Off the Record! A Hyper-History of American Independent New Music Record Labels

When asked for an artistic credo for the Pogus label, Al Margolis wastes not a breath before responding: “As outside as possible. I’m recording interesting music that I like: some serious composers, like Pauline Oliveros, as well as performers and improvisers in the areas just outside of composition, not necessarily trained musicians. My own work [with If, Bwana] is in the area of improv. I don’t go for grants, and I’m not beholden to others: Pogus is for music that I want to record and that I feel needs to be recorded. Saleability is not an issue; if it sells, fine. I’ve been breaking even over the last year, and that’s alright by me.”

Margolis founded the Pogus label in 1988, in collaboration with David Prescott and Gen Ken Montgomery. At the time, Margolis was issuing recordings of experimental music on his cassette-only Sound of Pig label, while Prescott and Montgomery wee partners in the Generation Unlimited label. The three joined forces to release LPs by Morphogenesis, AMM, Rune Lindblad and Robert Rutman, and to co-release, with Curious Music, the first CD by cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm.

The seemingly-inevitable “life changes, moves, etc.” spelled the end of the partnership, but Margolis soldiered on, and in 1993 began to release CDs, beginning with a recording by Lonberg-Holm’s band Trigger. From that point onward, Margolis has tried to release no more than four CDs a year, budgeting tightly and carefully to make ends meet. During the day he can be found working at the New World label, which gives him the opportunity, albeit an unconventional one, to observe the activities of the mainstream recording industry. But at home, the name of the game is to ignore that industry altogether.

“One of my goals is to circumvent the music business — and I emphasize the word business. I don’t have to go by any of the existing models where labels throw things out into the stores and then get paid with returned product from those same stores. I can exist at a much lower level. Maybe only 500 people want to hear the music I’m producing; that’s fine. Once they’ve heard about my records, they can track them down via Web sites such as the Electronic Music Foundation or Forced Exposure, or they can find them in certain stores such as Other Music and Kim’s.” Pogus does not have a Web site active at the moment, but plans to get one up soon. Margolis is keenly interested in exploring the options afforded to such small labels as his own via the internet, with the ulitmate goal of “simply getting this music out there.”

While small, Pogus has released some significant recordings, among them Alien Bog/Beautiful Soup by Oliveros and Rune Lindblad’s Death of the Moon. And Margolis already has the next two to three years worth of Pogus CDs in the can. Among them are new recordings by Leo Kupper, tape works of Kenneth Gaburo, Robert Rutman and David Dunn, as well as a reissue of works by Belgian sound poets originally issued on Deutsche Grammophon. “Sometimes it can be tricky to explain to the artist that the record you’ve just done won’t be out for a year or two, but they do all seem to understand and support what I’m doing and the way I have to do it.”

From Off the Record! A Hyper-History of American Independent New Music Record Labels
by Steve Smith
© 1999 NewMusicBox

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