And That Was The Start

[Al Margolis’s Pogus CDs feature music that’s bound to make pillars of the community wonder where the culture went wrong. I recommend visiting his Website, Al is also the label manager for XI and the managing director of the Mutable Music label. I got to know my dear old friend when he was Director of A&R for New World Records, a job he held for a number of years. Ed.]

Al Margolis

[January 2001. Originally appeared in La Folia 3:2.]

Send money. Oh, sorry, that’s from the other article I was starting to write. But ya could anyway. I run a small label. Non-profit. Not by choice. Pogus. You may have heard of it. Maybe not. But this is not to be about the label, it’s about how I, a rocker and fairly untrained musician came to be an experimental/contemporary classical kinda guy. No idea. Well, that is untrue. Always was interested in the weirder side of music. But it becomes a funny path one ends up following. From rock and roll got into Frank Zappa among others. Who would always quote Varèse on his record jackets. So one day yer down at the library and there are records by this Varèse guy. You take it out (as I remember it, it was Abranavel and the Utah Symphony). Whoa! Pretty cool stuff! Further aside: a few years back Erato put out a couple of Varèse discs with Kent Nagano conducting. Totally screwed with my memories. All the block sounds of Varèse were totally smoothed out. Couldn’t figure out if the players are now so good that Varèse isn’t, or did Nagano “smooth” Varese out, on the one hand, bringing him into the classical fold, and on the other, totally gutting what he was about. Anyway, this Varèse guy was good. And while poking about the classical (musta been the weird section) records also ran across Partch, Cage and Phil Glass LPs. So I start to listen — while still navigating the strange areas around rock etc. Pretty cool stuff.

Flash forward a bit. Have started doing my own thing (under the name If, Bwana) and have also started running a cassette label, Sound of Pig Music. This is 1984. Lots of diy stuff: industrial, weird pop, noise, experimental (some people have even almost gone on to fame and fortune). Gotten into some Schoenberg, but still most knowledge gleaned from those library labels. A friend/fellow’er/cassette guy, Doug Walker/Alien Planetscapes, starts a concert series in his Brooklyn apartment, gathering the cream (well maybe) of local talent/neighbors/outsiders, and as we gather there once a week I start looking through his record collection. Well, the guy has Stockhausen, Henze, Kagel, Penderecki, Nono, Xenakis, electronic and orchestral — you get the picture. And he lets me borrow it and tape it. Man, my ears were blown! I’d never heard this stuff. Well not directly. I’d heard it filtered through rock musicians and a lot of the cassette networkers I was dealing with/listening to. For instance, all kinds of people were doing collage type material — but not having a reference point, what dd I know. Then Hymnen. Aha, says I, here is where, at least on one level, this was coming from. Yeah, this was a (the?) source. This music was totally amazing. So I started trying to find it. Just an amazing opening of listening sources which I have now spent quite some time tracking down. And I have expanded what I listen to — and put out. Which leaves me still running labels and listening to weird music.

You know, I wrote all the above and realized it was wrong. Well, not wrong, but to brief, not accurate (memories started coming back, etc.). Left out important (to me) things,- details. For instance: Got into Zappa, Soft Machine, Henry Cow, etc., from magazines. Circus (first issue I bought Jan. 1970) would advertise and talk about the Stooges, the Dead, Soft Machine. But no one I knew was buying that stuff and you could not hear much on the radio. So it took some kind of leap to eventually buy my first Zappa/Mothers of Invention record, Weasels Ripped My Flesh (great cover). And it took many years later, after becoming acquainted/knowledgeable about contemporary classical to know that he was paying homage/using/spoofing the stuff — great choral work on “Didya Get Any Onya” — totally dead on and totally nailed it. Same thing with the first Henry Cow record: some really marvelous rock meets contemporary classical. But to my little unknowing feeble mind it qualified as “weird shit.” And I dug it. But I still wasn’t anywhere nearing hearing “classical” music at that time. And then in college, 1973, reading Steve Lake articles (and funny, believe he does some work for ECM now) in Melody Maker or NME (and he was a great writer when he loved something) totally turned me Canterbury — Soft machine, Gong, Henry Cow, Caravan, Hatfield and the North. Blew my mind.

Now we jump ahead a couple of year, back in school to finish up after having to go “find myself.” Never did check under any rocks, but here I am. Working on a degree in Communication Arts and Sciences and kind of enjoying myself, taking lots of film and literature classes. Have this Poli Sci professor who taught a lot of film courses as well. One day he shows us a Straub/Huillet film, Moses und Aron — yup, a film made in the desert of Schoenberg’s opera. Now that was some strange music to these (then) ears. Went to my local library, they had it, I taped it, and in my poking around, I found Varèse and Partch (Petals Fell on Petaluma), and Cage (Sonatas and Interludes), and Glass (North Star), and Cecil Taylor (The Great Concert). And that was the start.