Cold Blue   CB0008

Back by popular demand (and available for the first time as a CD), this essential collection of West Coast new music—an anthology known simply as Cold Blue—is a classic. Originally issued on vinyl in 1984, shortly before the demise of the old Cold Blue label, the disc quickly became the company’s most popular release. When Cold Blue was started up again in 2000, the company received numerous letters encouraging it to re-release the anthology as a CD.

Although bound together by a common concern with music’s basic sensuality, the pieces collected here are wide-ranging in style—process-driven works, through-composed pieces, ambient soundscapes, and music that glances in the directions of world music and avant-pop influences. In instrumentation, the music is also wide-ranging—from a celesta solo to a marimba quartet to a player piano solo to works for speaking voices to music for piano and bullroarer, plus works for solo piano, synthesizers, cello and piano, and perhaps the only known piece of new music for pedal steel guitar and multi-tracked banjo.

New to the CD version of this album of the anthology is a “bonus” track—a previously unreleased piano piece by composer David Mahler.

The music

Smith‘s Beatrix is, in essence, about decay—the very gradual decay of one massive pedal steel guitar sonority, which floats on a sea of multitracked banjos.

Marshall’s Gradual Siciliano (for Gus) is an evocative piece in which a wistful mandolin line, accompanied by piano, gradually dissolves into the electronic haze that echoes it.

Garland’s The Three Strange Angels, with its unusual instrumentation of large drum, bullroarer, and piano (playing broad clusters), explores a mysterious and starkly dramatic, perhaps primal, world of slowly pulsing low-frequency sounds.

Lentz’s You Can’t See the Forest . . . Music employs the composer’s “cascading echo” technique with three speakers who play wine glasses that they tune by drinking from them as the piece unfolds, reconstructing disassembled adages.

Byron’s Marimbas in the Dorian Mode is quiet, chorale-like music that gently billows and then drifts away.

Fox’s Appearance of Red sets rich cello chords, rumbling piano tremolos, and shimmering electric guitar pitches against a pattern spun by piano.

Mahler’s La Ciudad de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Angeles is a haunting, slightly nostalgic piano solo that the composer wrote in the early 1980s to reflect his “precious years spent in the company of musical compatriots in the Los Angeles area in the early 1970s.” [This newly recorded piece, in its premiere recording and release, is a “bonus” track that was not part of the original release of this anthology.]

Miller’s Weddings, Funerals and Children Who Cannot Sleep is a duet for speaking voices that come together and then split apart, taking shape from natural voice rhythms and recurrent phrases that are from time to time submerged in a strange, watery electronic processing.

Kuhlman’s In This Light features the composer’s half-chanted intoning over a driving electric guitar pulse.

Cox’s Necessity, a beautiful, harmonically rich piece for prepared electric guitar, sparkles with unusual timbres and articulations.

Fink’s Celesta Solo projects a quiet, lyrical song form through the bell-like voices of the celesta, a keyboard instrument that is rarely heard in a solo setting.

Budd and Bowen’s Wonder’s Edge, an undulating duet for guitar synthesizer and keyboard synthesizer, slips in and out of a slightly twisted tango.

Tenney’s Spectral CANON for CONLON Nancarrow is a wonderfully swirling and intensely building rhythmic canon that accelerates as it introduces ever higher pitches tuned to the harmonic spectrum of its lowest note, bringing the disc to a close with a bang.

The composers

Eugene Bowen is a composer/guitarist/sound designer/vocalist who has collaborated with and appears on recordings by a number of new music composers, including Harold Budd and Daniel Lentz. The most recent recording of Bowen’s own music is The Vermilion Sea (Caroline/Gyroscope), which includes performances by noted musicians Buell Neidlinger, John Bergamo, and Harold Budd.

