The Fractals of Infraction: Kick-starting an independent label
(02.08.06) BASED out of Ohio, Jason Bryant runs Infraction Records. An esoteric label that offers so much more than what you might expect from the sleepy Midwest US. With a roster that includes Beequeen, Andrew Liles, Colin Potter and a whole lot of artists who make ethereal, thought-provoking ambient and experimental sound-work that leaves any norms behind, this is the lil’ label that could, and has since 2001.
TJ Norris :: It’s great to finally be able to have this conversation with you, I know it’s been a while since we first made contact, though good things take time. How are you doing?
Jason :: Agreed. I’ve been good, thanks. A lot of work going into new projects for 2006.
TJN :: You have such an impressive group of artists you are working with, some who are, at this point, exclusively on your label and others, like Andrew Liles, who are so incredibly prolific. How did you map out your plan initially?
J :: I don’t know that there was a specific plan in the beginning per se. It was moreso based on the strength of Nick Zammuto’s one disc from his Solutiore of Stareau trilogy that prompted me to start the label. I was tipped off about Nick’s recordings from Keith Whitman, who worked at Forced Exposure at the time and in doing mail-orders w/ FE on a weekly basis I heard Keith’s raves about a lot of music – and Nick’s was one that was mentioned often. So, I remember being sent the 3CD set after writing to Nick and thinking how incredible those pieces were. It was unfortunate that they were seeing a very limited audience as Nick was doing handmade editions of them at the time and I believe he gave them to whoever was interested. We later discussed releasing one of the discs on an idea I had for a label. So, the label began on being enthusiastic about a piece of music and working on bringing it out as a proper release and then hopefully to a larger audience.
The same could be said for the 2nd release on Infraction which was Andrew Liles an un world full-length. Andrew sent me a CDR entitled prelude to an un world and I was extremely impressed by his compositions… and remain impressed to this day. I found out he did not have an outlet for the recordings and I jumped at the chance to help bring his first full-length to fruition. So, I guess the plan has been mapped out since by my enthusiasm behind each piece of music and working with an incredible group of artists. The compositions that appeal to me are generally ambient based that I can really get behind.
TJN :: It seems a subtle coda in your overall label presentation, the ambience that is.
I realize that most of the artists you are working with are European. How do you build most of your relationships with artists and how do American composers and musicians compare?
J :: The relationships start usually with my admiration for their respective recorded works. Usually emailing back and forth, seeing where or how they would like the records to be issued. I think to be available for the artist, and know that I’m as interested in getting their music exposed and out there as much as they are… and if they choose to be reclusive about it, well, I can certainly do that as well.
European vs. American composers? I don’t know. I do not think there is a geographical distinction between artists in these types of musics… however, there does seem to be more of an interest in Europe rather than in the U.S. with some artists. Ultra Milkmaids come to mind as one with a distinctively larger European presence than here. One could say, “well, he is French…” but someone like Liles, Colin Potter have a base on both continents.
To answer the question, I believe I could draw parallels between artists here and there with fairly accurate counterparts.
TJN :: OK then, can you draw a comparison between any two artists for me?
J :: First, to add to the above – there are many arguments about other types of musics and the distinction between those in North America and European, be it rock, jazz, pop, hip-hop, even a lot of electronica. When it comes to ambient and drone music I think it’s more attuned – when I hear William Basinski, I also hear similarities to some Rapoon – the looping the slowly shifting backdrops. Andrew Chalk with Aidan Baker (although he is Canadian, but for the sake of argument – North American) pillowing clouds of ambience with a guitar as basis for composition. Kiln could be matched with some of the more textural Eno; Thermals vs. Music for Films, On Land & Apollo. This is a collective comparison though and I’m sure arguments could be made about how different they are too, and I’m not refuting that – rather, just trying to answer the question on how I hear this music.
TJN :: I reviewed a few of your releases over the past year and really loved the collaboration between Aidan Baker and Ultra Milkmaids. How did that come about and were you involved somehow in the process of making it happen?
J :: At the time that I first was exposed to Aidan’s music – I had already been a fan of UM for a few years. Aidan had a collaboration with The Infant Cycle on a small Italian label called Blade Records that I had just picked up. Not to digress, but Blade is this great label doing these very minute CDR editions in elaborate or extensive packaging. Anyway, at the same time I was emailing Yann from UM about possibly doing a release on Infraction, I was commenting about a great disc by this guy named Aidan Baker. Naturally, Yann knew the name and was already working on a collaboration! It was very bizarre the coincidences and how they lined up… So, after emailing Aidan & Yann, back & forth they agreed to release it through Infraction. I suggested a piece to fill out the recording (as I think we were still only about 30 minutes total at the time) from a live recording I heard of UM during their U.S. tour in 2003 or so. A few weeks later, the master recording arrived – artwork was discussed thoroughly and it went to press.
TJN :: Can you tell me some about the process of artwork and how that has developed overall for Infraction? From where you select images and concepts for the cover art?
