5 Questions to Parlour Tapes+ (contemporary music recording label)

Chicago, the wellspring of collaborative artistic ventures like the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), eighth blackbird, the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), and Ensemble dal Niente, has done it again. A group of 20-something creative slashes — composer/cellist/producer Kyle Vegter, violinist/singer-songwriter/blogger Ellen McSweeney, composer/soprano Jenna Lyle, and composer/writer (and, full disclosure, ICIYL Contributing Editor) Andrew Tham — has banded together to create Parlour Tapes+, a contemporary music recording label and media collaborative. We spoke with the principals in advance of their public launch event “The Guilty Party” on Thursday, May 16, 2013.

How did Parlour Tapes+ get started and what are your ambitions?

Andrew: Parlour Tapes+ began with a discussion between Jenna and Kyle about the current state of Chicago’s new music scene. There’s an abundance of intriguing ensembles and composers here who have not been properly recorded. The idea of giving them a recording home has been on the tip of many tongues, but no one has pursued it. So Jenna and Kyle decided to pursue that and Ellen and I joined in.

Our first goal is to export what’s going on here in Chicago to the rest of the world. There’s a lot of buzz about what musical artists are doing here; we want to give the world clear evidence of this. Our broader ambition is to contribute to the perception of contemporary classical music in an interesting way and to pique new curiosity among the uninitiated.

Kyle: Also, we couldn’t be doing this without our caring and daring partner, High Concept Laboratories. They’re helping with administrative and promotional support, event production consultation, and so much more.


Jenna Lyle, Kyle Vegter, Andrew Tham, and Ellen McSweeney of Parlour Tapes+ (photo credit: Parlour Tapes+)

What’s up with “The Guilty Party,” your upcoming launch event?

Jenna: Our objective is to introduce Parlour Tapes+ to Chicago and to raise funds for our first two releases. The event reflects our personalities and how we run Parlour Tapes+. It will be extremely fun, community-driven, full of surreal humor. We’ll talk about  boundaries, inquire about why they exist, and encourage our community to push them as far as possible. Anyone with the faintest interest in art music by living composers and the people who perform it should definitely attend.

The party will begin with an announcement that our beloved Dave Skidmore, of Third Coast Percussion, has been (fake) murdered and it is up to the attendees to solve the mystery of his death. We’ll also have mugshot photo booths; musical eulogies/performances by Spektral Quartet, Tim Munro, Doug Perkins, Katherine Young, Alejandro Acierto, and Mabel Kwan; a shadow puppet performance by Manual Cinema; murder-themed tapas and cocktails; and a silent auction.

Throughout the night, attendees will survey (fake) evidence, watch a video of the (fake) murder, and uncover clues, before submitting their own hypotheses about how the murder happened. At the end of the night, someone will win a delightfully appropriate prize for solving the mystery.

What are your plans for recording and releasing music?

Kyle: We have two releases in the pipeline now. One is a fairly traditional project with Spektral Quartet playing pieces by all Chicago composers. We’re letting each piece dictate the space in which we record it. So far we’ve worked in a dingy rehearsal studio, a massive and beautiful cathedral, and a spaceship-like state-of-the-art performance hall. We will release this in digital form via Bandcamp and also on limited edition cassette tape. Why on earth would we release new contemporary music on cassette? We think this format has something to offer aesthetically that other formats don’t. We want to explore that and not just dismiss tapes as obsolete.

The other project is a compilation called the *AND project. Ten of our favorite Chicago composers/ ensembles/ performers/ sound makers to collaborate with an entity outside Chicago to produce about 5 minutes of audio. So far on the docket we’ve got work by Ryan Ingebritsen; Todd Reynolds; Tim Munro; a collaboration between Katherine Young, Jenna Lyle, and Joann Cho; Third Coast Percussion; Alex Temple; Alejandro Acierto; Dan Dehaan; Doug Perkins; Mabel Kwan; and, oh yeah, me.

You also refer to yourselves as a “media collective.” What does that entail?

Ellen: We’re working on two media projects now. One is a quarterly web magazine, and the other is a comedic video series. The media collective aims to address a void we see in the current musical landscape. The writing surrounding new music is often dry, technical, or just too insular. We want our magazine to stimulate and challenge people in our field in a funny, sexy, entertaining, and interdisciplinary way that will also appeal to non-specialists. I am editing the first issue, and then I’ll pass the torch to Andrew, who will edit the next one.

The video series is an awesome hybrid of composer interview and sketch(y) comedy. It places composers, performers and other luminaries in an interview setting in which Jenna attempts to plumb their psychological depths using a variety of inquiry tactics, occasionally sitting too close to them when she talks. The first one is with Lee Hyla, who is wonderfully insightful.

Tell us about the longer range plans, say over the next five years?

Jenna: This early in our existence, the long term is pretty murky. We all share rotating responsibilities and ownership of our output and we’re constantly learning from each other. It’s a nice vibe that we have, and it seems to be working thus far. If things go well,  I hope we’ll be pressing LPs in five years (provided anyone still cares about LPs then) and functioning as a strong entity that nurtures the voices around us and generates some really badass conversation surrounding and inspired by them.

Andrew: I’d like to see us reviewed on Pitchfork. I don’t even care if it’s like a 2.0.

Kyle: GRAMMIES, like plural/multiple GRAMMIES. So many GRAMMIES they let us spell it however we want.