Ben L. Robertson Archive


Paint, Print, Glue and Burn: The Process of Making Handmade CDs

1. Blank chipboard 2. Coated chipboard 3. Printed flat 4. Glued, assembled and wrapped

The packaging of music has fascinated me for years. I have always had a fetish for CDs, cassettes and LPs. When CDs were packaged in larger rectangular cardboard boxes (probably to be more like a rectangular record) I used to keep the front and backs of the boxes and hang them on my wall. I lamented the record companies going the way of just shrink wrapping and stickering the cases closed. Those stickers still piss me off.

When I decide on what packaging I am going to use for a particular release it typically comes down to whether I am going to make the packaging myself or if I am going to find outside help. Every release Aphonia produces has a specific design goal and this usually stems from the art and cover design itself. In years past both Ben and I would design some artwork ourselves (with input from the artists) and we still do from time to time. Lately we have preferred the input of artists and designers. A lot of whom, do this very incredibly beautiful work without pay or only by trade.

When I end up with a proof for artwork it is at that point I figure out exactly what it will take to have the artwork translate to a hard copy. Over the years I have whittled down what kind of packaging and process seems to work the best. In recent years, I have come up with a unique process to creating physical releases with real impact… and it hasn’t been an easy process. For instance, it has taken a great deal of wasted paper and ink to transform a rather drab, yet sturdy, chipboard blank into one of our more recent releases L.A. Lungs Letting It All Bunch Up shown below.

This past week I have been assembling this release and it is the result of several years of refining the do-it-yourself look but with the challenge of making it look polished. The process involves many steps and personalizes each and every copy that is purchased. First, we have raw ingredients, purchased from several vendors. I have found what chipboard, paint and inkjet printable CD-Rs work best for our limited means. Yes, I use CD-Rs. We have had professionally pressed CDs and vinyl done for us, but not everyone needs 300 or 500 copies to sell. Ultimately, the argument about whether a professionally pressed CD is better than a CD-R will persist no matter what arguments I offer here. That is what the “Comments” section is for!

After printing directly on the brown flats with my large Canon Pixma Pro for so long, it was always apparent that colors just did not pop. Most of the time this hasn’t mattered so much. Having so many releases based on black and white designs makes the end translation, from PDF to paper, quite simple and predictable. Even so, black on brown doesn’t have enough contrast. After experimenting with different coating inks, I found one white water soluble ink that works well to provide a white base on the chipboard. The effect of which can be seen below.

Why do this to brown chipboard? Why not buy white pre-coated blanks or bleached chipboard? Well, for whatever reason the brown chipboard always made the inkjet printing appear sharp, while the coated ones would smear and the bleached ones would bleed. This just isn’t an issue with the brown chipboard.

I then print the inkjet color on top of the dried white chipboard surface and get varying results based on thickness of the white ink on each blank. Since I coat each blank by hand, this lends each piece a hand painted/crafted look. No single piece is quite alike as you can see more clearly by a group of these blanks lined up below.

So obviously, they are still flats and must be glued together and this is when the assembly line begins. I glue the flats together and stamp the serial numbers on each one.Simultaneously, I am burning each silver coated, silver bottomed CD-R. I often have two computers burning at once, at a low burn speed. Once I have completed the printing and gluing of the jackets and the burning of the CDs I move on to create the design and print the disc art – that is, actual imagery on the face of the physical disc.

Just as the outer cases have been given serial numbers, the actual CD-Rs themselves all have sequential serial numbers. Each disc is prepared in the disc printing software with the serial number and then printed. This process can take a great deal of time as this is a product that is made from the ground up.

The first five completed pieces with serial numbers hand stamped on.

So this was brief but it might beg the question: why bother telling the world what this process is? To me, I find a certain satisfaction from producing these releases, from taking simple ingredients and making something that is ultimately worth more than the sum of its parts. The other part of it for me is that it embodies the intention of the artists who spend years of their lives cultivating and refining their process, their composition, their sound. Although not many of our artists elucidate their process or intention, as art is left more for interpretation and we would prefer to leave it that way. After all the art isn’t for the artists alone – it is for the audience.

