PRINT October 1997


Sub Rosa

“We are not, strictly speaking, a music label,” says Guy Marc Hinant of SUB ROSA, the Belgian record company he heads with Frédéric Walheer. Though, over the past decade, Sub Rosa has given us some of the most extraordinary music of the late twentieth century, the label embraces what John Cage called “the entire field of sound”—tones, voices, and noises in all their multiplicity and heterogeneity. It has put out collections of Yiddish and Judeo-Spanish songs, anticolonialist hip hop from Greenland, and field recordings of Venezuelan shamans. One series presents work by classical composers such as Giacinto Scelsi, Hanns Eisler, and Morton Feldman. An early Sub Rosa release, Break Through in Grey Room, offered a collection of William S. Burroughs’ tape “cut-ups”; a recent CD documents the entire program of Antonin Artaud’s censored 1947 radio broadcast, To Have Done with the Judgement of God; and a collection of Dada sound pieces, Luna Park, is forthcoming.

Sub Rosa recently paid tribute to Gilles Deleuze with two outstanding compilations of experimental rock and dance music, Folds and Rhizomes for Gilles Deleuze and the companion remix Double Articulation: Another Plateau. But the affiliation with Deleuze is more than nominal. If Burroughs, Artaud, and the Dadaists are examplars of what the late French philosopher called “minor literature,” Sub Rosa’s bewilderingly diverse catalogue can be construed as an attempt to foster a sort of “minor music.”

Though their best-known releases are, in fact, an assortment of abstract electronica and allied genres—post-rock, ambient, trip hop, drum ’n’ bass, and dub—what connects these recordings with those of Burroughs, Scelsi, and Yanomami shamans is electronica’s fascination with de- and re-contextualization. Think of the experiments in sonic substance embodied by David Shea’s or Bisk’s sampler and turntable compositions, by Oval’s assemblages of digital detritus, and by Mick Harris’ and Eraldo Bernocchi’s nanodissection of rhythm. Much of this can be heard on the Underwood and Underwood Two samplers—as good a place as any to begin for those uninitiated in Sub Rosa’s clandestine pleasures.

Christoph Cox