Design in the Canadian noise scene
By Andrea Nene
The beauty of having your own music label is that you get to run the operation the way you want. For some, that means creating an alternative to the prefabrications of commercial culture. Be it CD-Rs copied on a home computer or cassettes dubbed from a tape deck, it means breaking free from the middleman and having a personal, creative relationship with your product. Labels that concentrate on noise music have a natural tendency to mess with convention. The music challenges comfort levels by experimenting with sound. Packaging design is also an arena for experimentation. Hours of creative thought and manual labour are put into handmade releases that range in editions from as little as six to as many as 100. Here’s a look at the unique craftiness of a selection of noise labels from across Canada.
Bennifer Editions: Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez called it quits in 2004, but a new partnership arose from the ashes of the celebrity name mash-up. Based in Toronto, Bennifer Editions was started by Andrew Zukerman and Jacob Horwood (aka Gastric Female Reflex) with Jeff Garcia joining in late 2006. Their marbling design style was discovered by Jeff one day when he was bored at work. It’s a process where colourful solvents placed in a bed of water are “conducted” with a stirring stick or by blowing through a straw. Legend has it that this technique is now banned from OCAD because it didn’t pass WHMIS standards. A release for Andrew’s solo music project Charles Balls consists of a Reader’s Digest condensed book with the pages ripped out. The contents are replaced with a spray painted cassette held delicately by two marbled slips of paper. The cover itself is filled with a collage–images of faces, crotch shots and ads that were cut out from discarded magazines at second hand stores as well as shoddy stamps bought from a corner store in Kensington Market. The collage aesthetic makes sense since the music itself is best described as “cutup psyche.” www.bennifereditions.blogspot.com
In 2001, feeling isolated in Saguenay, Martin Sasseville starts trading releases with people from around the world. He refines his own style once he moves to Montreal and becomes more involved with the noise scene, playing shows and finding camaraderie amongst other noise labels. His catalogue develops out of many of the relationships he formed in Brise-Cul’s early days as well as with friends in the Montreal and Toronto scenes. This past year, Martin began to release Montreal bands involved in other genres, taking the label into a more diverse direction. With mostly 5″ and 3″ CD-Rs in his catalogue, his trademark has become the slim CD-R which saves on postage. Interesting note: “brise-cul” translates into ass-breaker.
Isolated Now Waves:
Started in Vancouver in 2001 after Nic Hughes first moved to the city, INW is a vanity label of sorts since most of the releases are by Hughes, but the roster has branched out to include artists from as far away as Australia and as close as Tacoma. There are136 releases to date. A year ago, Hughes made the move to cassette tapes and plans to do some vinyl releases in the future. He likes his Xerox and collage art as well as spray painting with homemade stencils. The N.213/Concrete Cutter split cassette is spray painted and then sealed in a bright felt pouch sewn at the seams. A limited edition of 50 includes a microfiche inset.
Knife In the Toaster:
Founded in 2004 by Newfoundlander Gabriel Piller, KITT currently has 50 completed projects, seven to 10 of which are in various stages of completion. He made a box set for Roxanne Jean Polise which included four tapes, a CD-R, and a bunch of stickers from the Autobahn society. A leatherolium box that used to contain books on nature now houses the release. The cover was spray painted and the artwork was provided by the featured artists. Piller is getting more into reusing tapes because there are so many out there. He spray paints over the tape and sticks a label on it. The best place to get them, he says, is the Salvation Army.
Middle James Co.:
Founded in 2004 by David Payne and home to Hamilton’s split-cassette series Terror Tapes, this label has over 100 releases. Editions are limited, running six to 23 copies. There’s a very minimal aesthetic, with most of their supplies being bought at the dollar store and kept simple. Like the sound, it’s raw and direct.
Started in Winnipeg in 2005 by Fletcher Pratt, Midori has 25 releases to date. Lately he assembles a collage, piecing it on an old CD or tape insert, then colour copies it at the local Staples. Spray paint is another mainstay for decorating CDs or tapes. There are plans to press vinyl soon.
A one-man label that started in the summer of 2005 in Montreal by Carlo Della Motta that averages five releases a year so far, but intends to double the output to 10. He mostly puts out stuff by local friends but has plans for releases from the States and the UK. Design-wise, Della Motta relies heavily on photocopy mutilation and spray paint. His most grueling release must be the Kolumkilli Waxwing CD-R, which was spray painted and sealed in a photocopied acetate sleeve, then placed on a block of spray painted wood and wrapped in twine: hundreds of feet of twine were used for the 50 editions.
Run Down Sun:
Josh Rose started this label in 2004 in Vancouver. There are about 34 releases in the catalogue. Some include off-set printing lithography. The Rita’s Mailart Extended is a 30minute cassette tape that includes a handpainted and Xeroxed cover, and hand stamped obi strip (a slip of paper on Japanese releases containing title and other info that is desirable amongst music collectors). Another release, Kevin Shields’ Monkeys Have No Hair, came in stenciled and spray painted cases with a silk screened insert and, you guessed it, fake hair.
Wintage Records and Tapes:
Started in Toronto by Kevin Crump to release music for his band Disguises; an early 2005 home-recorded jam session was accompanied by a simple photocopied insert. Wintage has since moved on to more unusual endeavors including a grade school-style CD-R Valentine for Love Letters’ Dirt Nap and Bonsai Forestry’s latest release Hachinoki, which looks like something dug out of the earth: the tape is compressed in a foam brick, the inside cover has stenciled leaves and screen-printed lettering while the front is infested with dried moss.