Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Interview with Raub Roy of Weird Ear Records

In addition to stitching together incredible, textured sound environments for over a decade as Horaflora, Raub Roy has been operating the Oakland-based Weird Ear Records since 2012. As the name suggests, Weird Ear is a one-stop shop for the best sounds the weirdo scene has to offer, from musique concrète concept albums to furious electro-acoustic improv to electronics-based micro-composition and much, much more. I chatted with Raub via email about the formation of Weird Ear records, his own work as Horaflora and his more recent project Scy1e, record collecting, bothersome USPS policies, touring by bike, and what the future holds for Weird Ear in 2018 and beyond.

AO: When did you start recording/performing as Horaflora? What was the impetus for the name?

RR: Horaflora began when I first started performing in a particular way, with an array of small self-contained sound makers, all spread around the room, each adding a little bit to the whole sound, in an immersive way. Hora Flora was a joke name that came from the ‘Horrific Flora’ that each separate item could be seen as, a microcosm amongst the macro, the closer one got, the more detail that could be sussed—like when you get real close up to a plant in your garden, usually teeming with life, little critters and textures, all contributing to the overall impression, but when focused on, each object is its own little world.

AO: The two Horaflora works I'm most familiar with are The Gland Canyon and "Glibbertone" from the 7" you split with Neil Young's Bromp Treb project on his Yeay! Cassettes label. They seem to be polar opposites in the Horaflora world, The Gland Canyon rolls along patiently for an immersive 80 minute ride while "Glibbertone" spits you back out after a scant 4 minutes. What were the creative processes like for these two?

RR: Ha. Well, The Gland Canyon was the first thing I made that I felt held merit, and it is essentially the culmination of years of field recordings, improv sessions with friends, and solo explorations of acoustic phenomena. That Yeay! 7” I recall having trouble pinning down something appropriate to the format, at the time, being more into long form works, but ultimately was able to come up with that track, which was made on an old iPod touch, using an app called ‘Gliss’. That was probably better considered as an early Scy1e track, but I hadn’t decided to delineate projects yet at that point.

AO: The Gland Canyon is quite an incredible and extremely long piece of work. You mentioned it being the culmination of years of material, was there any initial intention to create it (or something like it) from the get-go? Or was it more a matter of building something out of a palette you had spent years preparing for yourself to one day work from?

RR: More a case of the latter—I had been recording long improvisations/explorations of solo sound sources for quite a while, somewhat as ‘food’ for my sampler, but also with the almost subconscious intent to use these recordings as tracks to pit against each other, quite influenced by EAI and its ilk at the time. Long form recordings (like, 20 minutes to an hour) of dronier material were initially laid out as a bed on which to further build, and just kept adding and subtracting until the computer I was using at the time stopped working—so, the last render of my material became the album. It was finished for the most part anyways, but I think I would have gone through and cleaned up a couple more instances of me chuckling or whatever that had gotten into the render. (The raw recordings were made with deliberate silence or minimal tonal frequency, to allow eminent fixability, so lots of layers are actually happening at all times (even when it sounds like very little) and it was a bit of an exercise to chase down spots with mic bumps, throat clearing, or what have you, so there’s still a bit of that there.)

AO: The cassette reissue of The Gland Canyon you put out, seems like a sort of proto-Weird Ear release as it doesn't have a catalog number or, if I recall, the Weird Ear logo. Do you have any designs on issuing it again as a double LP in line with the subsequent Weird Ear release strategy, or have you moved on from that work at this point?

RR: Yeah, that edition, “WER-000” was conceived of as a test of the cassette manufacturing process, and was designed before we had the logo, I think. I would love to someday have it available on vinyl, though the HF side of the new Phinery, ‘Body Lag’, is sort of a continuation of that work, and at 36min, would lend itself a bit more readily to vinyl, requiring only a single slab, so more likely that would be the case upon the Phinery release selling out someday.

AO: When did Scy1e spring to life? What separates it from your work as Horaflora?

