Archive for May, 2009

Deep Listening Band takes their bows

David Gamper, Pauline Oliveros, Stuart Dempster

Saturday night after my long day with the Trimpin film and related activities I drove clear across town from the Lawrimore Project to the Chapel Perfomance Space to see the Deep Listening Band. I’ve long been a fan of the DLB, especially their earlier releases and I couldn’t pass up this rare chance to see them perform in Seattle.  They performed twice this evening at 7 and 8:30 and I had fortuitously signed up for the later show.  With all the activities I engaged in on that day I barely had a chance to grab a sandwich and make it to the show by 8:15.  The entrance to the Good Shephard Center was packed with the departing crowd from the 7 show and the arriving crowd for the next set.  It was though only a couple of minutes before we were ushered to the stairs and able to enter the chapel.  I secured a chair in the fourth row and went to check out the merch table which was being run by local record store Dissonant Plane.  There was a wide selection of Merch from throughout the DLBs history: their first album recorded in the Cistern Chapel to their latest double LP, Then & Now Now & Then.  I resisted the lure of the merch but talked a bit to Dissonant Plane co-owner Eric Lanzilotta who had recently returned from Indonesia. Before to long I returned to my seat and the show began.

Steve Peters, founder of the Non-Sequitur organization who puts on most of the great shows I’ve seen at the Chapel, came out to introduce the band and pointed out that both Non-Sequitur and the Deep Listening Band were celebrating their twenty-fifth anniversary.  After  few more words he introduced Pauline Oliveros, David Gamper and local treasure Stuart Dempster and the  Deep Listening Band took the stage.  After a quick introductory bow they took their places to general applause in the packed chapel.  Each member was sat in front of a laptop with various interface equipment as well as their acoustic instrument. Gamper on stage left with the Chapels grand piano, Oliveros in the middle with her accordion and Dempster on the right with his trombone and didgeridoo.

Along with their acoustic instruments they also were playing iPhones and and their computers through Oliveros Expanded Instrument System (EIS).  This system is basically a computer controlled system of delays and reverbs that route their sounds through a multi-channel sound reproduction system.  It basically replicates through technological means the deep delays of spaces such as the Cistern Chapel that the DLBs music so favors.  The piece they were playing tonight, DroniPhonia, with iPhones, Spatialization and Multiple Instruments (2009) also utilized the computer system for a random spatialization and where the sounds they generated would end up being amplified was constantly shifting.  The piece seemed to be partly the technology used but then a simple structural element:

DroniPhonia has polytonal drones continually morphing timbres, volumes and fundamentals moving in space.  Musicians listen to the drones and developed gradually overlapping improvised sounds and phrases – first solo and then between two then three players at a time in a slowly growing density and texture.” (from the program notes)

The piece developed as described but went through three basic sonic phases. It began with electronically generated tones from iPhones and perhaps the computers (my view of Dempster was somewhat obscured but the iPhones were clear in Gamper’s hands) that build up into a foundational wash. This built up in density but wasn’t overly loud in any way, it was a rich, multi-layered drone with changes in timbre and feel most likely from the randomly shifting spatialization.  After some time Dempster picked up his ‘bone and added in  beautiful long low tones that merged perfectly with the electronics while at the same time adding a warmth and organic feel.  After a bit of time Gamper switched to a small wooden flute and Oliveros picked up her accordion.  The drone now had three acoustic elements: the long tone hushed tones of the trombone, a high thin piping from the wooden flute and the steady pump organ sound of the accordion.  The electronic wash seemed to slowly die away and the drone became primarily acoustic, though manipulated by the EIS with reverb, delays and the random shifting of position. One of the most effective parts in combination with the EIS was when Dempster and Gamper were playing shorter tones with conch shells and you could hear these sounds coming from all around the room at various times. During this part Oliveros tapped on her accordion with her fingers and over the dying elements of the computer wash the performance took on a percussive aspect. This heralded the next phase of the performance which was made up of short elements: keyed phrases on the accordion, short tones from the trombone, gentle chords on the piano.  These shorter events coelesced back into extended tones and longer sounds and eventually returned to a pure acoustic drone where even the EIS seemed to be in minimal use.  From here it all faded away and then stopped and we all sat for three or four minutes in silence until they signaled the end.

Drone, like noise and certain other experimental musics suffers from the fact that it is rather easy to do adequately.  But merely adequate drone (and noise and so on) doesn’t satisfy, it lacks depth and resonance.   Expert construction of a drone taps into some deep primal part of the brain and entrances one completely.  As is so often the case it is a deep structure that is there beneath what may seem on the surface as stasis.  The music tonight was always shifting, always evolving and was never obvious. It did what the DLB does so well but moment to moment it was never exactly as you’d predict.  In the fading daylight of this beautiful day, with the windows of the chapel open allow the sounds of distant traffic, people at work and play, birds and wind the Deep Listening Band tapped into that true cosmic drone and put on a truly rewarding performance.