Harold Budd, a seminal California composer, found a broad international audience in 1978 with the release of his first solo album, Pavilion of Dreams. Up to that point, his career had run in many directions, from playing drums in an army band that included legendary saxophonist Albert Ayler to writing indeterminate and improvisatory works influenced by Cage and Feldman to writing highly distinctive chamber and vocal music of unabashed beauty and sensuality. (Through his short stint as a teacher at CalArts in the early 1970s, his genial, lovely music came to influence a generation of composers.) In the 1980s, Budd’s interests turned to writing keyboard works for himself to perform and exploiting some of the gadgets found in the recording studio. Around that same time, he began producing projects in collaboration with many different artists, including Brian Eno, The Cocteau Twins, Daniel Lentz, Ruben Garcia, and Andy Partridge. Budd’s music has been released on the Editions EG, Opal/Warner Bros., Relativity, Gyroscope/Caroline, and New Albion labels. 

Michael Byron’s music has been played around the world. As a performer, he has been a member of various new music and experimental improvisation ensembles with such other composer/performers as David Rosenboom, Peter Garland, and William Winant. Byron has been a member of the American Gamelan ensemble Son of Lion. He has taught at York University and served on the Board of Directors of the Aesthetic Research Centre of Canada, where he edited the first issue of Journal of Experimental Aesthetics. He was the editor/publisher of Pieces, a series of anthologies of music scores by influential contemporary American composers. Byron has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council for the Arts, and the Canada Council for the Arts, and he has had his music recorded on the Cold Blue and Neutral (Glenn Branca’s old company) labels. In late 2000, Cold Blue released a CD devoted to his music, Music of Nights Without Moon or Pearl (CB0002).

Rick Cox is a multi-instrumentalist and composer. As a featured performer (woodwinds, guitar, and samplers), he can be heard on such popular film scores as The Shawshank Redemption, The Horse Whisperer, and American Beauty (scores by Thomas Newman) and on a number of recordings by jazz/new-music trumpeter Jon Hassell. He has also collaborated with guitarist/composer Ry Cooder, arranging, composing and performing on the film scores Last Man Standing and Wim Wenders’s End of Violence. Cox’s own scores include Inside Monkey Zetterland and Corrina, Corrina. He regularly performs in the Los Angeles area with rock- and jazz-oriented ensembles. His concert compositions have been recorded on the Grenadilla, Advance, Raptoria Caam, and Cold Blue labels. His previous solo CD on Cold Blue is Maria Falling Away (CB0006).

Michael Jon Fink’s music has been presented at the Green Umbrella Series of the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group, New Music L.A., the Monday Evening Concerts, the SCREAM Festival, the Fringe Festival, New Music America, Festival Commune di Chiesa, the Martes Musicales, the Marquette Festival of New Music, the CalArts Contemporary Music Festival, and other festivals and concerts throughout the U.S. and Europe. He has performed and recorded with the ensembles Negative Band and Stillife and is a featured composer on recordings on the Cold Blue, Raptoria Caam, Bare Bones, and CRI record labels. His orchestra works have been commissioned and performed by the Antelope Valley Symphony, the Classical Philharmonic, Symphony of the Canyons, and the Santa Monica Symphony. He composed incidental music the W. B. Yeats play Deirdre, which was featured at the 1996 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The Los Angeles Times has described Fink’s music as “lustrous” and “metaphysically tinged” and likened it to the work of the late composer Morton Feldman. Fink’s previous solo CD on Cold Blue is I Hear It in the Rain (CB0004). 

Jim Fox’s music has been commissioned and performed by chamber groups and soloists throughout the U.S. and presented at the Monday Evening Concerts, New Music America, Real Art Ways, Wires, the SCREAM Festival, the CalArts Contemporary Music Festival, Podewil, the Ventura Chamber Music Festival, L.A.C.E., and many similar venues. He has also scored feature films. His music, which has been described by critics as both “austere” and “sensuous,” has been recorded on the CRI, Advance, Cold Blue, Grenadilla, Raptoria Caam, and Citadel labels and published in such new music anthologies as Soundings and Scores. His previous Cold Blue recording, Last Things (CB0001), was chosen as a Record of the Year (2000) by the Italian music magazine Blow Up and The Wire magazine (UK) described it as “an austere, ethereal experience.” International Record Review wrote of it: “Fox’s music invites one to believe that if the stars, constellations and galaxies emitted sounds, these unearthly harmonics are what one might hear.” 