RR: Scy1e was born of circumstance—the daughter of the other Weird Ear, Dianne, came to live with us in Oakland, and the space we had used for practice became a bedroom, at which point I shifted from acoustic-object-based performance and recording to an in-the-box approach that required just a synth rig and headphones, and could be done in any room of the house, or elsewhere, see? The Scy1e project may be differentiated though, as a more purely electronic exploration of what Horaflora attempts to achieve via electro-acoustic means, an exploration of disparate rhythms and interconnecting systems, but by means of voltages as opposed to Horaflora's interdependent acoustic phenomena. Scy1e also deals in short form pieces more readily, as opposed to the average HF piece timing in at 20 minutes or so.

AO: Has the exploration of a different methodology as Scy1e influenced your approach as Horaflora? Or illuminated some aspects of it that you weren't previously conscious of?

RR: I realize that all in all, despite completely different working methodologies and instrumentation, they are still very similar, sonically, and dynamically. I have been trying to get out of the ‘whatever happens, happens’ approach to structure, and into something more deliberate, but so far have only managed this due to happy accident methodology, but continue to seek a breakthrough.

AO: You mentioned your recent release on Phinery, Body Lag/Craedle Calls, which is the first split that Horaflora and Scy1e have shared, correct? What was the process like developing that? Did you always have the idea that you were making two different sets of music that would eventually complement each other?

RR: The idea of the ‘Double Feature’ came of a fairly natural process, being that Phinery was planning on doing some more ‘new music’ type stuff on CD, rather than tape, and I had envisioned Body Lag as fitting on CD better than split over two sides of tape, so submitted it as such, but along the way, the decision was made to go with tape after all, and, rather than having the program repeat on both sides or be split over two sides, I submitted a matching duration of Scy1e material, most of which was culled from my Scy1e subscription Bandcamp page, but more curated than the ‘albums’ there tend towards.

AO: Weird Ear started in 2012 but you've been making music as Horaflora for a while longer than that. What inspired you to add 'label head' to your job description rather than being a musician only?
RR: I had started collecting vinyl in earnest around 2010, and Weird Ear was created to get us LPs from artists that had none yet… the impetus has since changed somewhat, but it’s basically a way for us to own copies of records that don’t exist until we make 'em!

AO: What were some of your favorite records you collected at the time that lead to the impulse to start releasing records?

RR: I believe that the first one I bought that gave me an appreciation for having a collection of my own was Bird, Lake, Objects by Masayoshi Fujita & Jan Jelinek, which I picked up at Aquarius Records in San Francisco, with my mom during a visit. We listened to it while making dinner that evening and I got this notion of a sort of sound that I wanted to have on vinyl as opposed to files. Ekkehard Ehlers's and Paul Wirkus’s Ballads was another I recall fondly from those early days of collecting. I think, though, that the impulse to release LPs myself did not come until after I turned a corner and just wanted everything on vinyl, which happened incredibly fast, between 2011 and 2012, living down the street from Amoeba SF, and then Amoeba Berkeley… I have since tapered my record buying, due to having completely run out of space… wanna buy a record?

AO: Your first release, WER-001, is Stand Up Comedy by Alessandro Bosetti which is quite an audacious beginning. What led to the decision to make the Bosetti album Weird Ear's first step into the unknown?

RR: The decision to have Alessandro become 001 was made for us, as he was the first to respond to our initial call (to specific artists) with a piece ready for pressing. When we first heard the material, we were not certain that we wanted such concept-heavy material to be what we put out, having hoped for material such as Her Name or Royals, but it grew on us, and is one of our favorite things that music and art can do, when one’s sensibilities come around to something previously found difficult or misunderstood.

AO: I remember when I first heard that cassette and I just thought what the hell is this? and had no idea whether I liked it or disliked it. It definitely grew into something that I really enjoy, particularly the first side, but it has maintained an inscrutable intrigue to me. Did Alessandro let you in on the conceptual inspiration behind the project?

