UPDATE: CRI Catalog Soon Under New World Wing

UPDATE: CRI Catalog Soon Under New World Wing

It has been just about a year since the Composers Recordings Inc. (CRI) label ceased operations. During the early months of 2003 when the news was announced, then-CRI Executive Director John G. Schultz and New World Records’ former Managing Director Paul Marotta announced that New World, another not-for-profit recording label, would be taking over the administration of the archive. Since that time, however, composers with recordings on the now-defunct CRI have been left wondering what’s going to happen to their discs.

In an interview this morning, Paul Tai, director of Artists and Repertory at New World, acknowledged that there had been delays—mainly the need for CRI to file the necessary petition with the New York State Attorney General’s office, which must sanction the merger between the two non-profits—but that the appropriate paperwork was submitted on March 29, 2004, and hopes are that approval will come through in the next couple of months.

A Short History of CRI

CRI was founded in 1954 by American composers Otto Luening–who was also a co-founder of the American Music Center–and Douglas Moore with arts administrator and musicologist Oliver Daniel, who headed the concert music division of BMI from 1954 until 1977.

The label’s history includes recordings of music by 42 Pulitzer Prize-winning composers as well as many other key figures in American music of the 20th century including Milton Babbitt, John Cage, Henry Cowell, Ruth Crawford Seeger, and many others.

Under the stewardship of Joseph R. Dalton, who served as CRI’s Executive Director from 1990 to 2000, CRI embarked on a variety of high-profile innovative recording series including: “Emergency Music,” which featured the earliest recordings of Bang on a Can; “eXchange music,” which featured some of the earliest recordings of prominent Asian-American and Hispano-American composers including Tan Dun, Tania Léon, Chen Yi, and Roberto Sierra; the “Gay American Composers” series; and a comprehensive re-issue of all of Harry Partch’s historic self-produced Gate 5 Recordings.

[A 1999 NewMusicBox profile of CRI describes the earlier history of the label.]

“We are hoping for a fall rollout” of the CRI catalog via New World, says Tai, “but we can’t go on record until we’ve heard from the attorney general. At the moment, we’re not legally responsible for that archive. It’s in limbo.”

That’s not to say that the discs are sitting in a storage shed somewhere, however. The recordings are in-house at New World, the label just hasn’t yet acquired the legal rights to do anything with them publicly. New World reports it has been working over the past year to make sure their collection is complete and is getting things organized and digitized for future distribution.

New World is now hopeful that it will be able to make the entire back catalog available on an on-demand basis, custom burning discs as they are ordered by the customer (similar to how the Smithsonian distributes the Folkways Recordings). This strategy, of course, is attractive because it will allow New World to avoid the costly production and storage of excess inventory. In addition, about 15 discs from the CRI catalog are slated for reissue on the New World label over the next few years. Tai couldn’t disclose exact titles at this time. He also acknowledges that “clearly we can’t reissue everything that was on CRI or else we’ll end up in the same [financial] boat.”

“This delay has been difficult for everybody,” says Tai. “But we are actively planning at this point.”

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