Entries tagged with “AMM BootLeg Project”.
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Wed 3 Mar 2010
Posted by hatta under AMM
March 2010 I acquired a bootleg of an AMM performance from March 31st, 1990, from the Taktlos Festival in Zurich Switzerland. AMM at this show was Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare and John Tilbury which of course is the same lineup on the Matchless release The Nameless Uncarved Block. Looking at the linked page for this album we see that it was “Recorded at concerts given in Zurich and Basel organised by the Taklos[sic] Festival, Switzerland, April 1990.” A cursory listen to the two recordings reveal that the Matchless release contains the entirety of this bootleg (the Zurich show) plus additional material presumably from the Basel show. The purpose of this series is to examine the unreleased AMM material and while this exists as a bootleg it is beyond the pervue of this project. It is worth considering boots of released material where there are significant variance in sound or editing or those with additional material. For instance the final AMM show (May 1st, 2004) which I had a bootleg of prior to its official release is about five minutes longer then the official release and it is worth considering the complete performance. So there isn’t too much to say about this one, beyond go pick up the album! While I’m not really a fan of Gare’s work on this one, it does have my favorite title of any AMM release. Anyway a brief analysis of the recording quality and comparing the two releases follows.
A recording of the performance seemingly offers the possibility of “documentary” recovery, allowing a consciously analytical response to the sounds and the developing structure. Even as it refigures the past, however, the recording indicates its remoteness. -Ed Baxter(2)
The bootleg begins with odd stuttered chords from the piano, over which Gare, in quite a tonal mode, layers lower register lines, which become increasingly melodic. Tilbury’s piano then shifts to a jazzier mode and as Prévost begins to tap out a fragmented tattoo on the toms it almost sounds like a jazzy ballad. Only after some time does Rowe come in offering a counterpoint, that shears away from what was previously quite uninteresting. Gare mostly sticks in this more tonal vein, though more fragmented at times as the rest of AMM explore their own language. It weaves between these extremes, neither really giving ground. And yet its not quite as interesting as that contrast makes it sound, it is not as if Rowe tuned in a free jazz sax solo on the radio and let it run in opposition. Gare is too reactive to the group in that sort of call and response style of jazz and not the laminal nature of AMMMusic. The Nameless Uncarved Block on the other hand begins with a skittery laminal sound of tinkled ivories, bowed metal and real subtle un-sax like squeaks from Gare. The first track, Sedimentary, is not contained within this bootleg and most likely is from the Basel shows. The second track, Igneous, seems to begin at around 6’15” minutes into the bootleg, cutting away that ballad-like section. The mix is quite different as well, the drums a lot more buried in the official release and this low, almost bass-like, playing from Rowe a little more present. In fact the mix and the audio quality is so different that it is worth hearing this bootleg as a demonstration of how different this can be. A good example is around 8’30” in the boot 3’15” in Igneous there is a louder more “freak-out” type section that clearly from the boot is a lot more intense than in the recording, whether that was done in post or just a different microphone placement or what have you is hard to say. Igneous runs for 37 minutes and then there is a final track, Metamorphic, which is 7’21” long. This is track is contained in the final track on the Zurich bootleg from approximately 3′ in until the end. Interestingly on the boot there seems to be about 15″ cut from the end but then there is applause. All told the bootleg has maybe 8-9 minutes that aren’t part of The Nameless Uncarved Block. The differences in the recording are the most interesting to me, it sounds as if the boot is an audience recording, though a very nice one, with audience conversation clearly audible during several quiet sections (and possibly why that little bit was edited out at the end). But clearly the person recording this was closer to Gare as he is a lot more up front in the mix and interestingly this recording seems to capture a slight different aspect of Rowe’s playing — less of the subtitles but more of the rumble if that makes any sense.
This recording is interesting in that it makes explicit how different a recording can be based on how it is done, where it is done, not to mention editing and any other post processing work. Even at a live show ones position in the audience makes a huge difference. Of course this aspect is only of limited interest and won’t bring me back to it after this initial period of listening. Personally though if I was interested in hearing this concert I’d stick to the official release, it has better balance between the members. This being the complete performance certainly gives it a documentary interest, but personally I’m not much of a fan of Gare’s more tonal playing with AMM and The Nameless Uncarved Block never gets much play to begin with.