Stand Up Comedy LP
by Alessandro Bosetti
RR: Well, I think that the recording describes its own context pretty thoroughly, which is one of the things I particularly like about it, as it functions as an explanation and performance/piece all in one, and says what needs to be said about itself, itself…! If much more was portrayed to me at the onset of our vetting of the material, I don’t recall now.

AO: Have you had this "Stand Up Comedy" experience with any other Weird Ear releases? Where some time was needed to fully process it before making the decision to release it?

RR: Well, the split LP with Trumpet Trumpet Synthesizer (and Horaflora) was a little like that, as the TTS side is some difficult listening due to extremely high frequencies that they employ in some sections, but the tensions created are well worth it, which we realized after just a couple listens. I think that having Stand Up Comedy be our first release made us scrutinize it a bit more than we have since, possibly, but more often than not, our releases are things that we feel could be played to people that aren’t as deeply involved in experimental music, and still be enjoyed and appreciated, differentiating us from some purely experimental/noise labels. We hope to continue to skirt trend, not only on the scale of the global scene, but within our roster/catalogue as well, which actually may mean we need another highly conceptual piece before too long, having put out a few collections of more song-form avant pop/folk more recently (Angela Sawyer, Hollow Deck, Owen Stewart-Robertson).

AO: Some of that Hollow Deck record is reminiscent of earlier Joanna Newsom to me and seems like it could garner airplay on "general" college radio without any trouble. However, much of the Weird Ear catalog is quite out there: long run times, strange sonic textures, bizarre concepts. Can you expand further on how you see Weird Ear as standing apart from other labels in terms of cultivating accessibility toward the less experimentally-oriented public?

RR: Ah, well—we have very little intention of cultivating accessibility, actually. We are specifically catering to those who may like the challenge of an acquired taste, or listen, in this case.

AO: In our private correspondence at one point you told me, "I truly am not one for Rock," though it seems like you are interested in other song-based forms as you mentioned, is it pretty much set in stone Weird Ear will never drop a rock & roll record or is there an outside chance the right band will come along and flip your lid?

RR: I suppose there is an outside chance, as we have a couple band-bands we like, but I generally feel that there are enough other labels that would/could be interested in that sort of thing that I wouldn’t feel the need to do it myself. I consider Beauty School to be about as ‘band-ey’ as I would care to get, though, I DO have an affinity for the Italian free rock scene, stuff like Sinistri, 3/4HadBeenEliminated, and Christa Pfangen… though, international artists are difficult to sell, due to the logistics of worldwide distribution, which we have yet to get ahead of.
AO: That Beauty School cassette is phenomenal and one of the first Weird Ear releases in the catalog was the Addleds tape, both are projects involving percussionist Jacob Felix Heule. How did you get hooked up with him?

RR: He lives across the building from us! He is a good self promoter, so pushes stuff on us in a way others here do not… just as well, too many folks here to put out all their albums if they all were as ready to go with stuff as Jacob is—We actually live in a building with a ton of Bay improv/experimental luminaries, members of Las Sucias, Blood Wedding, Voicehandler, Ettrick, Burmese, Jeweled Snakes, Sharkiface, Tarantism, Stacian, Cloner, Tainted Pussy, Foreskin Sashimi In Paradise, Glochids, Homoglochini, Nurse Betty, Foot SOS, Toppbrillo, and Midori Records… that’s my household shout out, so no need to ask for a household shout out now.

AO: What can you tell me about Waxy Tomb? It's great stuff but just about every label description of WT releases I've seen seems to avoid mentioning meaningful info about the project. Even the Weird Ear description seems deliberately obscure.

RR: Jules is looking for a label to release their newest work, at the moment, I can say that. The newest, GridDrip, has lyrics on the bandcamp page, maybe you can derive something meaningful from that? I believe that to decipher would run the risk of spoiling the intent to mystify…

AO: Apotheosis Putrefactum, by Andrew Quitter and Nick Hoffman, stands out as a far darker entry in the Weird Ear catalog than usual (though there does seem a similar ethos to Horaflora in terms of patience). What enticed you to release the tape? Does it indicate a direction for Weird Ear that you're hoping to pursue further?

