I first knew about Don Campau when, diving through that rabbit hole that is the network in search of information about my beloved Minóy and Agog, I ended up in The Living Archive of Underground Music. I felt as if I had found the treasure at the end of the rainbow: trillions of interviews and articles from obscure and incredible artists, cassette labels from around the world, publications, personal memories, etc. Along with the websites of Hal McGee, the best archive about the cassette culture of the 80s and 90s, pure history of electronic music of the 20th century.
Reading about Don, listening to his music and, finally, contacting him a few months ago, I have returned to find another example of artistic integrity and incomparable musical vision. An artisan who has been immersed in a fascinating musical adventure for almost 50 years: lots of references on his own Lonely Whistle label, a radio program called No Pigeonholes, and an invaluable work as an archivist of the subculture he loves and to which he belongs.
While museums and institutions are filled with musical "curators" ignorant of the art they use to make a living, people like Don Campau and Hal McGee, with no means other than their determination and the strength of their own vision, have become the memory of the first wave of the "cassette culture", one of the most radical and amazing musical movements of the end of the last century. Being able to do this little interview has been something truly fascinating for me.
The Living Archive of Underground Music: http://livingarchive.doncampau.com/
Was Roots of Madness your first band? You released a fascinating LP in 1971, The Girl in the Chair, that I think deserves more recognition as an unique example of strange post- psychedelic nondescript music. Can you tell me anything about that project? From historical distance, it seems in the same vibe as people like LAFMS, Smegma, The Residents, etc.
stream The Girl In The Chair via the Internet Archive audio player below or click on the album pic above to visit the page at archive.org
Yes, it was but it wasn’t a band in the usual sense.
My friend Geoff Alexander and I “founded” the group I guess and our first rehearsals were in his parents' Volkswagen bus in his garage.
We were just a bunch of friends (and our brothers) who liked to play “free music”…in other words, just jam and make noise. This was a concept introduced to us by our friends and fellow DJ (and one of my mentors), John Hayden. John had been a friend to some of the Beat poets that ended up traveling through the San Francisco area. He was friends with Neal Cassady and others.
So, The Roots Of Madness (a name derived from the 1967 film by Theodore White about China) would improvise in the front room of Geoff’s house and it would be whoever showed up. We were influenced by free jazz, electronic music, oddball rock with artists like Pharoah Sanders, Albert Ayler, Captain Beefheart, the Fugs and Stockhausen and others.
We used a two track, open reel recorder to document our sessions and were doing this from 1969-1976. We released one LP in 1971 and then later re-issued the rest of the open reel tapes on CDR.
These are all at my website, doncampau.com, where free downloads and hard copies available.
stream Live Happy and Be Stupid via the Internet Archive:
Was Roots of Madness your last collective/band musical project?
I also had a punk trio called The Desmonds from 1978-1980 or so. This was me, Greg Gray and Joe Menichetti. We never gigged but recorded some hard and fast punk style songs. Both of these guys have continued to record with me on my “solo” releases. The Desmonds recordings are also available at my web site, all for free by the way.
How and when did you get involved in the cassette culture network?
In 1984 I was in Seattle visiting and saw a copy of OP magazine in a record store. I was kind of excited that they had a cassette review section. Not long after this magazine folded, it split into two others, Option and Sound Choice, which were both huge influences on the cassette trading scene and culture.They would have names and addresses of the tapes reviewed and many of the artists listed would trade so I wrote them and eventually formatted my radio show
(which I already had) around these trades. Other magazines were also germane to the underground scene like Factsheet Five and later Gajoob, Autoreverse
and Electronic Cottage.
I’ve read that you’ve been recording by yourself since 1969. I guess that was something not very common those days, how did you started home-recording? Have you ever recorded in professional studios?
As I said above, The Roots Of Madness was one of my earliest recording experiences with other people. A bit earlier by myself, I had been fooling around with an open reel tape recorder by taping household sounds and making audio collages.
I also recorded some songs with my high school friend, Bob Ballantyne. He sang and played guitar while I drummed on a box or something and sang a bit. We used one of those “make your own record” machines and cut a few “sides” of very amateurish material on one of a kind vinyl.
I have never really recorded in a professional studio (except once in Berlin) and have never released a commercial CD. Everything I have ever released was recorded, duplicated and handled personally by me, every single tape and CD and there have been over 20,000 approx. Everything I do is hand made as well which now includes my original art work as the CD covers.
Read about Don Campau's recording gear here.
You run the label Lonely Whistle, with an overwhelming amount of releases since 1984. How many releases does the catalog have? You still release music on CD, right?
