Army Jacket
Ryan Martin of Dais Records in conversation with Vee Moran of Owl Cave Books
As a bookseller in the art world for over 15 years, when I hear the name of an artist I can’t help but immediately think of publications and print editions associated with them. When I was asked to be part of the reading group for the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art’s year-long investigation of Seth Price, the first two things that came to mind were Price’s 2008 book How to Disappear in America, which was doing the rounds at art bookshops I worked at in London when I lived there, and the 2012 record Army Jacket, published by Dais Records, which I sold at my own art bookshop in San Francisco.

Dais Records was started in 2007 by musicians and record collectors Ryan Martin and Gibby Miller with the specific mission of releasing and distributing “lost” recordings while promoting new and underexposed artists. The first Dais record, a collection of unreleased Genesis P-Orridge tapes from 1968, would set the tone for their project overall: raw, extreme, and occult. Despite releasing obscure tape music and noise recordings, their ethos as a label echoes the intentions of an imprint like Harry Smith's Folkways, collecting and redistributing sound to broaden the understanding of a social field.

Dais has a personal connection for me: co-owner Gibby Miller is a dear friend I’ve known since my teens living in Upstate New York. When Gibby founded Dais records with Ryan Martin in 2007, I assumed at some point we would meet. 11 years later we still have not met in person, but I was honored to speak with Ryan over the phone about Seth Price, the genesis of the Army Jacket project, methods of distribution and consumption of content, CD-R collecting, and the role of music collecting in archives.

VM: How did you meet Seth Price and how did the idea to work together come about?

RM: How I met Seth was kind of a roundabout way. I was having dinner with a friend of mine named Katy Paycheck, who works in the art world and was putting together a film about Genesis P-Orridge. During dinner, I heard this music overhead. I said “what is this playing?” She replied "It's my friend Seth Price, it’s a CD called Army Jacket." And as the night went on, I have no real, concrete reason as to why I was drawn to it, but I definitely was drawn to it. I was really taken by the album. I was aware of him and his visual work and the vacuum sealed pieces were a thing being written about at the time.

A couple weeks later, Throbbing Gristle was playing in Brooklyn. I’m down in the basement of the show and I run into Katy Paycheck. Katy told me that she had brought Seth Price with her and really wanted both of us to meet. We met and hit it off instantly… talking about old industrial tape culture and outdated synthesizers. At this point, my label partner, Gibby Miller, and myself had just started Dais Records. I was telling Seth that evening about the new label and how I was really taken by what I had heard from Army Jacket. Seth and I made plans to get together a few weeks later at his former studio, which at that time was in an old factory building in Gowanus, Brooklyn. He gave me all these CD-Rs, stuff he was working on and stuff he was interested in. We just got on really well. I told him that I would like to put out something by him, but it was just a matter of figuring out what exactly that would be. We bounced around a few ideas… a re-issue of an early tape or some avant synth pop material. Then I suggested “How about that Army Jacket CD that Katy Paycheck played for me?.” Not many CDs were distributed of the original. I may be wrong about this, but I think that it was only sold through Reena Spaulings Gallery during a brief period of time. So we started planning a reissue of Army Jacket. I remember we had a very constructive back and forth exchange about ideas regarding the cover art and packaging of the record. We weren't going to use the cover of the CD. We were sending emails back of forth, sounding out ideas and sending examples of things we thought were inspiring. We were sending each other a bunch of private press improv jazz record album covers, discussing their layout and typography and how that was something that could inspire the design of Army Jacket. Some time had gone by and all of a sudden I got this email from Seth saying “I think I have the cover done.” He had just hand drawn it, and used an image of a vacuumed sealed bomber jacket. It had been roughly three years from when we first met and the record’s actual release.

In between all of this time, I had released a small run, limited edition Seth Price cassette tape in 2010, not through Dais Records. We only made 46 hand-numbered copies. Myself and another artist, Lou Caldarola, had a small tape label called Period Tapes. It was material that Seth had recorded in 2003 and was part of the CD-Rs he was burning for me when I first met him.

VM: When you talk about Army Jacket, you think of it as an art piece, as well as a music record. Does Dais Records have any other projects that are more like archival or art recordings?

RM: There've been a few, it's hard to classify certain recordings. We started with doing Genesis Breyer P-Orridge's archival recordings. Our first record was this unheard recording from 1967/68. It is an archival art recording in the sense of its historical and creative context, but it does have a bit of musical sensation to it. Not the actual audio, but who is performing on it and what came as a result years later. [Genesis] kind of rides that line of being a musician but also an artist. The art world likes to keep those two things very exclusive but thankfully more artists, such as Seth Price, have completely ignored that absurd policy.

