audiofile Tapes was run by Carl Howard from New Jersey and, to me, marked a high point of American underground cassette labels. audiofile released several dozen tapes and many were to become hallmarks of the entire scene. Some of my favorite tapes like Swinebolt 45’s (Roger Moneymaker) “Spank” were on audiofile as well as Carl’s meticulous magnificence on compilations such as “Hear The Roar Of Mountains”.
Carl patiently sat through my email questioning and replied with some relevant and interesting remarks.
Interview with Carl Howard
Label: audiofile Tapes ( is audiofile not to be capitalized?)
That’s right… lower case ‘a’.
Years of operation: ?
1984-1999. Essentially brought down by the simultaneous crash of a hard drive, a cassette playback unit, and … one other thing I can’t remember right now. It was one of those perfect storm trifecta deals that make it perfectly clear there was intelligent design behind it.
Carl’s own “band”, NoMuzic was a somewhat harsh, industrial slinging slice of hash with pounding beats, angular vocals and relentless drum machine.
Did your NoMuzic music project begin at the same time as the audiofile label? Originally was it a vehicle for your own music?
Nope! Same time frame. It kind of petered out after 1991 when I just stopped being able to write lyrics. Really. Over-riding mental block. So at that point there were no more songs as such, but I continued to use the name for several more years for just electronic music with largely analog synthesizers.
Roger Moneymaker’s full name doesn’t even appear on this great tape of axe grinding, ass kicking instrumental rock. He’s only known as “Rolmo” here. The bookend of this release , “Wank” was released on Harsh Reality.
Your label covered a lot of ground from space rock to stoner jam sessions, to avant garde experimental, industrial and more. Yet, audiofile seemed to have a general purpose and style to me. Was there an overriding philosophy about what you wanted to release?
At various junctures it can be said that there was. I promoted non-commercial alternatives from both an electronic and non-electronic music standpoint. I did release a few outings of the kind of extreme noize nature which was quite common in the cassette and DIY world in the 1980s and the 1990s, but I always left more room for traditional or floaty electronic approaches as well as space rock. With so much cassette activity at that time it wasn’t always easy to maintain a distinct identity, but as technology made it available I was able to move into less primitive methods of cover art production at least, and at the end moving into CDRs for a few things. I hoped to try to make available the work of some artists whose work wasn’t available on, you know, every other cassette label of the time, but that was always a hard sell, especially as some of the review magazines began to disappear. There was a period when the Internet actually made everything MORE difficult rather than less, because broadband was in the future, iTunes didn’t exist yet. There was even a period of a year or two when the Mac platform was not capable of working with MP3s. Ridiculous, I know.
Above, a 1992 tape by electronic musician, Arnold Mathes. He usually listed his entire arsenal of equipment on each tape. This tape was picked up by audiofile after being initially released by Arnold himself.
The tentacles of audiofile spread to far away lands. Did you actively write artists in other countries and make connections? Or did they come to you?
Ahh, tentacles. A bit of both, as you can imagine.
Did you ask or commission people to release tapes or did you cherry pick them from pre-recorded tapes that were not currently on a label?
Once again, a bit of both. Some were cassettes issued in different art, some really were commissions. Since one of the things I lost back in 1999 was the Quark XPress file with the actual catalogue, I can’t even check now to give you a sense of which might have been which. I jusssssssssst don’t remember anymore, but yes it was a mix.
This compilation from 1995 shows off the diverse and international flavor of what audiofile did. From Germany ( Dieter Zobel) to Italy,( Mana Erg), from space rock ( Black Holes Band, Alien Planetscapes) to guitar ambience ( Doug Michael), this tape was chalk full of listening pleasure. One of Carl’s other projects, “The Land Of Guilt And Blarney” also makes an appearance. Heck, I even had a track on it.
Did you ever sell enough to pay royalties?
Hawwwwww! Hawwwwwwwwwww!! Hawwwwwwwww!!!!!!
Did you advertise in any way?
There were ads that appeared in some publications. I had a “campaign” for a while called “Retro Rocket.” The copy was something like, It sounds like Tomorrow! It sounds like Twenty Years Ago! Most of these ads were negotiated in exchange for something, but a couple were actually paid for, like in Archie Patterson’s EuRock magazine.
Your tapes always sounded really good and the covers were professional looking. Was this a conscious decision to establish a level of quality?
Well, thanks. And yes. I’m an image snob.
