What better time than a global pandemic to launch a brave new music venture resurrecting our neglected past? RICHARD BETTS on the Rattle record label’s brain wave.
We’re in the middle of a global pandemic that’s predicted to trigger the worst economic collapse since the 1930s. Even before Covid-19 hit, the music industry was in crisis. It’s in this environment that Steve Garden, owner of Rattle Records, New Zealand’s most adventurous music imprint, has chosen to launch a new label, Rattle Echo.
Echo will resurrect and release recordings of New Zealand art music that has for various reasons been languishing in vaults or otherwise forgotten or ignored. Echo’s initial four albums were recorded in the 1980s and ’90s, and feature musicians including composers Ross Harris and Jonathan Besser, guitarist Matthew Marshall, and Garden himself.
Steve Garden: what on earth possessed you?
“It seemed as good a time as any,” he says. Echo has been on his mind for about seven years, and the project has received funding from Creative New Zealand. Garden thinks the organisation’s redistribution of funding because of Covid-19 helped secure the cash.
“[CNZ] support wasn’t the clincher – we would have gone ahead with it anyway – but it made things easier. I doubt if a grant for what would otherwise have been viewed as a backwards-looking project would have been approved at any other time.”
While Echo releases are not new recordings, Garden says they were chosen in a similar way to how he selects his other projects.
“The material broadly needs to be art music,” he says. “A loose term at best, but the Rattle catalogue as a whole does a reasonable job at offering an acceptable definition.
“Second, the music should be good – again, another loose and subjective term – but more particularly it should be the work of composers and performers of quality, performed and recorded to at least a reasonably high standard. [It should also] connect with or in some way speak not only to our historic music culture but to what’s happening now, [and] be unique in some way, either by pushing boundaries or moving boldly into uncharted territory. Or the works could be chosen simply because they deserve greater recognition.”
Rattle has a reputation for producing quality CDs in distinctive packaging, but the albums are available to buy as high-resolution downloads too. It’s a format Garden favours.
“Digital downloads offer far greater audio quality than CDs,” he explains. “CDs are limited to 44k/16-bit audio, but downloads can be as high as 96k/24-bit or higher, which is the equivalent of completely uncompressed recording quality masters. As much as I’m very proud of our CD packs, I have no qualms about eventually leaving that format behind.”