This is where I part ways with the artists on our label. Yes, ultimately, these discs are for an audience as well. We call them customers or distributors but that is not really who they are for, that is their function. The CDs true purpose is create an artifact, a fetishized product for the artist to profit from and for the audience to desire.


Spokane and Mirror Mirror: “Lonely Are the Brave”

Mirror Mirror - Spokane's Finest

Jason Campbell (front) and Mirror Mirror/Photo: Jordan Beauchamp

Spokane, Washington’s local weekly The Inlander has delved deep into Jason Campbell’s music in a recent article entitled “Lonely Are the Brave” detailing his band Mirror Mirror’s recent climb up the Spokane club and bar scene. What isn’t apparent in the write-up is that Spokane has, over the years been a kind of incubator of Campbell’s darkly romantic gloom-rock. A native to Spokane, Campbell spent years playing in Spokane in the 90s with several different bands. He bounced between Olympia and Portland for awhile also playing and recording music but never quite clinching the momentum to garner this kind of write-up. On the other hand, maybe people just weren’t paying attention.

Spokane is an arid city with remarkably distinct seasons that stands alone amongst farmland and Ponderosa Pine covered hills. It’s heart lies in a valley in Eastern Washington – the last major outpost on Interstate 90 before the expanse of the Great Plains. It is the largest city between Seattle and St. Paul, Minnesota. It is a large enough burg that it touts itself as the capitol of the Inland Empire. A moniker that once had us all speculating about David Lynch’s announced film of the same name (it actually references a place in Southern CA). Was it (Inland Empire) about our strange hometown? Lynch spent time in Spokane having been born in nearby Missoula, Montana. As Spokane doesn’t seem to have many local celebrities – unless you count Craig T. Nelson and a few sports stars – our artsy crew took pride in the fact that Lynch walked our streets and that his movies might have been influenced by the truly odd characters and landscape Spokane exhibits. It is a conservative stronghold in mostly blue Washington, but it also has a very rich array of subcultures that thrive purely on their own fuel. Nary a word in the local press was printed about the underground scenes, underage church basement noise shows and DIY warehouse raves in the 90s. Spokane has seemed to morph from a culturally starved backwater to a more viable petridish of the arts. The local press is now starting to take notice.

Spokane has garnered many detractors, myself among them. One thing is clear however, Spokanites know good music when they hear it. After it is the hometown of Ben L. Robertson (drums/Aphonia co-founder) and Campbell. Both spent significant amounts of time on both sides of the cascades and it seems fitting, if not perfect, that the Mirror Mirror would reform and receive the notice that Olympia, Seattle and Portland collectively neglected.

Indeed, there is a hint of David Lynch in the music of Mirror Mirror. I can see Campbell as sharing crooning company with Julee Cruise, Lynch’s oft utilized anti-diva. His vocals are part of lyrical canvas both vague and specific, full of shadows and mystery. It is a fitting soundtrack to a city that stands alone near the precipice of the the Great Plains, which is to say, near something huge.

Read the article here. Listen below. Purchase here.


Kristian Garrard: From Electroacoustic to Acoustic

Luke Bergman and Kristian Garrard at Aphonia Recs Showcase April 2008

Kristian Garrard (KRGA) & Luke Bergman are Thousands.

In the past 4 and a half years our label has gone through many changes and growth spurts. Our artists are no exception. I have seen many of them play their first shows, go on tour, later to dissolve, reform and reinvent themselves. Kristian Garrard is one such individual.

I recall meeting him very early on in the Aphonia Recordings journey. Ben had met another Max/MSP composer and was extremely eager to have Kristian release something under his moniker KRGA. Later we would tap Kristian to play many of our showcases. Ben and Kristian even hosted a Max/MSP workshop at Gallery 1412, detailing the cryptic under the radar manipulations that many disavow as mere knob twiddling and laptop music. Yes, Kristian performed with a laptop but the results were simultaneously engaging, sedative, dynamic and, at times, frightening. Some of the best performances I witnessed during our run of showcases were shows in which KRGA was the headlining act.