Peter Garland’s chamber works have been commissioned and performed by noted new music ensembles and soloists around the world, including pianists Aki Takahashi, Herbert Henck, and the Kronos Quartet. Garland is the author of two books of essays on American music and culture and was the editor and publisher of Soundings Press (one of the primary outlets for scores by American composers during the 1970s and 1980s). He has lived in New Mexico, California, Maine, Michoacan, Oaxaca and Puebla (Mexico) and maintained long-term student-mentor friendships with Lou Harrison, Conlon Nancarrow, Paul Bowles, and Dane Rudhyar. A lifelong student of Native American musics, his own musical works after 1971 were marked by a radical consonance and a simplification of formal structure. Recordings of his music have been released on the New Albion, Tzadik, Mode, Avant, Toshiba-EMI/Angel, Cold Blue, and Opus One labels. 

John Kuhlman was a composer/performer whose music of the 1980s and early 1990s went in many different directions simultaneously, embracing with equal zeal musical elements associated with jazz, modern classical, and the indigenous music of Africa and South and Central America. In the ’80s, he put together a number of small ensembles that performed his music in New York and Los Angeles. His music was recorded on the Advance and Cold Blue labels. He died in the mid 1990s in Riverside, CA.

Daniel Lentz’s works have been commissioned and performed by noted ensembles and soloists around the world, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group, and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Since the early 1970s, he has led a number of ensembles that have toured his music throughout the U.S., Europe, and Japan. Lentz has been the recipient of many awards and grants, including five grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. Video presentations of his work have been seen on Alive From Off Center (PBS), the Preview Pavilion at Expo 86 in Vancouver, NHK-TV in Japan, NOS-TV in Holland, BBC-TV in England, West German TV, Czech TV, and many local television stations in the U.S. and abroad. Recordings of his music have been released on the New Albion, Angel/EMI, Fontec, Aoede, Les Disques du Crepuscule, Gyroscope/Caroline, Icon, Cold Blue, and ABC labels. 

David Mahler, a Seattle-based composer, has written prolifically for electronic and digital media, voices, and traditional instruments. His lifelong interest in the social/cultural/economic aspects of being both a composer and a public person is evidenced in his music as well as his performing, teaching, and musical organizing activities. He is the creator of the Washington State Centennial Bell Garden (1989), a permanent installation of twenty-eight ringing bells spanning a distance of 350 feet at a public outdoor space in downtown Seattle. The bells of various ages and sizes are controlled by a computer program that rings the hours as well as plays new pieces written expressly for the Bell Garden by a variety of composers. Mahler’s music has appeared on several recorded anthologies and on two solo CDs, The Voice of the Poet (Artifact) and Hearing Voices (Tzadik). 

Ingram Marshall developed much of his present aesthetic in the mid-’60s to mid-’70s, when he spent hours working in solitude in the sonic caves of electronic music studios. Although he has moved away from purely electronic music and composes more for instrumental ensembles or mixed media, his early experience with electronic music has shaped his “painterly” approach to music making and his interest in combining real-time electronics with traditional instruments. In the early 1970s, he became seduced by Indonesian music, which he studied in both the U.S. and Indonesia. This music’s influence has manifest itself in the qualities of slowed-down time and dreamy evocativeness found in many of his pieces. Fog Tropes for brass sextet and tape (1982), which has been widely performed and was selected as one of two official American entries for the 1985 UNESCO International Composers Rostrum in Paris, is perhaps Marshall’s best-known piece. His works have been commissioned and performed by major ensembles throughout the world, including the Kronos Quartet, Leonard Slatkin and the St. Louis Symphony, Nonesuch Records, the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group, and the American Composers Orchestra. His music has been recorded on the New Albion and Elektra/Nonesuch labels. 

Read Miller is a poet, percussionist/drummer, and composer. After spending many years in the Los Angeles area, where he performed as a drummer in a number of jazz-based ensembles and avant-pop groups, he moved to rural Virginia in the late 1990s. His poems have been published in various poetry periodicals. His musical and sound-text compositions have been recorded on the Advance and Cold Blue labels.