J :: The basic layout was intended to give the look of a widescreen shot, of a film still with a small list of credits under the image. I initially drew up some various ideas, sketched them out and brought them to a graphic artist, as at the time I had no decent layout software, and picked from there. I also wanted to keep with a basic running theme with the label to give it an identity. However, I’m not opposed if an artist (Kiln, Potter, Beequeen were examples) has ideas about how they would like to see the layout displayed. The images are from various sources.
TJN :: Colin Potter has worked with Nurse with Wound, runs his own label is involved in other various collaborations with his own side projects Ora and Monos. I also realize that your release of See is now officially sold out. What was it like working with him and will you collaborate again?
J :: Colin was a pleasure to deal with, but he is a very busy man. When we first discussed a release – he bombarded me with a stack of older ICR cassettes. See stuck out to me as this incredibly rich piece that unfortunately to that point, had only had been released via cassette. He agreed to remaster it and add a new track to the original 2 tracks from the ICR edition. I have to admit, our email correspondences have dropped off considerably over the last few years and I think that’s just a testament to how busy each of us is – probably moreso on his end. We’ve not discussed doing further releases to this point, but I certainly would be open to it.
TJN :: The vision of those releasing independent music and their inherent artistic associations really do make for a buzz of energy, sometimes it keeps the psyche charged for many moons in between. Some collaborations take years to come to fruition, fully conjure and/or assimilate. Are there other such relationships that you have had where timing has been an issue? I mean, are there projects you have had on the back burner for a while, knowing they have great potential?
J :: There is a project that I’m working on now with Geert Feytons of Noise Maker’s Fifes that we’ve been discussing & planning for at least a year now. It is not really any one delay, nor is it an actual departure from wanting to do the project. I think it’s seeing how it can be presented, what is involved with that, scheduling, etc. NMF have in recent years been creating audio and video installations that take an enormous amount of time. The release should reflect that effort and be presented as such. So, rather than just put out a 4-panel b/w booklet with a disc – it, in my opinion, needs a more elaborate presentation. Geert agrees, so in a sense, having the time to discuss ideas and plan these kind of projects out is a luxury because we know the final product will be worth the wait.
White Coffee (by Beautumn) was like that too. Again, a lot of work already had gone into it when it came to me, but it was important to get it right. It still took months to get it from even that stage to the final product.
TJN :: I don’t know about you, but I find many smaller, independent labels who release in editions of 1000 or less to be the antithesis of reversal mass marketing, like finding tiny jewel shards on a beach. What drives you in helping distribute to this limited audience? Do you feel that any of your releases needs to be heard by a broader audience, or do you feel that when a limited edition is sold out that it is like a vintage book of sorts, archived and only available by way of research? Or is it just a basic issue of supply and demand?
J :: In terms of drive – it only takes a comment or two from someone who purchased something on the label to give motivation. To help the artists get their work out there and exposed is the utmost. I think all the releases should be heard by a broader audience! I’m also aware and realistic that it’s extremely challenging to do that – not to mention expensive, and that’s where the problem lies with smaller labels. That is a huge topic alone, and something that all independent labels and artists deal with.
If an artist wants to keep it a hidden jewel of a release in terms of 300 or 500 copies, then we’ll do that and that vintage book ideal is adhered to. It all depends on the release.
One of my favorite titles was a disc released by Beta-Lactam Ring Records by the Abrasion Ensemble called Music for the Same 500 People. There’s a certain amount of truth to that in these types of musics.
TJN :: I’m interested in your own personal background. What do you do to keep the roof over your head and how did you get into the independent music field?
J :: I’m currently in anesthesia school, I’ve worked the past 6 years in an ICU in a local hospital.
How I got into independent music? Around ’96 or so I wanted to start a mail-order dealing directly with artists. At the time there was a lot of space music, for lack of a better term, that I was into coming out of Michigan. The Burnt Hair label, Windy & Carl, Fuxa and others. I was interested in being a resource offering their releases to a wider base. I then started dealing with distributors on top of labels and individual artists and it grew from there. It was called Rioux’s Records. I kept it going through finishing college up until about 2003. This was after I had started Infraction and I wanted to focus more on the label rather than have all of my time occupied with the mail-order. Plus, I wanted to get back to school and focusing just on the label rather than trying to balance everything allowed me to do that.
TJN :: That’s cool and sounds quite brilliant as a business plan, many don’t start out in this business with steps in mind. Sounds like you took some savvy ones. Anesthesiology, wow, the new frontier. Isn’t that one of the medical fields that takes forever to learn, and get all appropriate degrees, licenses, etc.? It’s a great duality, sound and soul.
J :: It seems like it’s taking forever! I’ve been working on this for the past 3 years and I have another 1 1/2 years to go. I’m a slow learner though; maybe that’s why it’s taking so long.
TJN :: Flat descriptors are usually just that though aesthetically much of what you hear on Infraction could be referred to loosely as dark ambient. Do you agree?
