If the Music Won't Come to Mohammed...

By refusing to wait around to be discovered—and, instead, taking the dissemination of their music into their own hands—OR joins the legions of DIY mini-moguls putting out their own CDs. Herewith, some hints on how to—yep—do it yourself.

There are several ways to go about making your own CD. You can do as much of it as you can on your own, which means overseeing the different steps of production for the disc itself, designing the artwork, printing the covers and inlay cards, purchasing and assembling the plastic cases, etc. Or, you can go with a company that will assemble the whole shebang for you. Many companies specialize in this; DiscMakers is among the most reputable. Another company, CRT, located near Nashville (not surprisingly, Nashville has many music manufacturers who are willing to work on small jobs, offers the following: "From start to finish, or anywhere in between, CRT will manufacture your compact disc, cassettes, CD ROMs, and also print all related graphics that you will need." You will pay a premium to use a company like this, however.

For extremely low runs of a CD, you might even consider hooking up a CD-R to a computer and burning your own one-offs. The advantage to this is that the music on each disc can be personalized. If all you wanted on Earth was to be signed by a record label, you could sing a personal love song to Mr. Geffen on one disc, add a howdy-do to Mr. Sony on another, and include bonus-tracked alt.country anthems on the CD you send to Bloodshot.

Which method of duplication is best for you depends on your budget and how much of a control freak you are. A good way to research CD replication places is on the Internet. The Nerd World site has links to manufacturers of compact discs at www.nerdworld.com/nw6075.html.

The smaller the run of CDs, the more they'll cost per disc, and the less chance you'll have of recouping the money invested in the disc. For a first CD on your own label, even if the band has huge commercial potential, the best you can hope for is to recoup. The Internet newsgroup alt.music.independent usually has updated news on distributors going under, and if you post a question about which are the most reputable, you're likely to get an honest, helpful response with contact information from others who are a little bit farther ahead in the small label game.

Most stores and distributors nowadays want you to have bar codes. To get your own bar code (recommended if you'll have regularly scheduled releases) assigned by the Uniform Code Council, call for an application kit. Or, if you've researched the situation and decided to use the Cortical Foundation, a low-cost replicator who specializes in small runs, they charge $550 for pressing up 500 discs, and charge $200 extra to master it, which is a pretty great price.

For more detailed advice, you should check out Simple Machines Records' infamous DIY bible "The Mechanic's Guide To Putting Out Records." It details every step of the process, from pressing to artwork to distribution and copyrighting information. They even provide rough cost estimates and tons of contact names, addresses, and phone numbers. Plus, they're always updating it, so you'll be on top of the game.

Not every self-released record loses money. And some little labels go on to sell themselves to a major label and make their owners' millions of bucks. When in school, I knew the people who ran Matador records. They struggled to build things up with investment money from one of the principals' parents. There were days when they got locked out of their offices because they hadn't paid the rent, choosing instead to press the first Pavement LP. Luckily for them, that record and others sold really well. They currently don't have to worry about paying the rent or whether or not to buy a Land Rover or an Infiniti. They can just buy both. If you're starting a label because you believe in the music you're putting out—whether it's your own music, your friends', or some band that plays in the bar down the street that you just think is just the greatest—if you're doing it because you really believe in the music, then you'll be satisfied to just make the music available to people. Just don't expect to make any money, and concentrate on recouping by keeping detailed records of everything and on top of anybody who owes you money. That way, if you do make money, it's totally icing on the cake. And perhaps you'll decide to put the money back into a second release—then you'll have your own label! I

DiscMakers: 1-800-468-9353

CRT: 1-800-453-2533

Uniform Code Council: 1-800-543-8137

Cortical Foundation: 310-317-4262, or e-mail [email protected]

For the most recent edition of "The Mechanic's Guide To Putting Out Records," send $4 to: Simple Machines, P.O. Box 10290, Arlington, VA, 22210-1290

The music of OR has thrived in a vacuum; how will it fare on the international post-rock scene?

by Mike McGonigal

"In hindsight, Krautrock was not remotely 'hippy' in its modern post-punk definition. It was soaringly idealistic and hard as nails. This Kosmische Musik was played by painted freaks and longhairs whose attitude had never left the idealism or the communes/collectives of the mid-1960s. Krautrock's heart was still in the MC5's guitars and the White Panthers' civil insurrection of 1969 Detroit, and the sheer moment of Andy Warhol's 1966 Exploding Plastic Inevitable...If I had been a young German in the 1960s, I would have played Krautrock or died. No way could I have lived with the knowledge that my parents' generation had had dealings in a crime beyond Biblical proportions...Krautrock transcended this and more. Because it had to."
—Musician/author Julian Cope, from his fact-crammed KRAUTROCKSAMPLER (Head Heritage,1996).