Chas Smith is a Los Angeles-based composer, performer, and instrument designer and builder who, in the spirit of Harry Partch, creates much of his music for his own exotic instrument, which display his dualistic fascination with the scientific and the sensual. As a performer, Smith regularly appears on feature film scores, playing both pedal steel guitar and his personally designed instruments. Smith’s music—whether for pedal steel or self-invented instruments—is always engaging. As a critic wrote of one of Smith’s earlier recordings: “If the house band on the Titanic sounded this gorgeous when the ship went down, you might have been tempted to stay aboard.” Smith has also been featured on recordings by composer Harold Budd and with Rick Cox and film composer Thomas Newman in the experimental music ensemble Tokyo 77. He has performed his own works at various new music festivals and art galleries, and his music has been recorded on the Arc Light, Cold Blue, Cantil, MCA, and Straw Dog labels. (Smith has previously released two solo CDs on Cold Blue: Nikko Wolverine, CB0003, and Aluminum Overcast, CB0007.)

James Tenney (1934–2006) was a composer, pianist, and music theorist who has had a strong influence on the musical styles of many of his students at CalArts (in the early 1970s, and again in the early 2000s). He also taught at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, the University of California at Santa Cruz, and for many years at York University in Toronto. In his book American Music in the Twentieth Century, composer/music critic Kyle Gann wrote, “When John Cage, who studied with Schoenberg, was asked in 1989 whom he would study with if he were young today, he replied, ‘James Tenney.'” Tenney has written works for a variety of media, both instrumental and electronic, many of them using alternative tuning systems. He was a pioneer in the field of electronic and computer music, working at the Bell Telephone Laboratories in the early 1960s to develop programs for computer sound-generation and composition. He was co-founder and conductor of the Tone Roads Chamber Ensemble in New York City (1963-70). He has received grants and awards from the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, the Canada Council, the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the Fromm Foundation, the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, and the Jean A. Chalmers Foundation. His music has been recorded on the Artifact, col legno, CRI, Hat ART, Koch International, Mode, Musicworks, Nexus, O.O.Discs, SYR, and Toshiba EMI labels.

Among the performers

Composers Chas Smith, Peter Garland, Ingram Marshall, Daniel Lentz, Read Miller, John Kuhlman, Rick Cox, Michael Jon Fink, Eugene Bowen, and Harold Budd are featured performers on their respective pieces. For their bio information see above. 

Jack Loeffler, who plays drum and bullroarer in Garland’s The Three Strange Angels, is a noted ethnomusicologist and co-author of the book La música de los viejitos: Hispano Folk Music of the Río Grande del Norte (Univ. of New Mexico Press).

William Winant, the critically acclaimed new music percussionist who performs in Byron’s Marimbas in the Dorian Mode, can be heard on more than 100 recordings, performing music by a very broad variety of contemporary composers, including John Zorn, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Danny Elfman, Pauline Oliveros, and Lou Harrison. (Winant is also heard on a previous Cold Blue CD, Dancing on Water.) 

Dane Little, the cellist who plays on Fox’s Appearance of Red, is an active chamber music performer in the Los Angeles area. He has recorded a variety of music, including pieces by Joan LaBarbara and Morton Subotnick (Nonesuch) and Tori Amos (WEA/Atlantic).

Janyce Collins, the female voice on Miller’s Weddings, Funerals…, was the featured speaking voice in Jim Fox’s The Copy of the Drawing, which is on Cold Blue CB0001, Last Things.

Fred Parcells, trombonist on John Kuhlman’s In This Light, is a member of the popular Irish-American band Black 47, which has recorded for EMI and Mercury. Parcells has also recorded with The Roches (Red House) and the Keltic Kids, featuring Roseanne Cash and GE Smith (Pirate Moon). 

Thomas Newman, composer of such film scores as The Shawshank Redemption and American Beauty, recorded and produced Cox’s Necessity

Bryan Pezzone, who performs David Mahler’s music on this CD, is a pianist who performs regularly at the Monday Evening Concerts, the Green Umbrella Series, the Southwest Chamber Music Series, and the Ojai Festival. He may be heard on a number of earlier Cold Blue discs: performing music by Michael Jon Fink (I Hear It in the Rain, CB0004), Daniel Lentz and Jim Fox (Dancing on Water, CB0005), and John Luther Adams (Adams/Cox/Fink/Fox, CB0009, and The Light That Fills the World, CB0010). 