Check out all of my pictures from this event here.

Among the great treasures of Seattle is sculpture, instrument inventor, composer, etc Trimpin. As with any installation artist, unless you are a jet setter, it is hard to see much of his work in person and in his case in particular it is quite difficult to gather much of a sense of the scope of his work.  This is because there are no catalogs, no recordings and little documentation in general of his work. That is until the release of a new documentary film Trimpin: The Sound of Invention, which is now making the rounds of the festival circuit.  Happily for me the Seattle International Film Festival is one of those festivals an they are showing the film several times throughout its three week run. 

I made the trek into Seattle Saturday May 23rd to catch the film, only realizing that morning that this coincided with Folk Life the epic four day free music festival in Seattle Center.  Seattle Center also houses the SIFF Theater where the film was being shown and the combination of Folk Life and SIFF meant it was going to be crazy. So I left extra early to insure that I’d make it there in time to get a good seat.  A backup on the freeway on the exit to the Seattle Center had me plenty concerned that it was going to be exceedingly difficult but it turned out to be the result of an accident at the exit ramp.  I was able to park right in a garage right across from the SIFF theater (at a fairly high parking cost) and was almost two hours early.  That was fine as Folk Life was a fine distraction and I also wanted to get lunch before the film.  This I did and I walked through Folk Life a bit which is always entertaining. You see they allow anyone to busk almost anywhere during the festival and as you walk around all varieties of sound intermingle and compete with each other and the sounds of thousands of people engaged in conversations, transactions and the like. Always sonically rewarding. I didn’t spend too much time there, I wanted to be certain of a good seat (they give precedence to SIFF members so sometimes the number of good seats for non-members is nearly non-existent (and yes I suppose I should be a member, but I find film festivals almost the worst way to see a film so I usually only see a couple per SIFF). 

I only waited around for about a half an hour before being let in, though I was in the wrong spot for a while and thus was not as far to the front of the line as I should have been. I got a good seat though, in the middle fourth row back. SIFF Cinema is not a huge screen so that is not too far forward. One or two rows back is probably the best seats in the house but this was within the good range.  The festival organizer introduced the festival and the film to us and then director, Peter Esmonde took the stage.  He only gave a few words before the film primarily admonishing us to listen as well as watch and to thank a lot of people. The lights dimmed, we were treated to about 7 minutes of trailers and finally the film.

Trimpin's perpetual motion machine

The film mainly devoted time to exploring the creative process and followed Trimpin through junkyards (shout out to the late, lamented Boeing Surplus!), galleries, concert halls and his workshop/studio.  It worked in historical material in service to this goal in that he mostly spoke of his upbringing in the Black Forest region of Germany in terms of musical, mechanical and important events that later influence his work and process. Woven throughout the film was the development process and finally a performance of a collaboration with the Kronos Quartet called 4 Cast: Unpredictable. Watching him work was among the best aspects of the film, observing him work out this completely original ideas of turning junk into machines that made sound. One moment that I particularly loved was the accidental discovery of this beautifully haunting glass armonica as he was polishing with a rag the glass tube from a television set. He had this hung and was using them as sound projectors for reed instruments that were in the tube like next of the glass.  As he was polishing one of these he pulled the rag out and it generated a sustained tone like running your finger on a wine glass. He was immediately captivated and iteratively worked out exactly how to replicate it. Then he tried running his finger on it ala a wine glass to similar though a bit duller results. Finally he dug around the copious piles of stuff in his studio and pulling out a bow proceeded to bow the glass device to beautiful results.  This is a a highly creative mind at play and discovering something that who knows how he’ll apply?  They showed the finished installation with the TV tubes and it did not utilize this effect.


4 Cast: Unpredictable

4 Cast: Unpredictable


The film also spent time covering Trimpin’s lack of interest in many of the trappings (or traps?) of the art world: he has no representation, or an agent nor as I alluded to earlier has he spent much effort on documentation.  He wants to do his work and move on to the next thing.  But his installations are permanent, durable, completely hand made and interactive. Getting to see a bunch of these, which you’d have to travel all over to see was fantastic.  As was the bits we got to see of this performance with Kronos which only happened once and has not been documented beyond this film. (though see the pictures here an some video footage here).  The first Trimpin piece I ever saw was the huge fountain of guitars in the EMP and the process behind putting this together was also covered in the film.  Trimpin, who tells a good anecdote, detailed his meeting with EMP founder and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen as not a traditional public art pitch. The guitars at the top of this mammoth fountain of guitars would play music via these robotic devices that Trimpin constructed and Paul Allen inquired who would get up there to tune these guitars. Trimpin, flustered on the spot replied that they’d tune themselves.  Paul Allen, who heretofore had failed to even look him in the eye, looked up from his dossiers and uttered an awed “Wow”.




