This is the first in an occasional series of examining the readily available AMM bootlegs. I intend to go through these in chronological order so this would of course be the earliest one that I have,

AMM – Royal College of Art(3), London 23 March 1966

This is the earliest AMM that one can hear, recorded about four months before AMMMusic.  At this time the lineup would have been Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare, Lawrence Sheaff and Cornelius Cardew. The recording begins with this dry bowed cello, almost random sounding plinked piano notes, small interjections of percussion and various noises generated by extended techniques. An interesting sound, the super dry cello is akin to later Feldman practices or sounds favored by Wandelweiser collective. The piano is real spare often quiet but sometimes interjection a sharp note. Not Feldman-esque, a much more sound oriented approach.  This goes on for some time, forming a sense of stasis from the continually bowed cello (though not droning on one note it should be stated) and generating an almost an uneasy feeling. This feeling is somewhat justified as the next section of the performance is radio or tape played at huge volumes. This is clearly an example of the “sheets of sound” that the group would try to surmount

“At the very first sessions of AMM I used pre-recorded tapes of Beach Boys, things like that, played enormously loud. It was our version of the “sheets of sound”. We would play it as loud as we possibly could and try to climb over it like a wall. It was a barrier to get through.” – Keith Rowe, from an interview by Dan Warburton

This goes on for some time and there seems to be several songs played simultaneously. During this Prévost heroically tries to climb that wall with a frenetic assault on the snare. This also goes on for a long time, which I think is part of the AMM aesthetic – things aren’t written off immediately as “not working” they are pushed through. Things rise to an extreme level during this as the tape and a radio announcer compete with the drum and Gare absolutely wailing on his sax. This is the apex of the session, at least as far as volume and density occurs. Eventually the outside music is worked out, the drums begin to break away and the sax (and another reed instrument most likey Sheaff on clarinet) becoming increasingly distant.

This begins the third “movement” of the performance. More spare with this dueling wind instruments and increasing silences. Out of these spaces single notes from the piano return and repeated phrases from the winds. During this section  there are two obvious stoppages of the tape and it is of course unknown what could have happened at those points. Probably either continuing as things were or long spaces that the recorder felt wasn’t worth “wasting” tape on. This section is quite interesting; it is made up of disconnected sounds, lots of spaces some of them fairly long and there feeling is that of the later trio AMM but with much more of an experimental nature. It has that tense anticipation, but a little less continuity of sound and of course a wider range of sounds.  Things begin to build up again and we enter a fourth phase of the performance. Density especially increases with electronic wailing, drums, mechanical percussion and long wails of sounds from the horns. Things are building up to nearly as high a level of density as the recorded “sheets of sounds” when the tape abruptly ends.

This is I think one of the most interesting of all of the available bootlegs. It is the earliest AMM and it demonstrates quite handily how far out they were as early as 1966.  It demonstrates to me all of the salient features of AMM music that is found in all of the stages of AMM. It is a working with sounds or noises as tools but never as an end to itself. It has that weightlessness in parts that the trio AMM so excelled at and it had the experimental nature of the composed music of the day (Cage, Tudor, Feldman, Cardew et al). Honestly it is amazing that these shows were recorded at this point. Someone had to have a reel-to-reel recorder there and be willing to spare tape. Perhaps they were recording it for their own use but we should be thankful that they were recorded at all.

Additional (11.04.09):

There is another bootleg floating around the ‘nets that appears to be a different version of this source.  This source is labeled:

AMM – ICA London 23.03.66

This actually is two performances mislabeled and is mentioned here to try to minimize confusion. This recording is divided into 7 parts of which only part 1 is part of e 03.23.66 performance. It is in fact the  last 13 minute of that recording. Parts 2-7 are from a totally different recording: 12.16.69.  These do seem to be a different recordings or perhaps some mastering was done to them as they don’t sound quite the same as the other sources. Most likely they were put onto a tape from the original source which was flipped and the second side was the end of one recording and the beginning of the next. When transfered the first side was not included for some reason. However it came about it is a misleading and inferior source and should be disregarded in favor of the other available source.

References

1) The AMM page at the European Free Improvisation Home
2) Keith Rowe interview by Dan Warburton at Paris Transatlantic
3) British Library Sound Archive