Same with a lot of the COUM Transmissions recordings we have released on Dais. It's difficult listening if taken at face value, but the releases were more for documentation and distribution. I feel COUM Transmissions was always either under or poorly represented and was overshadowed by Throbbing Gristle. When I started working with Genesis, I had a deep interest in COUM Transmissions for that very reason. Throbbing Gristle had been documented to death. COUM Transmission was the thing that I couldn't wait to sink my teeth into. The only real worthwhile writing about it at that time was in the Wreckers of Civilization book by Simon Ford, and there are gaps even in that, because you just couldn't put everything in. It was impossible. And I knew there was more. And there was. When I released some of the recordings, the reviews were mixed. It was either "It's cool to finally hear COUM Transmissions" to "This is shit, why did you put this out?" The fact that we have audio of most of this work is incredible, it blows my mind. Overall I think people got it.

VM: Do you see record labels and record collecting as a kind of archival practice?

RM: In certain isolated cases, yes. I'm sure every person that is a rabid record collector thinks of themselves as some sort of documentarian, and I'm sure there were moments in time, when I was younger, where I thought that about myself. I think there are certain people—and they are very few and far between—of which the purpose of their collection is to document and archive with useful intent in mind. You can accumulate all the records you want, but if you're not doing anything with it, then what's the point outside of just hoarding a bunch of physical object that you like having around? I'm a firm believer that for it to be an archive, it needs to serve some sort of practical purpose outside of yourself. I don't consider my record collection an archive. It's just kind of what I'm into and what I enjoy listening to. There are little pieces in it where I was purposely getting things because I'm trying to do something later on, whether it's working on a reissue project, or writing something, or doing some research. But overall it's a personal record collection.

A good example of someone who uses their collection as a functional archive would be Jan van Toorn who has run Slowscan since 1983. He has a record collection that is just an extension of his research and archival output. It's probably one of the greatest collections of art-related recordings ever amassed. I can't think of any other person or any institution that has what he has. He seemingly has everything, going back decades, and he has dedicated his life to getting everything and sharing what he can with the world. I think Slowscan is one of the best labels that ever existed. And that's an example of how someone's record collection became a true, real archive used for something incredible. There are dozens more examples within every genre of music. People who collected rare 78s are the reason any of that music still exists. Early hip-hop collectors saved a lot of rare mixes and documents that would otherwise have been discarded.

VM: Do you feel like you are contributing to that kind of archive by doing something like releasing Army Jacket and other recordings on vinyl?

RM: I think certain select releases serve that function. The COUM Transmissions material served somewhat of an educational purpose, or at least I hope it did. That was certainly my main intention. While creating something, I don't really think of it as being created to be put in an archive. I think of it as making something that I want to hear personally. I want others to hear it as well. I guess I have a more purist idea about archives and the archival thought process because I originally started working with Genesis P-Orridge in an archival capacity before I managed Genesis. That's what I did for a handful of years… cataloging the archive and organizing it to be sent to the Tate Britain. That is how we found the original tapes that started Dais Records.

VM: Can you say a bit about CD-Rs and the culture around CD-R self-publishing and trading that was going on at the time of Seth’s original release? Do you have a lot of CD-Rs from that time period?

RM: Yes, I still have quite a lot of self-released CD-Rs from the past 20 years. I know Seth was involved in that, but he seemingly came into it from a slightly different angle, hence why I didn't cross paths with him until 2009. I came from a late 1980s/early 1990s punk background, so trading things and making stuff myself was just the only way I knew how to operate in the world. I had a tape label when I was 14. I was in school putting out everyone's weirdo punk stuff. I moved to New York City shortly after high school, and I came here because I got really into noise and experimental music. I fell into that underground art world that was happening in the East Village at that time. Everyone was into noise, collecting tapes and distributing CD-Rs. The CD-R thing happened really heavily around 2001. I was in this drone three-piece, we had some CD-Rs, and we would burn them off and trade them. When I very first met Gibby Miller, the first thing I did was bring him a stack of CD-Rs, weird shit that I was working on and rare recordings by avant-garde artists past and present. This was around 2002. I know Seth was doing the same thing but in a different sphere of people acting in the same manner but independently of one another. Seems to be the way culture has always operated in New York City.

You can buy the digital version of Seth Price’s Army Jacket from Dais Records.

Dais Records was founded in 2007 by Gibby Miller and Ryan Martin. The label focuses on both the new and the old: maintaining a roster of emerging, influential artists while concurrently seeking out rare, forgotten, and lost recordings to reissue for a modern audience.

Owl Cave Books is a San Francisco-based independent artist-run bookseller and publisher specializing in international contemporary art, theory, culture, and politics, co-owned by Vee and Brian Moran.