By the summer of 2009 it was clear Kristian was onto other material. By this time he had released his first EP Magic Wand [AR014] and the full length June [AR016CD]. Both were mere snapshots of a larger musical genius at work. I had known that Kristian had been a drummer in the band Joules and that he was a blossoming master of electroacoustic improvisation. It was with his formation of Lonesome Shack and Thousands that is became clear that there was little Mr. Garrard could not do.

A few months back I passed by Kristian on Ravenna Boulevard where we both live – we are neighbors as well. I had no idea that this casual passing was on the brink of Thousands getting signed to UK imprint Bella Union. Yes, the very same Bella Union that signed Seattle’s Fleet Foxes in addition to Andrew Bird, Wavves and Midlake. Very good company, indeed. Hearing the news that they had been signed took me back to a show that Kristian and Luke had played at one of Kristian’s last appearances at our showcases.

Fully expecting to hear KRGA’s signature hum and layered developing/enveloping textures, I asked what he and Luke were doing there with a guitar and an upright bass. “Are you gonna hook that up to your (Max/MSP) patch?” I joked. Kristian something like, “Oh we are just going to play acoustic… no mics.” I knew some direction had changed for Kristian and while I knew him to be a consummate performer, he and Luke’s short set that night headlined a night of ambiant and noise music like no other. The strains of Kristian’s particular weaving chords, half resolutions and sustains and Luke’s persistent and hardy upright bass backbone ended the evening with a tribute, a lullaby that later would morph into Thousands.

Recently they have been playing sold out shows, completed a successful tour of Europe and were rightfully praised in Seattle’s alt-weekly The Stranger. Mr. Reighley describes their sound: “Like a shadow that cannot be divided from the entity that casts it.” Well said, and best of luck to our pals, Luke Bergman and Kristian Garrard.

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Ben L. Robertson : Farewell Seattle show (August 14th)

Note: Photo has nothing to do with performance.

Hello Everyone,

With great anticipation & some sadness, I would like to invite each of you
to my last performance at Gallery 1412 prior to my upcoming relocation to Spokane, WA. As many of you already know, I was recently accepted into Eastern Washington University’s Masters in Music Composition program & was, subsequently, chosen for a Graduate Assistantship within the Department. Needless to say, I am VERY excited.

You may be asking yourself, “What will become of Aphonia Recordings?” Fear not. Andrew will continue to maintain label operations & booking in the ..Seattle.. area, while I open the “Eastern Washington Branch” of Aphonia Recordings & continue to host shows in Spokane. Rest assured, we can all look forward to more releases & performances now from both sides of the mountains!

The Friday’s (August 14th) showcase will feature a number of unfamiliar takes on performance strategy & new interactivity. For example, cellist & master slide-projectionist, Derek M. Johnson will be performing an all acoustic set on a foreign instrument. If we’re really lucky, he might even coax out a Styx cover or two!

Likewise, Aphonia Recordings’ better-half, Andrew Senna is planning to perform
a rare solo set of original songs & noise textures that stradle the precious line between cathartic folk hymns & narrative sound-design. Finally, I will be performing a duet with violinist, Jackie An (New Red Sun, Whiskey Romance). This indeterminate piece is modeled upon an algorithm that extracts pitch data from two performers (Jackie & myself) & generates, by means of a logical system of microtonal counterpoint, new audio content in a manner akin to the improvisations a third, phantom performer.

With all of this mind, please stop by Gallery 1412 this Friday at 8:00pm (sharp) to hear/see all of this new work. Since this performance will be my going-away party of sorts, there might even be cake (????)

hope to see you there!!!!!

Aphonia Recordings : 09 – viii / Going-Away Party
1412 18th Ave – Seattle, WA
8:00 pm

Andrew Senna
Derek M. Johnson
Ben L. Robertson w/ Jackie An


Premier of Aphonia Recordings Voice/Strings Ensemble: Fri, May 1st @ Gallery 1412

Hello Everyone!
I am super pleased to announce that I will be premiering a brand new piece (Thamnophis sirtals: 2.25 Incantations & Spectral Taxonomy) at the upcoming Aphonia Recordings showcase on Friday, May 1st. Thamnophis sirtalis.

