieve recordings - what have you got planned for release?
Yuko Oh, ErstPast is, in fact, a sub-label of Erstwhile Records which my husband Jon Abbey launched this year, to feature archival works of the musicians we respect. My contribution for ErstPast so far was to be involved with the entire production process of Toshiya Tsunoda's 5CD box set (to be officially released in late May) as a co-producer, designer, booklet editor, and translator. So, I feel particularly and deeply attached to this Tsunoda box. I am so happy and honoured to be able to be involved with the production of such a great archival box set of Tsunoda whom I always respect and admire as a true artist.
M[m]: What got you interested in Toshiya Tsunoda's work, and do you enjoy the wider field recording/ sound art genre?
Yuko I find Toshiya Tsunoda's work very interesting and inspiring as artwork, rather than music. His works are clearly different from the kind of contemporary classical music that I am featuring for my label Elsewhere, but listening to his work always reminds me of how a true artist should be. It is so genuine and completely rooted in the artist's (Tsunoda's) inner self, with no pretentiousness of trying to impress people with anything artificial. He chooses the location for his field recording purely out of his own interest, the places that are very important to him. This genuineness of his works always moves me deeply.
M[m]: What have you lined up next release wise for Elsewhere Music?
Yuko My next release projects will be five piano albums as "elsewhere piano series" to be out in this July and next spring as two batches. In this series, I am going to feature four of my current favourite pianists to perform five contemporary classical composers' recent works. The first batch of three albums will come out in this July, and the second batch of the two albums will come out in next spring.
Yuko The lineups of the upcoming three releases to be out in this July are:
Melaine Dalibert - Cheminant (elsewhere 007)
Reinier van Houdt - Bruno Duplant - Lettres et Replis (elsewhere 008)
Shira Legmann / Michael Pisaro - Barricades (elsewhere 009)
007 is French composer/pianist Melaine Dalibert’s second solo album on elsewhere, featuring five of his recent piano works from 2017-2019, ranging from up-tempo rhythmic pieces to slow, prolonged meditative pieces. The five pieces reflect Dalibert’s current interest in questioning how the harmonic shifts could affect the listening experience with subtly evolving chords through a scale or different tones, creating a similar state to vertigo.
008 is Dutch pianist Reinier van Houdt’s solo realization of French composer Bruno Duplant’s letter-form scores ‘Letters’ and 'Trois replis d'incertitude', which reflect Deleuzian postmodern baroque notion and Mallarmé's notion of textual space and chance. Van Houdt’s composition and realization of these scores are like his ‘reading’ and ‘replying’ to Duplant’s scores, with composing three ‘Lettre’ pieces with multi-layered recordings of his piano sounds, and three ‘Repli’ pieces with his piano recordings and his field recordings.
009 features Israel-based pianist Shira Legmann (who is also self-releasing her debut solo piano album of J.S. Bach’s Partitas this September) who performed Michael Pisaro’s new composition ‘Barricades’, a 63-minute piece for piano and electronics, consisting of thirteen studies (piano pieces, some with electronics) and two electronic interludes, in which Legmann’s piano recordings are mixed with Pisaro’s electronic sounds. This contemporary piano work echoes the French Baroque piano music, as the title refers to 'Les Barricades Mystérieuses' by François Couperin.
These three albums are now on Bandcamp for digital download/streaming and CD preorders.
We will announce the other two releases of 'elsewhere piano series' later this year when the productions are done. I am particularly excited about this new series, since I myself love piano works especially. Besides this piano series, I have already confirmed several future release projects for late 2020 and 2021, which will be revealed sometime later.
Thanks to Yuko for her time & effort with the interview- if you’d like to find more about the label's output, and hear samples head here: