On the eve of the first anniversary of tsss tapes, Francesco Covarino has assembled a mix uniting fragments from all nine of the label’s tapes into one exciting journey. Their debut release was the compilation Free Percussion, which includes tracks from Claire Rousay, Will Guthrie, Ted Byrnes, and many others, an impressive catalogue of contemporary sonic research happening in this area. Subsequent releases have brought artists into conversation with each other, prompting new and fruitful relationships, beginning with Masayuki Imanishi and Marco Serrato, Graham Dunning and Edward Lucas, and Danny Clay and Matt Atkins. But the label’s growing discography also includes solo releases from Rie Nakajima and Dominique Vaccaro. Each release has been a fascinating document, and as the label catalogue has grown, I asked Francsco to assemble this mix so that we might share these gems with our readers. Sure to appeal to fans of Dinzu Artefacts, Patient Sounds, and Canti Magnetici. Let’s go home, together. (Joseph Sannicandro)
Please introduce yourself, and the label.
My name is Francesco Covarino and I live in Perugia, Italy. I was born here but lived for the last 13 years in Granada, Spain, just last summer I moved back to my hometown. I play drums and percussion and I have released two solo albums, one came out on Thirsty Leaves Music in 2017 and the other is a tape released on Falt in 2019. I also put out some duo collaborations, everything I have released is here on my website.
I started tsss tapes when I was still living in Granada and the first release is from February 2019, so the label is about to celebrate its first birthday. The idea of starting my own label had been on my mind for years, but if I have to choose a moment when I said “Ok, let’s do it” it would be when I visited Matthew Sage’s home in Chicago in 2017. I was there visiting my wife’s family for Christmas and I wrote Matt to see if he wanted to play together, we did not know each other but I liked both his music and his label, Patient Sounds. [RIP!] So we met at his place and in the basement he had a closet with all these tapes from the Patient Sounds catalog lined up, I remember watching him open the closet and I pictured him folding the sleeves one by one, preparing packages and running to the post office to mail them, that’s the image that came to my mind and it seemed just a beautiful thing, a dream. I think it was then that I said “Ok, I am going to do this, too”. After that it took me some time to figure out the name for the label, I wasted a lot of time thinking about a name that I would like, everything I could come up with was sarcastic or phoney, so I was stuck for quite a while.
Once I got the name I thought a compilation of free form improvisations for solo percussion would be a great way to start, there were a few artists I liked and I started by writing to them. Claire Rousay was the first artist I contacted, and she replied right away, literally a few minutes after I wrote her, very enthusiastically saying she was in. I was super excited when I received her reply, no one of the artists I was writing to knew anything about me and I was afraid they would not even reply to my message, let alone accept to be part of the tape. Initially my idea was to have 6/7 artists only, but while working at the project I discovered more percussionists I liked, so finally the compilation features 12 tracks. The tape was sold out within 6 weeks, I pressed a second edition and for the following releases I started thinking about possible collaborations between artists I liked.
I put in contact Marco Serrato, a wonderful double bassist from Seville, with Japanese artist Masayuki Imanishi, they did not know each other and started a long distance collaboration, the result of which is the “Caura” tape, and I realised that was what I wanted to do with the label: to put in contact artists I liked, who maybe did not even know each other’s music, and propose them to record together. The tapes by Graham Dunning/Edward Lucas and Danny Clay/Matt Atkins started this way, while Derek Baron/Zoots Houston comes from a session they had already recorded prior to my writing to Derek, and then there are two solo tapes by Dominique Vaccaro and Rie Nakajima. In 2020, six out of the eight releases I am putting out with tsss tapes are collaborations between artists that I am a fan of and I put in touch to record together.
The tapes get pro-dubbed in a factory in Czech Republic, apart from this I try to make all the rest of the production process as handcrafted as I can: I get the paper, draw the sleeves and fold them one by one into J-cards. I would not like to receive the tapes from the factory already finished, with their sleeve, wrapped in cellophane… I love the handcrafted side of running my own label, the fact that tapes come from the factory incomplete and I give them the final touch, a completely personal and physical touch, something that gives me the feeling of leaving a part of me in every tape. And then I really enjoy preparing the packages and going to the post office to mail them, so I can tell you this image I had had at Matthew Sage’s home became real in the end.
Can you tell us more about this mix, torniamo a casa?
For the mix I wanted to give a short taste of all of our seven releases so far, plus the two upcoming tapes we are putting out at the end of February. I wanted to make a relatively short mix, so that it would not be too difficult to listen to the whole thing until the end, and someone who does not know about tsss tapes and has never heard of us could get an idea of how each tape sounds like. On our Bandcamp page (https://tssstapes.bandcamp.com) all of the music we release is available for free and unlimited streaming, so anyone that feels curious after hearing the mix can go there to have a more in-depth listen. Being the label only 1-year-old and having released just 7 tapes allowed me to include extracts from every single release, so I think the mix is quite exhaustive in its representing what tsss tapes is.
