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Time Released Sound: Label Profile

img  Tobias Fischer

When Colin Herrick says he wants music to be appreciated as art, he means it. Operating from a studio space in the San Francisco Bay Area, his Time Released Sound imprint has established itself as a unique entity far from the typical restrictions and economics of a record company, operating at the border between the visual arts and sound, between traditional album releases and hand-crafted miniature installations for your home. Each release is made up of a combination – or, to put it more in the words of their creator, an inseparable pair – of musical compositions and accompanying objects,  delineating a galaxy made of sweet sounds and chocolate boxes, of dreamy ambient, bird's nests and antique film cans. Since its inception in 2011, Time Released Sound has quickly grown into a central pillar of the scene, publishing fifty releases in just three years and satisfying perhaps most convincingly the yearning for physical sensations in a time of increasing virtualisation, abstraction and digital estrangement. For Herrick, meanwhile, working on these projects holds no significant conceptual value, but simply allows him to combine all of his creative passions and living the dream of an independent artist: An almost instant success, Time Released Sound has turned from an ambitious side project into a full-time job, for which Herrick clocks in up to ten hours per day. Is it still fun or rather a lot of hard work? "That depends on the day and upon my mood!", he says, before quickly adding: "Although if I didn’t still enjoy making these things, quite a bit, I probably wouldn’t still be doing it!" As much as some might like to place his pieces in a museum – without fun, there'd be no point to art for Herrick.

Although Time Released Sound has become known mainly for releasing works within the realm of ambient, sound art and electronica, your own interests, if I understood correctly, have included a wide variety of genres and even harsh noise.
Well … I have and have always had fairly absurdly diverse musical tastes, and in general have always been more interested in listening to “new music” or newer discoveries, than in constantly re-listening to music that I have liked, or even loved, in the past. I suppose I don’t re-read books that often either … perhaps I’ve got a short attention span! I’ve got a thing for obscure old folk music, Japanese porno singers from the 70’s, minimal synth pop, neo dark folk, pagan whispering, pygmy chanting, French Chanteuse, tinkly toy instruments, Icelandic fairy music … the list goes on and on!

The sort of music that I myself tend to release happened to be the music that I was listening to a lot when I first started the label. I had found myself tiring of beat oriented music and electronica, in general, and in vocal oriented song structure as well, and I was drawn into this lovely world of “ambient, sound art and electronica” of which you speak.  And it was also the sort of music being released by the other small labels that I was buying from at the time, which definitely influenced my choices as well. At some point however I tend to branch out, and hopefully release some other sorts of musics. Time shall tell!

One of the departure points for Time Released Sound is the idea that music and great packaging belong together. Why is this?
I’m certainly old enough to be of the generation that grew up buying music, rather than downloading it and I have always had an appreciation for the graphics and presentations of musical releases in general. The fact that I myself am also a visual artist, as well as a obsessive music lover, is the reason for this no doubt. From all the way back to the artwork of Roger Dean and his trifold Yes albums, to the hand made letterpress packaging of bands like Savage Republic and others, or the 4AD design work of Vaughn Oliver, and the limited releases of folks like Muslimgauze and Zoviet France, the French label Sordide Sentimental … all these had an influence on me long before I started Time Released Sound. But more recently it was the Cotton Goods label whose releases I was buying, that finally got the wheels turning in my head, and inspired me to start this label! Thanks Craig Tattersall!!

Prior to starting Time Released Sound, you were a resident at Berkeley's Kala Art Institute and co-owner of the Autobody Fine Art gallery in Alameda. Can you tell me about the time you spent at them please?
I studied printmaking in art school, and even then I was less interested in doing traditional editions of prints, than in doing uniquely individual “edition varie” style editions. I suppose copies of things bore me … I’d always prefer to make or buy something that stands alone, when even as part of an edition where things might look the same, all copies have been uniquely specialized somehow. I want to see and feel the artist’s DNA on a particular piece, if possible. I got a residency at the Kala Institute print shop, and spent 6 months making an edition of 25 sets of 7 large aluminum plate photo lithographic prints depicting the 7 Deadly Sins. Soon, the remaining copies of those may also be recycled into a future Time Released Sound release. I started and co-ran Autobody Fine Art for 5 years, with a friend. A wonderfully time consuming and cost ineffective endeavor. But we did it in a very professional manner, and had a lot of good times in the process! Although I no longer run the gallery space, I do have my personal studio there. Please come visit if you are ever in the San Francisco Bay Area!

