Adventures in new music from the headwaters of the Heartland. Run by Scott Scholz.
The impetus for Tymbal was a guest on the Other Music radio show which I co-hosted for a while in Lincoln, NE. We had former Lincolnite David Moscovich on one night, doing wild live text cut-ups with his own modular synth accompaniment, like a singer-songwriter from deep space, and it was profound and transcendent and touching and hilarious all at once, and I wanted to share his work with the world.
I’d been doing a lot of radio and review stuff at the time, too, so finding other interested artists fell into place rather easily. Joseph Jaros, another Other Music co-host and a fantastic, inventive musician himself, helped me get things going, my wife Heidi helped with naming the thing, and Tiny Little Hammers helped out with artistic direction, and here we are. A second Moscovich tape is coming soon, too!
What are some of the challenges you see as a label owner?
Primarily time constraints for me. Doing things to meet my own expectations is mighty time consuming. Making sure everything comes together well, making sure the audio is mastered well or doing it myself, dubbing (I dub everything myself), putting everything together, making sure copies get out to reviewers or radio/podcast joints, and mailing orders, is all a one-person show at Tymbal, but it’s incredibly gratifying. I suppose money is another issue, as like most labels, I’m constantly running in the red, but it’s more a matter of topping off the money tank every once in a while.
What’s your take on Spotify / streaming services?
I’m personally not a user of streaming services, but I’m glad they exist for folks who are. I’m far more interested in the control I can exert on making a good-sounding and aesthetically-pleasing cassette, so from the label standpoint, I don’t like the potential loss of sound quality or incomplete experience one gets from streaming compared to “the real thing.”
From a broader music industry perspective, it’s certainly problematic that artists receive so little from streaming services, but that whole industry is so upside-down right now that I have no idea how one could even go about fixing it. I’m more concerned with how things like Spotify are affecting peoples’ listening habits, to be honest: it’s more about turning the “faucet-of-music” on and off as a background soundtrack, rather than digging into an album as a statement or an artist’s journey over time. In this case, I think the technology has the potential to reduce music to a more generic experience for a lot of casual listeners.
Is there a specific focus to your label as far as genres or local/regional aspect of music?
There hasn’t been a specific regional or genre direction per se, but you could say that it’s curatorially following my own listening interests in adventurous music. There is a little quirk for Tymbal, though: for a lot of albums, I pitch an idea to the artists about emphasizing some particular aspect of their work that I admire: maybe something orchestrational, conceptual, whatever. In that sense, there’s some “producer” interactions sometimes, or maybe an extension of my reviewing and deep-listening habits into asking for basically what I’d like to hear or what I think would speak to particular artists’ strengths, and perhaps that’s a little unusual for tape labels.
Do you believe that music could bring social change?
I spend an inordinate amount of time ruminating about society, technology, and social change, and I have for 20+ years. Briefly put, I absolutely think that music is part of social change, but I think some context is in order: I guess I fall into that “Xennial” sub-generation, with a solid footing in both pre- and post-Internet worlds, and as a result I tend to view social issues through a lens of technology, extrapolating some of the ideas pitched in the TV-dominant era by folks like Neil Postman and Marshall McLuhan.
Over-generalizing for the sake of brevity, I think that humankind’s ability to innovate and create technology vastly outpaces our collective ability to incorporate it meaningfully into our lives. In times like our present international “situation,” it’s especially easy to see, feel, and experience those gaps, those disconnects between the human condition, which evolves slowly from a more or less eternal kind of center, and evolving technology, which happens as quickly as possible, and we hope to figure out how to incorporate or at least monetize it as it materializes.
When gaps form between these poles, we fill them with age-old human tendencies toward anxiety, fear of the future or “the other,” circling our social wagons to avoid falling in. That’s the negative side, but music in general, and art/expression and the cassette community in particular, point toward the positive side.
As tribal creatures, we’re also hard-wired to foster relationships in our various communities, centered around our common interests, needs, or aspirations. In the midst of ever-evolving technology, we also see phenomena like the “slow movement,” from food to parenting to travel, rise up, the DIY and DIO movements for working together on common causes, and lots of young folks are entering community organizing and politics, changing and deeply enriching the dialogue and direction our communities will take.
Even among labels releasing modular synth bleeps or gentle ambient textures (slow music?), I believe ultimately that all art is political and all politics starts locally, so all of us coming together to participate in the cassette universe, be it as artists, labels, or listeners, are part of a community that shares a lot of other common goals beyond music.
To the extent that music is a force that brings people together, it can’t help being a catalyst for social change. In this information-dense era, one can’t expect to find a “soundtrack to the revolution” in the same ubiquitous way we saw in previous eras like the 1960s, but as we focus on our own communities, both those we live in and those we connect with in a wider geographical range, we work together, we build together, we live together, and we listen together. Sometimes it’s a symptom and sometimes it’s the cause, but music is an inextricable part of social change.
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