POGUS POGUS Is Watching You!
15 Questions to Al Margolis / If,Bwana - Tokafi, 11/10 :
: Feature Article
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 match.

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Well, I am back home in Chester, NY – just returned from 5 weeks in Europe.

What’s on your schedule right now?
I have an upcoming performance with Tom Hamilton and Id M Theftable in August, plus working on pianist Chris Chalfant’s “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 living in?
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… Maybe 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?
That’s 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 end result?

How would you describe your method of composing?
Strictly speaking I compose to tape - well computer these days, I do not/ cannot write music… 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 work?
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 don’t “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? What’s 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 mix…”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 isn’t losing their soul – is that a valid answer? I guess in the end I just don’t really care if an audience likes or doesn’t like what I do – for me I need to do what I need to - if someone digs it, great, if they don’t, 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 up…

Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?
I don’t 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”. That’s some pretty good bs I think…

Al Margolis Discography:
International Mail-Music Group/ w. Rafael Flores, Bogart & Yutaka Tanaka (Bog-Art) 1986
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

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