Simon Reynell (interview)
di Raffaele Mastrovincenzo

Firstly, i would love to ask to you when you started to manage this outstanding label and also you are the only one working in this project or there are a team of people helping you?
I set up Another Timbre during 2007 (the first batch of discs was released in November that year). I have been a fan of avant-garde & improvised music since my late teens (almost 40 years ago now). For decades my interest in the music was purely as someone who bought a lot of discs which he listened to in private (I knew very very few people who shared my enthusiasm). I worked as a sound recordist on television documentaries. But around 5 years ago (a) my children started to leave home, which gave me more spare time, and (b) I got very disillusioned with the way television was changing. I no longer felt committed to or fulfilled by the work I did, and needed something else in my life. So I decided to start the label, and began talking to musicians and other people who ran labels (Richard Pinnell at Cathnor, Eddie Prevost at Matchless and Martin Davidson at Emanem). I was aware from the start that it wouldn’t make any money – I still need to work in television to pay the bills – but I hoped that if I ran it well it would just about break even financially, which it now does. For better or for worse I run it on my own. Half the discs are things that musicians have sent to me, and half are things that I have initiated and record myself. I love the planning, recording and editing, but the administrative work and distribution is very boring work. My son (who is a graphic designer) kindly helps with the artwork for the covers, and I sometimes use other people to help make my mind up about a piece of music if I’m not sure if it’s strong enough to be worth releasing, but apart from that I do everything myself.

What's does it mean when you say that half the discs are things that you have initiated and recorded yourself - my understanding is that you invited the musicians to record their session and then you applied the editing or?
Yes, that's right: I set up a recording session with musicians I've invited, and I record them and then later edit the material in discussion with the musicians.

How do you manage such many nice musicians from such a big distance between Europe, U.S. and Asia too, like you have released "David Toop, Michael Pisaro, Bhob Rainey, Toshimaru Nakamura and so on" were they all of your friends or did you just start to contact them and slowly it filtered on through to other musicians too. Can you tell us, please?
Before I started the label I hardly knew any musicians, beyond having seen them perform live. But it's very easy to make initial contact with people through email - and most musicians have websites these days. Generally the musicians are very happy to be approached about the possibility of releasing a disc of their music! Now I have met almost all the prominent improvisers in the UK, many of those in Germany and France, and a handful from other continents - especially if they happen to have performed in the UK in the last 4 years. But it's quite possible to release a disc by a musician without ever actually meeting them, and there are several musicians who have released music on Another Timbre who I've never met: Michael Pisaro, Sophie Agnel, Bhob Rainey, Ernst Karel, Magda Mayas, Martine Altenburger and so on. I obviously get to know people when I record them, but now that the label is established, I'm often sent demos by improvising musicians from all corners of the world who I've never met.
And one thing I'd like to add is that in the vast majority of cases the musicians in this area of music are very pleasant people who are straightforward and easy to deal with. There's not nearly so many painful egos as I meet through my work in television.

On the homepage of the website A.T. there are some recommendations from other labels, one of that is Salvatore Sciarrino. Because I'm an Italian what do you think about our old composer like Luciano Berio, Bruno Maderna, Luigi Nono, Morricone ecc.. and the way they taught contemporary music and electronic music too, and also with their collaboration and influence from other international musician from Europe and U.S.A.?
As well do you have some old favorite composer you'll be grateful to know ?

