All Articles
All Articles

Butterscotch Records

The new label celebrates its launch with cuddly theremins and Wilco's Mikael Jorgensen on white vinyl

by Nara Shin
on 31 October 2013

The newest record label on the New York circuit is Butterscotch Records, the brainchild of seasoned engineer and producer Allen Farmelo. For its launch this month, Farmelo (now a label head) combined forces with contemporary artists, a designer, a gallery in Soho and electronic instrument company Moog Music—giving the sense that Butterscotch Records is pretty serious, and pretty unique. CH visited the Judith Charles Gallery to view the collaborative exhibition "Odd Harmonics," which featured custom-made and almost cuddly theremins by François Chambard of UM Project (a familiar CH face and also long-time collaborator of Farmelo's), pieces by visual artists Cassandra C. Jones and Tomory Dodge, and a series of performances throughout the month from musicians.

One of them may look familiar, as Mikael Jorgensen is the pianist and keyboardist for alt rock band Wilco and has co-written songs including "Theologians" and "Side with the Seeds." With a background in electronics and computers, and years of playing in genre-pushing bands, Jorgensen isn't afraid to experiment—and collaborate—as heard in one of the first releases from Butterscotch Records, an album simply titled Mikael Jorgensen & Greg O’Keeffe.


Inside the gallery, CH spoke with Farmelo, Jorgensen and others, fiddling all the while with the charming theremins, which produce an eerie, oscillating electronic sound (heard in classic sci-fi films such as "The Day The Earth Stood Still" and "The Thing From Another World"). Volume and pitch are controlled without requiring any physical contact—so a lot of hand flailing around the two antennas is involved. While there aren't any theremins in Jorgensen and O'Keeffe's new album, it features exclusively vintage analog synthesizers and electronic samples (minus the live drums) and an equally adventurous look, printed on white vinyl with curious album art by Jones.

The lack of electric guitars and bass is quite refreshing, and the album lets the oft-neglected, drifting-in-the-background synthesizer take the spotlight, showing off how diverse it can be in terms of range, texture and timbre. The occasional vocals function more as a supplemental instrument that completes the atmosphere, rather than serve as the focal point. Jorgensen and O'Keeffe are reinterpreting today's alternative music that evokes what Wendy Carlos and Benjamin Folkman did for electronic music in their 1968 album Switched-on Bach, by performing classical Bach pieces on a Moog synthesizer.

"After finishing this record, I couldn't shake this idea that electronic music is part of a 20th century folk music tradition," says Jorgensen. "The aesthetics are enormously different and the history is, by contrast, brief [but] there are parallels, especially within dance music, with its appeal to such a vast cross section of people." For example, he sees MIDI drum patterns, on the computer screen, resembling basket weaving or Nordic sweater designs.


The album artwork is from the "Lightning Drawing" photo collage series by Cassandra C. Jones, an artist who is now married to Jorgensen. Jones gathers photos of storms and groups them based on "if the lightning bolt in each image looked thin, thick, serrated, fractured, fluid, feathered, etc," she says. Jones then painstakingly arranges them to create circles and even outlines of animals that seem impossible, seeming as if she drew them herself with charcoal or ink.

For the cover, Jones says, "I created a line that had a smooth ebb and flow, hence the title 'Mercurial.' It was also a nice analogy for their music; that they took all these sounds that were once analog, turned them digital and pieced them together to make a cohesive expression." The gatefold image inside is "Lightning Drawing 6," and shows a fox chasing a rabbit. Jorgensen points out, "While the acquisition of our source material is fundamentally different—Cassandra legitimately collects images taken by other photographers while Greg and I record acoustic drums [and] analog synths in our studio—the manipulation of these digitizations in the computer to create a personally unique expression is the same."


Farmelo explains the story of how he got everyone together in one room, this month. "I started the record label, Butterscotch Records, and Cassandra Jones' work was on Mikael Jorgensen's record. And then I signed the band New Weather, who has Tomory Dodge, the painter, in it. And François and I had collaborated on my recording console—he designed it and he also designed Mikael's keyboard stand that he uses onstage with Wilco and with his own music," he says. "So we're all part of this little community that were trying to get this record label going and contributing, François also designed our logo. And so when we were trying to figure out how to celebrate the launch of the label, I said, well, all these visual artists should do something because they're so important to the label."

When asked if he had any concerns about starting a record label in a new era of digital music services like iTunes and Spotify, Farmelo is confident. "What vinyl allows you to do, the 12-inch LP format allows you to have big art and a big physical object that actually weighs something. You can't turn it off, you can't scroll it away out of vision, you have to live with it and be with it," he says. "I think that's why it's coming back. Because of our digitized lives, we want objects that we can touch and feel and look at, experience in three dimensions—and get away from our computers and phones. Butterscotch looks to ride this wave of return of vinyl, or any return to tactile experiences in conjunction with recorded music. Not a video or small JPEG on your iPhone—but big, lush, beautiful art that you're meant to spend some time with."


