The shifting technological terrain that has brought about the decline of the CD, the rise of the download, and the return of the LP, invites inventive solutions from musicians who want to get their music heard. In this spirit, the Swiss netlabel Insubordinations combines free downloads along with memorably designed, limited-edition CDs available on line, presenting music that stretches from Saint Petersburg, Russia, for the trio Wooden Plants (insub39) to Rimouski, Quebec for LE GGRIL (Grand Groupe Régional d’Improvisation Liberée) heard with Montreal guests Jean Derome and Les Poules (insub20).
The producer behind Insubordinations is Geneva-based electronic composer and improviser d’incise, a.k.a. Laurent Peter, who launched the label in 2006 after getting positive responses for electronic music he had issued on netlabels. He elaborates, “I had the feeling I could give a bit of my time for other musicians, and the field of improvised music was almost nonexistent in the netaudio sphere at that time. It was pretty easy to start a Web site and post the news on various discussion boards.”
D’incise found the response to the label both immediate and widespread. “Free downloads, even beyond the ethical reasons, allowed a direct and fast relationship with the audience, and it allowed us to touch a widely dispersed group, creating links with others all over the world. In any case, we didn’t need a large number of physical copies. Sales are low, and musicians use them mainly as promotional tools.”
For this writer, the free download is a special treat. It means the music referred to is just a few clicks away for the interested reader, immediate accessibility trumping opinion. A visit to <> presents a playground of radical music and an assortment of formats. Many of the label’s releases (the netlabel side) are available as free downloads only while there’s also a welter of CD-Rs and CDs, all of which are offered as free downloads, as well as for purchase. There are frequent communitarian and Dadaist references that are continuous with the spirit of free downloads, including Topophonies by France’s Rosa Luxemburg New Quintet (insub15), or The Rrose Sélavy Show by Portuguese band Potlatch (insub19). Scale ranges from the brilliant solo accordionist Jonas Kocher through the Berlin-based wind trio Trigger to the vast Insub Meta Orchestra.
D’incise describes the improvised music he plays as “generally electroacoustic, with minimalism and drone highlights,” and some of those characteristics link the label’s music. Diatribes, d’incise’s duo with the percussionist Cyril Bondi, is a frequent presence, and their collaboration extends to other regular ensembles. The wittily developed theme of discontent that names the label and the duo extends to their developing partnership with Portuguese guitarist Abdul Moimême. Their first collaborative release was Complaintes de Marée Basse (insubcd02), a reference to dock noises at low tide; the trio is now called Queixas (Portuguese for complaint) on their recent release Eye of Newt (insubcd09).
Insubordinations’ exploration of format is evident in two of their latest releases, one emphasizing the special presence of the vinyl record, the other the instantaneous communication of the download. The label’s first LP, Corpusculairmetrique (insubLP01), by the group Karst and sound poet Vincent Barras, emphasizes the voice and the theme of the body, somehow in keeping with an LP’s vulnerable physicality. The download-only Archive #2 (insub40) by the Insub Meta Orchestra emphasizes the immediacy of a rapidly developing music.
Launched in 2010, Insub Meta Orchestra numbers up to forty-five musicians, among them long-established figures in European improvised music, such as pianist Jacques Demierre and bass clarinettist Hans Koch. Its first release, Archive #1 (insubcd04), consisted of mostly conducted improvisations from an intensive three-day meeting in 2011, and appeared in 2012 as a free download and CD. Just a year later, Archive #2 appears, dictated by the orchestra’s remarkable development and exploration of fresh approaches to large-ensemble improvisation. “Line 1,” the first piece, is an expansive drone gradually accumulating members of the orchestra, while “Line 2” is a sequence of batches of instruments, developing textures of dense, controlled particles. The pieces are hypnotic, but they’re also infinitely detailed, profoundly involving music, suggesting communication and exchange at a cellular level.
Adaptability, a continuous attention to impulse and response, is as true of d’incise’s handling of the label as it is of an improvisation. He explains: “Now is a crucial time for us, a time of questions and a reformulation of our label activity. It’s quite hard to defend music that has ‘no value’ in front of media and institutions. We’ll probably go for very limited, very nicely printed objects, with a cheap but pay-for-download option. This said, it remains clear that we are the children of the Internet and still believe in sharing, perhaps going in the direction of ‘pirate us if you think it’s worth it.’”