Friday, May 18, 2007
The San Francisco "new music group," Other Minds, held a press release party on Monday in the Veterans Building on Van Ness at the San Francisco Performing Arts Library & Museum to announce the launch of their new internet radio website, radiom.org (NOT .com). You can get to it by clicking here.
The site is a treasure trove of interviews, live music, rehearsals, and 60's-style "happenings," with a nice little streaming mechanism to protect copyrights while providing free music, and even better, a robust search engine that can take you to everything on the archive for a specific person or genre, such as "Lou Harrison" or "electro-acoustic music."
The bulk of the archive is dedicated to a library of broadcasts from KPFA-FM in Berkeley aired between 1949 and 1993, and the vast majority are from 1969-1993 when Charles Amirkhanian (above) was the music director at the station before he left for the Djerassi Resident Arts Program and later founded the Other Minds Music Festival with Jim Newman.
Besides being a composer himself, Amirkhanian is one of the best interviewers, thinkers and impresarios of "new music" in the world, and on top of it he has one of the greatest radio voices in history. In fact, the way I met Mr. Amirkhanian was by accompanying my friend David Barnard to a free Del Sol String Quartet concert Charles was sponsoring, because David had fallen in love with Amirkhanian's voice after listening to it on the radio for 30 straight years.
At the press release party, Charles gave a short history of KPFA, from its origins in 1946 when it was started by a group of pacifists, through its introduction of the pledge appeal to keep the station running (yes, we can blame KPFA for that particular business model, which has alienated a generation of viewers and listeners from PBS and its offshoots). When I asked Charles how he had managed to end up with all the original tapes, he said that he'd gotten a phone call in the 1990s from KPFA that the tapes were in jeopardy of being put into deep storage, never to see the light of day, because they urgently needed more space.
They were rescued from purgatory and put in a small warehouse in the East Bay, and are currently being digitized, catalogued and assembled for radiom.org and the Pacific Tape Library, under the direction of the young Genevieve Bujold lookalike above, Adrienne Cardwell.
The composer Henry Kaiser (above) just returned from a multi-hyphenate job in Antarctica diving, photographing and writing music for Werner Herzog's latest arty documentary movie. He talked about the outrageously rich and diverse world that opened up for him as a kid growing up in the East Bay listening to KPFA. "There would be East Indian music one moment, and Varese the next, and it was mind-blowing."
"What was really different about the music shows was that they didn't explain everything but instead asked a lot of interesting questions. Nothing exists like that anymore."
Richard Friedman, the president of Other Minds, talked about growing up in New York in the late 1950s and early 1960s, "which was a golden period for music on radio, I now realize looking back at it. There were live broadcasts of six different symphony orchestras every week, plus Henry Cowell [the legendary American composer and pedagogue] had a program, and so did Gunther Schuller. It was amazing."
Steven Upjohn, the project librarian, echoed that sentiment, saying he's never had as much fun as a librarian in his career because the subject matter is both so interesting and so varied. For an example, check out the first offering on the radiom.org website, a two-part interview with music between Amirkhanian and Brian Eno from 1980 that may be one of the most brilliant things I've ever listened to.
The Other Minds group recently hired Adam Fong (above) as an Associate Director. He's a composer himself with a healthy young person's dismissal of the pieties of the past. He also grew up in a time where musical boundaries are much more fluid (rather than High Culture/Low Culture) thanks to people like Amirkhanian and Friedman and Newman.
It may be time for Adam Fong to drag his boss into live internet radio, because the internet seems to be the place where you can actually still experiment while FM radio has mostly stagnated. Plus, my friend David Barnard wasn't the only one in love with the voice and intelligence of Mr. Amirkhanian on KPFA. There are legions of others like him.