Land and Sea: The Rare Local Label That Can Claim SFMOMA as a Regular Customer

Categories: Label Sampler

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A spread of Land and Sea releases.
Name: Land and Sea

Headquarters: Piedmont, Oakland

Owners: Chris Duncan and Maria Otero

Founded: 2009

Label one-sheet: Land and Sea is an independent record label and publishing house helmed by husband and wife Chris Duncan and Maria Otero. Its releases include consumer-level records, records as art objects, prints, and books. In their words, Land and Sea is a "sonic and visual project," with particular emphasis placed upon hosting gatherings related to releases.

Visual art in Label Sampler?: Its variety of media makes this an unusual installment of Label Sampler, but Land and Sea's impeccable curatorial consistency warrants coverage. After all, not many record labels can boast that the SFMOMA has all of its releases in the museum's permanent collection.

Musical focus: As with its criteria for visual releases, Land and Sea seeks work that its owners find "vital and interesting." They consider "art" a "catch-all, umbrella term for any creative endeavor, [whether it be] sound, gatherings, books or poetry." In short, Land and Sea seeks work that is line with its owners own aesthetic principles, which Duncan describes as "simple, beautiful things that are of the moment." In more concrete terms, Land and Sea's musical releases range from the affected folk of Coconuts to limited, high-brow experimental records that coincide with particular openings and instances of performance art.

Creation story: Prior to Land and Sea, Duncan and Otero were both heavily involved in other publishing endeavors. Once those projects ran their course, the couple was eager to build another community-oriented, creative organization. An offer for Duncan to co-design the catalog for an art show entitled Default State Network provided the impetus to establish the Land and Sea moniker. Given Duncan and Otero's similar interests and matching creative drive, they decided to work together and focus on books and records.

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The Coconuts LP, with Land and Sea's circular logo.

Most recent release: Land and Sea's second release was a 7-inch single from San Francisco duo, Coconuts. The group's follow-up LP also appeared recently on the Land and Sea imprint. The record, in an edition of 300 and available on a variety of colored vinyl, employs supple vocal melodies underpinned by docile acoustic instrumentation that often crescendos into gorgeous passages of exaltation.

Next release: A 7-inch from Orbless' Collin Mckelvey, who also runs San Francisco's Beach House tape imprint, will be given the Land and Sea treatment soon. For this record, Mckelvey was asked to respond to Paul Kos' "The Sound of Ice Melting." Following that, Land and Sea will release an LP from Believer, a group comprised of Danny Grody and Trevor Montgomery.

On arranging live events: Land and Sea is seemingly just as interested in bringing people together for artistic events as it is in releasing work. Duncan explains that one of the label's primary goals is to "conceive and present interesting reasons for folks to gather," going so far as to admit that they once considered treating each event as its own edition, but ultimately nixed the idea. For an event called The Human Dam at Macarthur B. Arthur, Reuben Lorch-Miller edited "A Bucket of Blood," a cult film chronicling the pursuits of a frustrated artist, down to 20 minutes, created a soundtrack, and then enacted a live "exorcism" in which he liberated the film's frustrated protagonist. Land and Sea released a flipbook of stills from the performance.

Records as art objects: Land and Sea releases records that retail at normal prices for new vinyl, but some of their releases treat the format as a fine art object. For a work entitled The Sound of Paper by Land and Sea's own Chris Duncan, Duncan was invited by the University of Kansas to create a work that challenged the notion of what a print is. Duncan then created a double LP and corresponding gatefold packaging, entirely by hand out of paper. The "records" were embossed with grooves for a turntable needle to follow. He described the noises produced as "white noise with sporadic beats [and] moments of discordance [and] soft, warm harmony." Of course, along with fine art atmosphere come fine art prices. Each of the 12 reproductions was priced at $1,000.

For another release, an assortment of musicians and non-musicians were gathered once a week over the course of three months for improvisational recording sessions. Those recordings were edited into one 12-minute piece and releases by Land and Sea in an edition of 30 on one-sided yellow vinyl. The packaging was hand-sewn, hand-numbered, flocked and letterpressed.

Origin of label symbol: Land and Sea's tasteful, circular insignia was designed as homage to the logo of Black Mountain College, a short lived North Carolina college founded in 1933 that produced an unprecedented amount of important poets and artists and whose model became the basis for modern liberal arts education.

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