The post-rock musicians (i.e., Tortoise, Red Red Meat, Rex, Him, Unwound, Gastr del Sol, Labradford, Spectrum, Mouse on Mars, Aerial-M, and Turn-On) are a generation of post-grunge artists who question the validity, the whole pretense, of "exposing their innermost thoughts and ideas" through music. Unlike punk rock and hippy music, post-rock doesn't propose strict judgments, opinions, or values. The music is in between rock and not-rock, structured and unstructured music, exploring the tensions in these in-between places.

The music of these post-rockers is first and foremost influenced by the discovery of "Krautrock," from the perspective of having first been raised on "classic" FM rock in the '70s. In the '80s, these musicians' ears were opened to alternatives by indie-rock groups like the Minutemen, Sonic Youth, Black Flag, Sun City Girls, Uzi, and the Meat Puppets. Krautrock encompasses the psychedelia-inspired sounds created by a handful of forward-thinking German rock bands during the late '60s and early '70s: Can's funky ethno-trance, Faust's dadaistic collage-happy soundscapes, and Kraftwerk's rigid, fast-

car-driving, early electro, Teutonic micro-groove. This incredibly exciting sound is characterized by music that is by turns heavy, visceral, and spacily ethereal. The ideal Krautrock effortlessly achieves all at once. A trance-inducing use of repetition helps root rhythms in the body. The use of droning keyboard, jet engine guitar, Teutonic folk violin, experimental flute-playing, transcendental singing, and otherworldly, electronic oscillations help guide the music steadily toward the astral plain.

Kraftwerk's Trans-Europe Express is the bridge from utopian Krautrock to dystopian industrial music, where machines are seen in a less liberating way. Fueled by the fires of punk rock in the '70s and early '80s, the envelope of acceptable sound was pushed much farther towards pure noise. Several chief exponents of this were Lou Reed's feedback composition Metal Machine Music, the advanced British group Throbbing Gristle, and later the supra-cacophonous German ensemble Einsturzende Neubauten. The uncompromising music of these musicians still makes Trent Reznor sound like the Bowie-wannabe he is, playing in a sandbox of half-baked, recycled musical ideas.

Which brings us back to OR...sounding like a crazy super-psychedelic whirling dervish rock outfit one minute, they can come on like delicate sound-scientists the next. What they're doing is fundamentally vital and really clued in to the international "post-rock" (a dumb term if ever there was one, but I didn't come up with it so don't blame me) movement. OR's music is a strong counterpart to this vital, exciting, intentionally messed-up sound. Like other interesting, savvy rock-based groups today, OR builds samples of sounds they create themselves, looping and playing them towards infinity. This group has thrived in the abject disregard of Knoxville's music scene. But Knoxville's finest, who gig for free regularly, will likely no longer be a secret, because, with funding from an anonymous backer, they've put together 10 tracks which they will have pressed up and sold as their first CD.

"What's good about Knoxville is obvious—if you suck, no one's there to see you suck," says guitarist/vocalist Scott Key.

"Well, 30 people are there to see us suck, on average," sampler Martin Beeler says. Thirty? "It's 30, yeah!"

But there was that show at Mercury...

"That was definitely less than 30," drummer John Talbird answers. "We cleared the place out," Beeler explains. "We looked up at the end and it was eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee (makes a flat-line noise)."

"As far as Knoxville, it's just where I live," Talbird says. "I don't feel 'good' or 'bad' about it. I like Knoxville as a small college town, but I don't think it's really beneficial for an experimental band as far as people's acceptance. I think that there's a nice, small group of people that appreciate experimental or nontraditional music forms, but I don't think there's a lot of people interested in coming to see it."

"We could be living in Chicago and we would have the same overall percentage of music-goers at our shows," Key explains. "It would be more people coming, but it would still be the same group of hipster/nerds. I would be just more miserable. I lived in Chicago to go to the Art Institute and didn't like it at all; there was no real socialization there. When it comes to certain kinds of art, it doesn't matter where you're creating it. We could be in Lenoir City once we had the thing down. You could be any kind of band in Knoxville, and people don't show up. It's different only if you've got hype associated with you, which usually involves having gone somewhere, gotten a contract, and returned as the conquering heroes."

