Al Margolis: audio assemblage, construction, composition; Jason Kao Hwang: violins, violas; Chloe Roe: voice; Thomas Buckner: voice samples; Robert Dick, Jerome Bourdellon: flute samples; Leslie Ross: bassoon; Lisa Barnard-Kelley: voice; Steve Roe, Kevin Geraghthy: guitars; Trio Scordatura: all sounds in “Diapason 40”
I have a vivid recollection of my introductory meeting with the name “If, Bwana”. Had seen an LP called Wah Yu Wan heralded by the Recommended Records mail order catalog; no idea of what that was and how it sounded (pre-internet era, remember: no mp3 previews, months to unwrap a much fantasized album before the International Money Orders went the full course, additional weeks often needed for customs clearance, etc.). It took several years of unproductive searching to finally listen to that (great) record, a contact with Al Margolis at last established due to an article I’d decided to write a few releases later. He was amazingly nice in sending his (jealously preserved) Sound Of Pig cassettes and the damn aforementioned vinyl. Afterwards, the revelation about the nom d’art’s meaning came (it’s an acronym for “It’s Funny But We Are Not Amused”), instantly erasing my convictions of a satirical illusion on intellectually superior slaves doubting their master. Those were the beginnings of an ongoing long-distance friendly resonance sincerely treasured to this day. Margolis remains relatively unsung in comparison to the impressive body of work released over three decades (in case you hadn’t gotten the title clue): psychological and neural impact, conceptual uniqueness and irony are almost never missing from If, Bwana’s output. The compositions shaping this ultra-limited-edition triple CD not only represent a fortifying swim in the Margolis Sea of sonic investigation; they qualify Thirty as one of his finest (and stylistically all-embracing) editions overall.
The first disc comprises “8 Notes, 16 Speakers, X Players” where samples of piano and strings (Hwang) thicken the plot until a multi-track pilgrimage to the Mecca of dissonant alter-egos is completed; then, a simple-yet-effective (female) vocal superimposition – “Roe Girls 2” – and a preternatural 30-minute drone resplendently titled “Organ Life(less)”. The second – kicking off with biting conversations featuring Buckner’s pharyngeal gargles plus Dick and Bourdellon’s whimpering and whooshing flutes in “Secular Totems” – finds perhaps its pinnacle in the galvanizing spectral exploration of “Forks, Waves, Bees” (whose breathtaking finale is alone worth of owning this set). Following the somewhat enigmatic “James (Leuven) Piece”, “Al, My Bassoons?” is a mildly disquieting layering of guess what, whereas “Lisa, Fluteless” might not displease fans of Meredith Monk, Joan LaBarbara (and even – get this – Julie Tippetts) in spite of the slight touch of “inhumanness” applied by Margolis to Barnard-Kelley’s tones. Third “book” opened by the inviolable atmosphere of the splendid “8 Notes, Brass Version (All Together Now)”, potentially the most “relaxing” track on offer (the ever-present clusters notwithstanding) that must rank among Margolis’ foremost attempts to adopt some kind of misanthropic lyricality. “Massed Roses” is an ominous gradual formation of mutely thunderous guitars who could scare the shit out of Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo through its gelid stare. Instead, IB’s passion for a certain instrument is legally ratified by the subsequent couple of outstanding experiments – “KatLib Bday Bassoon” and “Ross Bassoon 2” – respectively sounding like an atonal orison for the Lord of Depressed Walruses (that still would teach a thing or two to Yoshi Wada and Catherine Christer Hennix) and a teary-eyed admission of guilt by a congregation of woodwind instrumentalists incapable of keeping a note unfluctuating (we’re all the more blessed for that). “Diapason 40” ends this marvelous affair with twenty minutes of rather tranquil contiguous pitches, preparing us for a wonderful night – the same that I wish, multiplied for thousands, to Mr. Margolis after he managed yet again to improve my consideration of an otherwise barely endurable “been-there-done-that” existential route. With a correct vibrancy enhancing the cerebral activities everything clicks, and the absurdities incessantly emitted by boring theoreticians can be taken for what they are. That is to say, vociferous bullshit.