Trimpin had come to Seattle from his clearly beloved Black Forest because he said he had better junk.  The stuff you can find in Boeing Surplus and the other junkyards that feature castoffs from Seattle’s aerospace, shipyards and other high tech industries certainly provide that (though sadly most of these resources are now gone).  His experiences in the Black Forest, home of the cuckoo clock industry and where every beerhall, shop and coffee house would have a unique music making devices (usually based on music box type technologies) clearly set him on this track.  The bespoke nature of those instruments, their mechanical nature with their exposed mechanisms and memories etched in physical objects clearly directly anticipate his sculptures. But his move from the pure pragmatic aspects of those machines, to the abstractions of his, plus his embrace of the Cagean notions of sound as music makes his the tremendous artworks that they are.  These machines are really compositions that play themselves, or are instruments that the audience is vital for it to actually sound.  Trimpin heard the great player piano composer Nancarrow on the radio and his world opened up.



He hadn’t heard music of that density and complexity, music that was acoustic and yet required mechanical means to exist.  It was like the music machines of Bavaria being put to use on modern, creative and wholly originally music.  Trimpin eventually would meet Nancarrow and work with him, transcribing Nancarrows deteriorating piano rolls into midi and saving the music for all of us.  Kyle Gann’s great article for American Mavericks series on builder composers covers this territory a lot better then I can.  It is important to note that Trimpin’s restless imagination never stayed stuck with antiquated technology, an issue that actually hindered Nancarrow from realizing some of his more ambitious later projects.  The film showed him working with mechanical and pneumatic instruments, reading punch cards and the like in his earlier works. But his later works are all controlled by Apple laptops, use Midi and custom control software and his assistants include computer programmers, roboticists along with sculptures and machinists.

This film is right up there with Rivers & Tides as one of the best art documentaries that I have seen. In many cases it is because of the subject matter, Trimpin, like Goldsworthy, is about process and there is an ephemerality to their work that lends itself to film.  But beyond that it is the artistry of the filmmakers to not try to force their own narrative, to create a “story” but to focus explicit on the creative process.  This film was being projected right off of a dvd which is fully setup with menus and extras and everything. I think that after its time on the festival circuit it will certainly be made available on dvd. I urge you to see it if it plays near you, but otherwise definitely plan on picking up this dvd.

After the film there was a brief Q&A with the filmmaker and Trimpin moderated by the SIFF organizer. I folded in bits from that into the above but the most interesting questions were on his reluctance of documentation.  To which Trimpin replied it was the issue of reproduction, that since his sculptures acoustically generated the sounds they were inherently spatial and that stereophonic recording couldn’t capture that. Once 5.1 systems were everyday he said he felt that a better reproductions could be made.  He was then asked why he allowed the film to be made which didn’t really get a direct answer but they talked about the rules they put in place for the project. These namely involved the lack of forcing any sort of agenda from the filmmaker on Trimpin. He’d be allowed to film and tape whatever but nothing would be done to accommodate that and there would be no artificial scenes, retakes and the like.  This I think was pretty essential to the film.  

Anyway they wrapped this up fairly shortly and told us there would be a reception and panel discussion at 4pm the Lawrimore Project a local gallery about 5 miles away.  They also mentioned that they’d be showing outtakes from the film and had some of his scores there to view.  Well all of the sudden my plans of wandering around Folk Life for the rest of the afternoon changed and I had to make my way to this. Christopher DeLaurenti local musician, writer of whom I’ve written before gave me directions to this rather out of the way gallery and I was off.  Took some time to make my way across town but made it I did about ten minutes or so before the panel discussion.  I acquired a much needed pale ale (it was very hot on this May weekend) and checked out the art hanging in the gallery.  Their current exhibition is on Scores a top near and dear to my heart. There were some interesting things hanging but I’d need more time with them to say much.


Left to Right: Charles Amirkhanian, Trimpin, Christopher DeLaurenti, Jacob McMurray and  Scott Lawrimore

Trimpin, Christopher DeLaurenti, Jacob McMurray and Scott Lawrimore


The panel was made up of Charles Amirkhanian,  composer and producer of Other Minds fame, the aforementioned Christopher DeLaurenti, Jacob McMurray a Curator at the EMP, Beth Sellars – Curator, Suyama Space who put on many a Trimpin exhibition and of course Trimpin himself.  It was moderated by Scott Lawrimore of the Lawrimore Project. The panel was quite interesting, it began with discussion on the relationship between Trimpin’s art and composition with digressions into Nancarrow, Cage Antheil and the like.  As I’ve mentioned before Trimpin tells a good anecdote and we got several of those. He talked about seeing a concert (I’ve spaced on the composers name) in Amsterdam which featured multiple orchestras on barges in the canals, bells from the churches and sounds basically coming from all over the city. The density of sounds and the extreme spatialization of them highly impressed Trimpin. But it was hearing Nancarrow on the radio that he felt that that density, complexity and layered structure could be captured in a more finite system. This was instrumental on Trimpin’s moving into the more abstract musics that his sculptures would make.  He also talked of attending a music conference (In Denver IIRC) with Cage and others where he finally got to really talk with other composers (which he said just didn’t happen).