I usually ask contributors to share something about their local community, but as you’d already explained, you have been in geographic flux. Was the label strongly influenced by your previous home in Spain? Or has the label always a virtual space to bring together artists from around the world working in a similar aesthetic area? Do you think having a rooted, live music community in a shared geographic space is still important?
I remember Die Schachtel released a box set some time ago, the Fluxus inspired project insieme musica diversa, that operated in Umbria. And I just love this, how obscure it is, but also how beautifully it realizes the ideals of Fluxus, which intentionally left behind the big cosmopolitan centers, and was meant to empower regular people to make art outside of the confines of institutional culture. That’s one of the things I love the most, when artists find ways to make beautiful expressive art with little resources, even when there is not much of an audience.
The idea of a label with strong roots on a place and a community is beautiful, the first example that comes to my mind when I think of this is obviously Constellation, I don’t think there is another label that brought this concept to such heights. They are making something very special on many levels: of course the music, then the artwork is beautiful and keeps this strong feeling of something handcrafted, it is also wonderful to see how this community of artists/friends evolved and took different musical paths during the years, and another thing I admired about Constellation was the fact that for a long time they refused to open social network accounts and were fighting to keep their integrity intact. Honestly I kind of lost track of them in the last few years, in my opinion music-wise they reached a wonderful point in 2002, 2003 but then got kind of stuck and maybe a little repetitive with their releases, but for everyone into experimental sounds that was 20 years old in the ‘00s Constellation has been an incredible inspiration, the realization of a sort of musical utopia. So yes, I guess everyone would like to run a label like that.
But as far as I am concerned I have never felt part of a scene or a musical community in the cities where I have lived, Perugia and Granada, so when I started my label it felt natural to look at artists from around the world that I had never met in person (the only artist I released on tsss tapes that I know personally is Marco Serrato, who is living in Seville, a 2h30 drive from Granada). Of course I often think about this and I get the feeling that my label exists but at the same time somehow does not fully exist, like it were a sort of artificial entity, without real roots and connections to any place.
On the other hand I believe that the music that I listen to and want to release on tsss tapes is a music that involves a certain degree of loneliness and isolation. I am not saying this with a negative nor positive intention, I simply mean that there are not so many artists and listeners into this kind of music, and they are spread out quite randomly around the world. Even in a huge city like London or Tokyo I don’t picture myself thousands of people gathering at a concert of free form, improvised, abstract music, mostly without rhythm and melody and not necessarily played with musical instruments (this could be an appropriate definition of the music tsss tapes is into). In a way this is music meant for small, very small or even non-existing audiences, and acknowledging this evidence does not make me happy or sad – I am 40 years old and I am past elitist-snob or hopelessly-desperate moods. It is just the way things are and it is fine and I live with it, without hope and without despair (“I stole it from some writer, I’d have to go and check a book I never never read…”)
The good side of this is you can very easily reach out to an artist you like, for instance I enjoyed Masayuki Imanishi’s tape on Hemisphäreの空虚, I wrote him an email and right away we started working together at a tape for my label, the tape came out and to this day we still keep in touch, write each other when one of us releases new music, and the same thing is happening with all the artists whose music has been released on tsss tapes. So in a way I do feel part of a community, although stranded, although almost invisible, although difficult to define.
I have to say that when I was living in Spain I was feeling completely isolated, I felt like there was no one in the whole country playing or listening to the music I was releasing with the label (this is why I jumped into Marco Serrato’s arms when I found out about him), while here in Italy there are a few music blogs and radios, many very nice labels and many artists playing wonderful music: last year I released a tape by Dominique Vaccaro and in 2020 music by Giovanni Lami, Andrea Borghi, kNN and Salis/Sanna duo will come out on tsss tapes, so I have the feeling of being part of, if not a community, at least a sort of net.
00:00/4:46 Free Percussion
Claire Rousay, Her Striped Shirt
Håkon Berre, Liahaugen
Chris Dadge, Walking Spruce,
Tim Daisy, For Ogden
4:46/9:22 Masayuki Imanishi/Marco Serrato. Caura
from #1, #2
9:22/12:44 Graham Dunning/Edward Lucas. End of a Cable
from: Sweet Red Cliff, Rotary
12:44/16:42 Dominique Vaccaro. Overlapped Memories
from: 011538 i, 014030, 021207 ii
16:42/21:02 Derek Baron/Zoots Houston. A Realistic Morning Prayer
from side A
21:02/26:08 Danny Clay/Matt Atkins. An Index of Textures
26:08/29:52 Rie Nakajima. Fusuma
from Flower Pot, Chawan & Egg
29:52/33:06 Anne-F Jacques/Tim Olive. Bistre
33:06/37:00 Zarabatana. Cum Raio
from Olho da Centopeia