It is a taxonomically-themed, microtonal composition written for a voice & strings ensemble consisting of a number of active NW performers & Aphonia artists (ie. Amy Denio, Derek M. Johnson, Emily Pothast, members of Problems, Mood Organ, Midday Veil, etc..) I’m pretty excited to get all of these folks under one roof & feel extremely honored to have them performing my piece.

be there or be square-rooted!
-Ben Robertson (Aphonia Recordings Co-Founder)
Friday, May 1st @ Gallery 1412
1412 18th ave – Seattle
8:00 PM sharp!
Thamnophis sirtalis: 2.25 Incantations & Spectral Taxonomy for voices, electric bass guitar, cello, amplified viola, & amplified violin

Composed & Produced by:
Ben L. Robertson Aphonia Recordings co-founder, The Precambrian

Performed by:<
Emily Pothast (Mezzo-Soprano; Midday Veil)
Amy Denio (Alto; The Tiptons, Kultur Shock, etc..)
Jackie Ahn (Violin)
Ian Ackerman (Violin; Problems, Romanteek, The Strangers)
Gabriel Will (Viola; Problems)
Derek M. Johnson (Cello, Bloodclot, The Dead Air Fresheners, etc..)
Timm Mason (Fretless Bass; Mood Organ, Midday Veil, Eldridge Gravy, etc.)

Traditionally, biological disciplines, such as Taxonomy, & the arts have been viewed as, more-or-less, distinct from one another. Intersections between these two seemingly disparate practices are often more figurative than structural. Perhaps the clinically macabre imagery particularly associated with taxonomy, complete with shelves full of dead plants & animals preserved in bottles of formaldehyde, has done little to marry biological sciences to the expressive arts. However, the parallels in methodology that unite these two disciplines offer great potential.

By definition, a taxonomist gathers empirical observations regarding the physiology & behavior of organisms (both living and deceased) to craft an explicit vernacular that definitively describes his or her biological subjects. Through a similar methodology, the spectral composer may gather relevant acoustic data, classify this data in the form of a literal or symbolic language, & establish a protocol of musical conditions that reflect the nature of data collected. Within the piece, this process entails the development of a proprietary vocabulary, or spectral taxonomy, to describe & classify the individual harmonic phenomenon and spectral behaviors exhibited in the context of Frequency Modulation (FM) synthesis. The resultant spectral taxonomy is the maturation of a system of microtonal tuning & counterpoint that effectively exploits the unique timbres produced by specific FM algorithms.

Phonetically, the piece adopts the aesthetic of an Audubon field guide, as each vocalist recites a series of incantations documenting the Latin names of various North American subspecies of the ubiquitous Common Garter Snake, Thamnophis sirtalis.


1st Aphonia Recordings Comp Now Available Online!

For the first time we are releasing the first ever Aphonia Recordings compilation. Originally only available on CD it now is available on the our website at less than $5!!! Artists on the compilation include Darwinsbitch, KRGA, Marriage + Cancer and special compilation only track by Aphonia Recordings co-founder Ben L. Robertson.


Buy Now / $4.99


Benefit for the Olympia Experimental Music Festival


ADDITIONAL NOTE: Show starts at 8:00 PM sharp

For 14 years, the Olympia Experimental Music Festival has been an amazing asset to the NW experimental music community. This year, Aphonia Recordings will be hosting a benefit show to raise money for this year’s festival (…travel expenses for artists, promotion, venue rental etc.. This stuff isn’t free!). In addition to performances, we will also be holding a raffle & silent auction for awesome prizes donated by NW artists & musicians, including: CD’s, LP’s, reel-to-reels, random audio gear, & one squirrel costume (donated by Red Squirrels).

Please show up the benefit, donate generously, buy raffle tickets, bid on a rad prize or two, & support the festival……It will make you a better person!