There was really too much covered in the panel to really go into, but one thing that brought up some serious regret was talking about the Year of Trimpin in 2005. This year+ long showing of Trimpins works in 11 galleries all around the NW (extending as far as Montana) was probably the best opportunity to see a lot of his works. Something I missed back in the day. After much discussion it was opened up to audience questions and proving the rule that in open Q&A you are always going to get some idiotic question the very first one was asked about how much he was influenced by urban culture. Specifically how much “crunk, beatboxing, rapping” and the like influenced his work. Anyone who had seen the film knew that he followed his own muse and while his stuff is not disconnected to the world around him there is no Crunk involved.  The second aspect of this dude’s question though on engagement with the world was taken into an interesting direction and Trimpin talked about the political nature of his works. In this regard many of his works are political but not always overtly so. As always I find that a lot more effective then in your face political art which has small impact and even less longevity.  One of Trimpins more overtly political projects involved 24 bobbing chickens used as a random number generator to create new random speeches using words culled from 8 years of GW Bush’s Saturday radio addresses.  Chris DeLaurenti pointed out three urban/political connections in Trimpins work: reuse/repurposing of the detritus of modern society, the non-commercial aspect of it which, as Kyle Gann has pointed out, is inherently a political act and the inherent accessibility of his art some of which demands interaction with the audience to work at all.

Overall a great panel with tons of good information. After this they showed some outtakes from the film in one room while there was a reception with food and drink in another.  The later attracted the MFA’s in throngs but it was the scores hung on the wall that got my attention. I couldn’t find many images of them on the net (the best at this Henry Gallery page) but they were fascinating.  A mixture of subverted traditional notation, midi/mechanical notation, colors, images all colleged together some in an almost Rauschenberg level of complexity. Real artworks as well as being scores.  To this graphical score geek I was entranced by these.

But I did also watch all of the outtakes (which were clearly “bonus features” on the dvd) the most interesting was of a visit to the Instrumentarium where Harry Partch’s instruments are stored.  There was a great segment of Trimpin in the back room of the museum with the curator as he played and demonstrated all of Partch’s unique creations. Trimpin was clearly enthralled and like a kid in a candy store.

Anyway this was a great afternoon of art and film and talking with interesting people about interesting things. I learned a lot and was highly inspired by a lot of what I saw and heard.  I definitely want to see more of Trimpin’s art and will seek it out whenever I travel.

See all of my pictures from the panel here.

Further explorations:
1) Trimpin: The Sound of Inventionmovie blogimdb page, SIFF Page
2) Trimpin on Wikipedia
3) Trimpin page at Other Minds
4) American Mavericks series on builder composers, Kyle Gann
5) Trimpin installation at the EMP
6) Trimpin installation at SeaTac
9) Kronos Quartet
10) Trimpin on Youtube
11) Conlon Nancarrow on Wikipedia
12) Lawrimore Project
13) Christopher DeLaurenti
14) Other Minds
15)  EMP
16) Instrumentarium

Forty Years From Scratch
Broadcast on Resonance 104.4 FM

May 2nd & 3rd, 2009

The late and overnight hours of the first day of the 36 hours contained the most music and some of the most intriguing conversation. This post grew rather quickly and thus I won’t reintroduce the subject matter here. Please see my first post for a detailed description of this radio broadcast in which I left off right before the first of two purely music oriented sections.

7) Forty Years From Scratch: Scratch Jukebox (1)

While the Scratch Jukebox is frequently dipped into between programs and during transitions there was also two dedicated blocks where it was allowed to run for several hours. The first of these was 22 shorter works or excerpts that while not ID’d was listed on the Resonance website.  Having listened through my recording of this segment again I can confirm that it completely matches the listed works with the exception of the initial one played, which possibly was just a random track played as part of the hour transition.  Anyway here is the breakdown of everything that was played with (very short) comments about most of them in the parenthetical.

1) Battle of Ideas – 2:17 A jaunty little tune, apparently a Chinese Revolutionary,  (Thanks to Carole Finer for the ID!) instrumental song that begins first on tuba and winds (possibly recorders and clarinet?)  then sang, choir style.

2) Liberty Belle – 1:43 (The classic bit used to open up Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  A bit disorganized in the performance which only adds to the general amusement.)