My gosh, I’m not even sure but a lot. Mainly my stuff but friends, my wife and many others.
Check it all out here: http://lonelywhistle.doncampau.com/
and a whole page of free download links: http://lonelywhistle.doncampau.com/downloads
Yes, still on CDR and digital files because people seem to want those now.
One of the things I love about the US cassette culture of the 80’s is that, unlike the European industrial scene, there was a “normal guy” vibe, no use of shocking imagery and tactics (which I never liked except with Throbbing Gristle), that most of the time seemed almost childish. Did you have contacts with that scene?
The “normal guy” vibe is what really attracted me. When I got tapes from Dino DiMuro, Russ Stedman, Tom Furgas, Amy Denio, Heather Perkins, Al Perry, The Wallmen, Al Margolis, Carl Howard, Jan Bruun, Chris Phinney, Mike Honeycutt, Tim Jones, Lord Litter and many others I felt like I knew them a little bit personally even though I might not ever meet them. I am lucky because I have met many of these people in my travels. And, to me, personal connection is even more important than the music. In fact, that is how I met and married my second wife, Robin O’Brien, through the tape scene and long before the Internet.
I knew about the so called “industrial” scene but to me much of the experimental music I had already heard was better and more inventive. Throbbing Gristle was a never a fave of mine although I acknowledge their influence on others and the scene generally.
The Living Archive of Underground Music is one of the most amazing web archives of subterranean electronic music ever, in my opinion. Full packed of information, I’ve not yet absorbed 10% of the web. What was the principal motivation to do that? Preservation of that culture? Historical revision?
Yes, all of these things and more. Since I had a radio show and also developed personal relationships with people I knew more about them than just the music. Now, some of that information is too personal and private to write about or document but I felt that some connections needed to be made, especially since I knew some of the connections and could draw a line from one home taper to another. There are funny stories, sad and tragic ones, romantic ones and many interesting angles. I wanted to get document this information before I was gone or just forgot much of it as I get older.
I wrote thousands of handwritten letters years before the Internet and I even still have many of them.
Due to my involvement with a local community radio station (KOWS FM) as Program Director (my many other pursuits) I have been too busy to spend much time with The Living Archive. This is unfortunate but I am more preoccupied with the present than the past right now.
The Archive is one of the only internet places where you can read about people like Heather Perkins, Minóy, John Wiggins...It’s a real “who is who” of the US cassette culture. I knew about all this stuff through Agog (Damian Bisciglia), still one of my favorite artists ever. Do you have any favorite artist/musician in the scene?
In fact, I am a big Agog fan and had contact with him many times. His tragic death (and Minóy’s) were a big blow to the scene. He was always a very nice guy to me but I never met him in person (Nor did I ever meet Minoy although had plenty of written contact). The early scene provided me with plenty of faves: Dino DiMuro, John Bartles, Al Perry, Russ Stedman, Robin O’Brien, Lord Litter, Heather Perkins, Thomas Pradel, Kevyn Dymond, The Rudy Schwartz Project, Timothy Gilbert, John Wiggins, Big City Orchestra, Roger Moneymaker and
too many others to list them all.
Your music cannot be classified in one style, something common in the home-tapers world. Could you tell me about your biggest musical influences?
Well, that would also be a huge list since I have been a music collector since 1964 or so. The Beatles (like everyone else of my age group) were a seminal influence, as well as other bands of this era. Then there was punk and The Clash, Sex Pistols, Ramones, etc. But, I was also a big jazz and avant garde music fan since the late 60s too because my friend from The Roots Of Madness, Geoff, introduced me to the jazz scene and also introduced me to the community
radio scene which I still am involved in. Geoff was into some wild stuff and one
of the first jazz LPs I ever heard was “Om” by John Coltrane. That is not the first jazz LP most people hear and it blew my mind. Then there was Pharoah, Ayler, Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, etc. I ate that up and have been a deep and big collector ever since. In return for turning me onto to jazz, I played my favorite rock albums for him that he knew nothing about and we became life-long friends. Of course electronic music pioneers like Stockhausen and Tod Dockstader were very impressionable as was ethnic music from India, Africa, Asia, etc and other
originals such as Harry Partch, Joan La Barbara, Harry Bertoia, and so on.
Anyone interested in your music can find difficult to know where to begin...is there any of your releases that you have a special affection for?
