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After a nearly 20-year hiatus, a Coralville-based music label is producing music again — for Mark Ruffalo


Isaac Hamlet   | Iowa City Press-Citizen

Russell Curry left the music industry in 2001, the same year Apple changed the landscape by launching iTunes; by the time he'd returned in 2017, Pandora, YouTube, Spotify and SoundCloud were among the myriad forces that had reshaped the industry.

"You look back and ... there's these big shifts and pivots (in the music industry) ... I don't even worry about that anymore," Curry reflected. "I just try to keep my eye on (my goal) and figure out how I can best bring music to people."

Curious Music is the Coralville-based music label Curry founded in 1988. For 13 years, he released CDs, promoted tours and dealt with publishing agreements. By the time the world entered the new millennium, though, Curry was feeling burnt out.

"When I quit, there was no lingering flame," he said. "But after about 10 years or so, I got a lingering itch where I had to express myself, creatively."

While he didn't leave music production because of Apple's early-aughts game-changing platform, he's certainly felt its influence upon his return. The process of producing a complete CD is easier now than he remembers it being in the 90s. The work to promote those albums is, too, he says.

"I'm amazed that we could put together a 30-day tour and tour the United States in 1999.

"Looking back, it was really stressful."

What changed in those 16 years was not just in how audiences tuned in, but what they listened to. With the advent of 21st-century platforms, popular music has become less homogenized. With more access to artists than ever, people can track down sounds specific to their taste, no matter how niche.

Curry sees the tech of today as largely a boon.

"Sometimes people think of Curious Music as ambient or experimental or electronic music," he explained. "I think all of those things are probably true, but I don't like to pigeon hole any of the releases like that."

And already he's found new success: He recently collaborated with Heavy Color, a band populated by duo Ben Cohen and Sam Woldenberg who will be featured in the upcoming Witching Hour festival. The pair also created the soundtrack for a new Mark Ruffalo-produced documentary, "Invisible Hand."

The crux of the documentary stems from a 2014 lawsuit in which attornies asserted a "right to exist" on behalf of Grant Township, a watershed in Pennsylvania.

The documentary, available to stream at invisiblehandfilm.com, focuses on the Rights of Nature, a global movement that argues that, if the conglomerations of resources and ideas that comprise businesses have claim to "personhood" under the law, similar rights should be extended to living ecosystems, too.

"This film showcases this absolutely revolutionary movement across the globe where people's ideologies are having to be transformed and they're having to think how this western world interacts with the wild,” Joshua B. Pribanic, the documentary's co-director, said during a release party Saturday for the soundtrack. “We have transformed what was an amazing, wild landscape to this ugly monoculture filled with very dangerous pollution.”

Pribanic and his co-director, Melissa Troutman, both found themselves asking how best to articulate nature's voice in the film's soundscape. Cohen got in touch with him early in the search for that sound and found their musical sensibilities clicking.

"I think it’s important for everyone to understand how important the audio and music is (in a film)," Troutman said during the weekend gathering. "The soundtrack is the mood, it’s the texture — it’s so many things — and (Heavy Color) did such a good job with biomimicry, and that’s something we wanted to have for a sound, and (they) just nailed it.”

Beyond his freshly burgeoning success, Curry wants those who look at Curious Music to recognize it as a distinctly Midwestern company. Having spent his life in Iowa and Illinois, he feels the region has had a hand in his sensibilities.

When he tries to describe how he envisions his company, he ends up alluding to quintessential Midwestern artist Grant Wood. Two of Wood's paintings, in particular, capture his inarticulable notion of Curious Music: "Parson Weem's Fable" and "Return from Bohemia."

"If you look at those two paintings, that's what Curious Music is about," he said.

"The beauty and landscape of Iowa and the Midwest is in the DNA of Curious Music ... There's a beauty and a rhythm to the physical landscape."

And "the 'Invisible Hand' Soundtrack is a perfect example of what I like to do with Curious and the direction that I want to take it."

Isaac Hamlet covers arts, entertainment and culture at the Press-Citizen. Reach him at ihamlet@press-citizen.com or (319)-688-4247, follow him on Twitter @IsaacHamlet.

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