1) The Nameless Uncarved Block, Matchless Recordings, 1990
2) Liner notes from The Nameless Uncarved Block, Ed Baxter, 1990
Sun 7 Feb 2010
Posted by hatta under AMM
There has been some question as to the AMM lineup at various points in their history. It is a complicated issue considering that the group has been around for nearly fifty years now and has constantly changed its membership over the years. Additionally there have been plenty of guests, members at large and collaborative performances to further complicate the issue. Over the course of my reviews of the various bootlegs floating around I have made various assumptions w/r/t to the line up on a particular recording, some of which have conflicted with the information circulating with the sources. In general the information that comes with the sources is highly suspect – they simply use information that is highly generalized or from sources that are not particularly accurate (the AMM page on Wikipedia is fairly useless for instance). My process is to always start with principle sources, amend it with secondary sources and then to finally rely on the evidence of my ears. Based on this process I have complied the following timeline of AMM’s membership, all of which is verified via the sources cited.
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare(1)
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare, Lawrence Sheaff (1, 5)
1966 to mid-1967
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare, Lawrence Sheaff, Cornelius Cardew (1, 2)
Cardew officially joins in January(2; p. 254)
Mid-1967 to April 1968
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare, Cornelius Cardew (1, 2, 8)
Lawrence Sheaff leaves group a few months after recording AMMMusic (8, 5, 1; p185) probably April 20th 1967
April 1968 to 1969
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare, Cornelius Cardew, Christian Wolff, Christopher Hobbs (1, 2, 5)
Christopher Hobbs joins April 1968 (2; p. 304)
Christian Wollf’s Sabbatical Year(1; p.185, 2; p.304)
John Tilbury filling in for Cardew at times (1; p.185)
1969 to May 1971
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare, Cornelius Cardew, Christopher Hobbs (1, 2, 5)
Hobbs leaves the group in May 1971(2, p.650)
May 1971 to March 1972
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare, Cornelius Cardew (1, 2; p.650)
March 26th 1972 – final AMM show(2; p. 651)
AMM: double duos
March 1972 to January 1973
The occasional double AMM: Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare and Cornelius Cardew, Keith Rowe(1, 2; p. 651)
mid-1972 to 1975
Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare (1, 2, 3)
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare, Cornelius Cardew(1; p.186, 2l p.816)
Unrecorded, no performances, practices only, which apparently didn’t work out.
1977 to 1979
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost (1, 2, 3)
(1979/80: Supersession: Evan Parker/Keith Rowe/Barry Guy/Edwin Prévost)
late 1980 to 1986
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, John Tilbury (1, 3)
1986 to 1994
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, John Tilbury, Rohan de Saram (1, 3)
1989(?) to 1992
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, John Tilbury, Rohan de Saram, Lou Gare(4)
1994 to mid-2004
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, John Tilbury
May 1st 2004: Final AMM show
2005 to present
Edwin Prévost, John Tilbury
The sixties are of course the most contentious, being a long time ago and featuring the largest amount of changes. Cardew joining, Sheaff leaving in 1967, Hobbs and Wolff joining and then the fracture in the 70s. Tilbury’s Cardew bio goes a long way to providing specific dates for some events though others remain somewhat vague (no specific date for Sheaff leaving the group for instance just “April 1967, though his last concert with the group is mentioned, as being at the Commonwealth Institute which the Factsheet(5) lists only one in April on the 20th.
1968 to 1970
The information that I begin with for AMM from 1968 to their breakup in 1972 is primarily sourced from Prévost’s article AMM 1965/1994 — a brief and mostly chronological historical summary published in No Sound is Innocent(4) :
In 1968 American composer Christian Wolff joined the ensemble for the duration of his sabbatical year in Britain. Also during this time Christopher Hobbs, a percussionist and composition student of Cardew’s, at the Royal Academy of Music, regularly performed with AMM. John Tilbury occasionally participated when Cardew was not present.