My interest in "avant-garde" music began by listening to records of contemporary classical music, and I still keep in touch with developments in that area, though most of what I listen to now has at least an element of improvisation, and that is the primary area that Another Timbre deals with. Many people who discovered improvisation in the 70's and 80's came to it from a jazz background, but that wasn't the case with me at all. For me contemporary classical music was the starting point and I'm particularly interested in music which crosses over the boundaries between contemporary composition and improvisation. Many of the releases on Another Timbre occupy this no-man's land between those two worlds.
As for Italian composers, yes over the years some of them have been a huge influence on me and the way I listen to music. In fact it would be hard to think of another country that has produced so many composers that have been important for me. Of the ones you mention, Berio was one of the first contemporary composers I discovered as a teenager back in the 1970's, and was a firm favourite at the time. Now I don't listen to his music very often, and find some of it perhaps a bit too lyrical, but I nonetheless still have a strong nostalgic attachment to the works I heard at that time: Sinfonia, Visage, Laborintus II etc.
Maderna is someone I also have a great deal of respect for, although again I don't listen to his music very often these days. But as a teenager I was very keen and once traveled to Manchester to see him conduct a concert of post-Darmstadt music. It can only have been about a year before he died.
Nono has been a more lasting influence, and alongside Cage and Lachenmann he is still one of the most important composers for me today. I liked his radical early works from the 50's and 60's, but what really hit home was hearing his late music for the first time. I only discovered his works that use live electronics on radio broadcasts immediately following his death, and it was a revelation for me.
It felt like this was the music that I had been wanting to listen to for at least a decade, and it was amazing to discover that someone had actually been exploring this area all that time. I was transfixed, and immediately got hold of as much of it as possible. If I could afford it, I would happily release any of the few remaining works of his that have never been released on disc, but sadly that's not possible financially. But the disc 'nella basilica' that features improvisations by Roberto Fabbriciani and Robin Hayward is for me like a secret homage to Nono. Roberto was of course both a great friend of Nono and one of the leading interpreters of his late music, and he and Robin met while playing a concert of one of Nono's works. Much of the music on that disc (which is one of my favourites on the AT catalogue) sounds to my ears like "liquid Nono", and many of the sounds both musicians are using are similar to the kind of sonic world Nono was exploring in his late music. It's beautiful stuff.
And the other major Italian composer from the last century whose work has influenced the way I listen to music deeply is Giacinto Scelsi. The way he conceived sound as a static, shifting, shimmering block as opposed to one component in a melodic line or rhythmic pattern is very close to the way in which many improvisers today approach sound. Again I probably don't tend to play his music that often any more, but there is something about his exploration of sound, and his way of conceiving what music is that feels very contemporary.
And in a different way Sciarrino counts for something too. His soundworld of whispers, rustles and shadows is often beautifully achieved. In fact the insect-like, crepuscular mood of his music is similar to the effect of much of the improvised music that I love best and release on Another Timbre.
Then Franco Evangelisti also deserves a mention, especially for his work in establishing the Gruppo di Nuova Consonanza. They were the group he created once he decided in the early 60's to abandon explore improvisation and abandon composition. And what an amazing group they were. They brought together some extremely good composers (including Morricone and Mario Bertoncini) and were way ahead of their time in the way that they developed a structured form of improvising that explored a soundworld closer to contemporary classical music than jazz (though there are certainly jazz influences in there as well). Their LP on Deutsche Grammophon must have been one of the first discs of improvised music that I bought - at roughly the same time as I got my first Derek Bailey album - and it still sounds fantastic to my ears.
I should also mention Osvaldo Coluccino, a young Italian composer I only recently discovered. He sent me a couple of discs of his music and I was deeply impressed by his minimalist acoustic works. He's definitely one to watch.

Now, because personally I find A.T. on the web and I bought the Cd directly from it's own website. I would love to know, how you manage the purchase orders? do you have a distributor in a few countries or it is an online label only?
There are still a few distributors dealing with the kind of music I release on Another Timbre, and I do deal with a handful of these. However many of them are struggling because of the sharp decline in cd sales in all areas of music. Increasingly people who do still buy cd's seem happy to buy directly from the label's website, which is better financially for us. For me the pleasure I get from the fact that there are people in various corners of the world who actually want to hear the music outweighs the slightly tedious side of packing up small orders and taking them to the post office.

I'm interested in your consideration about the radical free european jazz, I understood you like Derek Baley, and I understand you don't come from a jazz background. However my opinion behind the radical european jazz refer to Peter Brotzmann, Alexander von Schlippenbach and the later new composer like the Polwechsel and many more, I think they are more closer to music from improvisation and composition than afro american free jazz. As well I reckon another area really interesting from the States could be the music behind Anthony Braxton and so on, which I think they cross these two words; composition - improvisation...
I'd like to hear your opinion..

Yes that grey area between improvisation and composition is one that fascinates me, though - as you know - more at the classical end than free jazz. But yes, in as much as I have enjoyed jazz-based players, it has been European musicians more than US-based ones. Derek Bailey, Evan Parker & Paul Lytton, Gunther Christmann and Paul Lovens - I listened to all of these a lot as a student and still have a lot of LP's by them - though they're pretty scratched by now, so i hardly play them! And then there's the following generation of European improvisers (my generation!) - people like John Butcher, Thomas Lehn, Michel Doneda - these I like a lot. But then they and groups like Polwechsel have probably moved one step further away from jazz. The next batch of Another Timbre discs, which is just ready to go to the pressing plant, features several of these players of the 50's generation (Lehn, Doneda, Sophie Agnel, Birgit Ulher, Christoph Schiller). To some extent it's quite a nostalgic set of releases for me because I have followed several of these musicians as their music has developed over 2 or 3 decades, and I feel very comfortable with the soundworld they occupy - even when they're pushing at the limits and exploring new areas.
As for Anthony Braxton: I have a lot of respect for him, and like his attempts to move out from his free jazz origins and take on board sometimes complex and difficult strategies for composition. You're right that of all the US jazz-based improvisers, I am probably most interested in what he's going to do next - though he's so prolific that it's hard to keep up! And I still like the LP's he made in the 1970's when he first met Derek Bailey; you can hear a real rapport there which worked straightaway - even on the tracks that were their first rehearsals.