When getting to know someone for the first time, we gradually come to recognise the qualities, interests, and tendencies that make that person who they are at that particular point in their lives. Had we met them years earlier, in another context and under different circumstances, we may have developed a very different impression of their character. Only after knowing someone for many years do we get a sense of how they have changed, of what about them has been reshaped and what has stayed the same.
Recent discoverers of Sheffield-based label Another Timbre, perhaps through five-star reviews of releases in The Guardian or concerts organised at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, may be unaware of how its aesthetic has developed since it began in 2007. “When I started Another Timbre I was primarily interested in music that was exploring new textures and timbres (as the label name suggests),” recounts label owner Simon Reynell. “Most of the early releases featured improvised music in the tradition of AMM and/or Derek Bailey’s ‘non-idiomatic’ improvisation. But somewhere along the way I became interested in pitch, and in experimental musicians who were exploring pitch relationships in various ways — harmony, melody, modality. These were aspects of music which I had pretty much ignored for decades, but now I find that music which doesn’t engage with pitch in some way is much less interesting to me. And it’s a lot easier to explore pitch through composition than improvisation, so now most of what I release is composed (or semi-composed), and much of it could be said to be building on the experimental traditions of John Cage and Morton Feldman.”
Another Timbre can hardly be the only creative endeavour started in response to rubbish telly. But Reynell’s experience of this catalyst is perhaps an unusual one. “I was working as a sound recordist on TV documentaries, and needed a change because the quality of factual television in the UK was declining rapidly and I was getting pissed off. Although I’m not a musician, I’d been a fan of ‘avant garde’ music and free improvisation since I first came across it in my late teens back in the early 70’s. I realised that it would be more satisfying to do something in music rather than carry on in television (though I still have to do bits of TV work to pay the bills).”
The music of the Wandelweiser group of composers has played a key role in the label’s switch in focus from documentation of timbral improvisation to realisations of pitched compositions. In 2012 Reynell took a massive gamble, publishing an expansive 6-CD box set combining the work of that group with that of a younger generation who were starting to unpack some Wandelweiser ideas and run with them. This collection, along with several releases of music by the Wandelweiser composer Jürg Frey, introduced the music of the group to a whole new audience and helped establish it as one of the most influential forces in Western experimental music today.
Far from resting on his laurels, however, Reynell has continued to push the boat out and follow his aesthetic interests wherever they lead: in 2017 the label embarked on an ambitious ten-release series of music by Canadian composers, bringing work by the likes of Linda Catlin Smith, Martin Arnold, and Marc Sabat to new ears. However enamoured we are with the innovative and imaginative music being made today, there is always another timbre, another music, to be explored; it’s Reynell’s consistent acknowledgement of this fact that remains perhaps the defining characteristic of his label.
LABEL NAME: Another Timbre
LABEL OWNER: Simon Reynell
FIRST RELEASE: “Tempestuous” by John Butcher, Xavier Charles & Axel Dörner (2007)
“In 2012 I produced a 6-CD box set called ‘Wandelweiser und so weiter’, which built on the growing interest in the hushed soundworld of the Wandelweiser composers (Michael Pisaro, Antoine Beuger, Jürg Frey, Eva-Maria Houben etc) among musicians who had previously worked mainly in improvisation. It was a big project, and I thought it might bankrupt the label, but in the event it appeared at just the right time and sold very well. Its success both marked the label’s transition away from pure improvisation towards composed and semi-composed music, and provided a financial surplus which I could draw on to support future projects.
“Then a couple of years later in 2014 I released a double CD of chamber works by the UK composer Laurence Crane. This was the first time that I’d put out an album which only contained completely through-composed music (as opposed to ‘open’ scores that allow the musicians some freedom of interpretation). Laurence has an incredible ear for harmony, and I think his music is very beautiful, but it doesn’t offer a lot for people who like challenging textural noises or who prefer dissonance to harmony. It has done well (I recently had to re-press it) and it certainly helped establish Another Timbre within the contemporary classical community, but I think that for a lot of people who had liked the label’s early output, it was a bridge too far. Some of them would probably say that the label has lost its way with its move towards work that engages more with pitch than timbre.
“It’s difficult for a label to change direction in this way, and I know that some people have been disappointed, but — as I don’t take any money from the label — it only makes sense for me to run Another Timbre if it closely follows the shifts in my taste and releases the music I like best at the time. I didn’t plan or anticipate that I’d become more interested in experiments in pitch rather than timbre, but that is what has happened, so I have to go with it.”
“Most experimental musicians haven’t had their egos inflated by becoming either rich or famous, so they are usually pretty humble and down-to-earth people who will welcome anyone expressing interest in their music. So if there is someone whose music I like enough to want to produce a CD with them, I don’t hold back from approaching them, and usually it works out. I’m always listening out for new musicians, but there’s no-one who stands out as being someone who I’d like to work with but haven’t yet approached.”
CHANGES AND CHALLENGES:
“Things have certainly changed in relation to the covers and artwork. I’m not a very visual person, and when I started the label I thought that the music was absolutely the only thing that mattered. I was slipshod about the covers, and they were all over the place in terms of design. My son is a graphic designer, and he did the technical work preparing the covers for the printers, but he was always complaining that the covers looked rubbish. Some of the musicians made comments suggesting that weren’t very happy either, so in the end I said to my son: go on, design me a simple template for the covers. Something that will look distinctive but be simple enough that musicians can just slot in images if they have a particular photo or painting that they want to use on the front cover. He did a design, and I have used it for the past 6 years because even I can see that the covers look much better and now help give the label a clearer identity.
“I’m not a natural businessman and I have struggled to promote the label as well as I should. It doesn’t come easily to me to push the music I love onto other people, especially as I believe that musical taste is 100% subjective and nothing is objectively ‘better’ than anything else. In the end perhaps most people into experimental music respect honesty more than commercial acumen and sales-talk, so it doesn’t need to be the death knell for the label, but there are still lots of things I could do better in this respect.”
MOST SATISFYING ASPECT:
“Easy question! The bits I like best are working with the musicians while planning and — above all — recording the music, then editing it afterwards. To be honest, all the other sides of running a label are pretty boring compared with that.”
The latest batch of Another Timbre releases, including music by Magnus Granberg, John Cage, and a trio of Cyril Bondi, Pierre-Yves Martel, and Christoph Schiller, will be released on 8th May 2018.