RR: Well, times are dark. I could see that becoming more of an interest for our output than it had been in the past. In terms of releasing it when we did though, it has more to do with trying to not step on our own toes, fall into too much of a trend of our own output. I love labels that specialize in one particular kind of sound that I, like many, can’t seem to get enough of, variations of a similar aesthetic, Rastor-Noton, Orange Milk, birdFriend, all come to mind, but we are trying to sidestep homogeneous approaches across our artists and releases, when possible. We certainly have tastes that subjectively inform the choices we make, so it’s always going to be connected there (which could be said of any label), but we can pit our tastes against our intentions to not repeat too much, and that should keep us in check for another few years at least...!

AO: Both Quitter and Hoffman have been both making and releasing noise for a long time—Hoffman has operated various labels (Pilgrim Talk, Ghost & Son, Scissor Death) while Quitter operates Dumpster Score. Had you been looking for an opportunity to work with them for a while now?

RR: Well, Quitter was only known to me in a peripheral way, I had associated him with Chefkirk, and the Eugene-Scene, but until they submitted the album, had not looked as closely at his work as I had Hoffman’s. Nick and I have conducted some trades in the past, and he came to my attention probably back in 2008 or 09, through the EAI/experimental music forum ‘I hate music’, as he showed up on a lot of albums I was digging around then—group stuff with the Dotolim crew, the duo with Aaron Zarzutzki, and things that have since blended into a generalized memory of listening from that time.

Apotheosis Putrefactum really scratched an itch for us though, as we love that EAI, and recognize that a lot of friends really like a darker, dronier, doomier, sound than we really get into, so the marriage of those aesthetics was an immediate "yes" when I heard it. Those guys also have a great patience, I think that only the Angela Sawyer LP took longer to come out after it was proposed than that tape.

AO: The Weird Ear Bandcamp page features a label sampler which is a decent place to start for the uninitiated. The compilation culminates with two excerpts of great Bhob Rainey collaborations with Chris Cooper and Vic Rawlings, respectively, and I have always wondered, which Weird Ear release are they taken from?

RR: WER006, it was slated to be a split 10” of those duos… that one got lost in the sauce, for now, at least… we are leaving the CAT# open just in case we get back to it someday… I would relinquish any hold on it to anybody looking to release it for those guys though, already did some free promo via those CD samplers being sent to a few radio stations… get in touch, maybe someone wants to split that split…

AO: Scott Scholz wrote very astute liner notes about German Army curating labels in the way that labels generally curate artists—I know I've gone to their discography several times just to research the labels I am unfamiliar with. Did you approach German Army about doing a release or the other way around?

RR: Scott has some kind of amazing grip on the overall arc of that project, which is a feat in and of itself, but then to articulate it as well, that guy is potent. As for the approach, they wrote us to swap records, and an album idea was hatched from there.

AO: Where did the concept for the German Army dual flexi-disc release come from? It's very unique.

Taushiro 2xFlexidisc
by German Army
RR: It came about very organically; from an initially submitted set of materials which was going to be a tape, I requested more songs be added, as I like a good long listen when I pop in a tape, and at some point it occurred to me that since the pieces were individually so short, they could be split up onto flexi discs, which, since the infamous international postage hike of 2012, we had wanted to work with to be able to offer cheap shipping worldwide, and once we realized it would have to be multiple flexis, the idea to play around with the transparency came, and finally the specific idea about the decoder ring style layout of the titles and tracklist. Thom Dudley, the designer we work with from time to time (he designed the 7” piano roll/computer punch card for that Yeay! 7”, as well as everything for Stand Up Comedy, and numerous others in the catalogue) did an amazing job of creating a 4 stage decoder ring, which really works, amazingly!

AO: That is fascinating that USPS policies are influencing the formats that artists and labels are releasing music on.

