Off the Record! A Hyper-History of American Independent New Music Record Labels

Off the Record! A Hyper-History of American Independent New Music Record Labels

Founded in 1978, Lovely Music is one of the longest-lived and most distinctive independent labels active in the recording and promotion of new American music. According to label founder Mimi Johnson, the label is “dedicated to releasing the best in avant-garde and experimental music, from electronics and computer music to new opera and extended vocals techniques.” Placing emphasis on the artist’s intent, Lovely Music recordings are always composer-supervised and produced.

The label was founded by Johnson as an adjunct to the activities of her Performing Artservices, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to the management and administration of American avant-garde artists working in the fields of music, dance and theater. When these artists were not able to get their music out to the record-buying public, Lovely was put forth as a solution. “Lovely Music represents many of the great innovators and interpreters of the last three decades, the men and women who have defined ‘American Music,'” says Johnson, “artists who nevertheless find it difficult or impossible to release their music through more conventional channels.”

Foremost among the artists represented in the Lovely catalog is composer Robert Ashley; almost all of Ashley’s most important works have been released by the label, including the monumental electronic opera Atalanta (Acts of God), Perfect Lives (which has been called the “most influential music/theater/literary work of the 1980s”), eL/Aficionado and numerous others. Other composers have released some of their most important achievements on the label as well: David Behrman’s Leapday Night, Paul Dresher’s This Same Temple, William Duckworth’s Southern Harmony and The Time Curve Preludes, Jon Hassell’s Vernal Equinox, Alvin Lucier’s I am sitting in a room and Music on a Long Thin Wire, and Meredith Monk’s Key all rank among the more exceptional recordings to be found in the Lovely catalog.

Performers and interpreters are also found in abundance on Lovely. Baritone Thomas Buckner, himself one of the most tireless promulgators of new music via recordings and live performance presentation, is represented by three collections of new music for voice: Full Spectrum Voice, Inner Journey and Sign of the Times. Pianist Joseph Kubera recorded John Cage’s extraordinary and seldom-performed Music of Changes for the label. And the new music vocal icon Joan La Barbara is represented by two recordings, Sound Paintings, an anthology of old and new works, and 73 Poems, a large scale piece commissioned, produced and recorded by Permanent Press to accompany the publication of Kenneth Goldsmith’s 73 Poems as a book and a series of lithographs, creating a truly multimedia presentation.

Through all of these recordings, Lovely Music has attained a position of respect among new music enthusiasts around the world, all as a result of Johnson’s unflagging devotion to helping the artist express her — or himself without compromise — a labor of love in the truest sense of the term.

From Off the Record! A Hyper-History of American Independent New Music Record Labels
by Steve Smith
© 1999 NewMusicBox

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