February 2003
interview by Ian C Stewart

Post-experimentalist, post-minimalist, post-everything. Jim Fox makes music that continues the traditions of John Cage, Morton Feldman and the rest of the American avant-garde composers of the last hundred years. He releases solo albums and similar works on his own Cold Blue Music label.

He began making his own music as a child. Although now primarily a pianist, Fox "started with a none-too-successful stint with the violin when I was a young kid, but I didn't start to write music until my last two years of high school. In the interim, I played organ in a number of ill-fated and, most likely, ill-sounding rock bands."

"In high school, I developed an interest in jazz, soon becoming a fan of some of the less tradition-bound music coming from the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Anthony Braxton and many others. And this interest quickly found itself leaning heavily toward such ecstatic players as Albert Ayler and Pharoah Sanders. From this perspective, whatever the hell it was at that time, I somehow made a wonderfully indirect connection, perhaps more in spirit than intellect, with some of the things going on in so-called classical music. Things by Cage and Penderecki and Ligeti and Feldman and many others. I started to buy just about any recording by a living composer that I could find at my local record shop, which didn't stock much contemporary classical music. Then, one day, without any memorable impetus, I simply started to jot down music - silly, possibly pretentious stuff, as I recall - and I also began play around with an old tape deck, having great fun with basic tape-manipulation techniques."

Studying composition at universities made Fox want to strike out on his own. "I think composing is one of those practices that is hard to really teach. Let me diverge for a moment. Those who teach it tend to do one of three things: drill the basics of style and language of Western art music up to the early 20th century. Teach their own style, turning out clones. Or simply suggest things - ideas and areas of study that might further the student's natural inclinations. I think the latter method is best, and was lucky enough to have some teachers who did too, particularly the late Barney Childs."

It was at this point that he became interested in doing film scores. "After graduate school, I hung around the place and taught electronic music. One of my students went on to became a film director. He dragged me, nearly kicking and screaming, into film work. I've only done six feature scores - four of them for this particular director - and, because I tend not to enjoy writing overtly dramatic music to match someone else's tastes, I've turned down more projects than I've accepted. And I probably shouldn't have accepted some of the ones I did. Doing the straight ahead film-score stuff - the usually cliched underlining of what's going on on the screen - can be a pretty loathsome and unrewarding task. That's not to say that interesting and unusual music isn't going on in film. It is, all the time, and I admire the music of a number of people who compose for film."

In the early 1980s, Fox started Cold Blue Music. "It was in the days of vinyl. And it ran for a few years, releasing both 10" EPs and 12" LPs before going under as a direct result of its primary distributors going under. In winter of 2000, I restarted the label, releasing all new recordings. Now, as in the company's earlier incarnation, I tend to put out the music of West Coast composers from the American experimental music tradition, post-experimentalists, I suppose, who write in a post-minimalist style, for lack of any better term. Everything's 'post' these days. I don't attempt to choose music based on how one might label it. I simply opt for music that appeals to me."

Speaking of "these days," does technology make it too easy to make music? "I don't believe the means of accomplishing something, of making something - in this case, a piece of music - is particularly relevant to it's esthetic worth, unless making it requires some inhumane act. If some software programs make music-making easy, fine. More power to them. To my mind, the question of whether relying on such a program tarnishes the act of creation is a matter to be considered only by the program's user. From that person's purely personal perspective on his or her own work. You know, what that person wants to hear. The only thing I can say, esthetically, is that a lot of the music coming from such programs as ACID tends to sound very similar. Perhaps there's really only one piece - perhaps the true composition is the program itself, and the music various people generate with it are simply different realizations and interpretations of that one composition/program."

Fox's interest in current music isn't limited to his label's artists. "Of course, I obviously like what the people on Cold Blue are up to. I like Gavin Bryars and Ingram Marshall. I like Marc Ribot, and I came across a strange band, Town 'n' Country. I also enjoy listening to many of the wonderful older guys, such as Archie Shepp and Bill Dixon who continue to do vibrant music."

How has the internet affected Jim Fox and Cold Blue Music? "From the perspective of Cold Blue, it makes the record promotion process a lot easier. Researching radio stations and alternative publications, especially foreign ones, which used to be very time-consuming, is greatly helped along. I've not yet ventured into distributing music via the Internet. I suspect that some good way of doing this will slowly creep up on us, but, as for now, I rather like having an object with cover art and perhaps some notes that have been designed to accompany it. And I kinda like browsing in record stores. The Cold Blue website is simple, but seems to get the job done. And it gives an insomniac like myself something mindless to fiddle with in the wee hours."

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