A number of Aphonia Recordings folks will be performing at the actual festival in Olympia (ie. Paintings for Animals, Darwinsbitch, & a collaboration between Ben L. Robertson + Gabe Will (violist – Problems)).


Shows: June 2008


Aphonia Recordings 2008 Performance Series #6:
Friday, June 6th
Gallery 1412 (1412 18th ave – Seattle)
$5-15 suggested donation

-Paintings for Animals
-Penny & Her Lowercase Kindred (Olympia/Reno)
-The Precambrian


Heavy drones, overtone melodies, and the sound of the land – Paintings for Animals performs with field recordings, bowed metals, mixer feedback, throat singing, vocal blips, clicks and the buzz of electronics. Started 2001, in Seattle by Pearson Wallace-Hoyt, the project is maintained to provide a platform for the proliferation of spiritually charged noise and a revival of ritualized sound. With members dispersing to Bali, Kolozberg, New York and San Francisco, Paintings continues to craft a truly Cascadian music of chants, esoterica and the sounds of urban & natural environments.


Penny and Her Lower Case Kindred is a medley of shadow puppets, an adjustable stage, a variety of keyboards and organs, a synth, a loop station, a head mic, vacuums, strobe lights, fake blood, real blood, some drums,internal dialogue exposed… Unicorn: “We began hosting on-stage forums a couple of years ago once we realized that it was unfair to monopolize Penny’s brain.” Cher: “I wouldn’t really call it a forum…more like the sound of 15 minute recesses from the other side of the chain-link fence. Lots of piercing noises and academic purging.”


Aphonia Recordings’ founders, Ben L. Robertson & Andrew Senna, team up to explore the spectral transfiguration of minute sounds & vocalizations. In concept, The Precambrian is a sequence of interactive synthesis environments, engineered by Robertson using the graphical programming language; Max/MSP. Often drawing from his background in sound design for film & theatre, Senna utilizes a handful of homemade piezoelectric transducers, microphones, & field recordings to interact within each of these unique synthetic environments. The result of this interaction is a performance which resembles a series of absurd, one-act narratives.

Jun 05 – 9:00P Desolation Wilderness @ Le Voyeur (Seattle, WA)

Jun 06 – 8:00P Aphonia Rec. Series 6 @ Gallery 1412 (Seattle, WA)

Jun 08 – 8:00P The Precambrian @ The Blue Moon (Seattle, WA)

Jun 14 – 8:00P Agnes Szelag @ 21 grand (Oakland, CA)

Jun 18 – 8:00P Old Number Sevens (Phonon) @ the Tractor (Seattle, WA)

Jun 20 – 8:00P Benefit Show for the Oly Exp Music Fest @ Gallery 1412 (Seattle, WA)

Jun 24 – 6:00P Paintings for Animals @ Henry Art Gallery (Seattle, WA)

Jun 27 – 7:00P Ben Robertson + Gabe Will @ Olympia Experimental Music Festival

Jun 28 – 2:00P Paintings for Animals @ Artopia film show (Seattle, WA)

Jun 28 – 6:00P Darwinsbitch @ Olympia Experimental Music Fest (Olympia, wa)

Jun 29 – 7:00P Paintings for Animals @ Olympia Experimental Music Fest (olympia, wa)


Podcast for the Seattle Occultural Music Festival

Listen in as we cover several artists about to perform for the 2008 Seattle Occultural Music Festival. Included in this podcast are Problems (not performing at SOMF but members of Problems are), Agnes Szelag, Paintings for Animals, KRGA and Ben L. Robertson. Listen in to tracks never heard before or previously unreleased and newly released!
Podcast for the Seattle Occultural Music Festival


Series 5 Podcast Part 2: Gabe Will + Ben L. Robertson

Gabe Will, viola and Ben L. Robertson, Max/MSP, join together to form this new up an coming project. Here is their first live show at the Gallery 1412.

*Due to the extensive dynamic range of this recording some portions may sound rather quiet. Be prepared for fluctuations in volume.

Series 5 Podcast Part 2: Gabe Will + Ben L. Robertson