Foster Reed of New Albion Records
7. New Albion’s Roster Of Composers and Performers
FRANK J. OTERI: I want to talk a bit about a number of the artists who have been on the label over the years which taps into what we were saying about having the links to other sites, to other record companies. In essence you’re promoting all of these composers. When a Paul Lansky has discs on Bridge and also has a disc with you, well, it’s beyond the New Albion disc, it’s about promoting Paul Lansky. Certainly there are composers who I would say were discovered by New Albion, we talked about Somei Satoh a bit before, and Ingram Marshall and Paul Dresher and Stephen Scott to some extent. But there are a number of other composers, too. I referenced John Adams earlier in our discussion. His first record originally came from 1750 Arch but then you re-released it and recorded another disc as well. John Adams is now the most widely played composer in America and I would posit, were it not for those New Albion recordings, people might not know who he was today.
FOSTER REED: Oh, I don’t think so. I think, it’s clear to me, actually the first record of his was Light Over Water and then he did the 1750 Arch thing. It was just a coincidence that John and Ingram were good friends, and I was doing this, but at that point, already, John’s talents were being vied for by ECM and Nonesuch. John already had an asterisk next to his name in 1984.
FRANK J. OTERI: But your recording came out before that, no?
FOSTER REED: No, that’s when I started…
FRANK J. OTERI: Oh, so then it was the, so the 1750 Arch record was really what did it.
FOSTER REED: Yeah, I would say, well…
FRANK J. OTERI: Adams was also on a record Brian Eno produced on Obscure…
FOSTER REED: Yeah, John’s career had already started. He was still basically being a teacher at a conservatory and not a famous world-traveling composer/conductor, but he’d already made the move. Those dynamics were already in motion by the time I put out his record, and they would have happened regardless of my involvement with him. I think.
FRANK J. OTERI: Okay, let’s take some other composers. Let’s take someone like John Luther Adams. You put out a wonderful recording.
FOSTER REED: The other John Adams. In fact, there’s another Stephen Scott who’s a jazz pianist, and I’m thinking I could just go with the Adams and the Scotts.
FRANK J. OTERI: I discovered a third John Adams over the weekend: a Celtic fiddle player who plays with this group Red Shift. [laughs] The curse of having a common name.
FOSTER REED: Anyway, the way it came to me was that I had certain interests and then I asked myself, well, who are the guys that came before this generation, and then I found Morton Feldman, Lou Harrison and John Cage. I would include Harry Partch and a number of other people. Even though you’re aware of a person, you can’t necessarily put together what it is to make something that you’ve convinced yourself is a good record. I was looking for non-Eurocentric music. But as soon as I identified that I wanted non-Eurocentric music, Yvar Mikhashoff showed up with Stockhausen, which to me seemed like the epitome of serialism and I said, why do I want to do this? And I guess, and I said to myself, well, I’ll do this because I don’t want to do it, because it’s gotta be, if that’s the genuine example of what it is then I shouldn’t say no to it. And it turns out that I really liked that record of Stockhausen’s Mantra. It sounds much more pointillistic and impressionistic, more interesting than intellectual, which is not how I originally thought it would sound.
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RealAudio sound clip
Excerpt from Lou Harrison: Kunsonoro kaj Gloro
(from New Albion CD 015:
La Koro Sutro)
FRANK J. OTERI: It’s funny. Though it’s not a work that many people know, it’s almost become standard repertoire as far as recordings go ’cause there are at least 5 different recordings of it! Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth put out a recording of it on his label Ecstatic Peace just about a year or two ago, there’s one on Wergo and another on Accord. And then there’s the original Deutsche Grammophon recording which unfortunately is long out of print.
FOSTER REED: With the Kontarskys… For us, Yvar’s is an interesting record because it seems very obscure but it’s always sold. It’s a very good selling record.
FRANK J. OTERI: Mantra sells?! Wow. Well, it’s very hard to get Stockhausen now in this country, just about anything, because he took the rights…
FOSTER REED: I particularly take my hat off to what he did. He did not like what was going down with Deutsche Grammophon at all, and was able to recapture the rights, and runs this little mail-order service. This is an example of an artist who took control of his destiny.
FRANK J. OTERI: Much like Prince. There are others who have done that in the pop world.
FOSTER REED: Ani DiFranco.
FRANK J. OTERI: Robert Fripp has also done that with Discipline Global Mobile, and it really is, in some ways, the future, I was reading an interview, I think the rap group Public Enemy is doing that as well and the majors are furious. This is a huge phenomenon. I don’t see artists running away from New Albion, though, because you’re not really like the record industry.
FOSTER REED: No, we’re not. And, you know, the question is, who can do what better? It’s probably true that a record company can do certain things that, it can and will do certain things that an individual can’t and won’t do. Especially if they’re a creative individual, because I learned very quickly, as soon as the record was made, the composer was gone, on to the next project, and there I was sitting there with a thousand pieces of vinyl, and nobody to tell me what to do with it, you know. So, organizations that try to mine the store, more or less, there’s a need for that.
FRANK J. OTERI: Well, one of the things that you’ve done is developed certain artists and developed certain catalog, there are certain composers, they’re not one-off projects.