You aren’t kidding! My discography is kind of overwhelming for sure. I do have my favorites although the ones I love aren't necessarily my best artistic achievements. My pal Dino prefers the very early Campau, the tape releasees from 1984-5. I like things from all eras and I also cringe at many albums from all eras as well. My early albums especially are littered with things that should never have been released. I think I have become better in the last few years of editing myself and actually taking songs off of albums. I think my fairly recent albums “Just Passing Through” and “Gateway Behavior” are among my best.
I imagine you are still involved in trading? Is there any current artist you specially love?
Yes, but many people don't even deal with or want hard copies now. So, I make my material available on bandcamp, archive.org, soundcloud and if people want the actual CD I am happy to send it to them.
Sure, I have tons of favorites…man, where do I start?
I like Rudy Schwartz Project, any of Tim Jones projects, Building Castles Out Of
Matchsticks, PBK, Charles Rice Goff III, Russ Stedman, Mark Ritchie, Robin O’Brien, John Wiggins, Tom Dyer and many, many others.
Thanks a lot, Don! Anything you want to add, here’s the place.
For me, music is not something to make a career out of. I was a vegetable man in a grocery store for over 30 years. I also have no interest in performing. I do love collaborations by file exchange or CD, and I enjoy challenging myself with different projects. I think I am lucky because I am not a “perfectionist”. The mistakes I make can be fun and instructive and by collaborating with others it is less about me and more about “us” which is something I enjoy.
Also, I still solicit and enjoy getting all types of home recorded music from people from all over the world and continue to air it on my radio shows. For my details click on the “submit your music” link at www.doncampau.com
One more thing: In the last couple of years I have been sending much of my tape collection to Frank Maier in Germany who is very active in documenting and preserving this scene. Check out his https://www.tape-mag.com/ site. An incredible archive already.
Plus, Hal McGee is doing amazing work with his revived, digital version of Electronic Cottage.
I knew about Charles Rice Goff III through the documentary "Grindstone Redux" (2009). In it, he appeared at various times surrounded by cassettes and fanzines of the time, in addition to playing the guitar with Disism in 86. Those images were embedded in my brain, and seeing that the website of his Taped Rugs label was still maintaining a frenetic activity, I contacted him proposing an exchange of material. The package I received after a few weeks was like a wonderful Christmas gift: a dozen tapes with intriguing covers and names (-Ing, Disism, Herd of the Ether Space, Turkey Makes Me Sleepy); hours of strange sounds, a door to a microcosm inhabited by a creature of overflowing energy and imagination; a twisted R. Stevie Moore fascinated by loop tapes.
Charles is a prolific guy at all levels: he publishes music in huge quantities, he has a radio program where he shares his interests and discoveries, and as you will see below, he is not exactly a person who is sparing in words.
1. Charles, where were you born and which are your first musical experiences or memories? There’s a little child with a guitar in the cover of “20th Century Goffic” cassette. Is that you?
Yes, that's a picture of me, playing a Mickey Mouse guitar, Jimi Hendrix style (left-handed, upside down). I was born in the late 1950's, and I resided long into adulthood in the East San Francisco Bay Area of California, USA.
My family enjoyed music, and through them I got exposed to everything. It was the swingin' 1960's. My parents were big fans of lounge pop, and by the end of the decade, they started taking me to performances of people like Sammy Davis, Liberace, Debbie Reynolds, and many other similar artists. My older sisters spun a lot of records around me in those days too: (real) rock and roll, folk, and, later in the decade, psychedelic music. My sisters themselves played guitar and wind instruments. When I was really young, my dad acquired a mono reel-to-reel tape recorder, which fascinated me from my very first encounter with it. We had a semi-in-tune baby grand piano in our living room. I learned how to read music and play clarinet in grammar school. My next door neighbors were proprietors of a hippie discothèque across town. So... all sorts of music influences swirled around me in my early years.
2. When did you start recording your music? In the “Treasures For Deep Divers” cassette there’s songs from 1973, are these your first pieces? How old were you then?
Ha ha! Those are certainly the oldest EXISTING recordings of mine. I was a very young 14 year old when those were produced -- voices, Jews harp, kazoo -- "multitracked" with my dad's reel-to-reel and a late 1960's "shoebox" cassette recorder, via cheap open-air microphones -- there is a hint of what was to come in the weirdness of those ancient recordings methinks...
3. You’ve been running Taped Rugs Productions, your label, since 1980, right? What were your inspirations and main impulse to do that? How many items have you published by now?
Yes, the first official Taped Rugs production was created in 1980. The name "Taped Rugs" was one of several that I thought up for the first real "group" I was a part of -- a group which actually ended up being named: "Temporarily KY" (the name "Temporarily KY" was an accident, conjured by the entire band one strange and fateful night...). Anyway, I liked the name: "Taped Rugs," and it applied perfectly to all the tape experiments that made up my first cassette album (entitled: "Might As Well Beyond Venus," 1980). Taped Rugs has endured ever since as the moniker of all my productions. Say it to yourself a few times to understand what it really means.
