For those folks out there who might not be familiar with Phonospheric, tell us a little about the label.
Phonospheric is a small label run by me from my home in Cardiff, UK producing CDrs in limited editions. The tag line is “Sound that surrounds” which can be interpreted in several ways, but the music usually involves areas such as ambient, drone, field recording, noise, experimental and electronica.
What made you decide to start your own label?
Having had my debut album released on the Quiet World label, it seemed unfair that other people put their heads (and money) on the line for my music. So I stuck my neck out, with great encouragement from Ian Holloway of Quiet World, and released my second album myself.
What are some of the goals for your label?
Goals? Not too loose too much money; to release a sufficient amount of interesting music to keep the label moving; to have fun; to be excellent.
What are some of the challenges you face while running the label?
Plenty of these! Not to lose too much money; to always be interesting and innovative; to keep the quality as high as possible; to fit things in with family life (I work part-time and care for my three busy teenagers); not to obstruct my own music making. Challenges are good – they stimulate.
Where do you see the label going over the next five years?
I don’t normally look that far ahead. By then, my youngest will be heading off to college (I hope) so things will be looking very different. I would hope to release two or three albums each year, from myself and others. I would hope to be, at least, breaking even financially. I am also considering digital releases, either in parallel with or after the physical releases.
What are some of the benefits to running your own label?
The benefits and disadvantages are often two sides of the same coin. I am the boss. I make the decisions. I take the profit (or, more usually, loss). I always have a potential outlet for my music, but I have to be my own quality controller and try to step back a little from my own work. One big benefit is that I also get to be involved with some wonderful, innovative musicians who stimulate and encourage me greatly.
What advice could you offer those folks out there who want to start their own label?
Do it! It’s fun! Don’t think you are going to be rich though – I am only just beginning to cover my costs after four years.
Aside from running Phonospheric, you also make your own music. What sort of musical projects / collaborations are you involved in?
Until last year, I made music on my own. I then had the fabulous privilege of working with Banks Bailey from the USA by means of file swapping and conversation leading to the release of Wrapped In Clover earlier this year. We were both very pleased with the outcome, so there is a possibility of further collaboration if we can come up with a suitable project. Solo work is ongoing still, though I have no finished project in view right now. I have not played any of this music live, so I am beginning to explore the possibilities of that. This could be very stimulating and is leading me to try lots of new instruments and techniques.
Describe your creative approach to make music.
I am an experimenter. I play with sound. Often, I am prompted by something I hear, particularly from my field recordings. When I play things back, I hear things that attract my ears, things that could be repeated, slowed down, pitched up, echoed, distorted – played with. Once something interests me, the next thought is to add something else and listen to the result. Things work, things don’t work. Results can be instant or take months of reworking. Sometimes taking things away brings something to the party. Occasionally, I know exactly what I want, but mostly it comes from experimenting and listening.
What have been some of your inspirations as an artist?
People-wise, Ian Holloway has loomed large as both inspiration and enabler. Other musical influences would include Andrew Chalk, Celer, Brian Eno, Machinefabriek… but everything I have ever heard has had influence on me, so the list could be endless. The biggest inspiration comes, though, from the world that surrounds me. I love to listen to the world through my binaural microphone rig on headphones with the volume turned up. It is the sonic equivalent of looking down a microscope – every little detail is magnified. My hearing seems to work differently to many people, in that if I am in a space with many conversations going on, I find it difficult to listen to just the conversation that I am involved with – I hear all the sounds equally. Whilst a disadvantage in everyday life, it is a great advantage as a creative listener, as someone who works with sound.
What are some of your future plans for your musical project(s)?
Nothing definite. I have several solo pieces to work on, but I don’t know where they’ll lead yet. I would love to do another collaborative project someday, and, just a distant maybe, find a way to play live. But lots of experimenting in the meantime.
What advice could you give to artists/musicians who are just starting out?
Start! To have the musical equivalent of a blank piece of paper can be daunting, so just start and see what comes of it. You can always do something differently the next time.
Listen!! It all begins with listening. Listen to your house, the street, the trees, people as well as other musicians – every sound has rhythm, pitch, timbre and dynamic in one way or another. If it interests your ears, it may well interest others
How important do you think independent music is?
I might be biased here, but I think it’s essential. Mainstream music seems to be largely based on style, image or label, driven by profit margin and doomed to repetition. Innovation comes from independence, and I love innovation.
Do you think social media has helped or hindered small labels and independent artists?
Phonospheric wouldn’t exist and I probably wouldn’t be making music without it.
What’s your opinion on the state of electronic music today?
I’m not sure I’m well placed to answer this one as I’m so involved in my own little phonospheric world. There are plenty of innovators around as well as the copyists, which is great. It disturbs me that the synth market is like the guitar market now with expensive reproductions of old models seemingly ruling the roost. However, the availability of circuit bent kit is far more encouraging, as well as suitable for my price range.
Do you feel that ambient music and its various subgenres offer a wider platform for expression?
I enjoy a great sense of freedom in my music making. Not being dependent on words to produce meaning in my work, depending on sound to elicit reaction from the listener gives me the opportunity to try anything. Not everything works, some things work for some and not others and every individual reacts in an individual way because they are not bound by convention or group mentality.
A huge thanks to Adrian Shenton of Phonospheric Records for taking part in this interview. Please check him out and the different albums his label offers. Your ears will thank you.