FOSTER REED: Preferably, I would do at least 2 records with a certain individual. Because if they’re good, and you really want to know what their sort of voice, or persona is in music, 2 records should begin to express that. And so, I would always rather do 2 records. Some records came out, were just such absolute disasters economically, I can’t think of it. Other records perhaps I didn’t care for, or there was a personality conflict and I just don’t want to deal with the person anymore.
FRANK J. OTERI: Right. But I think of certain composers like somebody like Daniel Lentz or like Ingram Marshall, whom you’ve really built up catalogs for, and someone who has bought the previous record, you put out the new one and they’ll buy that, because they identify with New Albion and with that composer. Getting back to some of the older generation composers, take a figure like Terry Riley. Here’s somebody who was a star, essentially the first public minimalist. And he was with Columbia Masterworks, the top of the line, which is now part of Sony, the biggest of all the corporations. And he’s somebody who the majors forgot about, and New Albion maintains recordings by him and continues to put out recordings of his music. And the stuff he’s doing now is just as exciting as the stuff he was doing then, if not more so.
FOSTER REED: Well, you have to look at a guy like that and realize he’s not very interested in fame and fortune. And when you look at the people who are famous, you have to wonder, you have to think, well, perhaps they are interested in fame and fortune. In this country, if you don’t promote yourself in a certain way, you tend to be passed over. That’s just the way it is. The world, our culture doesn’t judge something because it’s good or not good, on some level it does, but it also judges it by how hard it’s marketed. And if you’re not… Somebody gets all the commissions. Now in order for somebody to get the commissions, it’s because they think that you’re marketable, and will improve their sort of commissioning identity, or somebody’s writing the grants to get you those commissions. And if you’re someone like Terry Riley who’s not interested in that kind of world, then you tend to get looked over, seems to me.
FRANK J. OTERI: Now, take someone like Lou Harrison. Lou Harrison is someone who was looked over for years and now he’s being embraced by everyone everywhere.
FOSTER REED: Lou’s had a variety of champions, like Betty Freeman who kept him alive when he was trimming poodles, and etc. I find people like Lou and Morton Feldman and John Cage, and Harry Partch in particular, extremely heroic. In order to be who they were and imagine the music they were imagining, they had to really be comfortable with themselves alone, in a private, very intense fashion. John certainly was a master of notoriety and able to work the system on his behalf, a genuine trickster of the highest sort, but he was also a composer, an inventor and a writer and an artist. To me those guys, that sort of level of heroism is so much higher than the kind of art market world that we currently live in.
FRANK J. OTERI: What’s so tragic about Cage and Feldman, is for years, there were no recordings when they were alive of their music, there’d be live performances but not really recordings. And now that both of them are dead their recordings are skyrocketing. Everybody seems to be recording this music.
FOSTER REED: Classical music has always been necrophiliac at heart. You kind of have to wait until you die before you get elected, on some level. On another level, you know, in John’s case, the fixing of music wasn’t really what his music was about. In Morton’s case, he was just ignored. He was a difficult individual. He wrote music that was intentionally turns it back on generation.
FRANK J. OTERI: But his music works so much better on recordings than it does live, because there are so many extraneous sounds when you have a live concert. His music is so quiet, it’s really best appreciated late at night, listening at home alone.
FOSTER REED: With a bottle of whiskey.
FRANK J. OTERI: [laughs]
FOSTER REED: It’s true, his music really does well in that context. But I always think of his music of having been taken too seriously. If you were to write a piece that was supposed to last for 6 hours, I don’t think you could actually ask the players or the audience to pay attention for 6 hours. It becomes something else.
FRANK J. OTERI: Well, he himself didn’t… There’s a famous story of a rehearsal of the Second String Quartet with the Kronos Quartet and Feldman fell asleep during the rehearsal and David Harrington woke him up because his cigarette was about to burn his lip.
FOSTER REED: Yeah. There are a lot of funny Morton Feldman stories. I guess, one of my favorites, I got it from Yvar, somebody wrote to him and asked how he wanted a certain piece played. He wrote back and said, “You play my music very beautifully, just play it a little quieter and a little more slowly.”
FRANK J. OTERI: [laughs]
FOSTER REED: My understanding of that generation occurred, or that aesthetic of kind of music somewhere between Feldman and Cage. I was sleeping outside in the woods in northern New York, and the dawn was coming up and there was this gradual sound, this huge crescendo right when the sun came up, and then it all stopped. It occurred to me that those people were really interested in opening music to that kind of chance, where everything had a voice, and all the voices were relative, and they all had their own rhythm, taken together, it was the equivalent, you know, something that was like that, on a natural order. But anyway, I’m kind of digressing, but I found, looking at those guys, that they were very courageous individuals. And then you have people that history just sort of passes by, like Silvestre Revueltas, who is not such an experimentalist, but took the ideas of the time, and you know, applied them to his life. He was genuinely an international character and he used those ideas. I find that really interesting.
FRANK J. OTERI: Well, certainly a number of the older composers who you’ve recorded are people who the performers you’ve been associated with have come to you with.
FOSTER REED: Right. Absolutely.
FRANK J. OTERI: The Cuarteto Latinoamericano, in the case of Revueltas, or you’ve mentioned Yvar before in the case of Stockhausen, and certainly Margaret Leng Tan for Somei Satoh and Cage, to some extent.
FOSTER REED: You do work with who you have around. It’s more fun to work with better musicians, by far, but they’re not, you know, you sort of get what you get. Sometimes you get better musicians, sometimes you don’t.