Sound Of Pig
The preeminent cassette label of the heyday of cassette culture was Sound Of Pig run by Al Margolis in New York. His label distributed hundreds of tapes in many styles with an emphasis on experimental and unusual sounds.
Al was kind enough to answer a few questions about his label and other topics regarding cassette culture. Al currently runs the Pogus label, an exceptional imprint of avant garde and experimental sounds. Visit and perhaps even purchase some of his excellent offerings.
Also, you can see his Sound Of Pig catalog.
Interview with Al Margolis
Sound Of Pig: what years did you operate the label?
The label began in 1984 and I think the last release came out in 1990. And then I maintained it for awhile…and you can actually still buy cassettes now.
Why did you give your label this name?
Croiners was the project of James Levine and was always a favorite of mine. His loopy and wacked out world of disjointed sounds was never predictable. This 1987 tape has live tracks, radio broadcast material and also a collaboration with Deaf Lions, another loopy artist.
It’s a pig thing. Actually the band I was in at the time – my first real band in fact – with Jay Hernandez who did the Sombrero Galaxy tapes with me – was called Pigs on Parade. And when I needed a label name I just started singing, from The Sound of Music, “the hills are alive with the sound of pig music” (lalala) – and thus a legend was born. And just to keep matters straight here, I only like 2 classic musicals – The Sound of Music not being one of them. They are West Side Story and Singing in the Rain (and that mostly for the Donald O’Connor piece “Make Them Laugh”. Just don’t want anyone getting the wrong ideas (whatever they may be).
As an artist, what was the criteria to be on SOP? Was there a philosophy?
I pretty much had to like your tape or be interested in you – if it reflected any philosophy – and I am not quite sure it did – it would have been the one that, especially in the early days of tape network, most of the compilations had a fairly open kind of feel – so that noise coexisted with weird folk and songs etc – so that for a while SOP had, I think, a fairly open mind to what I released. Not sure if that actually closed up over time….
You quickly built up a huge, diverse label. Did most people approach you or did you contact artists and offer them a place on SOP?
It was definitely both – I probably contacted more people than who solicited me but it certainly worked both ways. I still recall trolling through Op, Sound Choice, Option and Factsheet Five (and other zines as well) reading reviews and starring folks’ cassettes that sounded interesting and getting in touch.
The tape above was a split release between SOP and Jeph Jerman’s Big Body Parts label from Colorado.
You had many contacts not only in America but throughout the world. How did the word get out about Sound Of Pig?
Well I would say mostly between trading tapes, getting reviews and I suppose word of mouth. I wrote to a fair amount of fellow tape people – whether gleaned from zines and cassettes – reviews, etc.
Sound Of Pig also issued many compilations such as the one above. In fact, this may have been the first tape I ever received from Al. This was probably also my first exposure to Ken Clinger, Zanstones ( Zan Hoffman) and Mystery Hearsay ( Mike Honeycut). From 1985.
I see you still offer all the tapes from that period. Do you get orders or interest still?
I need to get the first 100 SOP tapes listed but from 101 on (which runs up to 301) yes I still offer those tapes. And I still get orders. Mostly (though not solely) for a select batch – Jim O’Rourke, Merzbow/John Hudak collaboration, Hudak solo, Jeph Jerman, Big City Orchestra. Some others as well. There was a stretch where I was actually selling more tapes than Pogus cds. I think some of the interest was that my prices were still pretty low (raised it recently) and people were selling what they bought on Ebay.
Two legendary figures of improvisational music, Adam Bohman ( of England) and Dave Prescott (Ma, USA) teamed up for this “out there” release. I assume this was a mail collaboration.
Your own project, If,Bwana put out many tapes on SOP but also on other labels. Were these releases “by request” from other labels?
There were some requests for tapes specifically labels. Radio Slaves on Medicinal. Beware the Sleeping Squid on cause and Effect. Fun With Fish on Audiofile Tapes. There must have been others as well. It was easy for other labels to ask for a tape. No major costs involved.