J :: Not really. I think of dark ambient, loosely, being Lustmord or maybe Sunn o))) or maybe the Cold Meat Industries label to name just a few. And to group those artists/labels together under dark ambient does a disservice and as you said it flatly describes them. There is a need for blanket labels and a bit of wider organization though. It serves as an entry point for the uninitiated. I think I’m getting on a subject that needs a lot of further discussion, so to answer your question – I don’t think Infraction is a dark ambient label. I would classify it, generally speaking, as a soundscape label based in experimental ambient. Ambient is at the heart of all of the releases, it’s the type of music that I have listened to and returned to year in and year out. Each of the releases branches out from ambient in one way or another, be it darker shaded as in Andrew Liles case, experimental in regards to Zammuto or Ultra Milkmaids & Aidan Baker, guitar based drone from Zimiamvian Night or Koda, or more cinematic like Kiln, Beautumn and even Beequeen. There, I think I mentioned everyone.
TJN :: Beautumn’s White Coffee seems to be your latest release, is there anything you can tell us about it and others you have in the works for 2006?
J :: Beautumn’s disc is from a Russian composer that works in several capacities. He is part of a duo known as Sleepy Town Manufacture, which is a great name I think. They are a bit more into IDM musics. Beautumn is his solo venture – and is much more ambient – amazing attention to detail, almost emotional without getting too steeped in earnestness or sincerity. There’s a fine line there. Anyway, there were a few labels that were going to publish White Coffee and it fell through for one reason or another. I got in contact with Sasha (Beautumn) about a year ago curious as to the fate of this recording as I had a promo of it from a few years back when it was first going to be issued. He explained the unfortunate story of it languishing and sent over the artwork, which included these great photos and type-settings for each track. One thing led to another and we released it this past December.
2006? I think the next release will be by Milieu. A new artist that I came into contact with recently. He is unbelievably prolific – it seems he records everyday. He sent over some tracks that reminded me a bit of William Basinski – only more stretched out – very desolate. Also working on some possible Tetsu Inoue reissues, a few Noise Maker’s Fifes CDs & DVD’s, perhaps an Andrew Deutsch disc, one from Moljebka Pvlse, another Russian artist named Parks and hopefully new material from Zimiamvian Night and Koda.
TJN :: Yes, Tetsu Inoue. Yes. His work should be kept vitally alive and well distributed. A prodigy of our times I think. Oh, you are planning to release some DVD work, can you say some about that?
J :: Just the aforementioned Noise Maker’s Fifes releases. Compiling the installation works onto DVD… at this point, we’re planning possibly 2. A few other artists on the label have expressed interest in releasing dual disc sets – 1 DVD and 1 CD. I think it’s a great idea. Nothing concrete yet, but there are certainly possibilities.
TJN :: Where do you get your inspiration?
J :: In terms of other labels – if I had to point to just one or two, I would say the Touch label in the U.K. and/or Kranky here in the U.S. They are both consistent in the quality of their releases, the artwork from Jon Wozencraft (for Touch) is always inventive and the music is of a very high caliber. These are just a few labels that adhere to a principle of quality music and also a certain running theme in terms of graphic design – and they follow through with it on almost every release. Both also have the reputation for me at least, that I can buy any disc on there and be confident that it’s going to be solid. So, I draw a lot of that aesthetic into what I’m trying to do with Infraction. Paul Bradley’s Twenty Hertz label is another that is quickly catching up with that distinction in my opinion. I should also mention 4AD. It was the label that I discovered that the artwork and presentation should be as important, and in some cases more important, as the music it was housing.
TJN :: Both are quite consistent, always compelling and solid. Do you think these labels have a genealogical sort of flow? Or is it just a sense of hearty curatorial prowess by way of artist or project selection for release that makes them so good? What’s the alchemical connect?
J :: There is a definite flow. Both labels started out very good and evolved with the artists they were representing, into great labels. I don’t know any aspect of their relationships with the artists on their respective labels specifically, but I would suspect that having the same ideals in how to represent the music, the artist knowing there is support are big factors. I don’t think it’s cherry picking either, each label releases several works by the same acts or artist and progression on both ends is evident.
TJN :: Have you seen any of the artists you work with perform live?
J :: Yes, a few years back the Beequeen men and Andrew Liles did a short tour of the NE part of the U.S. I played the part of transportation and roadie. It was great fun.
TJN :: I have interviewed others about their tours and have heard some rousing, fun stories. Any reflections you would like to share?
J :: Andrew Liles has a future in stand-up comedy. I think the world is ready for a chain-smoking, smart-ass Englishman disseminating the world around him with keen awareness. If the men of Beequeen are in any way ambassadors of Holland, then my assumption that the Dutch are all maniacs is true.
TJN :: If you have any, what do you do in your spare time?
J :: There’s not much left over, I usually sleep then.
TJN :: This is the time where you can punctuate things. Any final and prolific things to impart to our captive audience?
J :: I would just like to give thanks to folks that are listening to the artists on the label, that are consistently coming back to get each of the releases, whether they are familiar with them or not. I think that says a lot. I would like to give thanks to each of the artists for entrusting their work with the label, Matt Borghi for art direction and layout services, Mike Bennett for advice and a distinctive ear and my wife for her support and acting as a soundboard for ideas and endless chatter about ambient music.
For more info about Infraction, visit their website here.