A small batch record company from Minneapolis has been quietly making its mark on the creative new musical world for 18 years. Founded by James Lindbloom, the label draws its name from a musical piece by late composer John Cage by the same name. The composition by Cage sought to bring literature (Namely that of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake) to performance. The record label has released 46 recordings to date featuring Sun Ra, Joe McPhee, Steve Lacy, Pauline Oliveros and Daniel Carter to name a few.
According to Lindbloom, most of the label’s releases are limited to around 500 copies while the titles for Sun Ra and a few other titles had as many as 1000 to 1500 copies. To date, Roaratorio has released 3 recordings by late accordionist Pauline Oliveros, who developed the musical vocabulary referred to as Deep Listening and taught at UCSD and Mills College. The most recent release featuring Oliveros was as a member of the Thollem Cline trio, entitled Molecular Affinity. Thollem/Cline trio is conceptually like drummer Samm Bennett and late Cellist Tom Cora’s band Third Person, a “trio” that included the third artist as a guest in performances. Pianist Thollem McDonas and Guitarist Nels Cline’s (Wilco, Nels Cline Singers) previous collaborations as a trio include the Gowanus Session featuring William Parker on Bass and Radical Empathy featuring Michael Wimberly on drums.
On Roaratorio, Oliveros can be heard with Argentinian electronic group Reynols on the 2003 release, The Minexcio Connection: Live at the Rosendale Cafe and on her 2011 release To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe In Recognition of their Desperation. The latter contains 3 recordings from 1970 and 1977 with a large ensemble.
Released one month after Ms. Oliveros passing, Molecular Affinity contains two improvised compositions, each approximately 19 minutes in length. Each of the pieces are works showcasing the trio’s breadth of talents, with all 3 musicians drawing both distinction and commonality. Oliveros can make her instument sound electronic as it entwines with piano and electronic effects, including guitar and dobro making the giving the recording the feeling of a soundtrack. The recording has moments sounding like a work out of time, Molecular Affinity also has an air reminscent of recordings from contemporary composers on the Nonesuch record label back in it’s heyday of the late sixties and seventies. For fans of Oliveros or improvised music in general this recording isn’t to be missed. LP/Digital copies of Molecular Affinity are available individually from Roaratorio Records. The 3 Thollem/Cline trio recordings were also released this year as part of a digital only format compilation earlier in 2018.
Argentenian composer Nelson Gastaldi (1932-2009) has what is known to be a treasure trove of recordings, however to date Symphony #3: Siddhartha Gautama O El Poder De La Nada is the only recording to be officially released. The recording was discussed on the podcast #37 for Free Form Freakout. Interestingly, in the podcast, Lindbloom discusses how he did “these home recordings, symphonies as he called them–, were made through a crude overdubbing setup– He would record them on a boom box, play them back on a separate deck while recording another layer of the piece, then play back the new cassette while playing along to it once again, and so on until the piece was complete.” It’s really surprising to imagine someone merging musical expression and composition in such a manner and having a result that is so indescribable. The recording was composed and recorded between 1972 and 1997. This is an essential recording for collectors of contemporary electronic composition.
Another direction of musical exploration on Roaratorio is Lebanese based The A Trio, who have a number of recordings including a 2018 release with the UK based renowned experimental band AMM. Their music is fairly indescribable as on listens to the 40+ minute improvisation and would likely have difficulty in knowing what instruments were being played (without looking at the cover). The group has also collaborated with Alan Bishop from the Sun City Girls on their 2015 recording Burj Al Imam. Trumpet player Mazen Kerbaj utilizes his instrument not for melodic means, but instead at times it sounds like a new form of sound has been created, in a way like the first time one hears Tuvan throat singing and ponders that it really is vocals. Their style on Live at Nickelsdorf can be at times percussive, sounding like springs and whirligigs bouncing with a motor puttering along while high pitches overtake the moment sounding like a violin bow is being used on a cymbal.
Roaratorio is much more than the label that releases vinyl artifacts by Sun Ra and Joe McPhee’s awesomeness. But, don’t forget that they’re that too. Lindbloom has created one of the strongest labels in existence today and if you haven’t already done so, you should challenge your ears to check a few of their releases out.