The RATTLE Story

 

The RATTLE Story | a brief overview

BEGINNINGS

RATTLE released its first album, Gitbox Rebellion’s Pesky Digits, in 1991. Tim Gummer, Keith Hill and Steve Garden shared a vision for a music label that would champion a diverse but carefully chosen range of contemporary instrumental recordings unfettered by commercial pressures or constraints. The vision was for an artist-focused label that would be an advocate for composers, performers, and ensembles engaged primarily in acoustic instrumental music.

Tim and Steve operated a small recording studio in downtown Auckland where Gitbox Rebellion and From Scratch were recording in 1990. Inspired by the European label ECM and New Zealand's own Flying Nun, Rattle sought to build a framework for music that wasn’t adequately supported by the labels of the day.

Encouraged by the critical success of Pesky Digits and Songs For Heroes, Rattle recorded with a number of composers and performers for its next release, the compilation CD, Different Tracks. This album would set the tone and general direction for the label, and was the impetus for many projects to follow. The first of these was the seminal debut of Richard Nunns and Hirini Melbourne, Te Ku Te Whe.

 

HIRINI MELBOURNE & RICHARD NUNNS

Few would have predicted the impact and lasting influence of this groundbreaking work, and the major role it would play in the revival of nga taonga puoro (the traditional instruments of Maori). Two weeks were set aside to record the album, but by lunch on day two, Te Ku Te Whe was in the can. It remains Rattle’s biggest selling and most influential release to date.

Recorded only a few weeks before Hirini’s death in January 2003, Te Hekenga-a-rangi wasn’t a follow up to Te Ku Te Whe so much as a broadening of its themes and concepts, this time with greater emphasis on the feminine dimension of taonga puoro. To this end, Aroha Yates-Smith joined Richard and Hirini to produce a work that is still one of Rattle’s most emotionally affecting albums.

In 2005, Rattle invited a number of New Zealand’s finest remix artists to interpret Te Ku Te Whe, in part to go some way towards realising Hirini’s hope that taonga puoro would be more widely integrated into the broader cultural landscape of Aotearoa. Awarded Best Maori Album at the 2007 NZ Music Awards, Te Whaiao is a successful fusion of ancient and contemporary voices.

Richard Nunns has since been one of Rattle’s most important collaborators, and with each new project he situated te taonga puoro in an increasingly broad range of contexts, from Gillian Whitehead’s Ipu, to improvisational collaborations with Judy Bailey (Tuhonohono), the Chris Mason-Battley Group (Two Tides), Dave Lisik (Queen’s Diamond, Ancient Astronaut Theory, Journey/Hikoi), American pianist Marilyn Crispell and NZ saxophonist Jeff Henderson (This Appearing World), Whirimako Black (Te More), and finally Utterance, the last recording he made before laying down his vast array of nga taonga puoro due to the onset of Parkinson’s Disease.

 

NEW MUSIC

The inclusion of "Matre’s Dance" on Different Tracks was the beginning of another enduring and successful collaborative thread for Rattle. It not only led to the recording of Dan Poynton’s You Hit Him He Cry Out (Best Classical Album, 1997) and Michael Houstoun's Inland (Best Classical Album, 2007), but to a series of landmark albums by one of New Zealand’s brightest stars, John Psathas.

John’s acclaimed debut, Rhythm Spike (Best Classical Album, 1999), was followed by the monumental View From Olympus (Best Classical Album, 2006). Consisting of three concerti for orchestra and soloists, View From Olympus was the most ambitious classical recording ever undertaken in New Zealand. Featuring world-class performances from pianist Michael Houstoun, percussionist Pedro Carneiro, contemporary saxophonist Joshua Redman, drummer Lance Philip, and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marc Taddei, the album was an enormous critical, popular, and cultural success. Complete with an informative DVD by Keith Hill, it was on the classical charts for more than a year and held the number one spot for an unprecedented six consecutive months.