You also published the a/A journal which contained reviews and features on underground artists. This seemed to stop before your label did. Was it just a time issue?
That was over in 1986. The final issue, which was supposed to have been co-released with a project that Architects Office had going, did NOTTTTTTT end well. So twelve issues, really. The limitations included time, money, inability to find other motivated writers, and a sense that all people really wanted to see was positive reviews of their own recordings. I wasn’t going to do that. I had long-form articles and a FEW reviews and was never interested in turning the publication into just another dumping ground for mini-reviews. There was already no end of that at that time. What was missing was in-depth analysis, of the kind that offers lasting permanence to the work of musicians because it offers a sense of perspective not simply offered within the necessarily myopic perspective of a vinyl or cassette single album review.
This delightful and polished band dabbled in progressive and charged up rock and could turn on a dime. This tape was also distributed by the European “office” of audiofile by Pascal Dauzier who ran the S.J. Organisation in Paris.
How did you know when it was over? Were you burned out and just wanted to move on?
It was fairly clear, yes! There’s a pissing in the wilderness sense you get which makes it quite clear that whatever you thought the party was, was over.
Above, a 1992 tape by electronic musician, Arnold Mathes. He usually listed his entire arsenal of equipment on each tape. This tape was picked up by audiofile after being initially released b y Arnold himself.
Since your move to Ohio some years ago you haven’t done any music that I am aware of. Do you hunger to go back to it at some point? Any interest in starting audiofile as a net label?
I’m not looking to return to any kind of distribution. I haven’t got the wherewithal now, and of course the rules have all changed. Everything is online now and I have narrowed in a lot, probably too much. The last time I really worked with music was during 2001 and 2001 with the Space Rock band Born to Go. Since coming to Ohio I have only participated in a couple of jams with Church of Hed/Quarkspace (from the American Space Rock community) using only a Roland module from 1976 that has no keyboard attached to it. I have sold a few keyboard synths off but I have retained a few others. The Buchla Electric Music Box from 1970 had to go because it was just too dilapidated and I was not up to the task of restoring it, so I sold it to a fine human being who was. I have never had any music composition software, I don’t claim to understand how things like Pro Tools work, and at this point… I guess I have simply fossilized myself. Oh, and I never wrote a song lyric again after 1991… ever!
I was aware of some women in underground music then but not many. What was your experience? Why are there so many underground women artists now but so few then? Maybe I was just missing out on a whole strata that existed. Your take?
There was a patriarchy. This pissed me off. Women like Robin O’Brien (hey!!!!) were such a refreshing relief because they contributed all they had to a subculture which was overwhelmingly not only male, but Caucasian. Debbie Jaffe is still there. I’m not sure whom else. Julie Frith, I guess. It was ridiculously hard to pierce those gender and racial limitations in the community. Has it changed? I don’t even know. I’m not watching any scenes now. I’ll take your word for it. With Doug Walker gone, I couldn’t even begin to tell you if any African-Americans or Latino-Americans are involved, or even in other parts of the world.
The tape trading network seemed to be as much a social as a musical movement. What do you think?
Oh without doubt! There was a true revelatory phase in which everything was new and something previously unimagined was on every page of an indie magazine, or waiting in your mailbox. I think that part of it was done by 1985 or certainly by 1986, but without doubt there was a second childhood air to the proceedings for a while. Remember at that time, social networking was NOT a click away and nothing happened unless you put a postage stamp on something or picked up a telephone, or maybe got in a car and did a road trip.
Do you think there is any lasting legacy of cassette culture?
That was something I was quite concerned with as the 1990s went on, because the impermanence of the medium, cassettes, was desperately apparent even as postage rates went literally through the roof, with the single worst culprit being the massive international rate hike that Germans were subject to after reunification. That one event threatened to scuttle the trading culture there, and the Internet remained several years away. Now with the period of cassettes even further away… all I can say is, while from time to time I hear stirrings of efforts to retain a legacy, I have to assume that we’re dealing with a dinosaur format which ultimately will lose large chunks of any potential legacy with every mangled cassette, oxide lost to dirty tape heads, and flooded basement damage.
What are the current projects that you would like people to know about?
I produce the SPACE PATROL program for http://luxuriamusic.com , where it has appeared since 2003. The focus of the show, however, is NOT what anyone familiar with me might think!
Thanks for your time Carl and best of luck with everything.
What an absolutely grotesque thing to say! Why, I am consumed with outrage. I am gripped by the Grippe.
SPACE PATROL !!