Foster Reed refers to himself as “founder and chief perpetrator of New Albion Records.” I asked him if he has an official title, and he replied, “No, I don’t think I have a title. I don’t even have a business card!” Nonetheless, Foster has recorded and archived legendary figures in American music: John Cage, Morton Feldman, Anthony Braxton, Lukas Foss, and many others in the 25 years that New Albion has existed. Bard College’s SummerScape series will celebrate the label with a festival within a festival in the exotic Spiegeltent, August 1 through August 10.
Reed began his recording career on the other end of the microphone. In high school, he co-founded a psychedelic jug outfit called the Free Band, which released one record on Vanguard in 1969, then promptly disbanded. In 1976, Reed moved to San Francisco. He founded New Albion in 1983 to fill a gap in the recording industry. Composer friends of his like John Adams, Paul Dresher, and Daniel Lentz were writing fine music that was nearly unknown.
Some of Reed’s albums have taken as much as 10 years to make, from initial conception until release. Others were almost immediate. One of his remarkable stories is about Kingston composer Pauline Oliveros.
“My involvement with Pauline began when she and [musician] Stuart Dempster had gone into a cistern on the Olympic Peninsula at Fort Worden [in Washington State], and discovered that it had an echo which lasted for about 54 seconds,” recalls Reed. “And since the cistern was round, the echo kept on going and going and going. So it was like an infinity of perception.”
Oliveros, Dempster, and Panaiotis recorded the album Deep Listening in the cistern, which had formerly held two million gallons of water, in October 1988. The instrumentation is accordion, voice, conch, trombone, didjeridu, garden hose, whistling, and metal pipes. In 1991, New Albion released the sequel, The Ready Made Boomerang. The second album’s 45-second opening cut, “Balloon Payment,” consists of one echoing crash.
Oliveros’s music overlaps with physics and the study of sound. It’s fitting that she teaches at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy. Deep Listening is a philosophy as well as a record title. Oliveros believes that music is ultimately an attitude in the listener; that a dripping faucet, properly heard, is as profound as the Brandenburg Concertos. Oliveros teaches Deep Listening workshops around the world.
On August 10, the Deep Listening Band, consisting of David Gamper (keyboards and electronics), Stuart Dempster (trombone and didgeridoo), and Oliveros (accordion and electronics), will perform in the Spiegeltent, the mirrored dance hall now in its third year at SummerScape.
The same day, in the lobby of Theater Two of the Fisher Center, Ellen Fullman will perform on a contraption called the Long String Instrument, in which wires up to 60 feet long will oscillate as she plays them with her rosined fingertips. Her performance is free.
The Deep Listening Band will appear in the Spiegeltent at Bard College on August 10, at 8:30pm. Ellen Fullman’s performance at the Fisher Center is at 5:30pm.
(845) 758-7900; www.fishercenter.bard.edu.