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.