Oakland Label Petit Mal Puts Experimental Sound Art on a Three-Inch CD
Jim Kaiser and a collaborator performing at the Luggage Store Gallery in S.F.
Name: Petit Mal
Owner: Jim Kaiser
Label one-sheet: Petit Mal is an independent record label initially established by Jim Kaiser to self-release his own material. It has evolved into a tightly curated project that allows Kaiser to release experimental music, primarily on 3" CDs.
Headquarters: An unassuming Oakland bungalow set back from the street serves its dual purpose as Kaiser's home and the headquarters for Petit Mal. Towers of music and related ephemera populate the densely packed living room where inventory is stored, and where the in-house production of Petit Mal's releases occurs. The sheer amount of media is impressive. But if only three objects in the room could be used to illustrate the essence of Petit Mal, the four-track cassette recorder, altar of skulls, and Korean issue of a Polish horror film would suffice.
Musical focus: To describe his own music, Kaiser asserts that "it's not academic enough to be high-brow experimental and it's not your run-of-the-mill, macho, noise assault either. It's somewhere in between lo-fi noise an academic experimental." For most of Petit Mal's releases, that is an apt description as well. On Petit Mal CDs, listeners will find field recordings, amplified bicycle wheel bowing, tape loops, and studio manipulation. Petit Mal's releases are consistently organic. They veer away from electronic synthesis towards musique concrète, but rarely enough to incorporate traditional instrumentation or composition. Many releases rely upon improvisation, and Kaiser says that, particularly with his own music, instrumentation that facilitates mistakes and chance manifestations of unusual sounds are preferred.
Primary format: Cult music on cult formats has become somewhat of an unintentional theme of Label Sampler, and it rings particularly true for Petit Mal. Nearly every release on the label has been a 3" CD. Kaiser is well aware of the niche market for Petit Mal's music, and selected a format that he could duplicate small editions of himself at a reasonable cost, and that also had a niche appeal. The format also requires a certain amount of effort on behalf of the consumer. The 3" CD essentially deters interest from consumers who aren't determined to hear the music. After all, a 3" CD will fuck up your Macbook.
Origin of label name: "Petit Mal" was the moniker Jim Kaiser operated under for years. He chose to abandon it in favor of performing with his birth name, but adopted the name for his label. Basically, the phrase is a French term referring to a short seizure, but could be literally translated as "small evil," a description that Kaiser likens to a 3" CD.
Creation story: Kaiser began creating experimental music in Kansas City and continued his pursuits in New Orleans. Such locales were not conducive to the niche genre in which his music operates. To illustrate the lack of support for esoteric music in New Orleans, Kaiser recalls booking a show for internationally known experimental musician Joe Colley. There were no venues available for such a performance, so he rented a closed restaurant and staged the shows there to a crowd of less than 20 people. In most other metropolitan areas, Colley would have a significantly greater draw. Upon relocating to the Bay Area, Kaiser arrived in the midst of a flourishing experimental scene, and quickly landed gigs at East Bay venues such as Beanbenders and 21 Grand. Along with the hours of recordings Kaiser had languishing, he met others with a wealth of unreleased material. As Kaiser explains, "This music has no commercial appeal, but there are enough weirdos here [Bay Area] for it to sustain itself." The impetus for Petit Mal had arrived.
Petit Mal releases
Most recent releases: Seminal guitarist Bruce Anderson of MX-80 and Gizzards has released a 20-minute piece of solo guitar entitled Bresson on Petit Mal. The mood is meditative, but his cyclical composition is at times poignantly longing. Released simultaneously with Bresson is Neognath in Machina by irr. app. (ext.) The nom de plume is that of Matthew Waldron, a visual artist and current member of Nurse With Wound. Neognath in Machina is a work of musique concrète that uses recorded sounds as the raw resources for composition.
Most unusual release: 3" CDs are an esoteric format, but 3" DVDs are arguably even more bizarre. Naturally, Petit Mal has released one. With NF Orchest, Kaiser often performs with visuals, and the footage projected at a performance at The Lab in 2010 has been manipulated and treated by video artist Jerry Smith. The nebulous, heavily obscured video product was released on Petit Mal with a live recording of their original show as the soundtrack.