Dan O’Connor and Josten Myburgh are two Perth improvisers whose record label Tone List is set to Launch on the 23rd of June. Hayden Dalziel caught up with them to talk about trends in Perth sound, diversity in exploratory music and running a DIY experimental label.
Hayden: Thanks for talking to us Dan and Josten. So what pushed you to run your own exploratory label?
Dan: Well it seemed there were so many little things going on in Perth and it made sense that if things were going to be released to everyone else then they could all come from one place rather than all these smaller operations. So really it was just to combine and share resources.
H: What operations inspired you?
Josten: [to Dan] What was it you were inspired by? It was a Brooklyn thing right?
D: Yeah there were some guys in America called Catalytic Sound. Ken Vandermark is a sax player, he has a few guys with him who’ve got this collective label where they self-release stuff, but it comes from this common website. So that was the inspiration.
J: For me there were a lot of labels in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. I really wanted to be a part of that community and have a strong base of support for the scene here since everywhere else seems to have one. We wanted to catch up basically.
H: Do you think the experimental and exploratory scene here is growing?
J: Yeah really fast I think, and it’s because of the improv program that Tura [Tura New Music] has. And there’s others in the electronic music scene like Rory [Glacken] who’s doing the Drone Zone stuff. I think the whole scene in general – like the whole scene in Perth in every genre – is huge, so it makes sense that this one has grown too.
H: In the future do you think the label will getting funding through grants or do you foresee a lot of financial independence for Tone List?
D: I think we definitely want to be independent. We want to be able to curate our own work and work with people without having to look up the chain for money. Just doing what we want, when we want.
H: So are there any limitations to using grant money to start off with?
J: I think we’re interested in sourcing money depending on what it’s for. Like we have a commissioning program with Tura. In particular it’s designed to promote more music by women – LGBTIQ artists from Western Australia too, and that’s been a really good initiative because it gives us money to give to people while not being too curatorially restrictive. And Tura is a great company to work with because they’re also interested in boosting the scene – it’s just working with friends basically. The vision of the label is definitely independent as we don’t want anything to get in the way of us pushing to scene as it is.
D: And also it’s good to have it be sustainable. I think that’s the sign of success for the label if it just keeps on rolling out music itself without bringing in money from elsewhere. Though if anyone wants to give us money that’s fine [laughs].
H: It’s interesting that you mention Tura’s commissioning program was largely for women and queer artists, since experimental music is often seen as such a male-dominated genre.
J: Yeah definitely. I think in Australia it’s nice because there’s currently a lot of women doing really amazing stuff, but the recorded output is definitely skewed towards male artists. So we’re hoping to make sure projects by women and queer artists are put into the spotlight a bit more. Hopefully people can hear what they’re doing and we can have a more diverse and inclusive space into the future.
H: What’s some of the new music that’s coming out of Tone List after the launch?
D: The first release is my album of solo one-breath trumpet improvisations – that’s out on the 14th of June. So that’s 17 one-breath tracks of sounds, tones and noises. Coming up next is the Orphans release which is myself, Ben Stacy and Dom Barrett as an improvising trio, which was actually recorded about a year ago. The third release will be Jameson Feakes’ album of compositions, some by Josten, others by James Bradbury, Clarence Barlow and an unconfirmed fourth composer too. Our fourth release isn’t confirmed yet but it’ll be a commissioned release and we’ll find out pretty soon who that is.
H: Are there definite trends in exploratory music at the moment? Or is everything defying genre and categorisation.
D: I don’t think it defies any categorisation.
J: Yeah in Australia I think there’s definite trends. WA is interesting, and I was actually thinking about this this morning because I think it’s picked up a lot of the trends worldwide from all sorts of different places; except it’s picked them all up at the same time and there’s a lot of people doing stuff that has this really really wide and quite weird range of influences, which I think is really fascinating. But I don’t think Perth has a dominating trend, and it’s nice in the way that there’s clusters of activity ranging from free jazz to reductionist music to stuff that’s more old-school free-improv but done in a new light. It’s all in this massive melting pot which is pretty fascinating. I’d say that in Australia, I’m not sure there is a trend because I can’t really speak for the whole scene and I don’t know it all that well. But there’s a general interest in improvisation and that kind of thing which is quite conceptual. The term ‘Post-Reductionist’ gets tossed around a lot to describe what’s come after this really austere, minimal and noisy stuff that people in Berlin, Japan and London were all doing at the same time. So we’re living in that sort of conceptual territory now. That’s pretty vague, but Perth is kind of hectic and not quite settled yet, which is quite exciting I think.