John has released or collaborated on a number of Rattle releases since, including Ukiyo (Best Classical Album finalist, 2010), Helix (Best Classical Album finalist, 2011), Flight on Light (with Manos Achalinotopoulos), The Harvest (with Adam Page and James Brown), The Gaia Theory (with Omar Carmenates), Mantis (with Reuben Bradley), White Lies (the soundtrack to a film by Dana Rotberg, staring Whirimako Black), and Dialogos with the Chris Mason-Battley Group.

Rattle has also enjoyed a wonderfully creative and productive relationship with Auckland-based piano trio, NZTrio. The ensemble has released a number of albums since their Rattle debut in 2007 with bright tide moving between (Best Classical Album finalist, 2007), including Flourishes (Best Classical finalist, 2010), Lightbox (2015, one of their very finest albums), Sway (Best Classical Album, 2017), Vicissitudes (Best Jazz finalist, 2017), and performances for John Psathas on Helix (2011) and Jack Body on Passing By (2015).

In September 2011, Jonathan Besser followed his 2006 Rattle release, Turn, with the mesmerising Campursari, an album that takes its title from an Indonesian musical term used to denote the musical combination of gamelan with Western instruments. While Jonathan has often worked with gamelan, this is the first time he has written specifically for the instruments rather than using them (as has been his practice over the years) in improvisational settings. Commenting on Dave Lisik's The Curse of the Queen's Diamond, William Dart said it was 'the perfect vindication of Rattle’s philosophy [of eschewing] musical barriers'. The same can be said about Campursari, an enigmatic but wholly approachable album that casts its tranquil and meditative spell upon the willing listener.

Another superb addition to the Rattle catalogue in 2011 was Who's Most Lost? by Arcades (Dugal McKinnon and David Prior). Trained as composers and having played in bands, David and Dugal are inquisitive sonic omnivores fond of crossing borders between music and sound art. The album is an artfully composed and produced set of songs inspired by David and Dugal's ongoing infatuation with pop music, each track reflecting the duo's richly subversive pop sensibility. Picked by William Dart as one of the year’s standouts in 2011, Who's Most Lost? may seem like an unusual choice for Rattle, but it is an exceptional work by any standard, and one that re-positions the Rattle goalposts in a fresh and welcome way.

 

IMPROVISED MUSIC

In 2009 we introduced an improvised music imprint with the release of Irony by FSH Trio. Our aim is to curate an eclectic range of performance-based recordings of strong New Zealand improvised music. Roger Manins's exceptional Trio and Reuben Bradley's award-winning Resonator (Best Jazz Album, 2011) soon followed, including a string of strong offerings from Dave Lisik such as The Curse of the Queen’s Diamond (2011), Machaut Man and a Superman Hat (featuring Donny McCaslin), Walkabout with the Sydney-based Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra (who would released the superb Fiddes vs Tinkler in 2016), and Ancient Astronaut Theory in 2011, a fascinating collaboration with Richard Nunns.

Other highlights include, Seven (Best Jazz finalist, 2012) by Tim Hopkins, Mantis (Best Jazz finalist, 2013) by Reuben Bradley, Flaubert’s Dance (Best Jazz finalist, 2013) and Panacea (Best Jazz Album, 2016) by Phil Broadhurst, Dog (Best Jazz Album, 2014) by Dog, Nerve (Best Jazz finalist, 2014) by The Jac, Dark Light (Best Jazz finalist, 2014) and East West Moon (Best Jazz Album, 2017) by Jonathan Crayford, and Unwind (Best Jazz finalist, 2018) by Norman Meehan, Hayden Chisholm, and Paul Dyne.

 

MOVING ON

Tim Gummer and Keith Hill bowed out of Rattle in late 2009 and early 2011 respectively, each to pursue their own creative endeavours (Tim as a graphic designer, and Keith as a writer and filmmaker). Steve Garden continues to take Rattle forward, drawing from the best of an ever-widening pool of emerging and established talent. His goal is to broaden the international reach of the label while continuing to develop its profile and influence back home.

MORE TO COME ...

 
Steve Garden