If,Bwana - Radio Slaves
if his stint as the legendary curator of eighties tape label / mega-conglomerate
Sound of Pig wasn't enough, Al Margolis' daring experimental works happen to
be a rare breath of fresh ether on the avant-garde music scene; from the small
section of work I have sampled, I have found his exploits to be consistently
more fascinating and stylistically novel than the output of many other underground
This self-justifying reissue comes by way of the fantastic Monochrome Vision
label, and unearths what was originally a 150-copy tape put out by the hopelessly
obscure Medicinal Tapes imprint based out of Pantin, France. Four additional
artifacts are also thrown in a spattering of comp appearances as well
as Extremely Dangerous, whose history is forgotten even to Margolis
Radio Slaves is almost entirely the result of a precious piece of equipment
known as the Casio SK-1, a 1985 sampler with enough memory only for very short
loops. Obviously the object of much fascination by Margolis at the time, it
is responsible for a whole world of sound on this substantial record, contriving
surprising sonic permutations and repeating them bountifully. Menacing Fish
Tales from the Bible, for example, combines the repeated utterance of
his holiness, a creepy chanted tidbit, and a sinister synth line
to utterly demonic effect. As is the case with the rest of the record, the joy
of the entire affair derives from the skill with which Margolis selects and
implements disparate sounds and puts them together to create a cohesive piece.
Other tracks take different approaches entirely, particular songs dabbling in
eerie prettiness (It's Your Funeral, Radio Slaves) and
loose romping-around (Jungle Horn, Brain Dead). The
enterprise rarely wades into mediocrity (Once Upon a Time).
One composition is worthy of special note, as it is significantly different
from its discmates. Called on God's Carpet is notable not just because
it's about five times as long as the album's average track length, but also
because it eschews the loopy sampler approach for a more expansive experimental
adventure. Garbled, incomprehensible speech is laid over a bed of haunting organ
drones amid a dark ambience that seems to rise up and incinerate the track,
rendering human voices grimly distorted, and suffocating the track in swelling
noise. Like the rest of Radio Slaves, it's potent, evocative stuff, and well
worth a listen.
How did the original Radio Slaves come to be? How did you get hooked up to
France's Medicinal Tapes?
Well I recorded the material - I had gotten a little Casio SK-1 sampler and
used that as the basis for all but one piece on the original recording. For
some reason whenever I got a new piece of technology if you want to call
it that I would use that as the source or method of working. Seems to
have been a pattern over the years. And to be honest I cannot remember how I
hooked up with Medicinal Tapes. We were undoubtedly in contact through tape
trading and I am guessing they asked for something to release. I tended to not
overly "shop" my work around (and I still do not). I mean, I do a
bit, but not overly aggressively kind of like, "Are you interested
in a recording?"
Whatever happened to Medicinal Tapes, for that matter?
I have no idea. My memory is that after the release we did not have much (any?)
contact but that could also be faulty memory.
Why the title Radio Slaves?
Well, I have usually listened to rock, pop, etc. radio from youth,
but also being involved in non-commercial music and non-music, I mean shit
commercial radio is what it is and in all reality it enslaves you to the same
songs and the beat and to serious consumerism. So, to a certain extent when
you listen to the radio and its no longer just music you do become
a "slave." (Probably better sounding than Radio Ensnared as a title.)
Radio Slaves has seen a fair amount of interest since its miniscule release
in 1986. Generator Sound Art re-released it as a cdr years ago, and now there's
this Monochrome Vision reissue. Why all the attention?
Well, as I mentioned, I made the tape and then Medicinal released it. Gen Ken
Montgomery of Generator (and by the way Pogus will be releasing a CD of his
soon) wanted to release something of mine as part of his archival section of
Generator, and apparently this is his favourite recording of mine. If you listen
to the short tracks and loops involved I think it makes sense that Ken digs
this one. And when Dimitry Vasilyev of Monochrome Vision asked for something
again keeping with his partial aesthetic of re-issuing a lot of 80's
cassette and electronic material I actually sent him 3 or 4 tapes of
materials and he wanted this one... Plus, he asked about filling it out with
some other material. Beyond that I really am not sure why it has been so "popular."
In addition to the original Medicinal Tapes release, this reissue also includes
a few compilation appearances, the details of which are vague even to you. Am
I correct in assuming you have massive stacks of archival material lining the
walls of your home? Just how much of your work do you own, and how often do
you listen to your older recordings? Is there a storehouse of unreleased material
waiting to be put out?
I could not find offhand the compilations the additional material was on
mostly from Alain Neffe's Insane Music label compilations. I think I eventually
ran across the tapes... I have stacks of cassettes from the days of tape label
running and trading. I was and have actually over the years been fairly efficient
at recording, meaning that I usually manage to release my backlog, whether by
self-releasing or finding some home for it. And I think that that backlog has,
on occasion, worked out qualitatively as well, as it seems to weed out the material
that, in the end, is better not out there... So while on one hand I really do
not go back and listen to lots of older material (though it is nice to hear
when, say, making a copy for someone), I do tend to listen a lot to unreleased
material (most of it newer) just to see if it is standing the test of
time while waiting for a home for it. I usually have 3 or 4 CDs worth of unreleased
material sitting around I would like to have it out there but releasing
too many If, Bwana CDs on Pogus at one time is not what I want to do, both for
artistic and financial reasons. So there is not much "older" archival
unreleased material out there. I would like to get some of the older cassettes
reissued, but there is newer material awaiting release or being finished or
In what context do you see Radio Slaves being listened to? What sorts of images/feelings
does it evoke?
I don't really know. On one hand I think it was partially a comment on 'world'
music and its use of samplings of music from all over the world to make new
and commercial music while "borrowing" other culture... While I have
used samples and loops for a long time, I early on tried to not use others'
work but sample myself or those I was working with (usually). It's a weird pop
record, also probably the most readily "beat" oriented work
I have ever done (Radio Slaves, anyone?) and it's got some
weird feel to it but not sure what it evokes. Kind of quasi religious at times
almost... but maybe not.
Michael Tau, Indieville