Entries tagged with “BBC”.


“Since there can be no absence of form, in free improvisation form must be self-organizing. The process is intrinsic to life. Coming now to definitions of organization, we will say that functional organization at some given level is equivalent to thermodynamic coupling (utilization of information) at the same level. It would seem also that a structure could be called organized if its existence were either necessary for the maintenance of some functional organization or dependent on the operation of some functional organization. Without reference to functional organization it seems to be impossible to define structural organization in a useful way.” – Paige Mitchell (3)

It is worthwhile to consider the structural nature of AMM performances, to ponder to what degree AMMMusic had codified. There are two fundamental aspects of AMMMusic that are immediately apparent even upon cursory listening: The laminal nature of the work and an oscillation between densities.  AMMMusic is often defined by this laminal structural agent, layers of sounds creating an entity that at its best exceeds the sum of its parts.  However in what can arguably be called the most creative period of AMM, the 1960s, we find much less of a reliance upon this method. Or more accurately we find less use of complimentary sounds then in the later AMM.  By complementary I mean sounds that work toward this end, they may in and of themselves seem absolutely incompatible, but when layered with the others create a unique floating world.  The ’60s AMM I would say was far more interested in sounds in opposition, not just to each other but to the situations of the times, the individuals and to conventional notions of music.

It is more or less the same process but refined and perhaps more oriented toward creating a specific sonic environment. It was refined to the point where it could pretty easily absorb new elements (though not always, see the recording with Gare a couple of reviews back) as is the case with de Saram. As this set of four recordings that I have with de Saram displays he is often providing a bed of bowed tones upon which the others place their sounds. Likewise the others often work with layers of sounds built up through repetition, for instance in this recording Prévost works extensively with mallets on the floor tom adding a low level rumble to the others sounds.  Tilbury and Rowe have their own laminal methods – bowing, fans, electronic rumbles from Rowe and repeated chords, minimalist styled repeated notes and Feldman-esque broken chords floating in the sound space.  But these two often add the disruptions that make up the an essential part of the laminal sounds – radio from Rowe cutting through the amniotic fluid of the layers of sound, or a melodic phrase from Tilbury providing an anchor of familiarity amongst the alien soundscape.

“We move in the delicate experience of sound as cooperatively shaped and developed material of encoding and in the experience of sound as energy. Among the successes of AMM in the formal challenge of self-organization are the expansiveness of reference and variety of articulation achieved through this ranging of source sounds from noise to microtonality.” – Paige Mitchell (3)

Even with all of the activity of four members the piece is pretty spacious, running from open to dense as was often the structure of AMM pieces. A common critique of Free Improvisation is that there is a cliche of oscillating from loud to soft with each existing solely to emphasize the other.  AMM in the 60’s was not trapped in this structural cliche – they might do an entire hour at a crazed level of energy. Or by utilizing extended silences (rumored to be up to 20 minutes though I’ve yet to hear a recording that contains one of these) undercut any sort of emphasize of energy through periods of quiet.  They even actually would alternate between soft and loud but not as a rule but as another tool.  But as they continued on and developed the refined AMM sound of the 80s and 90s they settled into a structure system of sparse and dense.  These could be of varying volumes, sparse and loud, dense and soft and so on but like their free improv brethren they tend to oscillate between these two extremes.  This piece is a good example of this with the shift between densities occurring a good half dozen times throughout.  It is interesting to note that at the very end AMM broke out of this dichotomy achieving at time a degree of stasis that pointed toward an evolution of the AMM sound. But the group was not to last in a recognizable form past that point.  Anyway we will examine that further as we get to that period.

AMM 1993, BBC Broadcast. England, UK

Opens with a gentle piano chord a few notes and then silence. Nearly inaudible is the rumble of Rowe’s guitar.  A few more piano notes come in and then a dry sawing from de Saram.  Slow, molasses like sawing with no affectation creating a rustling bed that the piano drops notes and broken chords upon. A very quiet, high thin wail comes in, Prévost bowing some metal perhaps. A dull thud. Repeated. A careful density is reached then abandoned leaving only the bowing, which takes on a more cutting tone now. Low register notes from the piano here and there the briefest strike on a cymbal.  This delicate brooding balance is reached, of quick sharp bow work, very spaced out piano chords and something being rubbed on a drum head.  The beginning of the piece though is so uncertain so unlike anything else, it feels the most like contemporary composition but it doesn’t behave at all like any examples of that I can site. It is the palette deployed in the service of atmosphere.  Prévost begins to use mallets on a floor tom creating an off kilter tattoo against which the uneven piano work and the schizophrenic bowing contrast. I think Rowe is also bowing his guitar there is a much more saw like bowing the effect of the bow on wound strings in contrast to the sharper bowing of the ‘cello.