I've produced more than 300 Taped Rugs projects of all sorts (audio, video, photographic, literary, etc.) -- most of them currently can be experienced in an online form at www.archive.org.
4. For what I know, you’ve been part of –Ing, Disism, Herd Of The Ether Space and Turkey Makes Me Sleepy. Were these projects “studio” bands or you played live, too? Could you tell me some words about each of them?
There are very detailed descriptions of all these groups online at www.archive.org. Each of these is/was both a recording and a performing group. I recently had a little fun and listed performances from all of these groups at www.setlist.fm . A long story here -- the setlist.fm website does not recognize the names of the individual groups I was in, but for some reason it does recognize "Charles Rice Goff III," so I listed all the performances under my name, and wrote notes about each show on each post, including the group names, persons involved, where a recording or video of the shows can be accessed, etc.
But, briefly, since you asked...
-Ing: Mostly the duo of myself and Steve Schaer (RIP). Mostly tape loops. Includes both improvisation and tape loop compositions for public performance. Mostly electronic guitar and synthesizer.
Disism: The duo of myself and Killr "Mark" Kaswan. All varieties of improvisation, plus some tape loop composition for live public performances. Lots of sound collage. Wide variety of instruments/non-instruments, 4 Track tape experiments, vocals. Still active today (last album: 2015).
Herd Of The Ether Space: Various combinations of at least 40 people were involved in recording or performing with this group between 1984 and 2001. Core members: Myself, Robert Silverman, Killr Kaswan, Stuart Sands, George Gibson. Everything from tape loop improvs to recording/performing acoustically in public parks. Staged performances involved loosely structured compositions. A HUGE detailed history of this group is available here: http://www.archive.org/details/TheHistoryOfHerdOfTheEtherSpace1980s1990s
Turkey Makes Me Sleepy: The trio of myself, Michael Adams, and Eric Matchett. No tape loops in this group. All forms of improvisation, sound collage, wide variety of instruments, lots of actual "song writing." Just a couple of months ago, Taped Rugs released an album of lost TMMSleepy tracks from 1997, called "Somnific Snood." We performed a couple of times publicly in Lawrence, Kansas, back in the 20th Century.
I've been in a few other recording groups too over the years, which have also performed publicly.
5. You were/are involved in the “cassette scene” of the 80’s. I’m 42 so I didn’t have the opportunity to experience that culture. From the outside and historical perspective, it seemed like a fascinating musical time, with so many interesting music and people. How did you get involved in that network? Are you still in touch with many people from that era?
I got "involved" in cassettes because I wanted to share my recordings, and I didn't have a contract with Warner Brothers or RCA... ha! While I made cassette albums in the very early 1980's, I didn't really participate in any "scene" until around the middle of the decade. Most of my earliest albums ended up in the hands of fellow artists whom I knew personally, or in the mailboxes of college/community radio DJs and nightclub owners.
But once I jumped into the fray of the cassette "scene" (with the first Disism cassette), I discovered a whole universe of artists -- all ready and willing to reveal things beautiful and terrifying, thought-provoking and uncensored -- just what I had always been looking for. I think my first exchanges within what today is regarded as the "cassette culture" were made through Rough Trade Records in San Francisco and through the pages of Unsound Magazine. Quickly, however, one connection led to another to another to another. I think it helped that I already had several years of recording experience before I dived deep into the homerecording community.
And yes, I still have lots of very close friends whom I met through the "network." Many of these relationships are now entering the 35 year range...(!). And many of my fellow cassette culturalists from the 20th Century still produce recordings and/or still perform before live audiences.
6. I think now your most usual tool to make music is your guitar, right? Who are your biggest influences with the instrument? I’ve read that Robert Fripp is one of your greatest inspirations. Anyone else?
I do play guitars on a lot of my recordings, but I do not think of them as my "usual" tool for making music. Guitars certainly are "regular" musical tools for me, however. And, yes, Robert Fripp has been very much an inspiration for me for most of my life. His approaches to creating both harmony and dissonance seem to fit perfectly, just like puzzle pieces, right into my little brain. Other guitarists whom I make vague attempts at emulating include Fred Frith, Frank Zappa, Bill Nelson, and Steve Hackett. Honestly though, I really do not think of myself as a particularly "good" guitar player, and my techniques pale considerably in comparison to the finger magic of any of any of these heroes of the fretboard.
