I’ve created this list in the midst of slogging through the annual year-end process of proclaiming my favorite releases of the previous 12 months, which only reinforces how arbitrary and fleeting these things are. There are countless gems in the New World catalog, and on another day, I might have included Sarah Hennies, Christian Wolff, John Luther Adams, or Charlemagne Palestine. But this is what I’ve got today, with a definite emphasis on releases that prompted different paradigm shifts in my cranium. - Peter Margasak, January 2022
The passage of time has increasingly established the wild creative prescience of the American experimental scene of the 1970s, no matter where it touched down. Like his peers Alvin Curran had an ambivalent relationship with tradition, and he truly acknowledged his multitudes in the series of solo records he made during the decade, taking advantage of home recording to produce paradigm-shifting epics that darted between, collided, melded, and embraced a full cornucopia of disparate styles and practices. The music is trippy, hypnotic, beautiful, deeply personal, and intimate. Decades later it also sounds like nothing else in the world, while at the same time it’s provided a clear template for contemporary sonic seekers.
This album introduced me to the compositional work of violist Jordan Dykstra, a CalArts grad who studied under Michael Pisaro-Liu, Wolfgang von Schweinitz, and Ulrich Krieger. His microtonal, longform works are mind-warping, but also, dare I say, deeply humanistic and, at times, funny. As wrote in Bandcamp Daily last year, “Most of the works in this fantastic, perception-altering record explore specific harmonic intervals in great detail, producing sumptuous overtones that come to life when activated; Dykstra embraces a flexibility in his writing so that each musician and ensemble can create dynamic new iterations. Inquiry is a key practice for him, but not at the expense of creating something exquisite and compelling.
Hard to pick only one title from the New World catalog by James Tenney, but this collection of his early electronic work is so singular, bracing, and seething with portent it’s impossible to skip. Living in Berlin for the last couple of years I’ve felt his influence as a musician, thinker, and, above all, human being all over the place. I adore his acoustic music, but these raw experiments still enthrall and confuse, and I don’t think I can ever get tired to the sweep of his “For Ann (Rising).”
A key work in the patiently evolving sound world of Berlin-based American composer Catherine Lamb, this project achieves lift off thanks in part of the devoted performance of the France’s Ensemble Dedalus. But the gorgeously extended Prisma Interius IX is one of her first works to introduce the secondary rainbow synthesizer—built by Lamb and Bryan Eubanks—which injects live environmental recordings into the particular tuning world occupied by the music. The excellent liner notes by frequent Lamb associate and flutist Rebecca Lane go a long way in explaining why the music is so special and generous, both to performers and listeners.
The brilliant pianist and improviser Cecil Taylor has two bona fide classics on New World, both made during the same sessions. My choice of 3 Phasis is arbitrary, as the self-titled Cecil Taylor Unit is just as great. The recording finds Taylor at the peak of his powers in marshalling a stellar group of improvisers—his greatest disciple Jimmy Lyons on alto saxophone, Raphé Malik on trumpet, Ramsey Ameen on violin, Ronald Shannon Jackson on drums, and Siorone on bass—through his dense, mutable compositions.
This collection presciently offered work by a number of female composers who subverted the academic music of the era with fearless hybrid modes, combining and colliding practices and traditions. Annea Lockwood, Laurie Anderson, Pauline Oliveros, Ruth Anderson and Johanna M. Beyer are all rightly considered pioneers in their own distinctive ways (Megan Roberts less so, but her “I Could Sit Here All Day” is still something else). The original issue on 1750 Arch didn’t make any mention of gender in the package, so the updated title depressingly reveals how long female artists have been marketed into a ghetto that considers them by sex more than output, but at the same time these pieces deliver a way of thinking about sound that men seemed (and still often seem) incapable of achieving.
This astonishing set did wonders in disabusing me of cliched notions of authorship in classical music when it was released in 2013. David Tudor, rightfully celebrated as John Cage's choice musician, slowly evolved from wildly open-minded pianist to electronic-oriented creator over time, and this 7-CD set captures that transformation with a depth and understanding that viscerally drives home Tudor's deep curiosity and imagination. As with a clutch of titles in the New World catalog, this one captures a radical shift, tracing its seismic development with glorious detail, aided by Matt Rogalsky's superb liner notes.
This monumental 3-CD set produced by composer Mary Jane Leach began the ongoing rediscovery (or in my case, discovery) and reassessment of the criminally overlooked gay Black composer and performer Julius Eastman. In the years since its release the number of Eastman recordings and performances have proliferated, only reinforcing the tragedy that the artist himself was unable to directly experience the excitement, wonder, and success his music has fueled. This essential collection features the composer on nearly every piece, playing piano, singing, or conducting most of his major works, Fememine notwithstanding, which also since surfaced and blossomed as a key work.
Mary Jane Leach has gained attention for the heroic work she’s expended in the reclamation of Julius Eastman’s artistic legacy, but her own music is sublime. A couple of recent LP-only releases have allowed us to get a taste of her remarkable music, but New World issued this stunner in 1998, revealing her prescient collision of early music with experimental tendencies. I don’t know anything about the Treble Singers, the contemporary New York female choir that tackles this stuff, but this album deserves to be heard much more widely.