A New Pulse:

Another Timbre welcomes both established and younger improvisers
By Ken Waxman

Frustration, altruism and a sudden monetary windfall were the contributing factors that led Simon Reynell to found the Sheffield England-based Another Timbre record label (www.anothertimbre.com) in 2006. After more than two dozen releases – both on CD and CD-R – it’s now acknowledged as an artistic success.

A sound recordist for television and someone who has been “passionately into experimental music” for around 35 years, Reynell had become increasingly frustrated by what he calls the “dumbing down” of TV programming to reality and celebrity-oriented shows from the sort of proper documentaries on which he works. An unexpected inheritance gave him some capital and Another Timbre (AT) was born. Initially setting out to present the work of young improvisers involved in drummer Eddie Prévost’s 10-year-old weekly London workshop, the catalogue has expanded to include not only improvisers from outside the United Kingdom, but also established stylists such as pianist Chris Burn and sound-singer Phil Minton.

“I’m particularly interested in the increasingly fuzzy boundaries between contemporary classical music and improvisation as well as the interface between acoustic and electronic sounds,” explains Reynell “I'm always looking for means of bridging the gap between the two musics in innovative ways.” The majority of AT’s releases reflect this concept.

“Musicians send me things for release, and I try to give everything a fair hearing,” he elaborates when asked about the label’s release policy. “I tend not to like large-group improvisations, as they so often end up becoming a messy mush of sound. And I have a slight prejudice against solo discs because I so much like the element of collaboration you get in small group improvisation.”

With the label run on the proverbial shoestring – and part-time, Reynell still works in TV – arrangement with musicians initially involve no payment. Although some AT CDs are made up of previously recorded music, with additional costs needed only for manufacturing, publicity and distribution, the majority result from Reynell asking his favourite musicians what they would like to record. Since Reynell owns portable equipment and has extensive recording expertise, finding acoustic spaces is usually the only other consideration. “As well as being cheaper, churches are atmospheric places to record,” he notes. “As long as you can find one that's reasonably quiet, given that much of the music often hovers somewhere between p and ppp.”

Following the recording sessions, the musicians themselves decide on what will be released as well as the cover art work –“for me it's only really the music that matters”, Reynell insists – with AT taking care of mastering and pressing of 500 CDs, packaging and distributing them. Each session participant receives 50 CDs each, with profits from their sale going to the musician. Sales of the remainder are used to finance the label’s on-going existence and recording of new sessions.

Admitting that “it would be so easy to run the label into the ground by releasing a series of excellent CDs by unknown musicians”, Reynell’s partial compromise is AT’s Byways sub-label of CD-Rs. Referencing one corner of London’s lively improv scene, the black and white-sleeve discs feature lower-case, electronic-inflected performances such as Loiter Volcano (at-b03), showcasing multiphonic wave pulsations by cellist Ute Kanngisser, percussionist Léo Dumont and Paul Abbot’s electronics; or Control and its Opposites (at-b04), exposing the abrasively crackling and segmented interface that emanates from shrill alto saxophonist Seymour Wright and wide-bore trumpeter Jamie Coleman with Grundik Kasyansky’s undercurrent of electronics and samples.

Also on Byways is the label’s sole historical disc, Hugh Davies, Performances 1969-1977 (at-r01), a companion to For Hugh Davies (at11), which matches pre-recorded improvisations by the invented-instrument maker with newly recorded improvisations by other players, as Reynell would have done if Davies was alive. “[Davies] was one of my favorite improvisers, but sadly died before I started the label,” he reveals. Having paid the National Sound Archive to have copies made of Davies’ tracks for the latter CD, it seemed appropriate to issue the originals as well. “The CD-R has sold really well, especially in Japan,” declares Reynell

Other outstanding CDs in the AT catalogue include entrants from veteran improvisers and newer ones. “I bend over backwards to try to give younger players who I rate highly more exposure, and often link them with better-known players”. Midhopestones (at19) for instance, balances proven timbral extensions from experienced free musicians, saxophonist Michel Doneda and sound-singer Phil Minton, with younger players’ contributions: oscillations, buzzes and signal processing from Louisa Martin’s laptop and Lee Patterson’s amplified objects. Rhodri Davies’ acoustic and electrified harp textures moderate both groups’ sounds, benefiting his middle-aged status in this context. The minimalist narrative depends as much on Minton’s distinctive yowls and Doneda’s unemotional split tone as the electrified drones from the others.

When it comes to lesser-known musicians, Dun (at12) mixes solid, unvarying sounds from trumpeter Matt Davis and bass clarinettist Bechir Saade with nervous clicks and clatters from Matt Milton’s violin and Davis’ field recordings. Saxophonist Wright and pianist Sebastian Lexer’s Blasen (at13), balances Lexer’s organic patterning, low-frequency chording, stopped strings and buzzing resonation with the saxophonist’s tongue slaps, kazoo-like hoots and shrill shrieks, separated with plenty of pregnant pauses.

As for discs from established players, the atmospheric and contrapuntal linkage of plucked, stopped and quivering string textures exhibited on The Middle Distance (at24) from pianist Chris Burn, bassist Simon H. Fell and Philip Thomas on prepared piano, confirms that in the right hands low-frequency and low-key textures can create remarkable programs as easily as jagged, abrasive exhibitions.

Reynell concedes that in the future improvisers will use other ways of distributing music such as downloads and net labels. But there still musicians he would like to record and a backlog of already-recorded AT projects to be released. “I think a lot of musicians still like the idea of their music appearing on CD,” he muses. “It’s like an objective validation of their skills. There’s still a place for labels, but economics dictate that there will be fewer and fewer opportunities as time goes on.”