From the early 1970s until the fracture of AMM in 1972 the ensemble remained the quartet: Cardew, Gare, Prévost and Rowe.” (4, p.185)
1969 is a question: was Christian Wolff’s “sabbatical year” – was it a school year, so Autumn 1968 to Summer 1969? Or was it literally 1968? Additionally by saying that Hobbs played “during this time” does Prévost mean exclusively during Wolff’s time? Considering that Hobbs is part of the group for The Crypt sessions (12th June, 1968) but not Wolff I’d say this is the case. This is further backed up by the fact that Hobbs was part of the group ion December 1969 when they played in Denmark as released as part of the Laminal box set. Thus I think that that sentence is too compress, it seems that Hobbs was a part of AMM from 1968/1969 presumably starting around the time that Wolff did. Alas there are no AMM recordings floating around with Christian Wolff , leaving this as one of the most egregious missing eras in the historical record. In the various bootlegs floating around It seems to be generally assumed that Hobbs is still part of group in 1970 and there has been some question as to why I don’t always follow this assumption. Again it is the above quote that by “early 1970 the ensemble remained the quartet”. Clearly Hobbs left at this point but what exactly qualifies as the “early 70s”? Of the two bootlegs that I have in question from this period (Jan. and Feb. 1970) it sounds like there are two percussionists in the January recording and only one on the February recording. Thus I make the cutoff here.
In the 70s the originally group came to an end but several interesting events occurred. First off due to prior commitments the group had a tour and a festival in the Netherlands. With irreconcilable differences between the Rowe/Cardew and Gare/Prévost camps they played as the double duos. Gare/Prévost presumably playing as they would in AMM II but the Cardew/Rowe duo is completely unheard at this point. The record indicates that they were more in the traditionally abstract AMM realm (as opposed to Gare/Prévost’s more ‘free jazz’ sound) and would often play over tapes of the Peking Opera and other such revolutionary sound musics). AMM II would be the other major event of the mid 70s, this was the continuing duo of Gare and Prévost, who constantly got billed as AMM so they rolled with it. At the end of the 70s when the duo of Rowe and Prévost formed they used AMM III a the moniker indicated that the Gare/Prévost duo was AMM II, which I’ve used throughout.
The most strange and interesting things though occurred in 1976 when Rowe made an attempt to get the quartet back together again. There was a concert on April 1st of that year that Rowe refers to as a “hidden” AMM concert that included himself, Cardew and Prévost plus flautist John Wesley-Barker and double-bassist Marcio Mattos(2; p. 816). This event has been heretofore unknown only revealed in Tilbury’s massive Cardew biography. The other event, more well known, was a series of practices in June of 1976 of the quarter of Gare, Cardew, Prévost and Rowe(2; p.816). These apparently didn’t work out and Tilbury cites Gare as feeling that Cardew didn’t have the level of commitment necessary and abandoned the attempt.
This is basically the question of Rohan de Saram. He was definitely considered part of the group, but he clearly was the one with the most demanding schedule (being a member of the Arditti String Quartet at this time) and thus there are cases of the trio AMM as well as a quartet with Lou Gare. There also are various lineups with the clarinettist Ian Mitchell (quartet and quintet with de Saram) but I tend to think of those as more guest spots as I would the occasional shows with Evan Parker.
1989 to 1992
The early 90s quintet AMM was something I only stumbled upon during the course of this review process. I have a bootleg from 1987 from this quintet and in the course of my research I found this line in the updated CD liner notes accompanying the CD release of The Crypt:
“And the band goes on: for to date we have still not recorded the current quintet line-up of de Saram, Gare, Prévost, Rowe and Tilbury.” – Edwin Prévost, Februrary 1992(5)
This version never would be recorded and it seemed that Gare left again soon after. De Saram would soon follow though there would be the occasional gig through at least 1994.
After Rowe left AMM in 2005, Tilbury and Prévost made the controversial decision to continue on as AMM as a duo. I refer to this as AMM IV as per Rowe’s definition that AMM should be at least trio with himself and Prévost at the core. It is interesting to note that AMM IV now often plays with other musicians but they are always listed as “AMM+” indicating that these are all guest spots. These guests have included Sachiko M, Christian Wolff and John Butcher among others (see the comments for more info).