3) It had to be you – 2:43  (Sang in falsetto, with piano and woodwind accompaniment. Quite silly, lots of laughs indicating perhaps some visual activities, shows the musical hall side of the Scratch)

4) Christian Wolff Exercise no. 2 – 7:41 (Voice, strings, piano and percussion. Very nice interpretation of this piece, fragmented and delicate with a spacious, swelling nature)

5) Christopher Hobbs, Ian Mitchell Nine one minute pieces – 12:04 (Organ/Keyboards and clarinet/bass clarinet/sax and what sounds like a drum machine in a couple of pieces.  Repeated phrases with melodic soloing above it. Rather rollicking at times, a couple of pieces are more ambient but its all a bit campy throughout.)

6) Ian Mitchell, Jane Phillips, Simon Allen Maria Lamburn 1994 – 2:26 (Repeated clarinet phrases and ringing chimes, a wandering melodic oboe and a bit of warbly keyboard. A nice, gentle, little trifle.)

7) Howard Skempton Two melodies performed by The Et Cetera Ensemble (1994) – 5:00   (Cinematic and brooding. Strings and woodwinds. Nnice, slow, sedate. The second melody is played on English horn (maybe) that is really great, almost like a melancholy theme for a character in a 19th century drama.)

8) Laurie Baker Circle Piece – 4:56  (The same one that was played earlier which you can listen to in the previous post.  For the record it is a  deliberate, structured improv sounding piece made up of overlapping long bowed or breathed tones)

9) Cornelius CardewMechanical or Electrical excerpt 3:04 (A choir-ish sung political song,  with piano accompaniment. During the course of it Sue Giddons screams in protest which is really quite harrowing. They gamely sing on, but frankly I’m with the protester who concludes by reading a poem from Byron)

10) When I’m Cleaning Windows – 2:17 (from a concert at the Spielstrasse in Munich 1972 sang by John Tilbury accompanied on mandolin and Carole Finer on the banjo (thanks again to Carole for the further notes). A jaunty, comic song by George Formby that could have come right off a vaudeville stage.)

11) Laurie Baker Circle Piece – 45 degrees – 2:46 (Continuation of the earlier piece which was included in the recording posted in the previous entry.  Like the earlier version it is long drawn out tones, mostly strings in this case.)

12) Scratch Orchestra Hampstead Townhall excerpt (listed as Pilgrimage from Scattered Points ) – 5:52 (This was mis-listed but is actually the first extract from the Hampstead concert which was played in earlier segments and you can listen to in the previous post. As I described there it is a big, muddy background drone with percussive elements, yelps, barks and a muted recorded voice over it.)

13) Carolina Cakewalk – 1:56 (A well known, silly, jaunty tune played on flutes, woodwinds and snare in a marching time)

14) Promenade Theatre Orchestra Ambrosie Farman’s Memory – 5:26 (Celeste and organ sounding, droney, nice if a bit rough and rather slight.)

15) Scratch Orchestra  Houdini Rite – 2:15 (Pounded piano, with grinding sounds and brass blasts and records playing. Direct contrast and conflict. Deliberately simplistic, bombastic and obtuse which isn’t too surprising as the performers a tightly bound. Ends in applause.)

16) Internationale – 4:07 (as you’d expect, the classic revolutionary anthem played and sung in a rather amateurish, faltering fashion.)

17) Handel Sonata No. 5 – 1:53 (Its a Handel sonata on two recorders. Hey nonny nonny.)

18) Dave Russell Song – 4:42  (Folksy, solo singer and steal string guitar. A very silly song could have been right out of a late 60s folk festival. “I’m lighter than a feather and infinitely tall.”)

19) My Lady Love Schottische – 2:13 (Its a Schottishe so its light hearted, jaunty and danceable. Relatively well played.)

20) Hampstead Town Hall extract 2 – 4:58 (This is the second extract from the Hampstead Town Hall concert which was also played in the Intro segment.  This one includes playing from records, droney bits, metallic percussion and various other bits of random chaos.)

21) Portsmouth Philharmonia Mood Indigo / William Tell Overture flexidisc (This I think is the Portsmouth Simfonia, playing in their inimitable style with of course lots of laughs. They didn’t seem to play the William Tell Overture side though it is played later.)

8) Forty Years From Scratch: Mistakes in Public

Michael Chant A Day in the Life of John Tilbury (live in studio)

This segment was supposed to be a recording of an interview with David Jackman, but due to problems with the recording it didn’t air at this point and was instead more Micheal Chant playing more of- A day in the Life of John Tilbury.  The Jackman interview was mostly played in the last few hours of the program basically in the same way they’d use the Scratch Jukebox. This section is probably my favorite of the several hours that Chant played from this piece.  Giving it another listen today I finally flashed on what it was that it really reminds me of: Eric Satie’s Vexations. It has the same feel of continual repetition on a well crafted phrase that can stand up to repetition. What really brings this hours worth of the performance out was that there are quite a few minutes where the microphone being used to record the performance is right on the edge of feedback.  So there is this warm low hum over long moments of it that constantly shifts as the engineer fiddles with the volume.  Really nice, subtle bit of electronic manipulation on a nice well played extended piano piece. After about thirty minutes of this piece there is quick dip into the Scratch Jukebox with some rather circus sounding cacophony, that is all horns and drums and ends with a long section of applause.  Then its back to A Day in the Life of John Tilbury for the remainder of the hour.