To anyone who won't be able to drop by: What is the workshop like?
My personal studio is only about 200 sq ft in size, but I have the luxury of it being located within a much larger space that was/is the Autobody Fine Art Gallery. So I have a lot of room to spread out when I need to, which I often do! See attached photo of the studio as it is today ... working on the Daydreamer, “Camus” release, which would be Time Released Sound043. The bottom line is that there is never enough studio space - just ask any artist!

The label, as you've put it, was established as a reaction to the disadvantages of the digital marketplace. How did you personally experience the gradual virtualisation of the music industry over the past decade?
Did I say that? (laughs) I suppose I might have! The bottom line is that I still personally don’t download music. I actually love to buy the physically packaged musical release whenever possible … I’m just tactile like that! And I just like making beautiful things! And as a label owner I certainly don’t download pirated music, and still believe that an artist should be paid for his work and creative endeavors. And I enjoy supporting these artists and musicians in these endeavors - it makes me happy to do so! After starting my little label, I was at first quite distressed and saddened to see how quickly even my releases were pirated, and wound up on the torrent sites. And it’s even more distressing to say that I have given in, and after making some half hearted attempts at putting a stop to this, have come to expect it.

The first release for a label is always special. What was the process like which led to the publication of The Girl in the Clock?
When I started the label I decided to actually make the packaging for my first three releases in advance, without having any music to go in them yet. I thought I would be better served, and have a better chance of generating some actual interest in the musicians that I would approach, if I had something exciting to show them already in hand. I approached a selection of these artists that I was listening to, and that I admired and the first three of these that responded positively, became my first three releases. Shaula was the first to get back to me, and The Girl In The Clock became Time Released Sound01. At that point the ball was rolling, and people began to get in touch with me. Now it seems a lot of people seem to think I know what I’m doing here, which is heartening, and I at times get almost a demo a day sent my way. Unfortunately this is a lot more than I, and the label at the level we are at now, can handle. But I’m pleased to say that I always respond to those that submit, with a genuine reply, and not a form letter of some sort. And I would like to now apologize to anyone that I might have missed in this regard.

One of the things that stand out in terms of your approach is your love for a certain naive sense of discovery, for bringing back the excitement one might have felt as a child when unwrapping one's Christmas gifts. Why do you love these things so much?
Why indeed? I would say that I absolutely love making the initial copy of a particular release, or the “mock up” version as it were - that for me is the most exciting part of it all… the figuring out of the theme or concept, and making some sort of appropriate reality of it. The next 99 copies on the other hand! Although my releases do tend to morph or modify as I am working my way through an edition, with new ideas and additions coming later on in the assembly … or even later on than that … I usually have a very good idea of what I will be making from the beginning. Honestly, it’s more timely and cost effective that way. And unfortunately, I don’t feel as though I have the luxury of overthinking things at times, as to take twice as long as it already does take me to make some of these things is … uncomfortable, to say the least!

Where will the ideas come from – from the music, the title, an entirely different place?
Yes, the music itself plays a large part in the initial ideas for artworks, but even more important is feedback I get from the artist themselves, regarding their music. I always ask very early on: What does their music mean to them? What themes or concepts are they trying to put across, if any? What inspired this set of sounds? What are their other interests in life, other than making music? What do they like about what they have seen of mine? The ideas behind some releases are very obvious, which helps me out quite a bit I must say! I love a good concept!
Also, I do tend to listen to the music for a particular release while I am working on it … quite a bit! And I am in general working on 2-3 packages at once, to some degree. So this relieves any possible over-saturation of one particular album and also any potential boredom on my part with working on only one thing for weeks on end.

Do some of the artists have concrete ideas when contacting you or is the artwork part entirely in your hands?
(laughs) I like to tell myself that I can do whatever I like with the packaging! But I am actually interested in what physical form the artist sees his music coming in. It’s helpful as I said before,  and I always seek out their opinions at some point, in these regards. Some artists seem quite happy to let me do “my thing”, and offer very little advice or comment. Also … it’s not as though I have nothing to say about the music as I first hear it. I myself at times offer suggestions regarding certain tracks I might like less than others, or the order of the tracks themselves, or the quality of the mix. So I feel obligated to let them have a say in what I am making as well, should they feel the need. Some artists on the other hand are quite interested in what I am planning, and don’t hesitate to offer their opinions on what I may be making. Either way, I like to think that everyone has been quite excited and pleased with the final product for their release.

