Operating at a sedimentary pace since 2007, Taiga Records has been releasing high-quality vinyl-only archives of minimalism, experimentalism, sound art and free jazz. Packaging is always immaculate and often includes artwork by a rotating cast of artists as well as the in-house design firm Loaf Nest. With deluxe packaging and limited edition runs of 180- and 200-gram vinyl pressings cut direct from metal, Taiga’s releases stand up to today’s harsh climate. I recently had the chance to sit down with Andrew Lange, Taiga’s founder and castle-builder.
Walk us through the beginning stages of Taiga. What was the impetus for starting the label?
Well I always thought I wanted to start a label. I had saved up a nice sum of money because it was the first time I had a salaried, professional job. There were a few releases I was appalled that were not on vinyl, like the Rafael Toral Space records. I could have saved that money I suppose.
But where’s the fun in that?
Exactly. It just seemed like the time was right for me to get Taiga off the ground.
Did you have any labels or individuals you looked to for inspiration when starting Taiga?
I think the first time I realized what a label actually was finding Amphetamine Reptile. In the sense of a label as an entity that represents artists as well as a trustworthy brand.
Thinking about my record collection over time, I think Idea would be the main inspiration. They were the only label that was consistently releasing experimental music on heavyweight vinyl with really nice design. They always did Stoughton tip-on jackets and had limited editions that cost $30+. It was kind of a twisted pleasure, buying their records.
John Brien, who runs Important, has also been supportive from the very beginning. He’s helped break the ice with some artists which has resulted in some releases.
Being familiar with the aesthetic of the label, I have my own personal imagery associated with the name. For the benefit of those not yet familiar, how did you arrive at the name “Taiga”?
It was a result of many over-thought brainstorming sessions. I was trying to find a unique word in the English language that was still familiar. I went for simple words that encapsulated a vast array of images. It’s inspired by that particular geographical region of northern Minnesota: vast, expansive, otherwordly.
When I think of the word “taiga” I think of something slow-driven and robust that stands the test of time.
Yes, exactly. That’s what I think of the vinyl format. It’s the format that has resisted time. It was the first reproducible sound medium and it’s still being manufactured despite the cassette, compact disc and digital eras.
So is that essentially your mission with the label?
Yes. Thanks for bringing that up. Archiving in the resilient vinyl format is at Taiga’s core.
Hey, no problem. I wouldn’t be a good interviewer if I didn’t try to coax an answer or two out of you, right?
Your releases seem to have a meditative quality to them, especially the Rafael Toral [Space Program series], Pauline Oliveros/Deep Listening Band [Then & Now Now & Then] and Douglas Quin [Fathom] records. Is that an intentional direction, or does the artist decide?
Oh, the artists always get the say of what they want to do. They would create something and present it to me, and I can if I like it personally and if it would fit with the label.
As for the meditative quality you mentioned, since there are so many formats on which to present music, the idea of vinyl-only means all the recordings have to be thoroughly digested. You have to be stationary. It’s inherent to the format, and so you have to be focused. I use that nature of vinyl as a way to convey Taiga’s aesthetic. I guess I’ll be sunk if someone starts manufacturing portable turntables.
How did you set up that Douglas Quin anyway?
Oh, well I was watching Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World. Douglas did all the sound for that film.
Not a score, but sound editing?
Well he calls it “sound design.” Basically he was on location and made a slew of recordings.
Field recordings, then.
Exactly. That’s what he does. He records endangered species in their natural habitat and he’s a professor at Syracuse University.
So I just got in contact with and had a phone conversation about releasing a record. He had this vast library of field recordings to choose from. One thing led to another, we arrived at this concept of underwater recordings from the Arctic and Antarctic. He sent me samples from his archive and we were able to narrow it down to the four selections that are on the record.
Douglas is unintentionally creating modern minimalist compositions, and doing it better than most experimental bands who actually make a concerted effort. I think that’s why I like the record so much.
[Laughs] Yeah, now that’s irony [laughs]. I feel that record is the Taiga’s biggest accomplishment to date. Everything about it. The amount of time and effort put into selecting the samples, ordering those samples and eventually scrapping them and starting over. I’m very proud of the record.
Obviously Taiga is a musical vehicle, but artwork doesn’t take a backseat at all. What are your thoughts on the relationship of music and visual art?
Since these recordings are many times obtuse, I want the packaging and images to look and feel like the music sounds. You know? The goal is always to create a look where a person can pick up the record and know how it sounds.
So do you consider Taiga to be an art studio that puts out records, or vice versa?
I guess I look at Taiga as occupying a space somewhere between “experimental label” and “art exhibition catalog.” It’s just hard to escape that since most of the covers have been designed by studio artists. I’ve done some through Loaf Nest, a design team consisting of Michael Carlson and myself. It took me going to art school to realize I much rather prefer graphic design.
Releasing limited edition vinyl-only runs can be a gamble these days, so I’m curious how you are able to release such high-quality, and frankly, expensive records…and sell out of them.
I have a very loyal mail order base. I can count on them immediately buying any release, and that helps greatly with manufacturing costs of the next record. Combined with the distribution sales that trickle in, I can always have a few projects brewing.
How do you decide which artists to work with?
They’re all pretty much like the Douglas Quin and Rafael Toral records. Stumbling upon things or a lot of research. I was hooked up with Kayo Dot [TAIGA 14, Coyote] by Mary Halvorson who I released a record with [TAIGA 9, MAP Fever Dream]. John from Important Records originally hooked me up with Eleh for Homage to the Square Wave [TAIGA 4]. But mostly it’s a lot of research on my part.
What has Taiga been up to lately? How about future releases?
Well we talked about Douglas Quin earlier. There’s Kayo Dot’s Coyote, which is a big step for the label as far as incorporating sounds and genres that haven’t been represented on Taiga. It’s the label’s first rock record, but it reaches out really far.
In between those was Bryce Beverlin’s record [TAIGA 13, Seizing Fate by the Throat] and Timeless Pulse/Pauline Oliveros [TAIGA 12, Trio]. Bryce’s record is a summary of of his fifteen years of improvised vocal and percussion work.
A record from Jon Mueller is in the works because I’m percussion-oriented. Like when I go see a metal band, I’m watching the drummer. Anyway I contacted Jon about setting up some shows here in Minneapolis and hung out with him for a few days. We talked about the Physical Changes collaboration record he did with James Plotkin on Table of Elements and we’ve tentatively planned for he and James to get together again to record a record for Taiga.
Eleh is recording another Homage record, this time to the Sawtooth Wave. That’s being recorded now. The production for the new Lotus Eaters record is happening now.
What’s the name of that record?
And is that a re-release like Mind Control for Infants?
Yes, it was originally released as a CD in 2003 or 2004. I’m not exactly sure. It’s never been released on vinyl. Like Mind Control for Infants, it’ll be remixed, remastered and rearranged. It’ll also have tracks from an out-of-print 7” originally released on Drone Records. Should be released around February.
There’s another Space Elements record from Rafael Toral, too.
How long is that series going to be?
I think he’s planning six records, and this would be the third one. I’m not exactly sure of all the collaborators this time, but he specifically mentioned Tatsuya Nakatani [of MAP]. That should be released in March. He will be touring the United States for that record.
Well, thanks heaps, Andrew. Here’s to many more fruitful releases.