In 1991, Tim Gummer, Keith Hill and Steve Garden shared a vision for a label that would champion a diverse range of contemporary instrumental music unfettered by commercial pressures or constraints. Inspired by European music label ECM and New Zealand's own Flying Nun, Rattle sought to create a empathetic framework for music that wasn’t adequately supported by the labels of the day.
Encouraged by the success of our first releases, Pesky Digits (Gitbox Rebellion) and Songs For Heroes (From Scratch), Rattle worked with a number of composers and performers for its next release, the compilation CD Different Tracks. This album set the tone and direction for the projects that followed, the first being Te Ku Te Whe, the seminal debut of Hirini Melbourne and Richard Nunns.
Few could have predicted the impact and influence of Te Ku Te Whe, a groundbreaking work that would play a major role in the revival of te taonga pūoro (the traditional instruments of Maori). Two weeks were set aside to record the album, but by lunch on day two Te Ku Te Whe was in the can. Awarded Gold status in 2002, it remains our best selling album.
Te Hekenga-a-rangi (2003) wasn’t a follow up to Te Ku Te Whe so much as a broadening of its themes and concepts, this time emphasising the feminine dimension of taonga pūoro. To this end, Hirini and Richard were joined by Aroha Yates-Smith, and the resulting work is one of Rattle's most emotionally affecting releases.
In 2005, Rattle approached some of New Zealand’s finest remix artists to interpret Te Ku Te Whe, in part to go some way towards realising Hirini’s hope that taonga pūoro would be more widely integrated into the broader musical landscape of Aotearoa. Voted Best Maori Album at the 2007 NZ Music Awards, Te Whaiao is a successful and highly engaging fusion of ancient and contemporary musical influences.
Richard Nunns features on numerous Rattle releases, each situating taonga pūoro in an increasingly broad range of contexts, from Gillian Whitehead’s Ipu, to improvisational collaborations with Judy Bailey (Tuhonohono), the Chris Mason-Battley Group (Two Tides), Dave Lisik (The Curse of the Queen’s Diamond, Ancient Astronaut Theory, Journey/Hikoi), Marilyn Crispell and Jeff Henderson (This Appearing World), Whirimako Black (Te More), and as a member of the group Nga Tae.
The inclusion of Matre’s Dance on Different Tracks was the beginning of another of Rattle’s most enduring and successful collaborative threads, leading not only to the recording of Dan Poynton’s You Hit Him He Cry Out (1997 Classical Album of the Year) and Michael Houstoun's Inland (2008 Classical Album of the Year), but also to a series of landmark albums by one of New Zealand's most revered composers, John Psathas.
John’s acclaimed debut, Rhythm Spike (1999 Classical Album of the Year), was followed in 2006 by the monumental View From Olympus (2007 Classical Album of the Year). The album, complete with an accompanying DVD directed by Keith Hill, was the most ambitious and expensive classical recording ever undertaken in New Zealand, holding the number one spot in the classical music charts for six consecutive months and one of the top-ten classical albums for more than a year. He followed this with Ukiyo in 2010 and Helix in 2011, both Classical Album of the Year finalists.
NZTrio have released five exceptional albums on Rattle: bright tide moving between (2007 Classical Album Finalist), Flourishes (2010 Classical Album Finalist), Lightbox (2015), and in 2016: Sway and Vicissitudes (a collaboration with the Mike Nock Trio). Although pipped at the post by Michael Houstoun's Inland as 2007's Classical Album of the Year, the critically acclaimed bright tide moving between is widely regarded as one of Rattle's finest achievements. NZTrio are, without doubt, one of the stars in Rattle's crown.
Michael Houstoun is a musician of extraordinary depth and quality, and has performed on more Rattle releases than any other artist: including Rhythm Spike (1999); View From Olympus (2006); Inland (2007); Lilburn (2012); Beethoven: Complete Piano Sonatas (2014); Between Darkness and Light (2015, with Jenny Wollerman); Concerti (2015, with the Rodger Fox Big Band); 24 Tone Clocks (2016, with Diedre Irons, compositions by Jenny McLeod); and the magnificent Diabelli Variations scheduled for release in 2017. Future projects will include recordings of Brahms, Bach, the complete Beethoven violin sonatas, and Trois, a sublime programme of French music due for release in 2017. Our policy: wherever Michael goes, we go!
In 2009 we introduced the Rattle Jazz Series. The releases to date reflect our intention to pursue an eclectic range of performance-based recordings that offer a diverse overview of forward-looking contemporary New Zealand jazz by both established and emerging artists.
The launch of the Jazz Series signaled a new vision for Rattle, one that saw the label's output increase from barely one release a year (from 1991 to 2009) to averaging one a month since 2011, all strong examples of our commitment to challenge, re-define, and transcend generic boundaries.
The Rattle Jazz Series was rewarded for its commitment to New Zealand jazz when all three finalists for Best Jazz Album in 2015 were by Rattle artists: Jonathan Crayford, Dark Light; The Jac, Nerve; and the winning album Dog, featuring Auckland maestros, Roger Manins, Kevin Field, Olivier Holland, and Ron Samsom.
After 20 years of service to Rattle, Tim Gummer and Keith Hill bowed out as directors in late 2009 and early 2011 respectively, each to pursue their own creative endeavours (Tim as a designer, Keith as a writer/filmmaker). In April 2013, Victoria University of Wellington became the new owner of Rattle, with Steve Garden continuing at the helm with support from Victoria University Press.
Exactly two years later, VUW senior management called for a review of Rattle. Despite highly supportive submissions from industry professionals, academics, reviewers, composers and performers, the university chose to divest itself of the label. Steve bought the label back in December 2015, determined to ensure that one of the few artist-focused music labels will continue to have a place and purpose in the age of streaming.
While VUW's decision was disappointing in terms of losing the promise of a supportive and secure future for Rattle, it was increasingly evident that the university's expectations of the label simply weren't viable. We are relieved that Rattle wasn't irrevocably damaged by VUW's decision, so (to borrow university parlance) we therfore elect to adopt a sanguine perspective.
With new projects and artists perpetually coming into view, Rattle continues to draw from a rich and varied pool of emerging and established talent, broadening its reach and influence at home and abroad.