By Jeff Schwartz

In 1975 the nonprofit New World Records was launched with a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to produce 100 LPs documenting American music in all its varieties. This collection was distributed free to thousands of schools and libraries. New World has since continued to release LPs, then CDs, of American music neglected by the entertainment industry.

In 2001 New World launched an online service, DRAM, the Database of Recorded American Music. Since then, DRAM has developed into a full-fledged streaming service for noncommercial music, used extensively in higher education. Locally, UCLA, USC and the California Institute of the Arts all subscribe to DRAM for their students and faculty.

The Santa Monica Public Library is delighted to become the first public library to offer DRAM online to its members. It includes the complete catalogs of dozens of labels, including CRI, Mode, Pogus, Lovely, Editions Wandelwesser, Deep Listening and Southern California’s own Nine Winds and Cold Blue. Most of these labels were founded by the artists themselves to document their work on their own terms, without compromise.

This collection is far beyond what SMPL could purchase and store on CDs, and every recording is always available to any library card holder. DRAM also features previously unreleased archival recordings from electronic music innovators Jon Appleton and Phill Niblock, among over 4,000 total hours of rare and unusual sonic art.

DRAM has a very deep collection of contemporary classical music, with essential recordings of John Cage, Morton Feldman, Lou Harrison, and Harry Partch, a strong representation of avant-garde jazz artists including Cecil Taylor, Mary Halvorson, Vinny Golia, and Bill Dixon, and many works by composer/performers who creatively combine composition and improvisation, such as Pauline Oliveros, Christian Wolff, and Anthony Braxton. SMPL card holders can now freely explore this hard-to-find music with no risk or cost.

DRAM is run by a nonprofit dedicated to documenting and distributing music outside the mainstream. You won’t find this sort of material presented in this depth with this much attention to detail on Spotify, Apple Music, or other commercial services. All the original album art and liner notes are included and recordings are cross-referenced by composer, performer, and instrumentation. Want to hear every piece with bassoon or every appearance of pianist Ursula Oppens? No problem. There’s also a “Random” feature for shuffle play, and DRAM publishes the excellent online journal Sound American ( on creative music, which often discusses music available on DRAM.

Use the Music link at to log in. Access is unlimited and free with your SMPL card. No additional registration or software download is required. Use the web browser on your smartphone or tablet for mobile access. If you need a library card, drop by any SMPL location with a photo ID and proof of address or sign up for a 30-day online only-card at

Starting this month, the Main Library will host Soundwaves, a series of talks and performances by new music composers and performers connected to DRAM, co-curated by Reference Librarian Jeff Schwartz and composer/arts administrator Daniel Rothman. On the third Wednesday night of every month a different artist will appear to perform and discuss their work. These programs will run from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the Martin Luther King Auditorium and admission is free. There are no advance tickets or reservations.

Jan. 20 will feature the “minimalist and post-minimalist” Cold Blue label, with label head Jim Fox speaking and pianists Aron Kallay and Michael Jon Fink playing music by Fink, Peter Garland, Michael Byron, and Daniel Lentz.

On Feb. 17, in conjunction with African-American History Month, the witty and political mixed-media tuba and percussion duo Judicanti Responsura (William Roper and Joseph Mitchell) will appear, and on March 16 SMPL presents saxophonist/composer Ulrich Krieger, known for his interpretations of the music of John Cage and Lou Reed, as well as his own work.

On April 20 Anne LeBaron, composer of the operas “Sucktion,” “Crescent City” and “LSD: The Opera,” among other works, will appear with LA Opera pianist Mark Robson and the Panic Duo. On May 20 Nicole Mitchell, flautist, composer, University of California at Irvine professor, Downbeat poll winner and former president of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) takes the SMPL stage.

The series concludes June 15 with Vinny Golia, who plays dozens of woodwinds and whose 9 Winds label, included in DRAM, is a major collection of innovative jazz and improvised music. This is a rare chance to hear some of Southern California’s world-class cutting-edge composers, performers, and improvisers perform free of charge in a small venue and to ask them about their work.

By offering DRAM and Soundwaves, SMPL celebrates Santa Monica’s history as a creative community, home to many outstanding and visionary musicians and other artists. We hope you will enjoy listening to DRAMonline and attending our Soundwaves events.

Jeff Schwartz is a reference librarian at SMPL.