Through her radio show, mix series and record label, Izabel Caligiore has created a sound world for the midnight hour.
"I'd sit there on my own, wondering who was listening and where from, and this anonymity was integral for my musical selections," she says.
The PBS show ran for around 18 months, and became the foundation of the Lullabies For Insomniacs record label, which launched in 2016. For anyone unfamiliar with Lullabies For Insomniacs, its name is instructive. "For me, the name speaks to a certain time but also to a way of listening, and a certain feeling," she tells me. The music on the label can broadly be defined as experimental, but beyond that, the only thing that ties each release together is Caligiore's exquisite taste, one rooted in her studies in music and sound art.
Caligiore was only 22 when she started hosting the PBS show, but she'd already developed a deep knowledge of experimental music. "It wasn't about trying to be different, or seeking out the most obscure records. It was just a case of, what haven't I heard before? I was searching for music that was fresh to my ears." Hosting a radio show encouraged her to delve deeper into the music she was playing, seeking out interesting bits of context to share with listeners. She'd spend hours scouring online platforms, music publications and record shops, often contacting artists and labels directly to ask for music.
This is how she began speaking with Roger Berkowitz, a musician living in New Jersey. Berkowitz would send Caligiore his latest creations. This dialogue paved the way for Prayer And Resonance, a collection of three years' worth of musical experiments Berkowitz recorded under the name Unearth Noise, released on Lullabies For Insomniacs in August of 2016. Berkowitz says the music was partly informed by his experiences with hallucinogens (one track is called "Ayahuasca"), which opened his mind to an "alternate or deeper reality beyond this world." The result is a murky collection of chimes, strings, homemade electronics and tabla-like percussion.
Prayer And Resonance was the second release on Lullabies For Insomniacs. The first, 鯰上 - On The Quakefish, came from the Japanese artist Sugai Ken. The album is a bewitching fusion of traditional Japanese music and modern electronics. Its origins are tied to the SoundCloud mix series Caligiore started after she left Melbourne for Amsterdam, where she's lived for the past two years. "Sugai had heard the mix Chee Shimizu had done," she says. "So he got in touch and sent me some demos, which were mind-blowing and very refreshing."
The series is now nearly 60 mixes deep, with renowned diggers like Chee Shimizu, Jamie Tiller, Tako and Dubby among those who have contributed. The most-listened to podcast comes from Donato Dozzy, but some of the most rewarding mixes come from lesser-known artists, like Laura Not or Red Light Radio regular Joséphine. "I'll listen to them, lying in the dark, without being too aware or worried about who is behind the mix," Caligiore says.
This approach, at once engaged and removed, is one that Caligiore also brings to her label. "A good environment to create music is one where no one cares," she says. "It's important to have as little influence as possible, which creates these wacky, interpersonal experiences. I don't think it's my role to reinterpret or claim responsibility for the music on the label, but it's important for me to put it out there."
Since the Sugai Ken and Unearth Noise records, Lullabies For Insomniacs has assembled a broad roster of artists. There's Life Garden, a band formed in the late '80s in Phoenix, Arizona, who crafted slow, chugging industrial sounds on this year's album Songs From The Other Side Of Emptiness. And then there's Air Cushion Finish, a live act formed in Berlin who make music using vocal manipulations and DIY electronics. Their Flink album for Lullabies For Insomniacs is, in Caligiore's words, a "slow-motion cacophony of whispers, bleeps, rhythms and harmonies."
Caligiore wants to focus on new or recently recorded music, though a couple of archival releases have slipped in—a collection of self-described "industrial sound sculptures" from the British musician GP Hall, recorded between 1994 and 1999, and compilation of Yasuo Sugibayashi's early '80s loop experiments that came out on his own, short-lived label, Mimic Records. GP Hall's music, made with electric and acoustic guitars and six-string bass, contains ghostly echoes of flamenco, blues, jazz, rock, folk and classical, while Sugibayashi's untitled creations, inspired by ancient ethnic music and his daily experiences living in Tokyo, seem to stretch out to infinity. Both of these releases provide the kind of immersive sonic experiences that are best heard by the "way of listening" Caligiore associates with the name Lullabies For Insomniacs.
Meanwhile, Lullabies For Insomniacs released the first in a series of compilations called Turn On, Tune In, an excellent primer for anyone new to the label. Alongside music from label affiliates Sugai Ken, GP Hall and Unearth Noise, the compilation welcomed some new names: the duo Magic Carpathians, Gayle Brogan and John Cavanagh's Electroscope project, New York pair Georgia and the Venezuelan-born artist Bear Bones, Lay Low.
Another name that appeared on Turn On, Tune In was Million Brazilians, a Portland act founded by Grant Corum and Suzanne Stone. Caligiore discovered Corum and Stone's project when she stumbled across some music they released on their own label, Psychic Sounds, in a Brussels record shop. They'll soon release an album on Lullabies For Insomniacs, titled Red Rose And Obsidian. Caligiore says she hopes it inspires people to seek out more of their music and dig deeper into the flourishing Portland underground scene that Million Brazilians are linked to.
With the label in its infancy, Caligiore admits she's still shaping the Lullabies For Insomniacs universe, and imagines it will evolve in ways she hasn't considered yet. What seems certain is that she'll continue digging for music in spots where others don't look, shaping a singular record label and continuing a journey that began with those late night radio shows in the PBS studio.
Izabel mixes a blend of music for the midnight hour, with tracks from inside and outside of the label.
László Hortobágyi - Reptile Temple (forthcoming on Lullabies For Insomniacs)
Dreaming Together - The Light Of Iaii (excerpt)
Rah / Sound Cosmodel / Automind
O Yuki Conjugate - Kyrie
Kon - Dark Town
Red Weather / Sleepless Dreams / Sound Voice
Tod Dockstader - Pond Dance
Michel Redolfi - Immersion (excerpt)
Der Zyklus - Optical Distortion
CoH - II-II Vittorioso Calando
Slum Goddesses / Ultra Paste
Pascal Comelade - Pluie Japonaise
Dreamies - Program Ten (excerpt)
Der Reigen (excerpt)
Unearth Noise - Offering Bowl (forthcoming on Lullabies For Insomniacs)
Mikhail Chekalin - Erotic Fish Marouani
Current 93 - Hourglass For Rosy Abelisk
Waiting to be / Sound Cosmodel
Benjamin Lew & Steven Brown - L'Ile, L’Hôtel
Raffaele Serra - Window Water Baby Moving
Demdike Stare - Hashshashin Chant
Mike Cooper - Electricity
Fizzarum - Izoterica
Geoffrey Landers - Minored Birds
Sugai Ken - Genkyo
FFWD - Klangtest
Piotr Kurek - Untitled 5 (forthcoming on Lullabies For Insomniacs)
Garland - Break ColSe6 V KS (forthcoming on Lullabies For Insomniacs)
Tarot Plane - 258 Oblique (forthcoming on Lullabies For Insomniacs)
Tarot Plane - For D (forthcoming on Lullabies For Insomniacs)
If you're at ADE this year, come see Izabel play alongside Ben UFO, DJ Nobu, Jayda G and others at our party at RADION on October 21st.