Possibly the "most usual" tool for me to make music with is recording technology itself. Not only has it served its most obvious function for me as a sculpting chisel for composing in the studio, but most of my live performances have involved manipulations of sound through reel-to-reel tapes, cassettes, micro cassettes, vinyl records, mp3 samples, etc. My main influences here come from sonic experimenters such as John Cage, William Burroughs, Pierre Schaeffer, George Martin, and Brian Eno.
Actually though, I believe my voice might be my greatest tool for making music. Among my vocal "inspirators" are Brian Wilson, Todd Rundgren, Jim Morrison, Karen Carpenter, Petula Clark, Meredith Monk, Diamanda Galás, and Laura Nyro.
7. You make an amazing radio show called “Magnetic Bungalow” under the name Swami Loopynanda. Why do you use that pseudonym?
It's an old name; I've used it for years. Imagine a name that Matt Groening might have given to a circus sideshow mystic in one of his "Life In Hell" comics -- it's something like that, combined with a bit of word play: "loopy" is an adjective for irrational/crazy, and tape loops/sound loops are something that I have been associated with since the 1970's. Perfect for me, right? I actually use a few other pseudonyms from time to time as well, and I've never been afraid to invent new ones as the need arises.
8. One of the things that I love about your music is the sense of humour, playfulness and joy that it conveys. I think this was something not very common in the 80’s, maybe I’m wrong. Did you ever feel “out of step” because of this? Were you interested in the industrial music of the time?
My own impression is there were lots of humorous and playful home recording artists back in the 20th Century (Walls of Genius, Buzzsaw, Amy Denio, Heather Perkins, Evolution Control Committee, etc.). And not all the music I did back in the day was "joyful" -- some very far from it (Noises Of War, Desert Foxtrot, Caliginous California, No Stairs). But, you are quite right to point out that I have been involved in expressing myself in a very large variety of ways. To me, each recording I create has its own life, and thus, its own style. A lot of what I've created over the years exhibits mixtures of various genres, and much of it exhibits no genre at all. Simply put: my brain intuitively tells me how to proceed, and my body obeys the commands. Since I am not a "commercial" artist, there is no manager or producer to direct my creativity away from its purest instincts.
People react in all sorts of ways to what I do. I certainly don't expect anyone to like everything I create. Naturally, people with open minds tend to enjoy more of my recordings than people with closed minds. People who are familiar with the most dissonant and challenging aspects of my work -- whether they like it or not -- are usually shocked the first time they hear my more lyrical and harmonic recordings. And, of course, those who only have been exposed to my more playful "songs" are usually quite surprised the first time they hear my sound collages or lengthy improvised pieces. It's only natural for most people to take some and leave some. Fortunately, there's plenty of all of it to go around.
As for my interest in "industrial music," I have honestly never been quite sure what that genre really stands for. But my mind is quite open when it comes to what I like to listen to. For me, it's a mood thing. I love to hear Einstürzende Neubauten when I'm in the mood for it. Likewise, I love to hear Amalia Rodrigues when I'm in the mood for it. Or Roy Wood's Wizzard. Or Ahmad Jamal. Or...
9. Could you make a list of your favorite records/artists/musicians? I love lists, and I love to read about the influences of the people I like...
I did a top ten list of influential recordings for an interview with Don Campau several years ago. What I said back then was that it would take many pages for me to really explain how many artists have influenced me in so many dramatically different ways. That interview and list is still online for anyone interested in digging it up. For you, I'll cook up a different list of ten equally inspirational albums -- mix and match these with those, they all apply, and there are plenty more too. Note that the recordings I'm listing here are all very old -- the influences that have most deeply impaled my brain dug their holes during my younger years.
“The Doors”, The Doors, 1967.
“Starless and Bible Black”, King Crimson, 1974.
“Magical Mystery Tour” (USA Version), The Beatles, 1967.
“Todd”, Todd Rundgren, 1974.
“White Light/White Heat”, The Velvet Underground, 1968.
“My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts”, Brian Eno-David Byrne, 1981.
“Horizon”, The Carpenters, 1975.
“The Tunes of Two Cities”, The Residents, 1982.
“Eli and the Thirteenth Confession”, Laura Nyro, 1968.
“Weasels Ripped My Flesh”, The Mothers Of Invention, 1970.
10. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the first time I listened to your music The Residents came to my mind. Not that your music sound like theirs, but I felt maybe you shared some of the same influences and ideas. Is their music a big influence in yours? Did you have contact with them or another similar collectives like LAFMS or people like the great R. Stevie Moore?
