Our resident archivist Jack Dangers delves into his extensive vaults and shines a light on the avant garde electronic pioneers of the 20th century. This time, he turns his attention to New York’s Lovely Music Ltd label
Lovely Music Ltd was started in New York in 1978 by Mimi Johnson. Her husband was Robert Ashley, an avant garde electronic musician and performer who began composing and releasing music in the 1960s. The label was associated with Performing Artservices Inc, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the management and administration of American experimental artists which Mimi Johnson had set up a few years earlier. Performing Artservices managed John Cage and the Philip Glass Ensemble, as well as Robert Ashley and others.
The sort of material these people were recording, often for live performance, was difficult to find a home for with mainstream record companies, so Lovely Music was created to spread the word. The label released a lot of Ashley’s music, but it also put out plenty of records by other avant garde composers, especially Alvin Lucier. The first album released on Lovely Music was Jon Hassell’s ‘Vernal Equinox’.
Robert Ashley and Alvin Lucier had worked together since the 1960s. They formed a collective called the Sonic Arts Union in 1966 and often performed at arts festivals. David Behrman and Gordon Mumma were also part of the Sonic Arts Union. The collective put out an album called ‘Electronic Sound’ in 1972 on the Mainstream label. Lucier later released ‘I Am Sitting In A Room’ on Lovely Music in 1981, which is something of a classic. It runs over two sides, ‘I Am Sitting In A Room’ parts one and two, each about 25 minutes long. It starts with Lucier reading a statement about sitting in a room “different from the one you are in”, then talking about him recording his voice and how he is going to “play it back into the room again and again, until the resonant frequencies of the room reinforce themselves”. He then plays the recording of his voice over and over, putting it through filters and frequency analysers until it gradually becomes pure electronic sound.
Other artists released by Lovely Music include Roger Reynolds, whose ‘Voicespace’ album in 1982 played around with quadrophonic sound and used readings of works by Coleridge and Borges, cutting them up and processing them. There were also records by Nicolas Collins, who had studied under Alvin Lucier and was one of the first people to use computers in a live setting, and Joel Chadabe, who recorded at the Electronic Music Studio at the State University of New York at Albany.
Lovely Music Ltd still exists today and most of the records I’ve mentioned here have been reissued on CD. The original vinyl is extremely hard to find, though, and they fetch a big price whenever they crop up on eBay or Discogs.