H: Australia has always had a bit of that, hasn’t it? That eclectic and sometimes contradictory appropriation of outside styles.
J: Yeah totally, I think the scene’s communication with Berlin has particularly influenced it. For example in Sydney and Melbourne, it feels like half of the improvisers that work there are constantly moving back and forth between Australia and Berlin. So that relationship in particular defines the current Australian trends. WA isn’t as much a part of that relationship, so for that reason it’s a little more bizarre over here.
D: Yeah it seems like the weird isolation of Perth means people’s interpretation of what they listen to is very different. For example I have my own ideas about what improvisation is about from listening to all these people I’ve never met, but then the next person over listens to totally different stuff.
H: Yeah and if you look at people who are playing at your label launch there’s a whole range of different influences, from Neo-Soul to Musique Concrete.
J: I think that’s the most exciting thing: it’s not just going to be Melbourne No. #2. It’s something different and interesting and people are going to keep influencing one another to create something quite individual.
H: Do you know if there’s been similar periods in WA music history?
J: Yes. There used to be a festival of improvised music quite a long time ago. I wasn’t around then so I don’t really know the details but there was a lot of activity around improv and big audience numbers. Club Zho used to be held at the Brass Monkey, that’s another fun fact [all laugh] and I know there was another venue in Subiaco that hosted audiences in the hundreds all the time. So yeah there was a real heyday and there’s still people around from that scene – Ross Bolleter who’s a ruined-piano improviser; Mark Cain and Tos Mahoney were part of that as well. I’m not really sure what happened between now and then but there’s been a lot of great improvisers who have come out of Perth like Callum G’Froerer and Brett Thompson, who do a lot of stuff between Berlin and Melbourne. Unfortunately people tend to leave to places that have more opportunities for them. What we’re trying to do is to make more opportunities so that people don’t skedaddle.
H: Do you think more people will be inspired to start their own labels after this?
D: I’d hope people would unite behind Tone List to an extent but we’re certainly not competitive and people can start their own label.
J: I think the good thing about having a label with a strong voice in the scene is that it can encourage really strong alternative scenes as well. They don’t necessarily have to be in opposition.
D: Yeah we’re not going to be releasing much dance music so if anyone wants to start an underground dance label that’d be great.
J: Yeah and Furchick is already running Dog Park Records which is an underground label focusing on more DIY noise things, so there’s definitely already an alternative scene supported by that. What we hope to do is make everything stronger, not necessarily to make everyone come to our thing and stop what they’re doing. I was talking with Sage [Pbbbbt] the other day about Room 40, which is a very formal label in Queensland which releases a lot of stuff from really big name artists like work from the guitarist from Swans: Norman Westberg. The alternative to that is Breakdance the Dawn which is this totally DIY confusing label where you have no idea who’s releasing what. You can’t tell what the lineups of different bands are because they keep it a mystery! So everyone on that label could be the same person and you wouldn’t know. It’s a total mystery but it’s a great antithesis to Room 40, and having both makes a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Obviously it’s not the same here, but we do hope we can offer something alongside Claire’s international focus and different aesthetic and contribute to the overall strength of the scene that way.
H: This sounds like a total job interview question, but where do you see the label in a couple of years?
D: Well hopefully still based in Perth [all laugh].
H: That’s a good start yeah.
D: …And still representing the scene here or this little niche – whatever we’re doing really. The goal was always to have something here rather than to move away. I also hope there’d be a lot more improvisers in town by then, I reckon… How many years are we talking?
H: Say five or so.
D: Yeah we’d hope for about 30 releases by then.
J: It’ll just be a party. We’re hoping to just let the scene do its thing and to be something that supports that. So what we’d hope for is to have the same friendly and inclusive atmosphere we have currently, only bigger.
Tone List launches on the 23rd of June, find out more here.
Interview by Hayden Dalziel.