9) Forty Years From Scratch: Chance Encounters
10) Forty Years From Scratch: Ellison Fields

“The Scratch Orchestra wasn’t part of life, it was our life.” – Micheal Chant

This one of the most fun and amusing sections of the whole evening filled with interesting anecdotes and musings.  Ilona who did filming of the Scratch along with various performance  led the discussion and Psi, the Slippery Merchant himself would occasionally contradict and question he premises.  Occasionally Micheal Chant would participate as well in this lively discussion.  The began by talking about how they had all gotten involved with the Scratch Orchestra.  Ilona had ran into Cardew by chance outside of the Place, which was a dance studio and he invited her to attend some AMM rehearsals.  After a while of attending AMM rehearsals she was then asked by Cardew to go on one of the Scratch trips and became involved with the Scratch from that point on.  Psi saw the Cunningham/Cage/Rauschenberg/Tudor show in London in 1966 which he saw as an art student and was completely transfixed by this and decided at the time that this was what he wanted to do.  He was then introduced to Cardew from Gavin Bryars and was recruited by Cardew to attend the initial Scratch meeting.

“The idea of sitting down and listening to Cage or the Scratch Orchestra fills me with horror” – Psi Ellison

The role of participation within the Scratch is raised; that it was a product of its members for its members and the audience would often become its members. Psi noted how resistant they were to recording and how in his mind this type of music is an activity one does not something one sits back and listens to. “The practice of doing something” as Ilona put it.  She pointed out that while the Scratch is known for becoming transformed by radical politics an open, democratic, communitarian spirit always pervaded the orchestra.  Psi points out that that being said they’d never talk about the music or discuss the Scratch as an entity amongst each other.

Ilona spent time tying in the student protests and how many of the members had been involved in such activities.  Psi agreed that being in art school he had experienced this as well and was involved but he never related it to the Scratch at all. He also pointed out how he found Cardew to be somewhat of an authority figure and that he related to that in the same way as he had in school, but not really in a political context. Later she also tied in a lot of the experimental music and improvisation of the time as being instrumental to how the Scratch became what it was. Psi denied a this, pointing out that himself and many other like minded members, the more anarchistic elements perhaps, were not involved in this at all.  “I was just this sort of naive kid who was non-musical” was how he put it. The open endedness and professionalism of Cage was what really impressed him and in the Scratch it was this open endedness and experimentation was the big lesson he learned which he still uses to this day.  “So I don’t agree with all this technicalities of improvisation, music, particularly jazz or whatever, whatever.  It could having been baking, it could have been cooking, actually, or building. It just happened to be in this realm at that moment and time. For me.” These constant contradictions between these two I think summarizes how the Scratch was filled with diverse opinions and internal contradictions.  From these contradictions and conflicts creativity arose.

“The more one is lost the better, really in the initial stages and then one as to pick up the threads and find ones way through.  And that was the experience of the Scratch. I mean it was very frustrating in a productive way.” – Howard Skempton

Their conversation went on for hours and of course I’m just pointing out a few of the many ideas that were raised and discussed.  Part of the two hour block (which leaked into the next one) was Psi, Ilona and Micheal talking with Howard Skempton on the phone with Chant playing several of his pieces on the piano.  Early on Skempton brought back the point that Ilona was making about improvisation, saying that this kind of freedom was essential to the Scratch that it did have a connection to jazz in permitting you that kind of freedom. “I’m trying to avoid anything cut and dried, I don’t want this to be a definitive statement on my part.”  Skempton revealed in this bit that he loves talking on the phone and will talk to people for hours at all hours of the night, “I’m described as a virtuoso telephone conversationalist”.  At one point Skempton sings a song he wrote for the Scratch concert that he put on: “Old Howards dead and he’s gone.”  The interest the Scratch had in popular music, mostly the British Musical hall tradition was for Skempton a very important part for him that influenced his later compositional work.  After talking for quite a bit there was a number of really nice performances of Skempton’s music by Micheal Chant in this bit that was nice to hear.  “We make sense of life through our Art. … All the big questions of life can be addressed through art.”

Howard Skempton, Piano Piece 1969 (Micheal Chant, live in studio)

Toward the end they played several pieces both recorded and live: Banjo Piece for Carole and Banjo Piece for Carole 2 (1970/1972), performed by Carole Finer which we heard earlier and Piano Piece, 1969 played live by Micheal Chant, which was a beautiful piece, sparse, well spaced out chords on the piano allowed to linger and fade away. They said goodbye to Howard at this point and then Chant played several more of Skempton’s pieces (whose names I could have gotten completely wrong): Resista, The Domed Strike (1985), Well, Well Cornelius (1982,  Liebersuite (2001),  Reflection 11, Reflection 10 , Reflection 7 (2002), Quavers (1972), Quavers 5, The Mogue Riots.