RR: Yeah, in January 2013, I think, international shipping jumped from like $13 to $19 for a single LP, and hit independent labels in particular, pretty hard. Much ado was made, and some rickety solutions were suggested, in particular, some labels and distros tried to take advantage of media mail within the us, and suggested to international consumers that several orders from within the states could be amalgamated at one point before repackaging all together for shipment to their final destination (sweet spot is 5 LPs - like $30)… we tried to offer that, but the one fella that took us up on it in the last five years was a huge hassle to deal with, so we turned to flexi discs, which may be mailed for the price of a letter (under $3, intl.). So far, so good, but the funny thing is that most customers internationally are happier to just pay $20 for an LP than take us up on the suggestion of trying to amalgamate and save money, so maybe not as big a problem as seemed initially.

AO: Do you have a particular Weird Ear release that stands out as one you're especially proud of (or simply just your favorite)?

RR: I think I am actually most proud of Stand Up Comedy, actually, as it came about through a very interesting process of give and take between me and Bosetti, in which each of us had specific conditions, and in the hashing out of these, we ended up with something extra special that came of the process of the hashing out itself. So, more specifically, I believe he wanted a run of a certain amount, say, 500, but we had initially imagined doing very short runs, and so the idea to do a short run of an extra special edition (of course manifesting as the picture disc with the ‘lyrics’ running along the record grooves) was born! I have really been enjoying that process, when it comes along, but that first dip into labelhood really took the cake early on. Nothing like your first time perhaps..

AO: Weird Ear had it's busiest year yet in 2016 releasing several tapes, 2 LPs and another dual flexi-disc package by Tlaotlon, but it's kept quiet in 2017, is Weird Ear preparing something big for 2018?

RR: Actually, I had meant to release a few things by now, this year, and put the label to rest until after a big tour next year (of at least the East Coast, if not much more, by bike), but we spent much of 2017 in shock and disarray after the devastating end of 2016, with the Ghost Ship tragedy here, and the fuck in the oval office, as well as the general direction of the world, but have been slowly coming back to life, as it were—we started a bi-weekly event ‘Weird Ear Presents', after not booking anything for over a year, and have started playing shows again, as well as really pushing to get these releases out.

AO: So you're planning to do the whole tour on bike? Are you going to be living out of a backpack, gear and all? Are any other artists joining you?

RR: Well, we aren’t 100% sure yet, but the very first tour I did was the ‘Cycledelic Music Trip’, on bike, from Maine to Georgia, in 2008, with Kurt Weisman. This would be the 10 year anniversary of that, and, while we would love to have it go further, for longer, the logistics of such a trip are daunting, to say the least…! But, yes, would be with all our gear in trailers/panniers, hopefully with Kurt again, and Dianne plays now as well (in 2008 she was literally along for the ride), as ‘Nurse Betty’. We might do a partial drive, and then bike, then drive (like, [Oakland] to Maine, then bike down and somehow resume driving to get back to the Bay), but the East Coast is dense enough that we can do a bike trip tour without large gaps between shows, but once you start in on the rest of the country, it’s days and weeks between playable towns/cities (particularly considering the kind of music we are playing is simply not presentable in just any old small town!). I have been riding a recumbent bike the last few years, in preparation for this trip, though my rig for Scy1e is such that it wouldn’t be bike able in it’s present form—I hope to be able to split the difference between Horaflora and Scy1e performance styles for this tour, and am already preparing material and methods to make this a reality. We had blogged the trip in 2008, writing it all on a 1st gen iPod touch, and uploading at ‘internet cafes’, but since then, cell tech has obviously exploded, so we hope to do a more significant documentation this time out. There is a lot I could talk about regarding the changes between then and now, but may save that for a later time…

AO: What has 'Weird Ear Presents' been like so far? Which artists have been involved? Is it strictly music/audio art-themed?

RR: Well, it’s so far been music/audio themed, yes. It’s a free event at a bar, Darger Bar (named after Henry Darger), in which we have two or three acts play on alternating Tuesdays. We’ve presented [artists such as] A Magic Whistle, Gossimer, Andrew Weathers, Eric Glick Reiman, Dirgeslurry and Scy1e. Victoria Shen of Boston duo, Trim, and Oakland underdog Foreskin Sashimi In Paradise are both playing on the 19th of this month. In the new year, Matt Robideux and The Blues will be at Darger Bar on January 16th. We have generally had an enthusiastic response from the patrons, artists, and the bar employees as well… it’s a pretty small space we host it in, but in the current trend of small spaces in SF (and Oakland) going away due to so many factors, we are trying to do a little something to keep the flame alive, if you will.

