I’ve not forgotten the final segment of my report on the Forty Years from Scratch radio broadcast, I’ve simply been busy and there has been other things going on. Plus, perhaps I’m a victim of my own success, after the last two reports I felt I couldn’t give the final section short shrift. The final hours did contain some sections that I was a bit loathe to revisit, political stuff that certainly hasn’t aged well. However there was again an amazing amount of fascinating information and fantastic music so it has been mostly a pleasure going through the final twelve hours or so of this epic event.
If you missed them be sure to check out the first two reports on the Forty Years from Scratch: Part 1, Part 2
13) Forty Years From Scratch: Chris Hobbs’s Sudoku Slot
No Hobbs, this seems to actually be just jukebox selections, in fact it seems to be the Scratch Jukebox I from Liberty Belle on for about 15 minutes.
14) Forty Years from Scratch: Self-Built-Breakfast
Stefan Szczelkun, noted visual and plastic artist, theorist, polemicist and builder, hosts a special Scratch breakfast show. Stefan’s Art Projects Flickr Set which includes a bunch of Scratch related scans. Explores politics and music. Opens with Joan Baez and then a few songs by arch-hipster Richard Ferrena exploring as he put it the problem of hipsterism. Stefan gives the following anecdote when having lunch with Tilbury and Prévost in Huddersfield just after 9/11. Tilbury said, “They deserved it”, they being the institutions in the Twin Towers as they in his opinion had killed many more people then were killed in the towers. This, Stefan says, underscores the deep hatred of capitalism by members of the Scratch which hasn’t faded. This is a good summery of much of the next few hours. “Culture and politics are both about coming to agreements. Political expressions in culture have often be excised from capitalist culture.”
Stefan played many other pop songs, poetry readings, folk tunes and the like all that had a populist or directly political nature. In many ways he is illustrating how the horribly Scratch propaganda songs were an utter failure: this is music that had a message and was good music within it’s styles. Not much of this music appealed to me here (there was some all right dub played) but I think that Stefan illustrated some strong points about politics and music. The best music in this segment was the piece he concluded with which was field recording he made as he walked through London to this studio.
Stefan Szcelkun Walk in the Park
15) Forty Years from Scratch: The Cardew Brothers 16) Forty Years from Scratch: Ascough On
This segment begins directly with the Cardew Brothers et al playing a new composition based on a Christopher May piece in Scratch Music for Tom Chant (tenor sax), Horace Cardew (clarinet), Celia Lu (voice), Mizuka Yamamoto (violin) and Walter Cardew (electric guitar). The music is initially these fragments of wobbles, squeaks, whistles and hesitant scrapes. This is really nice but alas pretty quickly in Celia starts doing vocalizations that I found rather dreadful: sort of Liz Tonne-esque vocal improv with sounds, operatic bits, scatting et. But even worse was the Walter and Sabrina songs they played with Celia singing along with Mizuka Yamamoto on violin. I really couldn’t take Celia’s singing, I can’t even really describe her voice, it was extremely unusual but in a grating way, this sort of chanting staccato squeak. Now I should say that the voice is a very personal thing and what one person likes another person won’t. Celia’s singing was absolutely not to my taste but others might enjoy her sound and technique. The initial piece I feel was still worth hearing to get a taste for how Walter and Horace play which seems really good. The best piece was a duo of Walter on guitar and Mizuka Yamamoto on violin though it wasn’t fairly straight in an expressive, almost romantic way. In between playing Carole Finer interviewed the Cardew boys about their memories of the Scratch Orchestra when they were young children. They concluded with a Walter and Sabrina version of Cornelius Cardew’s We Fight for the Future, which was certainly not improved in this version.
Walter Cardew, Mizuka YamamotoGuitar and Violin duo
After they played the show went on to the next hour which was supposed to be with Richard Ascough but he didn’t make it in to the studio due to a mixup so Carole played more jukebox stuff beginning with a very nice Two Harmonium Piece (1970) composed and played Hugh Shrapnel and Micheal Chant, that had an almost Organum feel to that. The hour was finished off with some rather bad revolutionary choir music featuring Emily Cardew called The Velvet Fist. The final thing played in this was filler from the Promenade Theatre Orchestra (PTO) which was a sub group of the Scratch that was entirely trained musicians playing difficult music on mostly toy instruments. This bit of filler included four pieces, beginning with a piece consisting of these over-driven ringing tones with a continuous almost metallic drone all playing rather minimalist like shifting patterns. This was followed by a waltz from John White that was a lot more percussive and will a meandering melody line. Next they played Straight Off the Top by Chris Hobbs, which seemed to be mainly low toned wind instruments. The next piece, whose composer and title I couldn’t make out, was a combination of wooden block sounding percussive and staccato horn playing with a shifting melodic line on maybe a clarinet. Concluding with another Chris Hobbs piece again mostly on wind instruments with some additional percussion that was faded out as the next segment began. In the main this was good stuff though the recording was pretty rough.