"Odd Harmonics" is on view at the Judith Charles Gallery in Soho until 16 November—all of Francois Chambard's theremins are for sale, and be sure to check out the special duet performance from thereminist Carolina Eyck and pianist Christopher Tarnow on 2 November in the space.

Mikael Jorgensen & Greg O’Keeffe is available in a limited edition, double LP vinyl in white for $28 from Butterscotch Records. Stay tuned for upcoming projects from Jorgensen and other artists.

Photos by Karen Day, album artwork courtesy of Cassandra C. Jones

The CH25 is a showcase of creators and innovators from a broad range of disciplines who are currently working to drive the world forward.

Vanessa Newman

Redesigning pregnancy for the post-gender generation with Butchbaby & Co.

Read More
I want my customers to feel comfortable and unchanged, in that becoming pregnant didn't take away from or compromise their identity

Matt Kenyon

Fusing art and technology to disrupt concepts of corporate America

Read More
I want the work to live in the world and circulate, so it can generate more dialogue

Douglas Riboud + Justin Guilbert

How a mission to create great coconut water led to a whole new way of doing business

Read More
We’ve made a conscious decision to be as transparent and honest as we can, and let people decide for themselves

Corinne Joachim Sanon

The chocolatier bringing social change to Haiti and bean-to-bar chocolate to the world

Read More
Seeing the poverty surrounding me and the lack of jobs and opportunity bothered me

Cynthia Breazeal

How an emotional, empathetic robot named Jibo stands to revolutionize communication

Read More
The thing that's so provocative about social robots is that it's fundamentally a community technology

Jonathan Sparks

Reinventing electronic music by inventing multi-disciplinary instruments

Read More
Recorded music is becoming so cheap, so the value of music is now in live performance

Marcus Weller

Using technology to turn motorcycle helmet design on its head

Read More
I was taken aback both by the number of people that doubted it, and by the equally large number of people that got behind it

Dan Barasch + James Ramsey

A quest to make the future brighter—underground

Read More
We both share a passion for groundbreaking technology and a shared love of New York

Pauline van Dongen

The Dutch designer blazing the wearable technology path

Read More
I’m fascinated by concepts of change, movement, energy and perception; since they are closely related to the way we experience the world

LaToya Ruby Frazier

Documenting the slow, troubling change in Braddock, Pennsylvania

Read More
I am not a journalist, I am a conceptual documentary artist using my visual expression for building narratives that are unseen and unheard

Roxie Darling

From un-shampoo to transgender identity, the NYC colorist boldly defining the next chapter of hair

Read More
Hair color is as much a science as it is a craft

Tarren Wolfe

The next-generation appliance making kitchens greener—literally

Read More
Our goal is to provide food for everyone in the world, and the best place to start is in our very own community

Lulu Mickelson

A civic leader bringing change to NYC through design

Read More
Human-centered design is one of the many tools that we can use to better engage the public

Joshua Harker

Pushing the boundaries of sculpture with intricate 3D printing

Read More
My intent was to explore and depict the architecture of the imagination, to interpret and share forms evident in the mind’s eye

Meredith Perry

How searching the Internet helped a 22-year-old invent wireless electricity

Read More
It’s not about where the information is, it’s about how you use the tools

Alex Kalman

The tiny museum in Manhattan that’s redefining museums

Read More
The mission is to put this small simple and powerful tool into the hands of as many people as possible

Sarah Kunst

The entrepreneur single-handedly changing the landscape for women in tech

Read More
People who live on a planet that is half women but can never seem to find any when they need one, I have solved your problem

Kathleen Supové

The NYC performance artist who’s radically reinventing the piano recital

Read More
I like pieces that are virtuosic, that show off the piano and what it can do, and are awe-inspiring

Tal Danino

The bioengineer who’s programming DNA to fight cancer

Read More
[Manipulating genes] is very new, people are just learning how to program these organisms

Eelke Plasmeijer

The locally driven restaurant that’s upending Balinese food culture

Read More
We really try to keep things simple and let the produce do the talking

Sabine Seymour

A future where smart clothes are as ubiquitous as zippers

Read More
In the future you will not buy a piece of 'functional' clothing without SoftSpot

Melissa Kushner

Addressing the needs of orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi through microenterprise

Read More
Poverty is complicated, there is an increasing temptation and pressure in the development space to oversimplify things

Leopoldine Huyghues Despointes

The young filmmaker and non-profit founder who just wants people to follow their dreams

Read More
I feel confident and ready to accomplish so much more, the movement is on

Kegan Schouwenburg

Revolutionizing orthotics through 3D-printed insoles

Read More
What orthotics do is they effectively change the geometry of what your alignment is like

George Arriola and Monohm

An heirloom electronic for the post-smartphone era

Read More
We agonized during the design process as all hyper-obsessed craftspeople should
Loading More...