Greyfade is a New York based label founded by Joseph Branciforte, dedicated to releasing high-quality physical and digital album-length works of art. Greyfade’s inaugural release is the aptly titled LP1, a collaboration between Branciforte and the acclaimed vocalist Theo Bleckmann.
In this episode, Branciforte discusses why Greyfade is emphasizing high-resolution downloads via their own web store and eschewing streaming services, how he regards launching a label as an extension of composition, collaborating with Bleckmann, and working with Max/MSP as a performative tool.
Episode 8: GREYFADED
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Launching a new label in 2019 is certainly a risky proposition, but Joseph Branciforte is less concerned about the economics and more focused on controlling all aspect of the presentation of his work. As such, the label has launched with a more specific remit than usual. Greyfade “aims to release finely distilled album-length statements from artists working at the edges of algorithmic composition, ambient, sound art, and minimalist chamber music.” This includes both electronic and acoustic instruments, though Greyfade’s artists are more likely to be exploring the potential of their meeting. Subsequent releases from Greg Davis and Kenneth Kirschner (the latter in collaboration with Branciforte) are planned for the coming year.
Although Greyfade records are available on vinyl, it is Branciforte’s approach to digital that further distinguishes the label. Eschewing all streaming platforms, the digital version of Greyfade releases are available as a high-resolution (96kHz/24-bit) edition available directly through the Greyfade shop. If how we, as listeners, perceive music is an essential part of a work, then it is incumbent on serious artists and labels to take a firmer stance in controlling how their art is disseminated.
Branciforte’s meeting with Bleckmann is an impressive christening. LP1 consists of four compositions totaling 35 minutes, distilled from two days of live improvisation in Branciforte’s Brooklyn studio. The result features no overdubs but is carefully composed via Branciforte’s meticulous editing. While his hand as producer ensures that the end result is well-formed and without superfluous material, the spontaneous energy of the unplanned meeting between these two talented improvisers is palpable. LP1 will appeal to fans of improvised music with lush textures, heavenly vocal harmonies, sub-bass frequencies, electroacoustic experimentation, and ambient excursions.
I had known Branciforte primarily through his music writing, and thus was drawn to LP1 due to the involvement of Theo Bleckmann, a Grammy-nominated vocalist whose work ranges from show tunes to the avant-garde. He’s done stunning reinterpretations of the work of Kate Bush and Charles Ives (the latter with the modern jazz ensemble Kneebody), collaborated with everyone from Bob Ostertag to John Zorn, Philip Glass to David Lang, and was a member of Meredith Monk‘s ensemble for over fifteen years.
Bleckmann has distinguished himself for his versatility and ability to move between seeingly disparate scenes with ease. In considering his reinterpretation of the songs of Kate Bush, the esteemed pop critic Ann Powers writes, for NPR’s A Blog Supreme:
As an out gay man known for rather grand gestural experiments … Bleckmann might have been expected to do some diva drag. … That’s not what Bleckmann does here, though. Instead of playing up the aspects of Bush’s persona that scream out fantasy warrior goddess …Bleckmann picks up these texts as if he’d found them with the author line erased. His fealty is to the content; they are stories worth retelling, and he and his collaborators honor them with air and light.
Bleckmann is just as at home working as an improvisor, or performing more avant-garde works. Yet the distinction between these modes is far from clear cut, his malleable voice and talent sliding into the undiscovered spaces between.
Bleckmann’s voice is warm and comforting, almost disconcertingly smooth. Even at his most pop, his affect avoids melodrama, finding sufficient emotion within the songs he is interpreting. But he is much more than merely a talented vocal interpreter. He is a rigorous experimenter, searching for new avenues of exploration, carefully refining and expanding his techniques, both without and without electronic processing. When working outside the tradition of songcraft, his work is no less affective. Working with Branciforte, his voice is but one tool being layered and looped, sometimes lost within Branciforte’s own contributions, other times a tense counterpoint.