I remember when I used to shop at Rather Ripped Records in Berkeley in the early 1970's. The first Residents albums were always displayed on a special stand there -- they were right in front as you walked in the door. I saw the Residents perform many times back in the 20th Century. I attended their "garage sales" in San Francisco in the 1980's. Many of my friends and collaborators were/are fans of the group. -Ing performed a tape-loop version of "Smelly Tongues" at the San Francisco Inter-Dada Festival in 1984. I participated in the Ecto Tapes Residents tribute recordings (The Residents Unmasked!, 3 cassette set, released during early 1990's). So... it certainly could be said that I picked up some influences from the Residents. I have not really paid much attention to their activities in the 21st Century, however, and I am sorry to hear the rumors of the recent passing of Hardy Fox.
As for LAFMS, please forgive my ignorance, but you are only now introducing me to them.
Mr. Moore and I have had only a couple of very brief exchanges, many years ago.
11. “20th Century Goffic” is my favorite release I’ve listened from you. It’s a really great tape full of imaginative and great songs full of amazing vocals and melodies. I guess it’s a compilation of some of your “pop” stuff. Have you ever been approached by any label to release this kind of music you make?
I am glad you enjoy this tape, Jose. It is indeed a compilation of some of my favorite song-oriented recordings from the lo-fi cassette culture days of the 20th Century. As you might expect, I have incorporated 21st Century technologies into my more current song-oriented composing, and these higher fidelity results have been quite well received by many listeners as well. But I think there are very few people who have a mainstream idea of music who would classify any of these recordings as true "pop" music.
There have been many labels from many countries that have released my music over the years -- so many, in fact, that it would require me to take a time-consuming exploration of my filing cabinets to figure out exactly how many. But generally speaking, all of these labels have been more interested in spreading around artistic visions than they have been interested in making profits. Probably the most impressive example of this phenomenon happened in 2017, when Jack Hertz's Aural Films label honored me by putting out a very fancy three disk biography of my recordings, which includes 52 tracks, dating from 1981 to 2016. You can listen/order this collection here:
As for my "pop" music attracting the attention of commercial recording labels like Columbia and Warner, that's never happened, and if it ever had, I fear that the experience would have cursed my abilities to achieve true artistic expression. In the unlikely event that some big label takes an interest in my recordings before my time on Earth is over, I would certainly be very detailed and careful in negotiating the terms of any recording contracts. I definitely never want to give up the rights to be able to freely play or record my own original works. The tragedies experienced by artists like the Beach Boys, Badfinger, etc. are prices I am unwilling to pay for personal profit and notoriety.
12. In the emails we have exchanged, I get the feeling that you are a person really passionate about music. Is there any actual music that you love?
I am not quite sure what you are asking here, Jose. Sounds generally hold a special place within the spectrum of what my human body is able to perceive. And music, specifically, offers so many ways for humans to arrange sounds, combine them with ideas, express them with emotions, release them with physical energy, etc. All music seems quite special to me.
As for music that I genuinely "love," if this question applies to music that I have not had a personal hand in creating myself, I guess the answer would be "too many things to list here." As I mentioned earlier, I listen to different types of music depending on the mood I am in. Yesterday I listened to five albums by the K-pop groups WJSN, Pentagon, Apink, and Laboum -- I was cleaning the house. Yesterday I loved them all.
As for me "loving" any of the music that I make myself, this also depends on my mood. Sometimes I'll listen to a particular recording of mine and think -- "oh, this was one of my best pieces, something to show off my genius to the world forever." But, on another day, I might listen to that very same recording and think to myself how it truly never achieved the vision I originally had in mind for it. This gets me thinking things like how my tricks for recording music are merely tools that create delusions, and hypnotize my senses into falsely believing that I have any actual "talent" at all.
As a sidenote here -- there are many recordings I have made that are based on melodies and themes which I dreamed when sleeping. I do not "love" all of these recordings equally, but I do regard them as particularly special recordings -- as genuine gifts from the gods.
13. Thanks for your time, Charles. Anything else you want to add, this is the place!
I fear that I have blabbed so much in these responses here, that I've overwhelmed you already. I, of course, would like to thank YOU, very much, Jose, for your interest in my art and in myself. I encourage you to keep up your own good work as both an artist and a chronicler of art.
Al Margolis, nicknamed "The Godfather of the cassette", is one of the legendary figures of this culture. At the head of Sound of Pig label, he published 300 references that represent one of the most incredible archive of unclassifiable 80s music: Minóy, Francisco López, Amy Denio, Roberta Eklund, Heather Perkins, Hands To, Haters, Morphogenesis, Merzbow, Solmania and an endless etcetera that constitutes a true "who is who" of the experimental scene of that time.
