Brian Labycz
Brian Labycz Credit: Andrea Bauer

If you were to classify a label that releases improvisational jazz and experimental music in limited runs of 100 CD-Rs as one that lives on the margins of obscurity, you’d be right on. But when Brian Labycz began the Peira label in 2007, he wasn’t focused on the masses—he just wanted to release a duo album he’d recorded with bassist Jason Roebke.

“No one wanted to put it out, so I thought, ‘Well, maybe we should just self-release it,'” Labycz recalls. “And then I was like, ‘Well, maybe I should just start a little label.'”

Labycz, 34, had wedged himself into Chicago’s improv community upon his return from a stint in Japan in 2003, where he lived for four years. When he first started performing in the late 90s he was a laptopper interested in processing field recordings. But once he became acquainted with members of the eventual jazz and improv collective Umbrella Music—by hanging out at Heaven Gallery and attending the Empty Bottle’s now-defunct Wednesday jazz series, he tweaked his setup and created his own interface. He first built a custom midi controller but now plays a modular synth.

“I got interested in free improvisation and moved away from field recordings,” Labycz tells me. “I shifted into doing things in real time and more hands-on.

“The jazz guys think I’m a noise guy and the noise guys think I’m a jazz guy. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good noise show, but I definitely enjoy playing with the acoustic guys. It’s more challenging.”

After he met Roebke and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm—and following their first pair of Peira recordings—Labycz took a three-year hiatus from Peira. “Moneywise [the label] wasn’t feasible for me at the time,” he says. Its resurrection in January 2011—a trio recording of Labycz, Roebke, and clarinetist Guillermo Gregorio and a release by the noise/free-improv trio Green Pasture Happiness—again materialized out of the frustration of not finding a proper label to release his collaborations.

“I found this CD-art production house that’s minimal in what they offer,” Labycz says. “The most expensive a single CD will be—with jewel case, full-color print, shrink-wrapped—$1.75. All I have to do is upload the contents, and I have the discs within a week or so—runs of 100, with 40 to 50 copies to the artists.”

Not only does the label rely on the accessible yet obsolete medium of CD-Rs, but album covers maintain a uniform design and Labycz masters many of the releases himself with analog gear at his Logan Square house. The label’s website is stripped-down and offers simple navigation of each of the 13 releases, with an option to purchase the physical or digital version (CD-Rs are $7, Bandcamp downloads are $4).

Labycz, who sells barcode equipment by day, tells me several of the players on the label, while semi-successful in the states, make their touring money in Europe—unsurprisingly Peira’s target market. Peira recruited releases from players such as trumpeters Nate Wooley and Jacob Wick, bassoonist Katherine Young, and Keefe Jackson, who is part of the quartet Mythic Birds with Labycz that features three, count ’em three, bass clarinets (and a modular synthesizer, obviously).

“The last time I played [experimental/noise venue] Enemy with Mythic Birds, there was this guy from Texas, and he was just blown away that there was a group with three bass clarinets and a synthesizer,” Labycz recalls. “He told me that this was like his dream band but that he would never be able to assemble it back home. It would be too hard to find three bass clarinetists, let alone ones willing to play more abstract. Chicago has a collaborative spirit in everything.”

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