As a recording and mixing engineer, Branciforte has worked with some of contemporary music’s most interesting artists, including Mary Halvorson, Nels Cline, and Marc Ribot. He’s performed with Taylor Deupree, Kenneth Kirschner, and Ryuichi Sakamoto, and is drummer and co-leader of the “garage-chamber” ensemble The Cellar and Point, whose 2014 debut for Cuneiform is finely balanced between challenging and pleasurable. Whether performing with the Fender Rhodes or deploying electro-acoustic algorithmic composition, Branciforte’s key tool as a performer is Max/MSP.
He explains that he was initially blown away by the potential opened up by Max, however this world of possibility initially lead him to create overly grand and complex patches. Through years of practice, he’s learned that a clear intention and simple execution can produce powerful tools. He often sketches out ideas in a notebook, with actual pen and paper, before realizing a new patch in Max. This helps him to stay focused and not become distracted by the seemingly infinite options of the blank canvas.
As a writer, Branciforte has bylines for Tape Op and Tiny Mix Tapes, and has written extensively on algorithmic approaches to acoustic composition. When he’s interviewed musicians such as James Farber and Taylor Deupree, he approaches these encounters as an opportunity for both himself and the reader to learn.
We discuss the important of collaboration, the launch of the label, his long relationship with Max, and more. I’ve drawn primarily on music engineered by Branciforte and from his collaborators, music from throughout Bleckmann’s impressive back catalogue, and punctuated by exceprts from LP1. Although I did not interview Bleckmann, much of the episode is built around his music, and so I included some short clips from an interview he gave to NPR in 2008 to add a bit more context.
ARTIST – “TITLE” (ALBUM, LABEL, YEAR)
Theo Bleckmann and Joseph Branciforte – “4.19” [excerpt] (LP1, Greyfade, 2019)
SP Intro (the new objective – “vita activa”  plus film samples)
The Cellar and Point – “ruminant” (ambit, Cuneiform, 2014)
Ben Monder – “Yugen” (Hydra, Sunnyside Communications, 2013)
Greg Davis – “Palindromic” [excerpt] (Primes, Autumn, 2009)
Theo Bleckmann & Kirk Nurock ~ “In a mellow tone” (Theo & Kirk, Traumton Records, 1993)
Excerpts from NPR Fresh Air interview w/ Theo Bleckmann, July 2, 2008
Bob Ostertag (feat. Theo Bleckmann, Shelley Hirsch, Phil Minton & Roscoe Mitchell) – “ii.The poor shall eat all they want” [excerpt] (A Book of Hours, self-released, 2013)
Theo Bleckmann and Joseph Branciforte – “3.4.26” [excerpt] (LP1, Greyfade, 2019)
Meredith Monk – “Astronaut Anthem (Ryuichi Sakamoto Remix)”(MONK MIX: Remixes and Interpretations of Music by Meredith Monk, The House Foundation, 2012)
Tom Rainey – “Mullet Toss” (Camino Cielo Echo, Intakt, 2012)
Savvas Ysatis & Taylor Deupree – “rite” (Origin, 12k, 2013)
Kenneth Kirschner – “May 3, 1997” [excerpt] (Three Compositions, Sirr, 2006)
Sylvie Courvoisier / Mary Halvorson – “Woman in the Dunes” (Crop Circles, Relative Pitch, 2017)
Carl Stone – “Sonali” (1984) (Electronic Music from the Eighties and Nineties, Unseen Worlds, 2018)
Kneebody & Theo Bleckmann – “At the River” (live at Joe’s Pub, NYC, from 12 Songs of Charles Ives, Winter & Winter, 2008)
Autechre – “t1a1” (NTS Sessions 1–4, Warp, 2018)
Theo Bleckmann and Joseph Branciforte – “6.15 “ (LP1, Greyfade, 2019)
Theo Bleckmann – “Running up that hill” (Hello Earth – the music of Kate Bush, Winter & Winter, 2011)
Excerpts from NPR Fresh Air interview w/ Theo Bleckmann, July 2, 2008
Theo Bleckmann and Joseph Branciforte – “5.5.9” [excerpt] (LP1, Greyfade, 2019)
Sound Propositions is written, recorded, mixed, and produced by Joseph Sannicandro.