1) Edwin Prévost, No Sound is Innocent, Copula, 1995
2) John Tilbury, Cornelius Cardew: A Life Unfinished, Copula, 2008
3) Notes on AMM: Entering and Leaving History Stuart Broomer, CODA Magazine no. 290. 2000
4) Edwin Prévost, The Crypt Liner notes, 1992 (Matchless)
5) AMM Factsheet, The Crypt Liner Notes (not online), Matchless Recordings 1992
6) The AMM page at the European Free Improvisation Home
7) Meta Machine Music, Rob Young, The Wire Issue #132 (February 1995)
8) Edwin Prévost, AMMMusic Liner Notes (originally published in RER Quarterly vol.2 no.2, Nov. 1988)
Wed 16 Sep 2009
In the autumn of 1995 AMM engaged in their first tour of Japan, details of which seem to have escaped much documentation on the Internet. The only two confirmed dates are October 13th at the Nagoya City Art Museum in Nagoya which is the bootleg in question and October 22nd at the Egg Farm in Fukaya. This later concert was released as From a Strange Place on PSF Japan. It is interesting to have these two documents from nine days apart, to compare how AMM is sounding at this point in 1995. Any additional information on the Japan tour would be appreciated.
From a Strange Place begins immediately with piano work from Tilbury and a restless working of the strings on the guitar from Rowe. Taps and hits of the drums from Prévost interject here and there but are not dominate. He does move through objects signifying the full percussion setup, but unlike the previous. The beginning of this piece is rather helter-skelter with a worrying behavior as a dog at a bone. Sounds come in and stop but aren’t developed for long without a gap or a change. Rowe seems the most persistent, working his strings again and again without manipulating the electronic aspect, but with a wide degree of variance. When it does build into a denser structure it includes Tilbury’s arpeggios and grumbles and percussive string manipulations from Rowe’s guitar along with more vigorous drum work from Prévost. While overall this is a restless piece of music and it varies from silence to aggressive outbursts as a whole it seems less dense then the show from the week prior. There is a great section of a sustained spoken radio grab that Prévost responds to with more aggressive drumming, both rolls on the drums and singled pounded events that demonstrates the effectiveness of more muscular drum work (in contrast to the set under consideration today). The center of this piece is a long, spacious very tentative feeling section, made of squeaky bowed metal, oscillating but low intensity guitar feedback interspersed with string manipulations and chording from Tilbury whose decay takes far more precedence then the attacks. The weakest part of this show though was a Prévost led assault on the drums, but here (and again in contrast to the boot) Tilbury and Rowe match him in density and volume. But the gesture, that of a jazz drum solo, pulls you out where pure sound, however loud or ugly does now. But this event was short lived and the ending of this set, culminating with a Kabuki like clapped object amidst far away scrabbles on Rowe’s pickups, softly grinding metal and rumbled chords is among the best in its uncompromising yet stunningly beautiful nature. Here it feels as if all the musicians are finding their way, working through something which I think is characteristic of the best AMM sets. In that regard this recording is a think a nice example of a “typically great” AMM set if not as transcendent as the absolute top tier pieces. It also has my favorite of Keith Rowe’s painted covers :)
AMM October 13th 1995
Nagoya City Art Museum, Nagoya Japan
AMM has always been about searching for the sound in the performance.(5)
The recording begins with applause, presumably as the musicians took the stage. It begins quiet, with Prévost bowing some object and then rubbing on the surface of a drum. Apart from maybe some occasional moans from Rowe’s electrics the beginning sounds are all Prévost and move on to include short snare rolls, the occasional taps on a larger drum and at one point the shaking of some object. Even so it is spacious and tentative with good gaps as Prévost’s stops or switches objects. Tilbury eventually comes with a a very prepared piano sound, chords on strings that have been muted or had objects on them. A few of these and it goes silent again, followed by Prévost stroking a metal object and letting it ring. He seems to have had a kit here as he seems to be playing a kick drum with a pedal whilst scratching the surface of another drum and bowing something – rather active if still a bit subdued for a short burst. A very quiet, very thin electrical sound come from Rowe and the single piano notes from Tilbury on heavily muted strings. This is really one of the more exploratory openings with severe restraint from Rowe and Tilbury and Prévost almost seeming as if he is playing head down in his own space, not worrying or listening to anyone else, not concerned with sudden flurries of sound widely spaced out. A near drum solo comes from him, in that scattered jazz style that is all drums, but seems to just skitter over surfaces. Of course being AMM there is no obvious rhythm. Rowe is now letting a ripping static come from the radio, sometimes resolving into garbled speech, but all at a super minimal volume, just barely present. And then with a rip of feedback it all explodes, with Prévost pounding the skins and several abrupt big chords from Tilbury. More volume and more active now, it is still quite stilted though Prévost seriously flirts on drum solo territory rolling across all of his drums and even working a cymbal at the end of some of these gestures. Rowe is more aggressively attacking the strings, but in short bursts. The spaces between events widens a bit but with no decrease in intensity for a minute or so and then it becomes spacious and soft.