"I think our music is really accessible to people from all kinds of music backgrounds and all kinds of tastes," Talbird says.

Talbird has a lot to do with why OR's sound works. He's got this metronomic thing going on; he has a style, an easily-recognizable groove that gives their recorded music a distinct flavor. Talbird describes it: "When the band was just a duo with Key and me in the beginning, I would change things all the time—change the tempo a lot, speed it up, slow it down. It was easier to suddenly change tempo with two people, especially because he might not always be playing rhythmically. But with the three of us, it's limited what I could do in that kind of way. I agree, I do get into a groove. And really, each piece is just one rhythm with variations on it throughout the whole seven or eight or 15 minutes, whatever the piece is."

Key's guitar tactics are unlike most other guitar players; it's distinctively droning, holding one note for a long time. He says it's because "I don't know how to play," but that's humble pie. Key listens to a lot of traditional, ethnic music from Norway, India, and Japan. "In any other band, I wouldn't be able to play this way. It's very rhythmic, the way I play. I saw this thing about Bo Diddley recently, and he said, 'I was always listening to the drummers; I was trying to do the drum parts on the guitar.' Having always played with Talbird, I can really respond to what he's doing; there's a total dialogue going on there." Key will also occasionally use an old, beat-up Casio keyboard to sample the group's live playing, then play it back through an amp.

So what does Beeler do? "Twiddling knobs, buddy!" he says. In a live show, he sometimes samples pre-recorded tapes of the group playing, while they're playing. Beeler mixes the sampling with directly playing cassettes, CDs ("Things I can get a good clear sustained sound out of, like minimalist stuff—Terry Riley, Messaien organ music, film soundtracks—I try to make them unrecognizable, through EQ and delay, and just running it through my crummy equipment changes it a lot"), a mixer, a keyboard, and a little bit of guitar.

To paraphrase venerable jazz bassist/composer Charles Mingus, when music strays too far from song and dance, it can really suck. I personally need my experimental sounds to be tempered by some palatable combination of rhythm and/or melody; OR feels the same way. As Beeler says, "We're not a noise band." So what kind of music are they? "There is the old people's music thing," Key says, readying himself to launch into a manifesto. They're music for old people? "No, we're amateur music, old popular music. I think of the band as being —and this is why it doesn't bother me to be in Knoxville but it would bother me to relocate to like New York City, or to have teeming millions of fans—like in pre-recording culture. When people made their own music for other small groups of people to listen to. That doesn't mean that they were uncritical, but one made music as a creative act, not as an attempt to foist one's image on the world and to make money."

OR's live sets are organic, flowing from one sound to another. But there's no compositional score, no set list taped to the stage. At the shows I've seen, the group started all playing one sound, or along with one basic sound, and 30 to 40 minutes later ended on another note; the entire group rallied around it, and they all knew that meant it was the end. "That's the extent of the structure we set up beforehand, really. It's not a sound so much as a certain texture or level," Beeler explains. "It's just what we know that we do together," he continues, "how that'll sound, as a texture. It's just that we know what it'll be like when I play accordion and Scott plays bowed guitar. The whole thing about limitation is important. A lot of it just happens intuitively. At a show, it's about keeping it coherent."

"These kind of boundaries are important," Talbird adds. "It keeps it from just getting redundant or self-indulgent."

"One time we had a three-hour time limit," Key says.

"And it was self-indulgent!" Beeler quickly adds.

Putting out your first record by yourself is a good way to begin. "You learn that the gods are against you," Key says.

"The trick to doing everything ourselves is to find people we know or that somebody we know knows, so that we can do it cheap or for free, from the recording to the mastering," Beeler explains.

The benefactor behind OR's CD, who doesn't want to be identified, would say only, "My actions speak for themselves—just write that an anonymous patron came through for them."

Typically, Key has "mixed feelings" about the CD, the projected street date for which is February 1, 1998. "I just don't know how much the recording aspect of it has to do with OR. I've always looked at it as a performance-based thing. My main impetus is playing live. I'm unsure about the validity of it, in a world cluttered with records. At the same time, most of my influences come from recorded music."

Personally, I'm glad somebody else has stepped in to help these young lads release their music; I could see it being well-received by writers and music-lovers around the world. But if OR were left to do it themselves, they'd probably just have critical discussions together about the "validity" of it until they were blue in the face.