Interview – Wist Rec

Wist Rec is an independent label based in Dublin, specialising in physical, handmade music. Their innovative Book Report Series consists of a number of books, each with a 3″ CD of specially commissioned soundtrack music from a variety of interesting musicians. M3 spoke to Wist Rec founder Gary Mentanko about the similarities between literature and music, and the downsides of digitisation…

M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
Gary Mentanko – I was born in the late 70’s in a rural hamlet in Saskatchewan, Canada though I’m now living thousands of miles away in Dublin, Ireland. I’m currently working on a degree on environmental policy while interning at ECO-UNESCO, an environmental youth training organization.

What inspired you to start Wist Rec? What is your own musical background?
I’ve always held a real fascination for both EP’s and those singles from the mid 90’s that would have three to four B-sides included. I felt that you could trace out an imagined version of an artist’s actual album, a record that could have been different if they had made some different choices. So much can be presented in less than 20 minutes and I thought that if one were to make an EP just so, it would make the listener feel like time had expanded a little, that they would feel like they’d been listening for a much longer period. It was with these ideas that I thought that I could make a label, which was a celebration of “nearly brief music”.

The first EP was based on a 1970’s forestry educational guide designed to interest young First Nations people. Since then, with the help of designer and co-founder, Manfred Naescher, all of the releases have had some sort of relationship with literature and education, most obviously seen in the Book Report Series.

As to my musical background, I would pretty much consider myself a non-musician and after years of fretting about my lack of timing and musical sensibilities, I’ve become very comfortable with my bumbling ways. I particularly like the term “music worker” which Wolfgang Flur of Kraftwerk always considered to be derogatory. I work primarily with the coding software Supercollider and I interact with it using the m-Log, a controller housed in the cross section of a tree’s branch.

What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
I’m probably one of the very few people who have no issue admitting to be a committed CD listener. I’ve heard all the analogue/warm romanticism arguments and they just don’t hold water with me. “It just sounds warmer.” Why do people assume that music is meant to sound “warm”? I just feel that whatever you like, you like. Vinyl’s fine. CD’s produced in the last 15 year are fine. MP3’s are fine if they float your boat.

I have to admit though that I have a fussy nature in which eras seem to dictate the format that I choose. If it was recorded pre-60 in mono form, I use an old record player to listen to old folk and blues. Almost everything post 1960, non-jazz is a CD listen.

The concept behind your Book Report Series is fantastic, and highlights some of the similarities between a piece of music and a story as coherent narrative structures. Do you feel the idea of an album, as a piece of art that people will experience from start to finish, has been undermined in the digital age?
Not just the album, books and journalism as well. We’re interacting more and more with these forms through a digital interface and I don’t think that serious concentration can take place when you’re using a device that has access to the entire history of the world. So far, only one of the Book Reports are available digitally, and it’s something that I’d like to keep to a minimum. It pleases me to think of people having to actually play the CD, to actually read a copy of the story.

Much has been made of the supposed death of the record store in recent years. Do you believe the digital age has killed the record store, and if so, do you think that this is a necessary part of progression, or a tragic loss?
Oh, I think there is little doubt that the rise of digital music has rubbed the record store out. In terms of the major chain shops, I don’t have much sympathy. I feel that they turned against the promotion of interesting music many years ago and somehow, something I still find incredible, missed out on integrating with the digital world. The telegraph companies became telephone companies, which became cellular/mobile companies. What route did HMV take? Record label to record store to DVD, video game, clothing line, electronic accessory shop. There’s no specialization.

Do you feel the recent popularity of limited pressings, handmade products, specially coloured vinyl and so forth is in some way a reaction the widespread availability and easy access of digital files?
Digital ease is certainly tied in with it. There must be more people out there that burned out on downloading long ago like I did. The ongoing conversation on this subject in the Collateral Damage column of the Wire Magazine has been fascinating but I feel sad when I read about the smugly proud digital thievery with hard drives filled with more music than one could ever listen to. The online ethnomusicologist hasn’t done any of the work. One can get all of Bert Jansch’s records with just a few clicks. Unless that’s all you’re going to listen to however, you’ll never really appreciate what he’s doing compared to someone that buys his records over time, considers them, lets them entwine themselves into the listener’s identity.

I suppose however, that I feel that the rise of handmade music was really a natural progression from the larger DIY and craft movements: of home brewing, Stitch and Bitch groups, slow food, Maker communities, and allotment gardening. I’m from this generation of semi-incompetent city dwellers that lack major swatches of skills that would have been second nature to our grandparents but I’m trying to make up for lost time.

What would you say are the main challenges facing an up-and-coming musician/band in today’s cultural climate?
Probably a mixture of information overload and falling into the repeated patterns of musical genres and popular figures with ever diminishing returns. How many musicians do we need that put on a sissy boy version of David Bowie glam? How many more monkey swaggered Brit-front men can there be? How many more modern female soul singers are going to use a 1960’s Motown beat? When do we get to hear some new music?

Finally, what does the future hold for Wist Rec?
Hopefully a mixture of ambitious and ridiculously ambitious projects. I’ve been using my spare insomnia time to research information for the next Depatterning release, which has gone on for the last 6 months. Even though all the Wist Records are hand assembled in small editions, I’m also working towards putting out a release in which every person has a very unique copy. Here’s hoping we can pull it off!

For more information about Wist Rec, you can visit their official website.

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About M3 Event

The music industry is rapidly changing. The internet has enabled widespread piracy, as well as a variety of new business and distribution models. We want to offer an engaged audience in and around the Euregion an opportunity to develop a coherent and detailed picture of the future of music distribution. On the 31st of May 2012 a music conference in Maastricht, consisting of oppositional debates, creative workshops and lectures, will provoke opportunities for intellectual stimulation, debate, as well as networking. We hope to utilise the skills and ideas of some of most forward thinking minds and operators in the industry in order to highlight some promising new ideas and areas which can be improved upon.

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