Oscillations on prepared strings from Tilbury, skittery bowed metal from Prévost and a warbling sound from Rowe, perhaps a knife under his guitars strings all of this allowed to run for a bit a kind of sickly stasis. Low end radio added to the mix, plus additional groaning sounds, purer bowed metal and tapped drums from Prévost with almost buried repeated gentle high registered piano chords from Tilbury continue this queasy miasma, that even a few big drum hits from Prévost can’t resolve. Most of this slowly fades away, leving a dentist drill wine and gentle piano playing, almost music box like from Tilbury. Finally it all fades away.
From a short gap, piano notes, now more mid-register and some of them prepared return joined shortly with brushes on the drums. A quiet electronic grinding whine whirls in and away, followed by gently tapped drums. Mallet work on the drums now, picking up the pace and as Tilbury begins to roll out big arpeggios on the ivories Prévost begins to work the cymbals, back in drum solo mode. The occasional roar and groan from Rowes electronics are buried under this assault, which even as it drops in intensity does not reveal it any clearer. Short, spaced out events now, squeaks from Rowe’s strings, shorter spaced out drum assaults and a tenacious working of a few piano keys all stops and now a whine, thin and upper mid-range from Rowe dominates the nearly empty soundfield. Prévost begins to rub a drum head, contrasting the higher pitch whine with short, low interjections, Tilbury works the piano strings directly.
Everything fades away leaving just Prévost working a drum head. After a bit of this the sound of Tilbury striking the pianos strings with an object is heard along with a low, quiet oscillation from Rowe. This continues apace until as it all fades away Prévost returns to gently and then not so gently pounding a floor tom. The brings Tilbury back to the keys, restless working a few bass notes. An uneasy tone come in, almost more felt then heard, just at the threshold of audibility amongst the other sounds. When it goes it away its absence is more obvious then its presence. As Tilbury rolls chords Rowe returns now with a more persistent buzz, restless and more at a volume with the others. Things become wobbly: the bobbing sound of a spring or utensil on strings, Prévost drumming arrhythmically, fragments of chords from the piano. This fades out, almost into a false AMM style ending, with Tilbury’s chords getting quieter and quieter, Rowe’s rumbles being turned down, and very soft bowed metal.
But the bowing of the metal picks up a bit in intensity and the piano chording is still quiet, widely spaced but persistent. Tilbury now playing quiet fragments of little melody’s and Prévost adds the odd strike of the drum to his bowing. Background roars and amplifier hums from Rowe come in and out, very widely spaced and then a grinding sound. Things keep pausing, as they seem to struggle to bring it back up. Now its that hurky-jerky style that is so oft driven by Prévost – start/stop little rolls on drums, hitting of other objects, short gestures. Rowe, as also is pretty common, with turn up a guttural roar and just as quickly cut it off sometimes seeming to work these sounds in parallel with Prévost’s staccato style. Vigorous rubbing of the guitar strings now and definitely the most aggressive from Rowe as Prévost now vigorously works the skins in true drum solo mode. This section played blind for most people would just sound like a jazz drum solo, not very AMM like at all. Prévost eventually backs it out, fading away on a long roll, Tilbury and Rowe now silent. A very quiet sound, perhaps a rubbing on Rowe’s strings, or a metal object of Prévosts is all that remains.
An electronic buzz comes up, a broken chord. Steady bowing now, quiet and thin. Rowe’s background hum. The last 8-10 minutes of this piece are beautiful – very spare with low end rumbles coming in and out, Tilbury putting in these deep chords that seem to come from the very depths and lots of space and silence. Out of this a little Feldman like broken chord, or a single stroke on the metal edge of a drum, or the the buzz of Rowe’s electronics. Very, very nice ending to what overall is a pretty mixed set.
