Unfortunately, the music industry is merely interested in two types of artists:
Those enjoying commercial success and those exerting artistic influence on their
peers. It would probably be fair to say that, strictly speaking, Al Margolis belongs
in neither. Around 1984, Margolis founded Sound of Pig, an early tape label dedicated
to Noise, Sound Art, the Avantgarde and everything within close proximity. Starting
out with around twenty tapes in his first year, SOP quickly grew into one of the
underground's main platforms for experimental art: "I probably kept at least
3 decks going all the time, both at home and my job", he remembers, "One
got a very sharp ear hearing the click of a deck going off."
Right from the start, his own work, consisting of feverish collages and frenzied
symphonies of samples and sounds mostly published under the If, Bwana banner,
was part of the rapidly expanding catalogue. In 1989, after dubbing a yearly total
of over 3000 tapes and releasing roughly 300 albums, Margolis closed down Sound
of Pig in favour of CD-oriented Pogus Productions, which has remained his main
platform to this day. Here, the If, Bwana discography continued to proliferate,
as his own name became more widely appreciated - with arts commissions from around
the globe following suite. Aside from these activities, Margolis still found the
time to play Bass in Proto-Punk formation The Styrenes, responsible, among others,
for one of the more unusual versions of Terry Riley's "In C". And yet,
as he puts it himself, Margolis has remained an outsider. A major breakthrough
seems as unlikely as ever and it would certainly be stretching things to claim
a new generation of sound artists were trying to imitate his style. And yet, not
only has his presence consistently made itself felt for the better part of three
decades, but he has also managed to stay "relevant" to everyone interested
in the inexplicable moments of magic at the fringes of experimental art. Regardless
of commercial success or artistic influence, that is an achievement only few can
15 Questions to Al Margolis / If,Bwana - Tokafi
Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Well, I am back home in Chester, NY just returned from 5 weeks in Europe.
Whats on your schedule right now?
I have an upcoming performance with Tom Hamilton and Id M Theftable in August,
plus working on pianist Chris Chalfants Looking through Trees
peformance - doing some sound and sampling - in September. Plus also working
on some of the materials just recorded while in Europe.
How would you describe and rate the music scene of the country you are currently
The USA scene is certainly vibrant particularly in the New York City
area but all over I do not actually get to go to lots of things
so rating it is difficult
Do you see yourself as part of a certain tradition or as part of a movement?
I usually feel that I am an outsider I am not trained as a composer and
mostly also self taught as a musician/performer
But I do feel part of
the underground experimental tradition
but probably am not
sound artist, but again maybe not I probably have a better idea of what
I am not than are.
In terms of composition, what do you consider your main challenges?
Thats a tough question. Perhaps trying to be original but not necessarily
in the sense that what each piece I work on has never been done
but trying not to repeat myself. I do sort of look at much of my work
as my own experiments
Can I do this or what will this sound like
.and will I like it? And when
I do process type pieces, can I stay strictly to the process, no matter the
How would you describe your method of composing?
Strictly speaking I compose to tape - well computer these days, I do not/ cannot
Then it kind of depends on what I am looking to do
if I haved something specifically in mind, I can usually go ahead into that
direction; if I am not quite sure where I am going, then sometimes it is the
sounds that lead
and then poking at the corpse. And then in the end I
take the entire thing apart again when considering whether I will use the work
in live performance.
In which way, would you say, is your cultural background reflected in your
I have never thought about that
I am not sure it is in any way
How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?
For me that would be a fairly tight relationship, since sound is what I am composing
with/for the sound of the piece, and what it will sound like after, live,
in the hands of myself or if others are performing with me and if I have
decided to use instruments what might they sound like altered, slowed up, pitched
slightly differently. It's integral to the work
How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
Not very strictly at all
I consider my works either composed improvisations
or improvised compositions
What does the term new mean to you in connection with music?
I think its fairly useless as any kind of descriptor unless seriously
meant as listen its new, it just was written, recorded, released
it might have actually made sense at one point but since so much new
music sounds like old music, well its just a label so that you can stick stuff
in a box or try to sell it.
Do you personally enjoy multimedia as an enrichment or do you feel that
it is leading away from the essence of what you want to achieve?
