“Certainly what I do on the guitar is there without me playing it.”
– Keith Rowe(3)

This is the last of the early boots that have been leaked to the nets. This set occurred about two weeks after the previous one and is most likely the lineup of Cardew, Gare, Prévost and Rowe and possibly Hobbs (*see note below). While that set had that chamber feel to it with multiple bowed string instruments, this one differs in many ways yet feels informed by it. It has a very electronic, controlled noise feel in the beginning with the percussion sounding mechanical and various statics, pure tones and electronically amplified scrapes, buzzes and the like. It then enters a very spacious period, where drumming (very traditional jazz style), isolated piano clusters and a murmur of bowed instruments come in and out. Quite a bit of radio or tape or both in this one especially toward the end. Overall there is that uneasiness and tension from the previous set, but the variety of sounds used is a lot wider.

AMM – London 3 February 1970

This one begins tentatively, with a rattling metallic percussion, static and this intermittent high whistling sound. The occasional beat of a drum accentuates this rather mechanical noise. A bit into this a warbling bowing sound can be heard now and again pretty buried below the other sounds. A piano note or two. Then it drops dead. A bell rings out and then some squeaky bowing comes in and rises in volume.This doesn’t last and the playing becoming bursts of sound in space. Quiet piano chords, short snare rolls, guitar hum comes in and goes. Some faint radio at one points rises almost inaudibly in a fairly quiet place, so not much volume. Eddie then seriously picks up the snare rolls, not so much playing loudly as continuously and to this the piano responds accordingly. Again they break off and it becomes more pointalistic; electronics swelling via volume pedals, percussion effects, choppy bowing. More aggressive piano chords.

Things become very spacious, the piano plays short melodic figures, a persistent electronic hum, squeaks as of rubbed drumheads, the radio or tape coming in and then fading away, a cymbal crash.  Things meander for a bit before picking up again, once again led by the drums, this time a furious assault on a tom or bongo. Some kind of Cecil Taylor-ish figures on the piano, fingernails on chalk bowing and muffled radio. Again the dense part doesn’t last and fades to a persistent low volume wail, like an ebow’d string, quite piano notes, bowed metal, the occasional voice from the radio. After a bit of this a real beat driven thing come on the radio, to which the piano responds with a ragtime fragment of the Ode to Joy, and everyone else does this holding pattern of sounds – quite rattly percussion, low bowing and so on. The radio doesn’t last long but this uneasy, persistence does. Some louder percussion is brought in and the bowing becomes more aggressive. Things really quiet down from here, a background of humming, quiet percussion very steady state. Radio again briefly appears, with a snippet of the Beatles as does bowing of a sliding nature. Very electronic sounding in this bit almost like an ambient fadeout -if it was done on a factory floor with some of the machines winding down. In the last minute again the drums go crazy, almost in a full on drum solo. Clearly a full kit was present at this session. The piano tries to fight through this, with low end chord crashes, and there is a persistent electronic buzz and then the tape ends.

“This improvisation is inherently about problem-solving; it’s inherently dialogical.”
– Edwin Prévost (3)

The feeling to me of this one is that of a desire to not develop anything too far where too far is defined by the individual player. For some things this may be only a fragment of sound for others it may take a minute or five but nothing overstays its welcome. Now you might argue that this is what makes improvised music good in general, but as a deliberate strategy it creates something markedly different then just sensitive playing. Not to mention that this is quite different from later AMM with its layers of continuous sound. This constraint (if it really is one beyond my speculation of course) curtails droning, overuse of the same sound world, reliance on established gestures and so on. When allowed those things can all be great and used well and thus argued to not overstay their welcome. But in this piece it feels like a deliberate strategy and it gives a markedly different feel to it. At times it can kind of hint at insect music with a variety of short sounds coming and going, but as other sounds can last a few minutes or longer this is never a dominate mode. Especially as the individual players may not be synchronized in how long the develop what they are playing, so you get a nice overlapping of short quick events, with longer more developed ones.  Overall an interesting effect that gives this a brooding feel but with a prickly surface.

*Note
There has been some question as to the AMM lineup at this time in various places including in the published sources. My primary source has been Prévost’s article AMM 1965/1994 — a brief and mostly chronological historical summary published in No Sound is Innocent(4, p. 185-186) namely this quote:

From the early 1970s until the fracture of AMM in 1972 the ensemble remained the quartet: Cardew, Gare, Prévost and Rowe.” (4, p.185)

However the AMM Factsheet in the Crypt Liner notes(8) states that Hobbs is still part of the group as of October 1970. Now while the Crypt Factsheet is quite possibly fraught with errors one would that this basic fact would be correct.  Finally the most recent and specific confirmation comes from John Tilbury’s recent biography of Cardew where he states that Hobbs “had already left the group in May 1971”(7, p.650). This I think has to be the case as the degree of scholarship is so high in this book and Tilbury was of course present and friends with all the principles. I’ll rely on his legwork with having asked all of the surving members of AMM w/r/t this issue.

All that being said I still don’t think that Hobbs was present at this concert. There is  plenty of documented cases of additions or subtractions from the group on a show by show basis, and clearly at some points people couldn’t make the gigs.  So my basic operating procedure has been to follow the lineup as the sources indicate, but to also follow the evidence of my ears.  The previously reviewed recording from January, does sound like there are five disparate sound sources and the most likely case would be that it is Hobbs. In this recording it sounds like four members and certainly there is little aural evidence for dual percussionists.  Barring confirmation from principles or contemporary sources this is I think the best that can be done.

References

1) Cornelius Cardew, Towards an Ethic of Improvisation Cornelius Cardew(1936-1981): A Reader, Copula 2006
2) Notes on AMM: Entering and Leaving History Stuart Broomer, CODA Magazine no. 290. 2000
3) Meta Machine Music, Rob Young, The Wire Issue #132 (February 1995)
4) Edwin Prévost, No Sound is Innocent, Copula, 1995
5) The AMM page at the European Free Improvisation Home
6) Keith Rowe interview by Dan Warburton at Paris Transatlantic
7) John Tilbury, Cornelius Cardew: A Life Unfinished, Copula, 2008
8) AMM Factsheet, The Crypt Liner Notes (not online), Matchless Recordings 1992