“I suppose In the end I hang on to beauty in an old fashioned way.  And I see freedom as an aspect of that.” – Howard Skempton

The end of this segment is about 12 minutes of Psi reading from TIlbury’s Cardew biography concluding with about 5 minutes of dead air (Psi’s last prank?).  A really fun, informative and musically rewarding three hour block that this writeup does scant justice to.

11) Forty Years From Scratch: Tilbury’s Clear Spot

John Tilbury alas had a prior commitment for this weekend but they made up for it excellently by rebroadcasting  his healing of regular Resonance programme the Clear Spot in 1998. In many ways this program was a microcosm of this event in that he talked much about Cardew, the Scratch Orchestra and AMM and brought in guests from the Scratch and younger musicians that were inspired by it.  There was music performed live, rare Scratch recordings and even pop music that Tilbury felt was appropriate. A great show that I certainly hadn’t heard before and a great use of the overnight slot of the 36 hours.

Tilbury opens with a recording of a David Tudor performance of John Cage’s Music for Piano .  A solo piano piece with short elements of varying dynamics with lots of space after which Tilbury asks Micheal Parsons about his relationship to Cage’s music, which of course Parsons points out was fundamental. Opening up the world of sound and the use of indeterminacy in particular:  “It is largely due to Cage that we have the wide open situation for sound, in the broadest sense of the word, that we do have now in the late part of the twentieth century“.  Tilbury compares the precision and clarity of Tudor’s performance to Chant’s own compositions. They then play Apartment House Suite composed by Parson’s and performed by Apartment House for whom he composed it for. Striking yet another parallel again Parsons would play these same pieces as part of the 36 Hours from Scratch.  Howard Skempton’s music is touched upon and one of his accordion performances is played, which unless I’m mistaken was among the pieces played as well. Bryn Harris who is also in studio was introduced and they played a piece of his A Vexed Question which was basically an answer the the epic length of Satie’s Vexations where the short phrase is multi-tracked the 840 times instead of played sequentially.  A beautiful, ghostly ,ambient shimmering that has layers and layers of depth. This was followed by a tango, composed by Dave Smith, former Scratch member played simultaneously with, Charles Ives Variations on America in tribute to an England, Argentina football match that was going on at the time. This was pretty amusing and captures the lightheartedness of this broadcast quite well. This part of Tilbury’s show concludes with an excerpt from a performance of a Terry Jennings composition Winter Trees, performed by Tilbury and the composer. This is a quite nice, rather introspective overlapped piano piece with a rather melancholy feel to it all wrapped up in a filmy gauze of a hissy recording.

Next up was some in studio live music, by a couple of jazz guys in a very free improv skittery music style on piano and sax.  I listened a bunch of times but I just couldn’t quite make out their names,  ?? Ponder and Varian Weston maybe?.  Solid music in this style, but not really to my taste or expertise so not much to report on this. This was followed by some Scratch Orchestra music:  part of the end of Hampstead Town Hall performance (which we’ve heard a bit of earlier in the 36 hours) and a piece called Georgina Cries by David Jackman from a Liverpool performance a year or so later.  There was some good talk about the Scratch after this much of which we have already talked about. Tilbury though pointed out that while the untrained musicians may have felt they owed something to the trained musicians it was really the other way around. An interesting discussion on improvisation in the Scratch in which Harris (I think) said at one point: “Cage never really liked improvisation all that much because he saw so much “self-expression” but anyone who has listened to AMM much knows that self=expression is not what improvisation has to be about.”  He continued to point out that the Scratch eventually reached this point where they listened and weren’t just about their own egos.

The Scratch OrchestraJourney of the Isle of Wight by Iceberg to Tokyo Bay, 1969

This lead into discussion of the Scratch “research projects” and playing a bit of the Journey of the Isle of Wight to Tokyo Bay. This was followed by a bit of the ICA Schooltime Compositions performances of which we will hear more of in the next segment. After this he played an excerpt of the Scratch at the Queen Elizabeth Hall performing the Houdini Rite played simultaneously with Tchaikovsky piano Concerto popular classics with TIlbury as the soloist followed by Seventeen People at one Piano composed by Micheal Chant. These were all about as chaotic as you’d figure and being quite piano oriented were mostly pounded and randomly struct piano keys. There was a bit of discussion of Scratch sub-groups primary C.O.M.E.T. who did a number of interesting performances including a 45 minute version of the Velvet Underground’s Sister Ray. John plays C.O.M.E.T.’s take on Christian Wolff’s Burdocks which he then follows by the Scratch performing Cardew’s political song Mechanical or Electrical which features Sue Giddons vocal protest throughout (which we heard a short extract from in Scratch Jukebox 1).