In addition, since 1984, Al has been publishing his own music under the name "If, Bwana" (acronym for "It's funny but we are not amused"). Dozens and dozens of cassettes and CDs of dadaist electroacoustic.
Currently, Al Margolis directs his great Pogus Productions label, more oriented towards contemporary classical electronic music, and incredibly, keeps the Sound of Pig catalog active.
Sound of Pig: http://www.pogus.com/catalogue_sop.html
(This interview appeared in the 8th issue of Spanish fanzine Manchas y Ruido).
1. I’ve read that you played bass in Cleveland art-punk band The Styrenes. This is a band I discovered two years ago through Soul Jazz Punk Series. I thought you were from New York, how did you get involved in that band?
I did play bass with Styrenes – and I guess if we ever play again I may still be the bassist. But I was not an original member of the group. They started around 1973 or so (not sure of exact date). I did not begin playing with them until around 1993/94 or so. And the truth of the matter is that most of the members of that scene – The Styrenes, Electric Eels, Mirrors, Pagans – all went to New York at some point(s) – so in reality I think almost all of them lived longer in New York than Cleveland where they were all from.
2. How did you get involved in the cassette culture network? I’ve read that you wanted to release stuff so you could trade cassettes instead of having to buy them!
Well I came across people releasing cassettes through magazines like OP and The New York Rocker. And I started buying tapes from some of these folks. Even though buying tapes from people back then was pretty inexpensive, after a while it still started to add up. And since most cassette folks were happy to trade as well as also looking for an outlet for their music, starting a label was good way to help others and myself getting their/our music around. So yes one incentive for starting the label was to be able to trade with others. And get my music around. And put out others works (I had for a long time wanted to be a “producer” – so this was a way of actually doing it!).
3. It’s been told a lot of times: Sound of Pig was one of the most important cassette labels ever (if not the most). 300 references and dozens of great artists. I’m curious about how could you release so many items, I guess you had a regular job, too, right?
Sound of Pig released 301 tapes. I did have a regular job back then – I was a shipping clerk. So not really strenuous work – and at one point managed to make that a 4 day a week job. So that helped pay for buying tapes etc. Every tape was hand dubbed in real time. I had at my job 2 or 3 dubbing decks and the same thing at home. So I could run off a bunch of tapes while working and then come home and do more. The tape decks were rarely ever not going!! And I also had a copy machine as well so as to run off covers art etc. So I did try to keep things simple and cheap where possible. Those were also the days when dubbing decks were pretty good and pretty reasonably priced. For $150 or so you could get really durable tape decks – Sony's, Teac’s, etc. They lasted and lasted.
4. Sound of Pig is a weird name for a label. Can you explain a little why did you choose it?
The band I was playing in when I started SOP was called Pigs on Parade (you see a theme here) – and so when starting the tape label I was sort of thinking about the song from "The Sound of Music" – "The hills are alive with the sound of pig music…lalala" – so kind of a joke and all...I mean the label name…
5. It's really amazing that you still keep the catalog available; that was a big surprise for me last summer. Do you receive many orders? I guess you have the masters for each release digitalized, haven't you thought of uploading the catalog?
On one hand I am not quite sure why I keep the catalog available. Orders come in fits and starts. Sometimes I get some and then sometimes none for very long stretches. And with tape decks being kind of hard to get my hands on, I am sometimes very happy no one orders. So orders are really variable. And actually I probably have about a third to maybe half the tapes digitized. I kind of do that if someone orders something I have not done yet. With 301 masters, that is a lot of time spent trying to do that - I mean digitizing – since it is real time, it takes time I would generally rather not dedicate to it. And since I have no plans – and in reality – not rights to upload the entire catalog – I always have looked at it as I was only putting out tapes and as the digital world was no where in sight when SOP was active, I do not think anyone ever considered this, So I generally assume that the artists have the rights to their own work to upload etc – I am ok still offering the tapes (and if someone asks me to not to sell them anymore I stop doing that). Which then means there is no great need to have digitized everything. I have other things to do unless it is necessary.
6. Sound of Pig was the label that released more Minóy material besides Minóy Cassetteworks. I consider Minóy one of the greatest electronic musicians of the 80s, his work was really powerful and visionary. How was your relationship with him? Did you meet him personally?