The density is now thick with the guttural bowing, mallets and the swirling sharp bowing creating a thick stew of sound. It doesn’t last though, it all fades away for a second and then there is just sharp attacks on the ‘cello and a disconcerting background rumble. As the bowing declines, Prévost returns with the mallet work and perhaps a distant chatter of radio.  The sounds of pickups being abused come into play. Things become a lot more uncertain now, with the bowed ‘cell back but not creating a drone but more like banshee wails as disconcerting groans and grinding sounds are evoked from Rowe’s guitar. Heavily distorted radio comes in with unintelligible speech sounding like an alien Orwellian broadcast. De Saram switches to pizzicato playing which layers into Prévost’s deep rolling mallet work against the muffled radio broadcast. This darker section basically fades out from all of the musicians and very quiet piano chords are heard and some sweeet bowing. Its all brought way down but never quite stopping. A nice long section of just drums, muffled electronic thumps and a very high thin bowing sound.

From the space de Saram starts a much rougher, scratchy bowing sound akin to the kind of sounds Lachenmann often gets from his string players.  This leads to more aggressive drum work and hard attacks on Rowe’s guitar and the denisty and volume come up. Some big piano events here, sometimes sounding like inside piano work other times big low end chords.  After this explosion of sound it opens up with big sounds still but less of the density.  Short bowed attacks on the ‘cello, brief drum rolls and simple chords on the piano. Prévost drops out and it becomes even more spacious. Distant, noodley bowing from de Saram and mid range piano chords spaced so that the sound is nearly fully gone before the next. Very quiet is a bit of a hum from Rowe. The piano becomes very soft and the bowing a bit less erratic. Rowe brings up a grinding sound that fades in and out. A gentle passage of rough sounds.

Almost melodic piano now, with only a quiet swirling bowing sound and a background hum from Rowe that almost sounds like an electric organ with a note held down. Fan work from Rowe, still pretty gentle but adding a metallic oscillating sound against which the increasingly soft piano playing fades away from.  With the bowing from de Saram and this part it is a really interesting sound field of tones coming in and out.  Prévost begins to drop a few louder percussion bombs, answered but a short burst of radio and then more aggressive attacks right on Rowes pickups. Bowed metal in the distance as Rowe takes prominence. Fast screeches from the ‘cello as if the bow is just whipped across the strings. Then it all quiets down and just the nearly inaudible bowed metallic sounds remain. Muffled sounds as of something pressed on pickups buidling back up now. Rattly percussion is added in, the attacks on the guitar becoming pretty strong like rumbles of thunder.  Swirling bowing now with drum rolls and strikes on the tom from Prévost. Sounds of things scrapped against the guitar strings, the piano with muffled chords evoking some preparations. Things build up to a pretty high level of intensity and then drop down reveal just the component elements: thin bowing, sparse mallet work and then Tilbury starts with fast runs on the piano. De Saram echoes these.

Almost a pure tone now cutting through everything which one by one drops out. Then a simple rhythm is developed on the floor tom and the cutting bowing fades away.  Sounds like eBow on the guitar with that characteristic buzz as it hits strings.  It rises to a crescendo and then is gone. And all that remains are soft two handed chords on the piano. Very beautiful piano in the space. Short aggressive bowing comes in and out but nearly inaudibly. Almost sounding like solo piano improvisations now, mostly chord based by spacious and with hints of melody. Then the electronics are brought up, and echoy, hollow buzz that takes over the space along with the slapping of strings. This fades out and a near silence falls, but it keeps coming back never quite going completely away. Bell like sounds come in, perhaps from percussion but it sounds more like prepared piano to me. Rowe keeps bringing up the buzz but never very loud. Drums come in, proving the bell like tones to be piano after all.

The piano develops now almost sounding like a section of the Sonata’s and Interludes for Prepared Piano as the drums and hums fade out. Very background is an electrical hum that sounds like a motor being picked up via a telephone coil.  Prévost brings back the drums and Tilbury keeps working the prepared piano now sounding like a percussion suite. He manually fades this out as a whiny bowing sound comes in and amongst this Prévost hits his gong or tam-tam a couple of times, softly but definitely there.  Chunks of pickup sounds, buzzes and rips from Rowe. Things are building up to a head now with cymbal crashes, single loud piano notes and rhythmic staccato bow work from de Sram. The spring puts in an appearance on Rowes guitar as de Saram falls into a regular sawing pattern. A confluence of scattered sounds from Rowe over this and regular drumming build up and then it ends.