How do you see the relationship between the artwork and the music? Should the artwork enhance the music, add a different layer, work separately from it, question it?
Wow. I Guess I don’t really think in these terms. I suppose I only release music that I personally really like at the time, so it’s more a case of mutual enhancement, from that point on. Really, even in cases where a package suits the music perfectly, they are still different things. Does one ever see the music, and hear the package? They either suit each other, or they don’t …like any pairs of most things in life.

Over the past years, you've produced chocolate boxes, music boxes with dedicated compositions and bird's nests. Tell me about these projects, please.
A while back I was lucky enough come across a huge batch of really high quality, heavy duty, unused chocolate boxes. They came in two sizes. 360 of the smaller sized square ones, which fit a 3’’ mini disc perfectly, became the set of 6 releases known as The Chocolate Box Series. 6 different artists in editions of 60 unique copies/boxes each. I didn’t have as many of the other larger sized, rectangular boxes, so I have done only two releases with them.

The music box release for Plinth was the first, and so far it is probably my most time consuming release to make. Each of these came with its own small functional music box that I mounted on a piece of oak within the chocolate box, with brass screws and nuts. Along with a set of blank song strips, and a punch to create your own songs to play on the box, came a unique songstrip created by Michael Tanner, aka Plinth, for each box. Each of these little tunes he wrote on a harp, and transcribed one hole at a time onto the strips. The holiest strip has over 300 holes punched on it!  Also included in each was an assortment of vintage Victorian paper ephemera and cloth flowers, and each box was uniquely collaged inside and out with actual 150 year old engravings. There were attached clock hands as well ...

The other, larger sized chocolate boxes became the Benjamin Finger deluxe edition. As Ben’s album was a piano based affair, each of the 70 copies of these came with an articulated, winged bird mobile made from the parts of a grand piano: the hammers, wippens, stops, and other parts made up these now extinct Hammerheaded Wippin Birds … the bird itself comes folded closed in each box, atop various vintage paper inserts and pictures, and beneath it is the birds “nest”, which is contained within the original segmented chocolate holder and is comprised of a further selection of smaller, broken piano bits. Each bird itself is strung to be hung … and each outer box, like the Plinth boxes, is collaged, stamped and inscribed uniquely.

You have a small, but extremely dedicated fan base. From your exchange with them, what kind of people will buy your releases? What is the interaction with the buyers like?
Yes … I’d like to take this opportunity yet again to thank the folks that buy my releases, and anyone at all that has shown an interest in what I do, and in the music that I release! I seem to have a core group of folks with discriminating tastes, that buy all or most of my releases! This group of people seems to fluctuate slightly at times, some disappear for awhile and then return … which is entirely understandable to me. As my limited edition releases are generally quite time consuming to make, and at times also quite expensive to make material-costs-wise, they are also somewhat expensive to purchase, in the realm of things like these. So I don’t have any expectations as to how of my releases many any one person should be buying, or can afford to buy… I’m just extremely grateful when they do! For without them this madness would end! Some of my buyers I have had more contact with than others, some I have become good friends with online, and some I have even met in person, as well … which is always a treat!

Painters and sculptors have long been envious at musicians for the latter's ability to re-produce their product. With you, meanwhile, each release is unique and as soon as you've sold it out, it's no longer yours. Do you see the pain of letting go of your creations as a good thing or a necessary evil?
I must say that I’ve never had a real problem with letting go of my art after making it. It may even have been more difficult when I was spending most of my time making singly, one of a kind artworks, that I tried to sell through galleries and shows than when making multiples, albeit unique ones, as I do now. And as I am trying to make some sort of an honest living doing so - letting go of them generally and absolutely qualifies as a good thing! I love sending off my releases to the far corners of the world ... it’s quite thrilling to do so … and gratifying in a very real way, for me. What is more beautiful than a work of art, than a work of art with an accompanying soundtrack of sorts? It is the best of both worlds for all parties concerned, I like to think! And, even when the limited editions are sold out, in most cases there are still standard digipack versions available!

Time Released Sound label profile interview by Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Time Released Sound Recordings