Five questions for Dynamophone

Dynamophone, headed by Evan Sornstein, is set to purvey euphonic experimental music with a tinge of enigmatic (ambient) beauty. Find out where the label is headed as their “living-room composers” are set to literally map the next generation of audio sculptures in a forthcoming, “music-catching” compilation.

Igloo Magazine :: When did Dynamophone start up and what was your inspiration?

Evan Sornstein / Dynamophone :: During the spring of 2005, my mother died of cancer at 64. Right in beginning of her golden years, I realized (among many other things) the great importance fo doing the things that you want to as soon as you can because you never know about tomorrow. With an idea spawned from my friend Ryan Coseboom (Halou) and a longing for the days of early 4AD, we began Dynamophone Records in earnest. What we loved about those days of 4AD was that you could go into a record store (remember those?) and see a beautiful cover from 4AD and buy it unheard. You just knew it was going to be lovely. The design work of Vaugn Oliver and Chris Bigg at 23 Envelope inspired me (among others) to become a designer in the first place. I had released a couple of cassettes of my own music in the late 80’s with the label name Dynamophone, but not until late 2005 did it really begin.

Igloo :: Who were some of your initial artist relations and did your location help or hinder progress?

ES :: In the Autumn of 2005, my wife and I moved to London. I began reaching out to experimental ambient artists there partly through Myspace. Over the next 2 years I met up with some great people; James Vella (A Lily), Rob Slade (Rigil), Antony Ryan and Robin Saville (ISAN), Smallfish Records and Resident Records in Brighton. I began a performance series called IXMAE in attempt to build a place where people could see and experience experimental ambient music. We did our first one at The Spitz in Spitalfields Market (Now torn down, sadly). All that said, I found it extremely difficult to break into the business. I hounded Boomkat and Baked Goods for sales and distribution for about a year. I hounded Rough Trade and Cargo. Nothing. I gathered at that point that it was going to be slow going trying to actually sell a genre that no-one really knew about. I reached out to PLOP in Japan, and started a great rapport with Masami there. It wasn’t until we got back to the states that I built collaborations with Darla Records and n5MD. If it wasn’t for those three I would have given up.

Igloo :: What were some of the challenges (if any) starting up a label? …and how did you envision the label to stand apart?

ES :: One of the challenges alluded to above is that we came from no alliances, which means that word of mouth marketing was going to be from nothing. Another challenge was that having previous experience of being on a record label, I set out to make sure that Dynamophone was different. Firstly we only license music. That way we won’t own or manage any ones music – just the recording. I didn’t want to get involved with publishing. Secondly we spent a good amount of money having a really decent contract written up that was (as much as it could be) written in English, rather than legalese. I always found it frustrating to get contracts that I needed a lawyer in order to read. The other really clear thing we decided to do was to have our contracts be 50/50 net split. I didn’t want to be a bank. So once we get reimbursed the money spent on marketing and manufacturing a release, we split it 50/50. But I suppose the key thing about Dynamophone that we set out to do was the brand experience of it all. I wanted it to be design centered. I wanted the whole suite of releases to have some sort of enigmatic similarity.

Igloo :: What is your motivation in keeping the label moving forward into the next decade?

ES :: I’d say really to just continue to be able to build on that great catalog of enigmatic music. I enjoy having a hand in the actuation of most of our releases- either by designing the covers, video producing, remixing or mastering. It’s a fun collaboration with such talented folks. As long as it all pays for itself, then it’s even better!

I suppose the key thing about Dynamophone that we set out to do was the brand experience of it all. I wanted it to be design centered. I wanted the whole suite of releases to have some sort of enigmatic similarity.

Igloo :: Tell us more about how you (and your staff?) take the label’s “sound” to the listeners and fans. Distribution, campaigns, live shows, word of mouth etc.

ES :: We certainly use a good handful of online digital venues: Bandcamp, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube – the usual. Beginning to get our stuff on Pandora, for whatever it’s worth. We also do a small mailing to key ‘zines (Igloo included). We used to do a large blanket mailing, but over the course of the years we made the list smaller. It felt like we were just throwing CD’s away. We felt it was better to send them to the people who were actually interested in the genre. No point sending it to Pitchfork, it’s evidently not hip enough for them. So many of our artists are what I call living-room composers, a side project/hobby for like-minded people. So they don’t really have the lifestyle or means to go out and tour let alone play live. I started IXMAE with the intent to have semi-regular places for some of them to present music, but I just haven’t had time to do it more than once a year. I have intentions to have them more often and in other cites. I can’t wait to have one in Tokyo, NYC or Los Angeles. We are also working on a compilation CD of collaborations of all of our artists that will map a song to a specific location in several cities (San Francisco, Tokyo, Los Angeles etc.) and at each of those locations there will be a hidden QR code. That QR code will link directly to the MP3 and stream so you can hear the song at the actual place. This way you can experience the whole album by touring around. It’s what we are calling music-caching. I think this will be a fun project to talk about to our precious supporters. I hope to have official news on this by the winter- just waiting to finish a couple more tracks.

Find out more about Dynamophone by visiting their website at dynamophone.com.

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