The period of time that Rohan de Saram played with AMM is interesting in that the dynamic of the group shifted greatly toward that of a classical chamber group.  The balance between immediately recognizable sounds- the piano and ‘cello, against the alien sounds coaxed from metals, electronics and the aether, shifted toward the former. Even with extended techniques on the ‘cello and preparations on the piano at times this iteration of the group sounds very classical but in a modern sense.  For it isn’t the chamber groups of a Mozart or even a Stravinsky that they evoke, no it would be more the sounds of Cage, Wolff, Cardew – continuing the experimental tradition.

References
1) Rohan de Saram homepage
2Notes on AMM: Entering and Leaving History Stuart Broomer, CODA Magazine no. 290. 2000
3) The Inexhaustible Document Liner notes. Paige Mitchell 1987
4) Meta Machine Music, Rob Young, The Wire #132 (February 1995)
5) Keith Rowe interview by Dan Warburton at Paris Transatlantic
6) Edwin Prévost, No Sound is Innocent, Copula, 1995
7) Keith Rowe interview in Monk Mink Pink Punk no 12 (July 2007)

“What improvisation means in AMM: elsewhere there is music that argues for improvisation; AMM, more lethal, assumes the world of composition.”  – Stuart Broomer(2)

The is the second of three recordings I have featuring the ‘cellist Rohan de Saram. The first, along with the saxophone of Lou Gare, was our last entry and I felt rather dominated by Lou.  But when AMM was the quartet of Prévost/Rowe/Tilbury/de Saram, as it is here, it was de Saram who would be the driving factor. Rohan de Saram was a ‘cellist from the classical world specializing in contemporary music, though he was familiar and proficient with the classics of the repertoire. By the time he was asked to join AMM he’d already been a member of the renowned Arditti String Quartet for a number of years. Rare among performers of composed music de Saram has explored improvisation though how much prior to joining AMM it is hard to say.

“This is also a unique thing about AMM, in that we didn’t invite improvisers to join us.”  – Keith Rowe(5)

Cardew was of course the first composer invited to join AMM and interestingly he also often played ‘cello with the ensemble. The sound of bowed strings along with the extended techniques of modern composition gels well with the stew of percussion and electronics that forms the core of the AMM sound. Cardew though I think really informed the what became AMMMusic, though I have not had a chance to hear the one known pre-Cardew recording the reports have been that it is a bit more free jazzy, though still quite experimental.  Rohan de Saram on the other hand, while fitting in well with the group, drives them in a different way. He is generally playing, only laying out occasionally, he also tends more towards loud-soft-loud-soft dynamics as opposed to the more organic nature of AMM textural playing. It is almost as if he is a soloist playing with an ensemble as if this was a “Cello and Trio”.

“De Saram here assumes a special status: it may merely be that it is his sole appearance with AMM on a full-length CD, though, too, it may be his specific linearity. The Inexhaustible Document is as arresting a cello work as composed music has given us in the 200 years that they’ve been written – Shostakovitch, Kodaly.” – Stuart Broomer(2)

AMM, January 1988,  BBC Maida Vale, England, UK

Tentative piano chords, in a deep hiss. A rattle of percussion, a faint electronic sigh, soft dry sawing on the cello. Single notes, followed by piano chords burst out from the mid-range background. Very tentative start, very textural. Bow metals come in, still quiet and adding to the textures. Only the piano really contrasts, like drops of rain on a still gray pond. An oscillating rumble come in a bit more dense but still tentative, de Saram intensifies his bow, adding a grinding texture to the dry rustling sounds. The texture has evolved into being made up of squeaks, higher pitched bowed metal,   electronic buzzes but still the piano, now more in the upper register punches through. Prévost begins a tattoo on a bass drum or floor tom that comes and goes. Now determined attacks on the cello, things are brought up a couple of notches.  Prévost picks up the pace on the drums, arpeggios from Tilbury as Rowe, still fairly low volume, adds long slides up the guitar strings. Without any sort of crescendo the density was fades away. The components remain the same it is just no longer as loud or as dense. A swirling mass of sounds, Rowe picks it up a bit with electronic mutterings and groanings.  Again it is de Seram who brings things back up with high pitches attacks on the cello to which Rowe immediately responds with an aggressive mix of muted radio, fan on the guitar and thumps and thuds of the pickups. Tilbury laying out at this point, Prévost drops in background strums of bowed metal. Now plucked notes from de Seram the radio, though unintelligible, the most dominate sound.  As this is backed off you hear the low drum rolls that were in the background, delicately plucked strings, low tone bowing and clipped muted piano attacks.