Well-done multimedia is great
But then that can be said of every form
As I really dont do multimedia myself, I like to experience
it and working the past few years with video artist Katherine Liberovskaya
both in live performance and doing sound for some of her/our videos,
I appreciate it more
I like the aspect of it live with my music, it makes
watching me - or maybe not watching me, then - mix CDs or work from a computer
a more interesting live situation
Of course, you also have the part of
that where splitting ones attention can (does it always?) diminish the experience
of only the music or only the video
What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? Whats your
approach to performing on stage?
Since usually I am just sitting there maybe mixing CDs or performing
on a laptop sometimes sampling live and throwing things back into the
performance often feels like a loaded word though
the past few years I have done improv with laptop and other materials
For me making the best versions at that time of the works I want to perform.
I am always mixing and matching materials from my pieces to keep myself entertained
as well and I do like when possible to just kind of make one long piece of it
all - no breaks, just kind of do the set
How, would you say, could non-mainstream forms of music reach wider audiences
without sacrificing their soul?
On one hand, that is happening I think more and more on the other, its
hard to say exactly what non-mainstream is anymore (or whose version of a soul)
I only mean that we each - I think - believe in what we are doing
So that what I may consider losing my soul in terms of doing what I want to
do, another has no problem doing and isnt losing their soul is
that a valid answer? I guess in the end I just dont really care if an
audience likes or doesnt like what I do for me I need to do what
I need to - if someone digs it, great, if they dont, that's ok as well.
You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would
be on your program?
All me all the time (kidding). I wonder if the question should actually ask
about 2 years or the second year. The first year might be easy
friends, recent listens, folks one thinks have not been hear or heard enough
I am kind of actually in that position curating 2 weeks at the
Stone in NYC in Feb 2012. So the people I am asking have been on Pogus
or SOP or have met. I wonder, if in say having a second year at something like
that might be a truer type test. After the initial purging of what one deems
the deserving (what ever that might mean) how do you follow
Many artists dream of a magnum opus. Do you have a vision of
what yours would sound like?
I dont think I am built for a magnum opus. Or how about as a really pompous
answer I hope my entire musical output can be looked at as that.
Thats some pretty good bs I think
Al Margolis Discography:
International Mail-Music Group/ w. Rafael Flores, Bogart & Yutaka Tanaka
GMP/ w. Goldberg, Prescott (Sound Of Pig) 1989
Analogue Smoque/ w. Tom Hamilton, Mike Silverton (Pogus) 2003
Rex Xhu Ping (Pogus) 2005
Live April 5, 2008 - Le Bonheur, Brussels/ w. Dan Burke (absurd) 2009
If, Bwana Discography:
Freudian Slip (Sound Of Pig) 1984
Sex, Insanity, Death (Sound Of Pig) 1985
Whee. Whoopee. Wow/ w. Nomuzick (Sound of Pig) 1985
Beware The Sleeping Squid (Cause And Effect) 1985
Fun With Fish (Audiofile Tapes) 1986
They Call Me "Bwana" (Sound Of Pig) 1987
At Last/ w. Dog As Master (Broken Flag) 1987
Energy Plan/ w. John Hudak (Xkurzhen Sound) 1987
Cache La Poudre (Sound Of Pig) 1988
The Bwana All - Stars Godfather Revue (Harsh Reality Music) 1989
Wah Yu Wan (Generations Unlimited) 1990
Picasso's Chicken/ w. Adam Bohman (Sound Of Pig) 1990
33 Birds Went (Pogus) 1995
Breathing (Pogus) 1996
Tripping India (Pogus) 1997
Clara Nostra (Pogus) 1999
I, Angelica (Pogus) 2001
Reefer (XV Parówek) 2004
Live On Tiny Red Dragons (FDH) 2004
Fire Chorus (Ants) 2004
Untitled/ w. Guilty Connector (Hvdson Valley Experimental Arts Society) 2005
Gruntle (absurd) 2005
Procession Of Shadows (Aureobel) 2005
Live At Sonic Circuits DC 2006 (Zeromoon) 2006
The Ghost Of Reality (Odradek) 2007
An Innocent, Abroad (Pogus) 2007
Radio Slaves (Medicinal Tapes) (CD, Album)
Favourite Encores/ w. Noah Creshevsky (Pogus) 2008
Mannsized (Banned Production) 2010
Tobias Fischer, Tokafi