Interview with Jim Denley by Nick Ashwood

Could you tell us about the history of Splitrec, how it get started and the direction you see it heading now?

We started Split Records to release Mind Body Split’s If it’s not on it’s not on, a Band we had in the late 1980s with Rik Rue, Kimmo Vennonen, Jamie Fielding and Sherre de Lys. Kimmo and I then released Splitrec 2, time of non-duration. You can listen to these early releases now on Bandcamp.

It went a bit dormant for a little until Machine for Making Sense kicked in. MFMS’s first CD was on Tall Poppies and 00 discs, but once again we felt we needed to control the production — to not have to fight for our aesthetics re: art work and sound quality (mainly added reverb).

So Splitrec released MFMS CDs, solo work from me and Amanda Stewart. But MFMS slowly stopped functioning from the early 2000s, and for a time the label continued to release stuff that i’d done or that needed to be released from the Sydney scene. Of course a big part of that was the Splinter Orchestra. It occurred to me a few years ago that with Splinter’s two releases and lots of other releases from Splinter members, the label was by default ‘an arm of the Splinter Orchestra’ — so we’ve now made that official – I’m no longer a label boss — and we can all return to the collectivity that resonates with the music we play.

What does it mean for Splitrec to become the recording arm for the Splinter Orchestra? 

As I said above, the label was almost by default operating as such, it was easy to transition. Solo work from Dale Gorfinkel, Peter Farrar and Truancy – these projects are deeply related to the community that is Splinter. Splinter is far more than an improvising group, it’s a community that shares skills, owns microphones and recording gear and has a disco committee. It now officially has a record label. It’s shown itself to be extremely functional in collectively making all sorts of work over nearly 20 years now – I have great hopes for the future.

Some of Splitrec’s releases have a focus on playing outdoors, could you tell us a bit about this focus? 

Playing outdoors has been a major interest of the scene around Splinter for some years now. My CD, Through Fire, Crevice and the Hidden Valley was recorded in the Budawang Mountains, and West Head Project’s disc A Closely Woven Fabrik was recorded on Maria Island, and of course Splinters 3 CD Mungo is from the desert lake in the far west of NSW. Jacques Attali has said in his book Noise,

We are all condemned to silence unless we create our own relationship with the world and try to tie other people into the meaning we create. That is what composing is.” 1

Much of what passes for composition in Australia has missed this point. It has failed to position itself within the world we live in here, modelling itself 12,000 miles away in concert halls in Europe, a jazz club or loft in New York or Berlin, or a music cafe in Tokyo.

If I think back – Rik Rue was pretty important in seeding ideas in this area. In the 80’s, at Dark’s Forest near Wollongong, we made field recordings and he encouraged me to play. Trying to express to him the difficulty of creating material in that space. I said. “I don’t know what to play.” He thought that was stupid — “just play”.

Largely what I played was appropriated from other time/spaces — it felt alien. This material made some sense in a concert hall, an art gallery or an inner city squat, but standing on the sandstone, listening to the frogs, I felt musically empty — and that was a good place to start.

The sandstone rocks exposed my faux experimentalism for what it was, displaced and derivative, with no sense of place. You can use the same criticism of most ‘serious’ music produced in Australia.

I guess we set about trying to find music to play in our landscapes and to document this activity on Splitrec releases.

Splitrec has been on the Sydney Improvised/Experimental scene now since the late 80’s how have you seen this scene change? 

Ha! It’s massively different. Initially I was in a small community of about 3 people who were really committed to improvised music, throughout the 1990s more people got involved and now I feel blessed to have dozens of peers who I adore playing with or listening to, just from Sydney. The music too has developed and changed over the years — strange that the earliest music on the label Teletopa’s Tokyo 1972 was made by 4 very young men, the oldest being 24. That youthful profound statement is much harder to achieve in our age — it feels like people have to immerse themselves in the cannon (whatever that is) before they can make a statement.

Who are you really excited about at the moment?

With Splinter we’ve been doing recording on a massive scale, with multiple mics and recorders over vast spaces. I’m not sure they translate to stereo files though! HA! Not much use to a record label.

Really excited by Rhys Mottley’s parasite. I guess he does something that I can’t do and am fascinated by — take limited material and calmly interrogate it over a long stretch of time.

I’d love to hear a solo release from Laura Altman, not sure she wants to do that, but hey we can only hope.

Anything by Peter Farrar.

Having said that, I’m a bit over all the solos we’ve done a lot of them recently — me, Dale, Peter, and now Rhys’s Parasite. (And they are all by white men). I guess it says something about our age but I feel that collective work is ultimately our main job.

Ultimately I’m excited about seeing what comes out of the collective – I have my personal aesthetics but I feel what comes out of scenes or groups of people informing each other is far more powerful than any one individual’s taste.

If you look at the catalogue, I’m really proud that Splitrec is rooted in Sydney. In an age with so much globality — that’s interesting… and maybe alternative?

1 Noise, University of Minnesota Press, Page 134