This set is one of those that rather defies the ethereal floating nature so oft ascribed to AMM in the 90s. Taken along with From a Strange Place one can see that this is fairly typical for AMM at this point. The trio in fact constantly worked with eruptions of volume and density even in this configuration. The sounds are just a lot more recognizable, usually being piano chords or big drum assaults then the more pure noises they’d have used in the 60s. While I enjoy the roller-coaster nature of this period of AMM, I find that whenever Prévost has a full kit there is often a bit too gestural drumwork for my taste. When it becomes like a typical jazz drum solo, my interest wanes a bit. Interestingly the other members tend to just let these events play out, laying out (as it were) until space opens up again. I do feel that I should note that it is quite possible that Rowe was lost in the mix as I’m not sure what the sourcing on this one is. However being pretty familiar with AMM boots at this point I do listen for his playing as opposed to its relative volume and it clearly was not present at many points. Tilbury was pretty audible when he chose to be and I can more confidently assert his more withdrawn performance. As always when the music seems the most ego free it was immediately familiar as AMMMusic and as powerful as ever. As the decade would wear on it would seem that Prévost would pare down his tools and this I think would lead to the more austere final phase of the trio AMM.
1) AMM From a Strange Place (PSF Japan) 1996
2) Edwin Prévost, No Sound is Innocent, Copula, 1995
3) The AMM page at the European Free Improvisation Home
4) Notes on AMM: Entering and Leaving History Stuart Broomer, CODA Magazine no. 290. 2000
5) Keith Rowe Interview, Paris Transatlantic, Jan. 2001
Wed 15 Apr 2009
Posted by hatta under AMM
The spring of 1994 found AMM in the US for a short tour. Brought over for the Table of the Elements Manganese Music Festival (along with Faust, members Sonic Youth, Tony Conrad, etc.) they played at least two other dates and this recording seems to be a third. As far as I can figure out this was the extents of the tour:
* April 23rd, Atlanta, Georgia (Table of the Elements Manganese Festival)
* April 24th, Allentown, Pennsylvania (released as AMM live in Allentown USA)
* May 3rd, Context Studios, (released as Contextual, disc 3 of Laminal)
This concert recording, which does not correspond to the two official releases, circulates under the same date and location as as the May 3rd Context Studios show. So far I have not been able to determine if they did more then one show there or another show between the rather long gap between Allentown and Context studios. The possibilities seem to be that this is either the April 23rd show, or another undocumented performance. The recording is open air and there is little audience noise so it doesn’t seem to be a festival recording. It could be a studio recording, perhaps even at Context Studios, though coughs and camera clicks indicates that there is at least some audience present. It also could be a radio broadcast from this tour. Of course the possibility certainly exists that its not from this tour at all. It does sound like fairly typical 90s AMM but that is a pretty wide range of time. Anyone reading this with any further information is requested to please get in touch!
This show is right at the end of the era where AMM was much more fluid and exploratory in their lineup. Rohan de Saram was clearly becoming less available and they now played primarily as what would become the stable trio. Two weeks after this show they would play the excellent Bielfeld Germany show, the last documented date I have with de Saram (which is not to imply that there weren’t others, just no record of such). After that show it was the trio AMM with the occasional guest or special collaboration (such as with Formenx, the Stadler String Quartet and so on). This show feels like it is from that period in that it has much more of an experimental music feel then the later nearly ambient feel of the late 90s material. It also differs remarkably from Contextual released as part of the Laminal box set. That set is nearly rock music like, with Rowe playing some of the most guitar oriented guitar I’ve heard from him since perhaps Amalgam to which Prévost responds in kind pounding out tribal tattoos on his drums that we never hear from him outside of a free jazz set. An odd show and rather unlike anything else I’ve heard from the trio AMM. Perhaps this was a delayed influence from playing the experimental rock oriented Manganese Festival?