AO: Weird Ear has featured some fellow Bay Area fiends like Glochids and the aforementioned pair of Jacob Felix Heule projects (Beauty School and Addleds), is there a specific push to document the local scene with the label, in addition to organizing Weird Ear Presents?

RR: Hmm, not especially, as we had envisioned the label in terms of sonics, live performance, and to have physical goods where none had yet been made available. Glochids was based in Arizona when I first became interested in his music, and I offered to put out his music because it was the only way for me to hear it, outside of one 3’’ CD and a minute of live performance on youtube!

AO: It also seems like Weird Ear might have a special connection to, or at least affinity for, Massachusetts with the Angela Sawyer and Hollow Deck LPs?

RR: I am originally from Western Mass, and we are focusing on a series of LPs by New England-based artists, co-released with Feeding Tube, but that was borne of being interested in the music, not to document the scene, and there was enough New England-based stuff to release that we ended up envisioning it that way and grouping it together. Foom/Foam LP and a Bromp Treb are still pending, the last two in the four part series.

AO: I'm happy to hear you'll be working with Bromp Treb again. You mentioned the co-release series with Feeding Tube Records, which has been one of the coolest, weirdest, most prolific labels out there for a while, how did that partnership come about?

RR: We both were interested in the Hollow Deck album, and I think that I sent 'em the other New England-based material we had lined up and they agreed to split all the releases with us! Feeding Tube, as an entity, seemed to show up just as I was leaving the area for SF, but we have had plenty of interactions since then, as their house band, Zebu!, has hosted here a couple times, and every time I’m in Mass, I buy a good deal of stuff from them, and have about 10,000,000 friends in common, so it wasn’t that difficult a partnership to have formed!

AO: Have any particular labels served as inspiration for the way you do things at Weird Ear? Either in forming the initial vision or currently?

RR: Not specifically, like, not the way I’ve seen other labels cite influences. We certainly have favorite labels, but nothing that I think of as inspiration for WER. Whenever I happen across another label that treats each release as its own thing, rather than the somewhat formulaic (though attractive) trend towards homogeneity in music or design, I feel a kinship, but didn’t start out with that intent, per se.

AO: If you're at liberty to share, what does Weird Ear have on the horizon for the new year?

RR: The Foom/Foam LP, which is another New England-based split with Feeding Tube, and is Arkm Foam and Chris Foom doing tape and turntable improv sessions which are crunchy, cloudy, and chewy by turns. An Attilo Novellino/Collin McKelvey collaborative LP shared with the Italian label, Kohlhaas, and another flexi-disc by Bay Area spaceman, Bran(…)Pos. After those, we will be taking a break from putting out physical goods for a while, as our living and financial situation is expected to be in flux sooner than later, which may see us relocating out of the Bay Area, and possibly selling everything to fund a long bike tour, before the environment collapses too much to launch such an expedition. I will briefly plug Bandcamp, as I have really enjoyed supporting independent artists on that platform, and their ‘Fan Collection’ concept has gone a ways towards fulfilling the collectors impulse, without accruing more STUFF. While on hiatus, we hope to support artists through purchases there, and looking into digital-only WER releases as well.

AO: Do you have any advice for fledgling labels or those folks out there mulling how to start their own?

RR: Start with smaller runs of things than you think you’ll be able to sell, then be prepared to focus twice as much energy on selling as you did on making the actual product. Finding distribution and getting things reviewed and into the public eye is hard, and without that, one may find oneself with back stock laying around for years… which, I always remind myself, is why we like to really take our time, so that we can stand by each record for years to come.

For more info on Weird Ear releases and Weird Ear Presents:
Weird Ear on Bandcamp
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Weird Ear on Twitter
Weird Ear on Instagram