The very first thing that I noticed was Ian Curtis half-face emerging among the other CDs. It’s the box “Heart and Soul”. That band is the turning point in musical listening for so many people (including me), especially for those that somehow developed a sort of ‘melancholic taste’. So Joy Division meant a lot to you, as a boy, as they did for many other people? Do you still find traces of their music in what you still like and play?
Yes, being a teenager in the 80s I was extremely influenced, mostly by New Order, but also Joy Division as well. I think I was drawn to New Order a bit more due to the more electronic sound which was captivating me so much. I attribute so much of the melodic portions of my work to the simple melodies from these bands. They were not very complicated but somehow very effective. Also, music from early OMD and Cocteau Twins was also very influential. And these releases and labels very much made me get interested in graphic design as well and especially the idea that a label (such as Factory or 4AD) could play such an identity role on the music. 12k is very especially influenced by Factory in this way. The idea of label as curator, label as visual identity and a cohesive sound. Peter Saville is probably my biggest graphic design influence. While I loved the work of Vaughn Oliver and 4AD, graphically it was always a bit different from my style, which tended to be more minimalist.
I agree, as I always related 12k (and even more _ine) to minimalism. But it’s a hard term to be defined somehow. In an interview here, the Chinese artist and musician Yan Jun said “Minimalism in art smells very bourgeois nowadays”. What do you think about it?
I could give a fuck about what the “art world” thinks of “minimalism” because they’re looking at it from a marketing perspective. To me “minimalism” is largely a personal state of mind, or ethos. I like things to be uncluttered and I appreciate function *and* form together as one. I dislike ugly, complicated functional objects and dislike beautiful objects that don’t work well. I don’t like needless decoration or anything overly dramatic. I like pureness of form which leads to a pureness of thought. I like simplicity and dislike when things get overly bureaucratic. To me, that’s what minimalism is about, whether it’s art, music or the way you decorate your home.
Well, let’s move to where all these cardboard boxes are stored! I guess these are the unpacked 12k releases, right? This somehow reminded me the house of Stefano Isidoro Bianchi [editor in chief of Blow Up, an Italian music magazine], that stores all the copies of the mag in his lounge, then he ships out personally all the packages. This means being devoted to music at the point that the house is overwhelmed by stuff. Is it the same for you? Do you manage personally every 12k issue also in terms of packing and so?
Yes, this is a small storage space in my house where I keep the 12k inventory. Boxes of CDs and vinyl, packing materials, archives, etc. I also have a shelf in another room where I fulfil orders where I keep a number of each available releases ready to pull easily, without needing to go into the boxes in the inventory room. So, yes, I personally manage every order that comes in and goes out. I pack them all up, tape them, post them. I like to think that my music collection is not just a lot of other music I listen to but also the collection that takes up much of my time managing!
I see no LPs. Finally someone like me that is not that much into vinyl… or you are, but you didn’t take photos of them?
I forgot to photograph the LP collection! I will send other pictures [see hereunder then] I have fewer LPs now than I did when I was younger, but am buying (and producing) more now. I keep the LPs upstairs in the living room where the turntable is as it’s often the way we listen to music in the house. I feel very strongly that music releases should have a physical counterpart. There is simply no soul in a download. The listening public has spoken fairly loudly that they aren’t interested in CDs anymore, but while I will still release some CDs we’re also doing more vinyl and will probably do some cassettes for fun. I have to be fluid with the label and release the formats that people will actually want to buy. I hope one day CDs become a fashion again because vinyl production is slow, expensive and prone to so many problems.
You’re not the first one saying this! We all know that the fucking market drives the tastes of people, but this “DL vs. CD vs. LP” war is making musicians and labels crazy sometimes. What are the formats that suits your ‘heart’, let’s say, as a customer, as a musician, as a label manager and as a graphic designer and photographer?
I think the CD hits the sweet spot between availability of space for graphics, easy shipping, trouble-free production and collectibility. LP art is bigger, but i don’t always see that as better… and the production of LPs is such at a low right now, quality control and turnaround times are terrible. Also, shipping of LPs is just about prohibitively expensive. It costs me over $23 to ship one LP to a customer overseas and I only charge $22 for it… so I lose money on each ship and don’t charge the customer for the cost of my packing materials, either. Vinyl is a barely-break-even format at the level 12k is at. Fortunately, I don’t find the CD to be “dead” either. I sell more CDs than I do vinyl. Downloads and streams beat them both, however.
That being said, as a label I sort of have to cater to whatever the listening public wants at any particular point in time. Sure, an industry without streaming would be much healthier, I feel, but if listeners want to stream, in large numbers, I would be doing my artists a dis-service not to offer it, as long as the artist was OK with it. I greatly respect labels and releases that forego any sort of online digital/streaming release, there is beauty in that. To continue functioning as a label, though, I need to move and flow with the times, to a point. I suppose one bright spot in today’s market is that there are more formats to choose from. Listeners still like CD, some like LP, some download, some stream and some like cassettes. It’s pretty cool to conceive of a project specifically to take advantage of one of these formats’ strengths. It’s definitely a pain to juggle different formats, to present and sell them… someone always asks “Hey, great that this is on vinyl, but I don’t buy vinyl, are you doing a CD of it?” Unfortunately, the label can’t really afford to do multiple physical formats for each release, but at least the option is there as a choice for the artists and to work it into their concept. We’re not going to see a fundamental switch away from online and streaming, at least in the foreseeable future, so the best is to just go with the flow. It’s the music that’s most important, after all, regardless of how the listeners want to experience it.
Taylor Deupree is a sound artist whose recordings have appeared on numerous record labels, and well as in site-specific installations at such institutions as the ICC (Tokyo, Japan) and the Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media (Yamaguchi, Japan). He is a prolific collaborator, having collaborated with the likes of Ryuichi Sakamoto, David Sylvian, Stephan Mathieu, Stephen Vitiello, Christopher Willits, Kenneth Kirschner, Frank Bretschneider, Richard Chartier, Savvas Ysatis, Tetsu Inoue and others.
In 1997 he founded the record label 12k, which since then has released over 100 recordings by some of the most accomplished musicians and modern sound artists of our time. The cover jackets to the 12k album releases have served as an ongoing exhibit of Deupree’s photography, its lo-fi aesthetic.
Photo by Marcus Fischer.