Conlon Nancarrow, the innovative, MacArthur Award-winning composer, punched the piano roll for Tenney’s player piano piece Spectral CANON for CONLON Nancarrow


“The collection that built the label’s reputation in the 1980s.”Il Manifesto (Italy)

“In all, Cold Blue is as compelling today as it would have been when it was originally released eighteen years ago; an anthology with many voices, distinct yet united under the label’s vision of presenting some of the most innovative and accomplished new music coming out of the American west coast.” —Richard di Santo, Incursion Music Review

“Throughout, the music communicates the excitement of the new, the fresh, the experimental: most of the pieces convey a sense of delight and wonder in the sheer creative freedom of their approach to sound—an approach radically loosened from old rhetorics and rooted instead in a belief in the almost unlimited potential of texture and color…. [A] trove of small-scale pleasures and surprises, in which a sense of fun, curiosity, and the thrill of invention are never far away. If Cold Blue has more ‘old’ pieces such as these in its vault we must hope it’ll issue them too.” —International Record Review

“Each of these thirteen aural environments has its own mystery, its own Minotaur’s maze to escape from…or not, as your preference may be. Cold Blue holds together nicely. Strongly recommended.” —Fanfare magazine

“An anthology of West-Coast music focusing on experimentation while retaining a high degree of listenability…. As avant-garde music at the turn of the century seemed confined to the extremes of noise and stamina on the one hand and the post-Feldman search for disappearance of sound on the other, one feels uncertain about how to approach the loveliness of the music on Cold Blue. Recommended.” —François Couture, All-Music Guide

“What does it all add up to? An art of confidence and uncertainty…beauty and tragedy pointedly exemplified by the CD’s cover art: a distant tornado and hyenas on a storm-clouded Serengeti plain.” —21st Century Music magazine

“A rewarding snapshot of composition in the decade or so leading up to 1984…Cold Blue anticipates the new tonalities that characterize the post-minimal generation.” —The Wire magazine

“Destined to be a classic anthology of American new music.” —Charles Amirkhanian

“In keeping with the Cold Blue esthetic, much of the music is tonal and meditative in nature (without being in any way retro or nostalgic), concerned with simple—and often single—processes…. Some pieces are wistful and disarmingly naïve…. It’s not all Day-Glo harmony though…. [T]his reissue is cause for celebration for the famished record scavengers who’ve been hunting it down since it disappeared…join the pack.” —Signal to Noise magazine

“One after the other are many of the protagonists of California new music…from ambient to contemporary classical, from post-minimalist to electro-acoustic. The unmistakable pedal steel guitar of Chas Smith opens the collection, followed by twelve more small miracles.” —Blow Up (Italy)

“The compilation album Cold Blue demonstrates how rich [the Cold Blue label’s] catalog actually is. Two tutelary figures (Harold Budd and James Tenney) are surrounded by mavericks heading in all directions: tonal miniatures (David Mahler, Michael Jon Fink, Ingram Marshall), sound mobiles (Chas Smith, Michael Byron, Jim Fox), works on voice and speech (Daniel Lentz, Read Miller). The whole thing may be drawing ties between Brian Eno’s impassible ambient music and A Silver Mt. Zion’s wild lyricism, or even between Morton Feldman’s esthetic inventions and Sylvain Chauveau or Clogs’ neo-chamber experiments.” —Richard Robert, Vibrations (France)

“Another blue gem that comes out of the vaults of Jim Fox’s label, it is full of surprises, from Smith’s Beatrix to James Tenney’s Spectral CANON for CONLON Nancarrow. The list of performers and composers reads like a gathering of the best that the new American music has offered us during the last forty years.”—I Heard a Noise webzine (Romania)