May 3rd 1994, Context Studios, NYC NY USA
“It’s still a challenge and it’s still something that’s actually interesting to do, because I don’t think we have said all we set out to say, it’s not like we’re being dragged out of retirement for some sort of ‘show.’ It’s nice that we’re still making progress.” – Eddie Prévost(2)
This recording begins with muted piano strikes and police whistles, that stalwart of mid-twentieth century composition and an instrument you’d hear frequently in the Scratch Orchestra. These sounds are spaced out and between them is nearly perfect silence. There are some rustling sounds, perhaps our recordist, more likely Prévost rubbing on his drums. Some mechanical like soft whirrs from Rowe and then low rumbles that are clearly objects rubbed on a drum head. Various more familiar sounds come and go: bowed metal, buzzes, ruler scrapped on guitar strings, piano notes and chords, but its all very separated out, spacious like a late Cage composition. This restless stew of disconnected sounds is really gripping, constantly fading out to near silence before another sound comes in, the density level shifting all the time, not following any discernible arc. After the very beginning Tilbury’s hardly playing at all in the first fifteen minutes or so and Rowe and Prévost come and go using one sound and then another in spaced out succession. Then quietly Tilbury comes in with these soft bass chords and Rowe, equally soft, buzzes in the background. Lurching, grinding, yet also soft, metallic noises from Prévost are added to the mix. This all comes together around eighteen minutes or so into the set in what would be about the most active portion of this set, raw and dense but not really loud or aggressive.
It doesn’t last though and the set evolves into a bedwork of shifting tones ground out from bowed metal as Tilbury drops in gentle chords and Rowe just hums away. From this point on this set because an exercise in shifting stasis with minor little eruptions and variances from the various members. It reminds me more of the nearly purely static nature of Fine much more then the typically more event driven 90s AMM. As I’ve worked through this project I’ve found more and more that any attempt to stereotype AMM (noisy for the 60s, droney in the 90s, EAI-ish in the early aughts) has constantly come up short. There are chaotic sets from 2001 and ambient sets from 1970, all of the multi-faceted approaches that we think of AMM are tools that they have applied throughout their history and each show demands its own application of them. One of the aforementioned eruptions occurs at 30 minutes with pounded drums and metal and a return of the police whistle. Rowe seems to merely bring up the volume a bit on his static buzz (perhaps the fan) to blend better with the percussion and piano and as they settle down and drop off it is all that remains. While this eruption breaks the stasis I described above it is short lived and they soon return to it. This minor event and really the earlier dense period as well are anomalies in this otherwise quiet set, but they are also the events that differentiate this set from others and also from genuine ambient music. It still challenges and pushes and does unexpected things and while it may have an overall static character is in the end not very static at all.
Another interesting feature is that structurally it differs from many AMM shows in that it seems to reach a conclusion nearly 50 minutes in. While all AMM sets are unique entities there is often a slow, floating, quiet feel that many of them end with and this one has that in spades from about the 48 minute mark. Metal bowed low and slow, sparse piano chords, the occasional buzz from Rowe, the space between these events widening, getting quieter as if to wind down to an end. But this is not to be, Rowe brings up a much louder buzz sounding like a damaged dentist drill and as the others drop out he brings it up. In short order the others join back in adding more driven piano notes, hard struck in the upper register and Prévost continues to bow metal but the languidness is gone. Its still soft, but the calmness has been replaced by an urgency in direct contrast to the sense of closure from just a minute or two before.
From here things get a bit weirder; sounds come and go, sometimes loud, other times soft. Big drum crashes, an electronic roar, single tinkled piano notes, followed by rolled chords. It mirrors the beginning of the set in a way, but with much more varied dynamics. Sounds are still pretty separated, individual, just coming in and then usually quickly ending. Around twelve minutes before the end there is a rough scrabble of radio and what sounds almost like breathy flute which seems to have been from a second radio source as it comes and goes several times over the next few minutes. Things space out even more, like a second winding down, but the sound events retain that restless urgency even as they fade down. The set finally ends after this long, long fadeout in which a single piano note is repeated, some vocal jazz is grabbed from the airwaves and metal is slowly bowed. With the false ending almost twenty minutes ago, this piece has an odd structure, unique amongst the AMM sets that I’ve heard.
1) Staying True to a Truly Esoteric Mission, Alex Ross, New York Times, May 7th, 1994
2) White Flags Over Georgia, Alternative Press, August 1994
3) AMM Live in Allentown USA, Matchless Recordings.
4) AMM Laminal disc 3, Matchless Recordings. Liner Notes