I am probably in agreement with you here. I really did and do still like Minóy’s works very, very much. I never met him, never spoke to him. The relationship was only through the mail, and it was always fine. And I must say I was most pleased that I did get a chance to release a fair amount of his work.
7. Which was the main reason to finish SoP and start Pogus Productions?
Both labels ran concurrently for a couple of years. But as that (first?) version of the cassette network seemed to be winding down – less interest, less places to send tapes to – a lot of the zines and mags had folded or stopped, there was – at least my feeling at the time, was that it was time to move on. And then my interest became more focused on Pogus. I had become interested in a lot of contemporary classical/ electronic/ electro-acoustic music and wanted to get things out of that type. So it was time to move on.
8. Pogus seems a label more oriented to contemporary almost "classical" electronic music, less subterranean stuff. Do you still have contacts with the people from the cassette network?
Correct analysis about Pogus (see above). And yes I do still have contacts with cassette folks. Some I never lost contact with – as we became friends during that time. Many I did lose contact with, but have sort of re-connected through (ugh) Facebook. And some I still have not been in contact with for years.
9. How did you first get interested in electronic music? I’d like to know about your first influences and inspirations for your own music and the label.
My introduction to "out" music would have started with Zappa and the Mothers. Then through the Canterbury scene (Soft Machine etc), Henry Cow. Then into Varèse, Cage, Schoenberg, Philip Glass, Throbbing Gristle, This Heat. That was just listening. Then when I started SOP I was hearing some electronics from what people were doing. But I got a serious introduction into electronics and contemporary classical when I moved to Brooklyn. Doug Walker (Alien Planetscapes) ran a salon series in his apartment every Friday. So not only did we get to play there as well as hear others – most of whom were doing electronic music (mostly synths), but Doug also had a fairly extensive record collection of that sort of stuff. So each week he would lend me all sorts of records – Stockhausen, Xenakis, Nono, and out jazz, etc. So I would thake all that home and record them and then next week take more. So I got a serious immersion in all that. Which was pretty revelatory. To Hear Stockhausen’s "Hymnen" after hearing Minóy – a straight thread between them – a whole new perspective. I guess in the early work of mine you would hear more of a TG sound I would think. Not that I was aiming for that but just some of the loops and instrumentation (bass, violin, guitars, tapes, echo trumpet) ...just was available around for instrumentation – I was trying to just make the sounds/pieces I was hearing in my head.
10. Is there a SOP release that you are especially proud of? Any place to start with the overwhelming catalogue?
That really is a hard question. I am proud of the entire label. And the answer could depend almost on any day. As mentioned, Minóy. Early Jim O’Rourke. The Haters, BCO, Zan Hoffman, John Hudak. Dave Prescott, Alien Planetscapes. If I mention names, then I insult (?) others by leaving them out? So basically I dug just about everything on the label. I really love the Prescott/Minóy tape – PM – one of my personal faves.
And also the first collaboration I did with Hal McGee (Dog as Master) – "An Organized Accident".
11. If, Bwana is the name under which you make your own music. I saw you play in Madrid with my friend Marta Sainz a few years ago. In that show you played clarinet over a multitrack clarinets recording, which surprised me, as I thought your music were more electronic-oriented. What kind of sounds are you using actually?
That was a fun tour with Marta by the way. I think if you look back at most of my work, there is very little of it overall that is strictly electronic. The better description probably for over the years would be either loop-based or even better probably electro acoustic, as I have almost always used some kind of instrument along with any samplers or synths or electronics. And more and more I tend to only use acoustic instruments. Hardly any electronics. Part of that has been practicality – not having to worry about electronics or computers breaking down and part of it by choice – as more and more people have added electronics to their sounds or are using synths of all types, I have gone in the other direction. Maybe seeing how much noise/sound/annoyance I can cause not using any electronics, effects etc. Maybe some kind of perverse contrarian thing? Many live sets now are just clarinet, violin, and contact mics. Though in recording everything – electronics or not – are fair use.
12. With If, Bwana and your label, do you have or have you had any kind of political-social-artistic agenda? One of the things I love about the American cassette culture is the absence of shock tactics and ambiguous messages.
Well there is no overt political etc agenda. But just by doing something – making music/sounds/art whatever – that rejects the mainstream, commercial "culture" – by rejecting/subverting/ avoiding the "American Way" is I think the statement – the act of rebellion. With everything being deemed important by its commercial success. As America basically has no artistic culture, interest in culture/art – not having really that European (for want of a better term) tradition, artistic culture and support – I mean basically the USA is still a "young" country – I think any agenda would be different than other cultures.
13. Thanks a lot for your time, Al!
Afeite Al Perro