Todd Garfinkle of M•A Recordings—A World Citizen Page 3

That recording's not jazz, it's not classical, but something in between; it even has some elements of traditional Portuguese music. The point is that people should at least open up and lose their traditional concepts of what music is supposed to be.

Scull: But most of the artists you work with are on the same wavelength, yes? You're not just an engineer recording musicians. You're deeply involved.

Garfinkle: Yeah, that's true.

Scull: So are the performers aware of participating in that specialness that makes it art?

Garfinkle: Well, yes, it seems so. They keep coming back! [laughs] We're all pretty much going in the same direction. With a lot of people, it's not like that.

Scull: Let's talk about your last recording, Krushevo, of those soulful Macedonian folk songs, with Vlatko Stefanovski and Miroslav Tadic. [opening up the fold-out book] These are striking photographs of the artists.

Garfinkle: Yes, taken by a young French photographer, Caroline Mardok, who lives in Paris.

Scull: And I see it was recorded inside the Makedonian monument with one pair of B&K mikes, a custom microphone amp, and Cardas cables.

Garfinkle: That was all Golden Cross on that recording.

Scull: Tell me about Vlatko and Miroslav.

Garfinkle: Miroslav was born in Bosnia and lived almost all his childhood in Serbia. And Vlatko is the most famous guitar player in all the Balkans.

Scull: What kind of music is he known for?

Garfinkle: [laughs] Macedonian rock. It's different. Vlatko has been on a number of M•A recordings.

Scull: Todd, you seem to have the sensibility of a performing artist yourself. I respect you immensely for your work—it's a labor of love, and obviously your catalog is anything but commercial. Why do you do it?

Garfinkle: Thanks. It's hard to explain. Certain recordings have certain, you know, special memories. But with Krushevo there's a difficult political element. There's a country called Macedonia now, but just south of it, in Greece, there's another area, also called Macedonia. So you have these ethnic areas overlapping countries. The music on Krushevo is Slavic; not Greek so much, but there's also some Turkish elements in it. But if you mention Macedonia, the country, to some Greeks, they become upset. They feel their name was stolen! There's a whole country with an ethnic identity that's not being recognized. Let me tell you, I asked the Greek distributor if he'd be interested in this recording—it's from the country just next to them, the music is similar. And he told me that if there was anything anywhere on the cover that said "Macedonia," that the whole label would be blacklisted in Greece!

Scull: This is all of the greatest importance to you...

Garfinkle: Yes, it's the whole experience. It's been hard bringing this music out, as there's so much turmoil going on around it.

Scull: Where can Stereophile readers find your recordings?

Garfinkle: We have what you might call "audiophile distribution." It's like, very third world. There's Music Direct, for one, Chad [Kassem] at Acoustic Sounds carries our stuff, as does The Elusive Disc. We were at Tower at one time, but I told them they couldn't export, so they returned most of our CDs. [laughs] And, good news, we just signed with Koch International.

Scull: You work with your dad in California?

Garfinkle: Yeah, he basically manages the scene outside of Japan, getting the CDs out to distributors and so on. [laughs] He calls himself the shipping clerk!

Scull: How do you find your artists? You were telling me that your latest recording project began when the artist contacted you directly.

Garfinkle: Yeah, that's Joao Paulo, a classically trained pianist who now focuses exclusively on improvisation and composition—jazz, if you like. He writes incredibly melodic music that's very accessible, yet very advanced harmonically—it modulates like crazy! He sent me his first CD because he'd heard about me through a friend who'd bought one of my recordings in an audio shop in Lisbon. He sent his CD to only one other label, ECM. So he was comparing what I do with them! Basically he was checking a one-man label against this other big recording company.

Scull: That's a high compliment.

Garfinkle: Yeah, yeah. It was like, wow! And ECM never even answered him! So my next recording is of Joao's original music, and it's called O Exilio. And through him I met Portuguese guitar player Ricardo Rocha, who plays Fado, the traditional song of Lisbon. But he improvises over it. And then I met Maria Ana Bobone, who's a singer, and she does Fado in a baroque style. [laughs] Her voice is so ethereal...[Rocha's] recording of about a year ago, Luz Destino, was nominated for a national music award in Portugal.

Scull: Congratulations! Why do you think it's taken a while for ethnic music to become popular in the US?

Garfinkle: I don't know. Everyone's refugee status?

Scull: I think you're probably not making a joke. What do you mean?

Garfinkle: America is disconnected. That's why I think there's so much garbage released here, and why it's hard to get music of the type I produce out there. Everyone in America, at some point in time, came from somewhere else and was cut off from their roots. I don't mean to say no one is connected to their roots, by the way, but it's fairly prevalent. There's a need to maintain that thread with the past and the culture involved. So many have come from traumatized backgrounds that, culturally, there are some gaping holes in the fabric.

There's no hunger to understand other cultures either. Maybe it's just that some people can't yet deal with their own culture, so they don't have the "space" to begin dealing with others. Maybe I'm just ranting...

Scull: No way, Todd. I think you've nailed it square. Thanks very much for talking with Kathleen and me. And good luck with your upcoming recordings—we'll be looking out for them.

Garfinkle: Jonathan, thanks a lot.