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Friday, December 15

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Transmission
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Feature Thu Jun 28 2007

Nihilist Records - Convulsing to be Clever

Just like Andre Breton, who famously declared, "Beauty will be convulsive, or will not be at all," Andy Ortmann doesn't make records just so you can go and mindlessly enjoy them. His label is called Nihilist Records, after all, not "Let's Have a Friendly Chat over Cupcakes Records."

Actually, it's not that he doesn't want you to like his life's work; you just have to realize that a person who wants to sell you a cassette of challenging and abrasive electronic music that just happens to be packaged with a real pig's ear has a different take on the concept of "satisfying purchase" than your average DIY label.

NihilistLogo.jpg

Despite the caveat, Nihilist releases always show top-notch attention to detail and presentation, visually and sonically. Whether it is the white vinyl pouch that encloses the Sterile CD (by Andy's long-running musical project Panicsville) or the beautiful marbled vinyl and specially die-cut cover (so the vinyl protrudes at one end) for the Runzelstirn & Gurgelstock LP (confusingly titled Runzelstock & Gurgelstirn), the strong visuals outside always match the deliberate grime and disease of the confrontational sounds inside. And that's no mean feat when your label roster includes oft-arrested French performance artists, Swiss maniacs, and a band featuring former members of Drunks with Guns.

Andy and I had a friendly chat over cupcakes, during which he was quite forthcoming about the inner machinations of his cottage industry.

Gapers Block: What is Nihilist Records all about? What is its guiding principal? What sorts of things would you want someone to know about the label who has not heard any of the releases?

Andy Ortmann, Nihilist Records: Nihilist's purpose is the furthering of the work of likeminded artists working in the realms of transgressive, experimental and the avant garde. Those who are unfamiliar do not need previous training or explanations.

GB: About a month ago, Nihilist just put out seven new releases. Could you tell us a bit about them?

AO: Sure…

M.O.A.C./Power Circus split cassette. This tape is forty minutes of two girls who live in the USA. M.O.A.C. (aka Mystic Occult and Ceremony) is from Japan and lives in the Boston area. She composes classical piano and also plays severe digital electronic music. Power Circus utilizes a variety of electronic devices as well as her voice to create haunting and abstract soundscapes. She also happens to be a talented hairstylist and body suspension enthusiast.

Michael Roulade - Naem cassette. Roulade is an extremely prolific character, so much so in fact that he had a release titled Kataloug, a CD documenting the cover art & technical information for his first 98 releases! His work spans the genres of country, death metal, experimental, musique concrete, and some styles that have yet to be categorized. Naem is his first release on Nihilist, although he has been a long-time collaborator, providing artwork and audio on Panicsville releases through the years. Roulade has been a direct and obvious influence on much of my own work.

Thurston Moore/Graham Moore split LP. Here we have two label CEOs going head-to-head and toe-to-toe. Thurston wrenches some dreadful noise out of his six string (I think it’s a guitar). On the flip side, Graham flaunts his flair for pairing compositional and Absurdist traditions of sound.

Shattered Hymen - Surrounded by Wolves cassette. Absolutely vicious, brutal electronic assault (with an ultra-hyper digital twist) from this Chicago composer. I saw him perform at the Empty Bottle several months ago, and his set damn near ripped my face off; I knew I had to do a release with him. He also performs under his own name, Vadim Sprikut.

Panicsville - Death II cassette. The second in an ongoing series of ultra-limited editions (5 copies only), Death II documents rare and unreleased tracks, plus a show from our '06 UK tour. All copies are packaged with a dead animal.

Nondor Nevai - The Best of…cassette. This is a collection of the most astonishing highlights of Nevai's bizarre career (courtesy of one Weasel Walter ). From the liner notes: "Nevai has manipulated the very fabric of reality to create his work, and as a result, documentation has been scarce. Much of his legend exists thusfar in the domain of oral history and rumors. Equal parts GG Allin, Otto Meuhl, Andy Kaufman, Kim Fowley, Ted Kaczynski, Charles Ives, Gurdjieff and Dennis Hopper. Nevai has fucked with death and survived so many times we must regard him as superhuman. What you will hear on this release are the ravings of a madman, drunken with lucidity." - Weasel Walter

Anti-Ear - Arms-Legs cassette. Anti-Ear is based in Oakland, California, and is one half of the experimental noise duo Tarantism, although perhaps more importantly for our purposes here, he is Anti-Ear. Live shows exemplify a natural talent for performance, as well as a knack for audience-challenging compositions. Every copy is packaged with a real pig ear.

