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In his tiny bedroom at the top of the steep, white-tiled stairs of his family's modest South Miami-Dade County 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 is actually 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, will be the ninth entry in the Tuesday Morning oeuvre.
From his own home in Kendall, Matus reflects on Esper's penchant for lengthy pieces of music. "We like to push the whole evolutionary aspect of the song," he says, as the dark dramatic blast of a Handel saraband 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," Rippe concurs. "There are songs he did that are, like, 20 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. I know there are people who don't get the long songs, but if you do, you do. That's my attitude."
Rippe's belief in musical storytelling informs his business practices -- or lack thereof. He has never treated his label as an entity that has to keep producing and selling the same product, assembly linestyle. Just as he likes to explore his music's possibilities, never performing the same piece twice, he doesn't dwell on keeping his catalog stocked with continuous re-pressings. In fact most of the imprint's early projects were issued on cassette tapes. "I always thought of Tuesday Morning as a limited thing," he says.
Rippe has recently discovered the wonders of the CD-R, providing a higher-quality listening experience while keeping costs down. He packages the CDs with hand-rendered track listings in stamped or stickered cardboard sleeves. His girlfriend, Melissa Viscount, who is a graphic designer, handles the packaging and artwork.
In her bedroom on the second floor of her family's Miami Shores home, Viscount digs up a couple of the label's recent releases: the self-titled Esper debut and the split CD by Matus, who performs as H.A.L.O. Vessel, and Rippe, who goes by the nom de synth Ionian. The petite 26-year-old with thick, black-framed glasses and tiny, jet-black pigtails apologizes for the clutter in her room, a mini museum 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-bedroomtype 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.
True to Tuesday Morning's ephemeral m.o., Rippe won't dwell too long on these pristine pieces. He hints that the Ionian/ H.A.L.O. Vessel disc is not long for this world. "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."
That philosophy has followed the label since its first release in 1993, when Rippe was still in high school and was part of the Miami-based group Swivel Stick. Today an instrumental electronica-jazz hybrid outfit, Swivel Stick began as a testosterone-driven hardcore band with Rippe on bass and vocals. (He still plays bass in the group.) 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 first foray into CDs occurred in 1999 and featured an all-electronic project by Rippe called Enamored Gazes, which utilized older analog synthesizers (hence a different name from Ionian, which incorporates higher-tech equipment).
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, so I wasn't going to concentrate too much on that."
Distribution deal or no, Rippe doesn't seem to care much. He doesn't even mind losing money on his endeavors. "I just want to put the shit out," he says. "I just want to get music out for people to listen to. I really don't care if I make money back or not. It's for everyone, not just for myself."
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