“A remarkable document rediscovered. The Cold Blue anthology, originally released by the California record label Cold Blue in 1984, was an unusual commodity: a label sampler that was great to listen to all the way through, as though it were a single work. Given the variety of composer’s voices represented, this was quite an accomplishment…. The compilation still has the power to refresh – to reaffirm the value of exploratory music without bombast, music that quietly opens ears and minds.” —Dusted magazine

“This disc deftly captures the essence of what the Cold Blue label is about.”Exposé magazine

“Simply called Cold Blue, it presents 13 tracks as what can be seen as a manifesto for the label…. These are considered, careful compositions which, broadly speaking, can be classed as quiet post-minimalist. Harold Budd makes an appearance, as do the regular Cold Blue crowd of composers.” —Rupert Loydell, Tangents (UK)

“The complete rundown: Chas Smith’s Beatrix forms a gentle backdrop full of multi-tracked banjo and one lone, loud, distorted power chord struck on a pedal steel guitar that gradually wafts away into a misty powder of pristine ambience. Ingram Marshall’s Gradual Siciliano (For Gus) finds a gentle mandolin and piano gradually dissolving into a nice electronic haze. A totally different piano—along with a large drum and a bullroarer—fill a dark, primal void with a repetitive, echoing knock; a dissonant note cluster and strange, circular mechanical sound in Peter Garland’s Three Strange Angels. Daniel Lentz’s You Can’t See the Forest…Music offers really tweaked sounding spoken word and tapped wine glasses, featuring ‘the composer’s cascading echo technique with three human speakers who play wine glasses that they tune by drinking from them as the piece unfolds, reconstructing disassembled adages.’ Michael Byron’s Marimbas in the Dorian Mode puts four marimba players in the mellow mode, as the piece meanders around in the dark and eventually fizzles away. Jim Fox’s Appearance of Red joins a simple, dramatic piano line with a couple of warm, floating blankets of electric guitar and cello to gorgeous effect. David Mahler’s La Ciudad de Nuestra Senora La Reina de Los Angeles is…very delicate and pretty. Read Miller’s Weddings, Funerals and Children Who Cannot Sleep features layers of spoken word whose treble is, at times, rolled off into total, muted abstraction. John Kuhlman’s In This Light is comprised of a deep, chanting vocal smeared all over simple, repetitive, rocking electric guitar (mostly played on one string) and trombone for a totally unknown and really nice slice of minimal rock. Rick Cox’s Necessity fills the biggest, most beautiful aquarium in the world with shimmering ashes of electric guitar and prepared electric guitar that sound fully roomy yet totally massive. Michael Jon Fink’s Celesta Solo rings out a nice, forlorn little ditty with the almost toy-like sonorities of the celesta. Eugene Bowen and Harold Budd’s Wonder’s Edge finds a very warm, inviting and intricately woven rug of guitar synthesizer and keyboard synthesizer ‘slipping in and out of a slightly twisted tango.’ Last, and certainly not least, James Tenney’s Spectral CANON for CONLON Nancarrow employs the player piano to gradually transform a single repetitive note into a dense, shimmering cluster of notes and rhythms. This piece is ‘a wonderfully swirling and intensely building rhythmic canon that accelerates as it introduces ever higher pitches tuned to the harmonic spectrum of its lowest note, bringing the disc to a close with a bang.’ Indeed. A gnarly tornado wreaking havoc on the front cover matches the album and label moniker quite well.—Arcane Candy

“This is one of the best compiled collections of music of various artists in general I’ve heard, for the recording sounds as if it’s one piece of music with enough variation and coherence in mood. It’s also a very good collection of small new music pieces. It has something filmic but also a breath of fresh air for its experimentation…. A more than perfect album. Highly recommended.” —Gerald Van Waes, Psyche Van Het Folk (Belgium)

“Just listen to the Cold Blue compilation album, culling 13 works by as many composers. Daniel Lentz’s You Can’t See the Forest…Music, scored for three drinking narrators and three glasses of wine, delivers a fragmented, deconstructed vocal picture, while Jim Fox’s Apparence of Red features a stretched-out, melancholy-driven melody with Debussy-esque overtones. David Mahler’s strikingly beautiful piano piece La Ciudad de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles is pure classical perfection.” —Gérard Nicollet, Octopus (France)