Since If,Bwana has been a strong thread weaving it's own tapestry from the days of SOP into the present Pogus label, we've decided to give it it's due. We've combined the new with the old here as well as the yet to be born. And for those of you who need a little history to spark your interest we've also included a discography.
If, Bwana was born on New Year's Eve 1984, making music that has swung between fairly spontaneous studio constructions and more process-oriented composition. A recent review of Margolis's work says: "Let it be declared that Al Margolis/If, Bwana is some sort of evil genius working with raw materials which are never adapted to a genre or a context, because they create one in that very moment. Those sources are radically altered up to an utterly unrecognizable state, anarchic manifestations moving in compact determination." (Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes).
Al Margolis has been an activist in the 1980s American cassette underground through his cassette label Sound of Pig Music; was
co-founder of experimental music label Pogus Productions, which he continues to run. Active under the name If, Bwana since 1984, making music that has swung between fairly spontaneous studio constructions and more process-oriented composition.
He has recorded and/or performed with Pauline Oliveros, Ione, Joan Osborne, Monique Buzzart√©, Katherine Liberovskaya, Adam Bohman, Ellen Christi, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Jane Scarpantoni, Ulrich Krieger, David First, and Dave Prescott, among others.
Frans de Waard wrote some notes for the Bastet label reissue of 3 If, Bwana cassettes as cdrs. Here is what he had to say:
The Start Isn't Always The Beginning
I. Start at the middle
Any story must start somewhere, but it might not be at the beginning. My story with, or about, If, Bwana starts in the early nineties. I paid a lot of money to get a 10CD set called Anckarstr√∂m, because it had The Hafler Trio, John Duncan, Arcane Device, White Stains and some others. When I signed up I was surprised to see If, Bwana as part of this. Wasn't that something from that Sound Of Pig cassette label which I saw before, or even owed a copy of (well, mainly because my 'band' Kapotte Muziek is on one of their compilations), with those horrible xeroxed covers, badly cut out? Why on earth would they be part of such as exciting series? Obviously I don't remember which of the ten CDs I played first when the box arrived, but surely it wasn't If, Bwana. Likewise I don't recall what I thought of them all, except If, Bwana. That one was one of the best in the series, if not the best, maybe along with the one by Arcane Device. I was excited when Staalplaat started re-issuing the series, because it would mean I could tell about and sell, due to my working commitment for the label, that great CD. It didn't happen, as Staalplaat decided to stop re-issuing them before they had done them all. But still, after twenty years, I talk about that CD as the moment I discovered If, Bwana. And guess what? Up until the very moment I write these words (true fact inserted here) I haven't played that CD in maybe nineteen years. I thought it was one track, it turns out to be two. I read on the cover that one piece is a basic mix of 'processed cymbals, organ, sampled flute, digital synthesizer and a live performance of XTSW', which seems to be a band of sorts, whilst the other is a piece for '3 prerecorded, processed horn parts (bassoon, oboe, soprano sax) performed by Brian Charles, which have then been processed through an electroharmoninx memory man, plus processed cymbals, steel cello, gello (a 12 string guitar fitted with 4 cello strings) and bass clarinet, played by Brian Charles'. Al Margolis - he is If, Bwana - plays all other instruments. Reading this text I learn that Margolis is a composer, rather than a performer. Now often that is the same thing in the world I inhabit with my obscure music friends, gathered around a weekly rainfall of words called Vital Weekly, but its not always the case in the world of Al Margolis. When I got that CD from the Anckarstr√∂m series I realized this was a man about something else than I was. He has 'people' 'perform' 'music' and he would 'mix' it. How odd. How, perhaps, classical in a modern sense of the word, or how 'modern' in classical sense of the word. It was something I never noticed on those badly cut covers in the days of the cassette network.
II. Start at the beginning
Back to the beginning. The three works covered here show the very early infant days of If, Bwana, a child of its time. Its a far cry from the latter, (semi? quasi?) classical work and even further away from its current inception of merging improvisation and modern classical techniques. Its the world of tape-loops, cheap electronics, battered analogue synthesizers, reel to reel recorders, tape splicing, cut-up, collage. Nothing here forecasts that master work later released by Anckarstrom. That is not to say these works are without any power. These three works show the music of its time. Powerful, noisy, brutal, but they never go 'over the top'. If there is one thing that If, Bwana doesn't do, it is the full on noise act. Full distortion pedal on and let's thunder. The music, be it crude, raw and sometimes lo-fidelity, is always playful and friendly. There is something in this old collection that forecasts all the later work. The elements of improvisation, the techniques used in modern classical music, both in playing and editing of the sound material. That is interesting to hear, that they are apparent on all three of these discs, which stem from 1985, 1986 and 1987, but however do not form a chronological entity. There were other tapes in that period, so we have a 'snapshot' (if you wish to use that for three hours of music) of the earliest period of If, Bwana. These traits are not always there but if you listen closely and know what else he did, later on, then this will be clear, most prominently, and perhaps oddly, on the oldest of these three recordings. A curious hybrid of musical interests. How could I have ignored it in those days?
III. Start at the end
Now, in 2010, Al Margolis has been active as If, Bwana for over twenty five years, slowly evolving from the crude cut 'n paste master of the works now in front of you, through lengthy layered compositions, and these days the modern classical approach - the 'piece for computer, flute and voice' type of compositions. The joy of playing hasn't changed since 1985, methods may have, techniques may have, inspiration and influence may have changed, but the sheer joy in organizing sound events hasn't changed. Onwards to the future.
Frans de Waard