In the early 90's, the composer Hauke Harder & I started a music publishing project which we called Material Press. We never actually discussed precisely why Material was the right name, but I recall an instantaneous agreement on the matter, which is not untypical of my chats with Hauke. I suppose that the immediate rationale was that we simply wanted to provide performance materials — scores, some recordings, some special equipment — for music (by ourselves, some contemporaries, like Markus Trunk and Ann Warde and some esteemed senior figures, Lucier, Mumma, and, for a time, Young), which we thought was important. But, with all the benefits of hindsight, it's become increasingly clear that Material was exactly the right word, if, increasingly, because of a paradoxical effect: the moment in which musical material is articulated as a central feature is the same moment in which the ephemeral nature of musical material is most clear. (Together now, with that nostalgic refrain: All that is solid melts into air.)
Material Press is not an unusual development in terms of composers controlling their own publishing (Tom Johnson and Stockhausen provided some models), or in terms of doing it cooperatively (the Feedback Studio was one model, and both Frog Peak Music and the Thürmchen Verlag were like-minded contemporary efforts), but we were perhaps unique in a few aspects: our composers kept all of their royalties (that is to say, we're not registered as a publisher with a rights organization), have individual control over pricing, and are free to distribute the materials in any other ways they see fit. There are some things we could do better — the editions could be more beautiful (i.e. more suitable for library purchases), we could promote more, and we could use the web more wisely (i.e. making more scores available for download) — but, on balance, I think we do a good job on a break-even basis in supplying materials so that performances can take place.
In the new year, I'll be resuming a more active role in Material Press (Hauke took over when I moved to Budapest in 2000). Expect topics related to publishing, especially to doing publishing better, to appear here more often.