A whistling bowing comes through above static, drum rolls and a background grumbling.  Space out pounds on the piano, aggressive but not that loud really and what sounds like Rowe pulling the guitar strings up and letting them snap back. Very spacious but increasing in volume and then a struck gong! It drops to near silence moments later. Only soft bowing and the occasional rip of an object run up a wound guitar string.  A keening tone of bowed metal. Super high pitched whiny bowing. Grinding guitar and then the bowing becomes rough and scrabbly. Short piano runs. The intensity picks up again – a bow bouncing across strings, violently bowed metal, rubbed guitar strings, bleats from the radio, rolled piano chords – a chaotic miasma of sounds increasing in volume and complexity. Almost a minor freak-out now, rapid bowing, drumming from Prévost, big piano chords.  Rowe seemingly laying out. Almost as soon as it approached this level it drops into super spacious territory.  Rowe providing a low level buzz, Tilbury big pounding chords but with many seconds between them, and almost gentle bowing from de Seram. Very quietly Prévost begins to bow some metal adding a high pitched whine to these sounds.

Things have mellowed right out. Very gentle piano chords, a delicate bowing, an oscillating low volume hum and jagged quiet bowed metals.  Things swell with a little more pressure on de Serams bowing, but settle right back down.  A swirling effect from the cello, piano and electronics and Tilbury far in the distance works through an odd set of figures. After a bit Rowe begins to bring the noise, with aggressive attacks on the guitar, a couple of radio snippets and the sound of amplified metal on metal.  Some cymbal crashes from Prévost and a big chord from Tilbury. Things don’t really take off but stay at this level of stuttering sound and volume for a bit then as de Seram begins these loud bursts of whisking sounds it dies off into an uneasy scattering of disparate sounds. Prévost begins to work the cymbals as Rowe coaxes thundering echos from the guitar. Out of these ashes things pick up the pace with de Seram heroically bowing out a what could be an alien melodic line. Some drum fills from Prévost as Tilbury adds texture with chordal fills.  Rowe stays pretty background during this layering in clacks from the pickups and scrabbled sounds of objects rubbed on the strings. As this dies down you hear that Tilbury was actually playing a continually repeated set of small figures almost like a bit of minimalism.

Things pick up to a low range very dense but not super loud section.  Pounded out rolls on a bass drum, low range aggressive bowing, big chords in the lower end of the piano and a grumbling rumble from Rowe.  To this Prévost adds in the occasional cymbal crash and de Seram a high pitched attack on the strings.  Slowly Rowe brings up an aggressive buzz – a fan over the pickups as he rocks the volume on his radio.  Things become pretty intense for a bit. But it backs down by everyone just spacing out their sounds and Rowe turning down the volume till all we hear is piano and a background buzz. Almost a bit of a piano solo now, nicely spaced but with some louder chords. Very quiet squeaks from de Serams bow and Rowe’s buzzing comes and goes and then builds up a bit to this jagged, echoed hum and wobble.  Rowe backs this down in fairly short order and then arises this great segment of very percussion-y prepared piano and gentle spaced out mallet work on the drums as a static-y whistling sound creates a canvas upon which this sounds rests.  This goes on for a while in various permutations, some bowing foregrounding now and again, Rowe added in some string scrapes and electronic outbursts, Prévost eventually switching to bowing a cymbal.

Things take an uneasy turn in the last few minutes, a looped queasy cello line, the low crackles of abused guitar pickups, bowed metal and a wobbly low volume figure on the piano.  Individuals increase the intensity briefly but drop it back down immediately. A heavily garbled radio announcement comes in and just as soon departs. An evil buzz comes up as a knocking on the percussion demands our attention.  A rather flatulent electronic tears in and out as cymbals crash and a low cello string is plucked. Notes on the piano are crashed as a sawing begins on the cello.  Chaotic and staccato the ending of this piece. Very atypical AMM ending, not of that minutes long fading out, just blasts of sounds and short repeated figures. They bring it down in the last few seconds almost as if someone is just turning down the volume.  Then there is applause and a radio announcer telling us who it was.  Apparently it is “bring the improvisational ideas of 1968 up to date”.

– – –

The period of AMM with Rohan de Saram is a unique and short lived phase. He eventually became too busy with the Arditti String Quartet and his participation became sporadic for a couple of years before ceasing.  From that point on it was just the trio of  Rowe/Prévost/Tilbury with the occasional guest. These guests though again would often come from the classical world, Christian Wolff, the Stadler String Quartet and so on.

“One of the important things in AMM was the inviting of classical performers. This was important for us. I think it true of our whole scene. We badly need people who have another kind of perspective.” – Keith Rowe(7)

References

1) Rohan de Saram homepage
2Notes on AMM: Entering and Leaving History Stuart Broomer, CODA Magazine no. 290. 2000
3) The Inexhaustible Document Liner notes. Paige Mitchell 1987
4) Meta Machine Music, Rob Young, The Wire #132 (February 1995)
5) Keith Rowe interview by Dan Warburton at Paris Transatlantic
6) Edwin Prévost, No Sound is Innocent, Copula, 1995
7) Keith Rowe interview in Monk Mink Pink Punk no 12 (July 2007)