In his tiny bedroom at the top of the steep, white-tiled stairs of his family's modest South Miami-Dade townhouse, Richard Rippe strikes a blow against everything that is wrong with the music industry. The 24-year-old's Afro-topped, six-foot-three frame is folded over his Apple PowerBook, his long fingers gently brushing the track pad of the laptop -- subtle movements that turn the animated knobs of the music-programming interface on his screen.
The pixilated needles bounce to the lush sighs of synthesized chords, the restless chirps of electronic beeps, and the dissonant beats strained through crunching distortion pedals. Rippe, a musician, a producer, and the founder of Tuesday Morning Records, is finishing the master mix of a track by Esper, a collaboration between him and Ed Matus, another local electronica artist.
Two giant speakers protrude over the edge of the short, rickety table, pouring forth the hypermelodic music that streams along with a precise, entrancing repetition for more than 22 minutes. Rippe laughs at the duo's self-indulgence; this track actually is an edited mix. "Some parts just go on and on," he says. "I don't want it to come off as stoner rock."
This suburban setting might suggest that Tuesday Morning is a vanity label or even a mere hobby. Not so: Rippe's quietly uncompromising do-it-yourself ethic has given voice to some of the purest forms of original music in South Florida, from the angst-ridden teenage hardcore of the label's early days to the meditative electronica of its recent releases. The Esper CD, all three songs and 60-odd minutes of it, is the ninth and latest entry in the Tuesday Morning oeuvre.
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The label was founded in 1993, when Rippe was still in high school and just beginning a musical career as part of the Miami-based group Swivel Stick. Rippe plays a key role in the band to this day on upright and electric bass. Now an instrumental electronica-jazz hybrid outfit, Swivel Stick began as a testosterone-driven hardcore band with Rippe on bass and vocals. Its debut -- and Tuesday Morning's first product -- was a five-song cassette EP titled The Caffeine Demo. Rippe dubbed copies at home on blank tapes and decorated them with a hand-drawn band logo photocopied on green and yellow paper. A flurry of Swivel Stick cassettes and vinyl singles followed.
Tuesday Morning's foray into CDs in 1999 featured an all-electronic project by Rippe called Enamored Gazes, which utilized older analog synthesizers. A distribution deal seemed the next logical step for Rippe's increasingly professional-sounding product. "By the time Enamored Gazes came out, I tried a few distributors on my own with no luck," he says with a shrug. "But my music kept moving anyway."
Rippe doesn't seem to be bothered by the lack of big-company interest. He doesn't even mind losing his own money. "I just want to put the shit out," he says. Rippe has never treated his label as an entity that has to keep producing and selling the same product, assembly line-style. Just as he likes to explore his music's possibilities, never performing the same piece twice, he doesn't dwell on keeping his catalogue stocked with continuous re-pressings. "I always thought of Tuesday Morning as a limited thing," he notes.
Rippe has recently discovered the wonders of the CD-R, providing a higher-quality listening experience while keeping costs down. He packages the CDs in cardboard sleeves printed with custom-made stamps or stickers, which feature the CD's track listing and artwork. His girlfriend, Melissa Viscount, who holds a degree in graphic design, handles the advertising, packaging, and artwork.
In her bedroom on the second floor of her family's Miami Shores home, Viscount digs up a copy of the label's recent releases: the self-titled Esper debut and the eponymous split CD by Matus, who performs as H.A.L.O. Vessel, and Rippe, who takes on the nom de synth Ionian (at least for this release -- he currently performs under the name R.H. Rippe). The petite 26-year-old with thick, black-framed glasses and tiny, jet-black pigtails apologizes for the clutter in her room, a minimuseum of modern-day artifacts ranging from Swatch watches to Sailor Moon action figures. "I wouldn't say I'm the graphic designer," she offers modestly, "but when you're an out-of-the-bedroom-type label, you work with what you have and commit yourself."
The split CD opens with H.A.L.O. Vessel's "Context Drop," a piece composed of random metallic ricochets of effects drifting on a swelling and receding whir of hushed synth noise. It abruptly switches to "Getting Even," a track filled with terse, staccato beats and a vocodered voice mutated to unintelligibility. Sounding like Kraftwerk spun through a Cuisinart, the music is claustrophobic and intense, yet coated with a sheen of electronics so crisp it recalls Jan Hammer's Miami Vice soundtrack.
By contrast Ionian's portion of the project conjures wide open spaces, beginning with "Lyonnesse," a song comprising sounds that seem to bounce off each other from great distances. A rapid electronic drumbeat resonates with great depth as it's echoed by tiny, pinging chirps, riding waves of ambient chords that swell and fade. The track suggests the mounting tension of dark, giant clouds rolling over a gloomy horizon. Ionian closes the program with the equally ethereal "Intracoastal Towers." It features a hushed, repetitive jungle beat that launches funnels of electronic howls; with a single, slowly deflating note of crystalline synthetics, the track seems to end too quickly after nearly seven minutes.
The preservation of these brilliant electronic pieces on CD is quite limited. True to Tuesday Morning's ephemeral business sense, Rippe won't be bothered with keeping them in print too long. "I'm pretty sure I'll keep it a limited edition," he says. "Once they're gone, they're gone. I'm going to put out 100, and then we'll see."
Rippe is already at work on his next release, putting the final touches on a live CD recorded during SubSound 2001, a local live electronica showcase that took place last month. It will be the first solo album that Rippe releases under the name R.H. Rippe rather than some moniker. "Truthfully I feel comfortable where I'm at creatively," Rippe explains. "The output is a lot more personal, so I felt the change would be appropriate."
Though he and Viscount were still deliberating on the design of the CD's new packaging at press time, Rippe hopes to have it ready for release to the public at his performance this Friday. He also hopes to have another live CD ready by the show, this one by Esper, recorded late last year. Once again the plan would be for a limited run.
From his own home in Kendall, Ed Matus reflects on the benefits of self-production. "We like to push the whole evolutionary aspect of the song," he says, as the dark, dramatic blast of a Handel sarabande drones in the background. "We work in a weird, unconscious sort of way. Those three songs in particular are really, really long because we just like to have that nice feeling. Some might call that boring, but to me that's what all art is about. It should demonstrate a nice evolutionary process from start to finish, where you start out one way, and you end up another, and you feel that in between you went through all this stuff to get to point B. A lot of the people we admire have that in common, like Brian Eno, Coltrane -- it's all about that."
"I come from the school of John Coltrane," says Rippe. "There are songs he did that are, like, twenty minutes. If there's a story to tell, there's a story to tell. If it feels right, however long it is, that's how it will stay."
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