If, Bwana stands for “Its funny, but we are not amused”. When did that come to you and how?
Since we all know you couldn’t possibly use your own name back then … (oh, wait, shit Don, you did). Seriously when casting about for a pseudonym, somehow the name came from thinking about Monty Python’s use of the royal “WE”. I don’t know why exactly – just one of those things that made sense at the time.
Al came to California in 1987 and did some live appearances on different radio stations. On this cassette release is the improv he and I did together at KKUP.
Why did you fold up the SOP tent?
Mostly due the confluence of the scene seemed to be dying/drying up (less mags to send to – sound choice had folded and option wasn’t paying attention) as well as changed job situation. I began working at New World Records and it was taking up a lot of time – was a more responsible type position than previous jobs. That actually also impacted my own recording/composing over time too. So just less time and less people to be in contact with. The tape scene seemed to have gone in waves over the years. We are in generation 3 or 4 now (at least that many).
San Francisco artist, TS Vickers as Deaf Lions, produced this tape of blended loops in 1987. This was one of my favorite SOP releases at the time. I don’t know what’s become of Vickers now.
When you began Pogus it seemed to focus more on “academic” (for lack of a better term) experimental music. The covers and presentation are all high quality and professional. What informed this evolution?
A fair and accurate description. I had not known any of that work and hearing those composers (Xenakis, Stockhausen, Cage etc etc) was a real revelation to me. And so I started listening and buying more and more of that stuff and swapping tapes (oh oh – a no no). During some of that time Feldman and Nono and Scelsi had all died and all of a sudden cds of their works started to come out. So the impetus for beginning Pogus (along with Dave Prescott) was what we were calling “The Before They Die” series. We wanted to get some of these folks music out while they were living. And it kind of morphed from there. This was around the time when the lps by many of these composers were out of print. So the Rune Lindblad and Robert Rutmand and AMM lps all came from there – and we also kept to out more SOP side by doing Morphogenesis lp as well.
Above, a compilation Al assembled in about 1987 featuring an eclectic stew of international underground artists. I even had a song on it. Below, two CDs from Al’s, If Bwana, project. Top, a collection of sessions that were released originally on the Medicinal label from France, then put out on CDR by Generations Unlimited, and then re-issued by the Monochrome Vision label from Russia. Bottom, an experimental outing put out on Pogus.
Do you think cassette culture has a lasting legacy of some sort?
Certainly. First you have a number of artists who came out of that still making music and being rather important influences – to name just a few – Merzbow, Francisco Lopez, John Hudak, Fred Lonberg-Holm…and many more. Plus you have the sort of pre-internet grass roots way of connecting. DIY and lo-fi culture. And, while this may be a partial bias due to immersion in this, but I think that there was the partial at least interest in the contemporary classical composers mentioned in the previous answer. This was sort of bringing them back in (my answer may not be quite clear and not making any great claims for the cassette culture) but seems as if a lot of people who got into cassettes as a way to do their music have entered and cross pollinated with “classical, academic, experimental” and I think lots of this may be reflected in today’s work. Or I could be completely full of it. Or both.
Talk about the current scene and the use of the net for communication.
Its hard to say a lot about the current scene as I am in one of my sort of not paying so much attention to what’s happening phase. I hear some of what’s happening but not tons. Communication is certainly quicker, easier, cheaper and way more effective. Not really into the social networking aspect of it. I spend too much time on the computer between work and recording so that for me, spending more time on the computer tends not to be enticing. The sheer amount of things to listen to etc is staggering – I don’t have a clue how people watch and listen to all that – I mean, Ubuweb site for instance is amazing ands there is so much material there that I just don’t even bother..i would get lost. So I am often confronted with my own contradiction of the ease of contact and communication and the perverse desire not to want to be bothered most of the time. Weird huh? But perhaps in a certain way we have gotten what we wanted. To be able to easily make your own music (computers, cdrs) and be in touch directly with the person who might be interested (even if only one person) – web, streaming social network sites, internet radio. Its all what we were sort of looking for, And now that its here. Do with it as you will….