GB: One of the releases is a split LP between Thurston Moore and Graham Moore. I'm guessing many of our readers have heard of Thurston Moore and know what he does, but could you tell us a bit about Graham Moore? What is his side of the record like? Apart from identical surnames, what is it about these two sides that makes them work well as a unified LP?

AO: Graham runs the fantastic label Blossoming Noise out of the Atlanta area. His music falls somewhere between collage and noise, making use of organic found sounds for the basis of his recordings. His contribution for the split LP is made up of body sounds and piercing frequencies thoughtfully edited together along with machine-like hums and interwoven violin duels; it’s real ear candy. I wasn’t sure what to expect before I received masters form these two, and was pleasantly surprised with how different the two sides sound stylistically.

GB: A few years back, you introduced the release of cassette tapes as a major part of your label. Why now?

AO: Good question. The main reason was that I wanted to do smaller editions with more artists, and as expensive as manufacturing vinyl and CDs is, it seemed that cassettes were an obvious alternative. It’s nice to be able to move a title right away to make room for future projects.

NihilistTapes.jpg

From left: Michael Roulade, Naem cassette; Nondor Nevai, The Best of Nondor Nevai cassette; Anti-Ear, Arms-Legs cassette

GB: Several Nihilist releases have been funded by arts grants from the City of Chicago. Do you have any other releases currently on hold, earmarked for future arts funding? What advice would you give to someone trying to explore this avenue of revenue generation?

AO: Actually, I have a new solo CD that I was just funded for - it should be out this Fall. It's going to be an eight-channel Surround Sound CD (tentatively titled Octagonist).I also have some bigger plans for sculptural works that will require outside funding. As far as advice goes, I would suggest getting informed and being aware of what types of grants are available. The internet is a great place to start. I would also stress the importance of documenting and building a body of work, which will help increase your chances of getting money.

GB: Tell me a bit about the three tribute albums you've released. Each release contains a selection of experimental noise musicians "covering" the works of the B-52s (Wigs on Fire!, a 2CD set), Madonna (Kausing a Kommotion), and ABBA (Masters of the Scene). Tell me about your relationship to these three bands. Are these done as loving tributes, or harsh mockeries? Do you have a sense of whether most of the participants who contributed felt that their tracks represent pats on the back or nails in the coffin?

AO: As far as the tributes go, the plan was to execute a trilogy of super pop groups revolving around blonde female vocalists. The Madonna CD was the first of the bunch, involving artists like The Haters, Sleep Chamber and Masonna. My only stipulations for these compilations were for the groups to "cover" a song however they saw fit. My intentions were completely sincere and devoid of mockery. I am an obvious fan of each of these projects and had a lot of fun doing these CDs. A few years ago, I was contacted by the B-52's' manager, telling me that the band had heard the comp and totally loved it. (I was to also send them personal copies!) I don’t have the foggiest idea as to what is going on in the minds of contributors…

GB: Which of your currently out of print releases from the label would you recommend that people scour eBay for first? Are any of these releases scheduled for a repress?

AO: I would tell people to keep an eye open for the first Panicsville LP, Four Notes in Search of a Tune (a very limited edition of 100 copies from 1996). As far as re-releases go, we’ll be doing a double CD pro-press edition of the Schimpfluch Int. boxset that was released a few months back. Rudolf was so pleased with the final edition that we all agreed the world deserves more than the mere 100 copies that were sold out before they were even publicly released (via pre-orders).

GB: Finally, I know you just had a big new release onslaught, but I have to ask the standard final question here: What's next for Nihilist?

AO: Nihilist the label: The next wave of releases will include: a split LP betwixt Irr. App. (Ext.) and Panicsville; a collaborative LP of John Wiese and Kevin Drumm; a Michael Roulade 10 cassette boxset; an Oakeater LP; an Auk Theater-Irene Moon LP; Beau Wanzer’s debut cassette, in addition to a Wanzer/Fashion Dictator split LP; a Permanent Midnight LP, entitled The Power of Aesthetics; a three-way collab LP between SIXES, Panicsville and Loach Fillet; a Workbench/Raglani split LP; the aforementioned Andy Ortmann Octagonist CD; and the six-years-in-the-making Evil Moisture/Panicsville collaboration LP!

Nihilist the space/venue/compound: is relocating after six or so years of South Loop solitude (2255 S. Michigan Avenue, #4E) to a more centralized Chicago location…like we care.

More information, including ordering instructions and sound samples, can be found at the Nihilist website, http://www.nihilistrecords.net.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »

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