A live in studio performance by Thurston Moore followed. This was more interesting then that sounds as Tilbury, Parsons, Harris and Sophie Hampshire (who had joined them a bit earlier) played samples from various Scratch performances while Thurston did his usual guitar craft. This bit was actually released by Resonance as Resonance vol 7 a CD given out to subscribers, though I imagine its not an easy item to track down(though trivial on filesharing networks I’m sure). Bits and pieces of crazy Scratch bits, radio announcements, pounded piano all matched with Moore’s scrabbled guitar, feedback, amplifier hum and other guitar gestures in a sort of Revolution 9 feeling collage. A Concerto for Guitar and Posthumous Orchestra as John Tilbury christened it.

They, being Sophie Hampshire and John Tilburu, shifted to talking about the relationship between music and architecture which basically came out of nowhere and yet was an interesting springboard for discussion.  John connected playing with AMM in the various environments that they had played in over the years. For AMM there is no perfect environment it is an aspect to explore a challenge to rise to that goes beyond acoustics, the history or even metaphysics he suggests. This segment is followed by several pop songs selected by Tilbury first a piece by the Shags We Have a Savior which Tilbury dedicates to Rupert Murdoch followed by he then dedicates Worried Shoes by Daniel Johnston, to the New Labour Party. Both of these are a bit of political tweaking by Tilbury, which I think is a quite charming way to interject this kind of content. Less politically clumsy as Keith put it earlier.

The final set, introduced by Micheal Parsons, delved into the Scratch category of the Popular Classics in which a popular piece was played catch as catch can by the various members.  Taking the concept of the Popular Classics was a group of arts students who named themselves the Portsmouth Simfonia. In June 1970 they performed for their schools art show a version of the William Tell Overture which was recorded and now played. This version had only a passing resemblance to the piece and was followed by a much later performance of the same piece from May 1974 which was much better if still a rather inept performance of the piece,  played for laughs as was their wont. A few other pieces were played in this vein, a Nyman piece and finally the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah from the Simfonia to wrap up this great broadcast that John Tilbury put on in the late 90s.

12) Forty Years From Scratch: Scratch Jukebox (2)

This was a pre-scratch performance done by Cardew’s Morley College students.  at the ICA March 23rd 1969.  It was 11 hours long and this is 2 edited extracts. Its quite noisy and chaotic almost like a huge 60s AMM. Percussive sounds, birds, electronic sounds, feedback, ritualistic at times. An edit and then an almost solo sax bit (Gare?) rather bluesy. Voices way in the background, recorder another sax. Another pause then a short flutey bit. Another pause then metallic percussion and a far background drone. A pause and then a voice is added to the metallic percussion and the drone reveals itself to be a squeezebox and it plays fragments of melody as well as longer tones. Later it becomes low volume and brooding and a bunch of kids talk over it. Later there seems to be a man and woman practicing some vocal parts in front of the mic whilst sax and percussion continues in the background. Last ten minutes or so is hollow percussion, shrill feedback or bowed metal, some sax noodling, some buried vocals. The sax gets a bit squealy and then is text being read and maybe some clarinet. Ends with this dramatic background voice reading like a dystopian announcement while the sax, clarinet and percussion continue. Suddenly cuts off.

Schonfeld describes this show as akin to an English Market where there was all these stalls and people played all the pieces simultaneously.  This was in Victors opinion the best music of the Scratch, the type of stuff the Scratch was trying to continue.

Cornelius Cardew Tiger’s Mind (performed by AMM, date unknown)

Cardew composition for AMM. This is certainly AMM performing it and it sounds post Cardew’s involvement to me. It could be a version broadcast on the BBC as its very clear. Piano sounds very Tilbury like though there could be two pianos. Its pretty sparse and pretty acoustic. Rowe sounds like he is clicking pickups mainly, with a bit of buzzing tones here and there and later some sustained rumbles.  Prévost does mostly drum related things, short rolls, hits and the like though later there is some bowed metal.  There could be a second percussionist and possibly a cellist.  Really great piece, spacious and brooding, I truly would like some more info on this one, so if you know chime in. If I had to guess on the participants I’d wager that this is Rowe, Prévost, Tilbury and de Saram

Cornelius Cardew The Great Learning Paragraph 7

This is most likely the post-Scratch version from the complete performance in Islington.  This is the big finale to the Great Learning and is a huge and long piece (uou can take a look at the score here).  Massed voices, each proceeding through the text at their own pace with very simple rules as to the pitches they are to sing.  The piece becomes this huge wash of sound with the voices coming in and out at different volumes and levels of clarity and control.  Really overwhelming and fascinating with levels of detail the follow your focus.

The first part of my coverage of the 40 Years from Scratch can be read here.
Stayed tuned for my concluding post on this epic radio broadcast.

This world of dew
is only a world of dew …
and yet.

-Kobayashi Issa