17) Forty Years from Scratch: Out of the Scratch – Music and Class Struggle
The issue of the politicization of the Scratch has certainly come up time and time again, but there are a number of segments in this final block that feature unapologetic supporters of this politicization. I certainly don’t blame anyone for what happened in their youth but the fact is that the music the Scratch did was far more radical and far more lasting in their politics. Consider Keith Rowe’s reflection on that period from earlier in this broadcast:
“.. At the time it was uncomfortable but [we felt] necessary. We were “˜politically clumsy’, not to say that the content of what we were trying to do was wrong but the way we did it was really, really clumsy. “¦Humanly clumsy; the way we dealt with people.”
The members of the Scratch that revel in the banalities of its politicization seem to have not gained any of this sort of perspective. The loss of a creative, vital musical and essentially human movement for the narrowest and least effective political movement in perhaps the last hundred years. Trying to turn the Scratch Orchestra into a musical propaganda unit of this dogmatic, narrow and cruel political organization was a real tragedy. The earlier segment by Stefan Szczelkun underscores this by playing political music that is actually also good music and there is not a single Maoist anthem to be heard. A lot more of the issues of the politicization of the Scratch is dealt with in Tilbury’s Cardew bio so perhaps I’ll get into that in greater depth when I post my review of that book, so here is a fairly condensed version of what went on in this two hour block.
This segment was hosted by Brigid and Laurie Scott Baker along with guests Vicky Silva, Bethan Phillips and Chris Thompson. This segment to me was one of the most difficult with lots of insufferable bad political music and the discussion was basically apologetics for turning the Scratch into an unsuccessful propaganda unit. The music played included the Cardew compositions Thalmann Variations, Boolavogue and Will of the People and Nothing to Lose but out Chains which is a Baker composition based on Peacock Soldiers/Mac the Knife which included an overlay of snippets of a recording from Cardew’s last speech and an improv at the end (which was fairly bowed bass solo at the end, though with lame drums and noodling from other instruments).
Laurie says that listening to that final speech you can see that Cardew had not softened his political views at all. That the fact that toward the end of Cardew’s life was a sign he was engaging composition again was a sign of political maturity not a change in direction. This is confirmed by Tilbury’s bio, in which he describes that the party, as it moved away from Maoism, softened its stance on so called “revisionists” and realized that working with sympathetic people as opposed to alienating them because they weren’t 100% toeing the party line was a smarter move. Cardew was encouraged to reengage with the composing community in an attempt to further these aims. Tilbury does hint that Cardew missed the rigorous intellectual climate he’d once been part of, so while he clearly was mainly into it for the political reasons he might also have had his own personal reasons.
18) Forty Years from Scratch: White in the Afternoon
Begins with some Scratch Jukebox including the oft played Liberty Bell, before John white comes on air. John’s first meeting with Cardew was him in the audience laughing uproariously at one of White’s compositions. Later they became friends after Cardew criticized him for a choice he made in playing a certain symbol in Octet ’61. At the time the avant garde traditions of Darmstadt ruled the day which wasn’t very appealing to White. Meeting Cardew along with other experimentalists (Cage, Tudor, et al) led white toward that direction. When the Scratch was formed White was playing both experimental music, but he was also conducting musicals in the London’s West End. Thus he wasn’t able to be present at all of the Scratch performances and rehearsals.
White got fed up with the Scratch Orchestra’s free improvisation he felt it was therapy for the player and not much fun for the audience. So he broke away with small group to do music inspired by the minimalists. After sketching out his history with the Scratch White then went on to play a fairly long recent composition of his: Latin Phrase book Ritual which basically follows a fairly typical cantata form but with “amusing” Latin phrases as the sung material (I came, I saw, I vomited) and a bit more abstract musical elements: toy pianos, gongs, banal samples, etc.. Very White-like.
Promenade Theatre Orchestra
The Promenade Theatre Orchestra founded 1969 by John White with Hugh Shrapnel, Alex Hill and Chris Hobbs playing on toy pianos, reed organs and so on in reaction to the improvisatory nature of the Scratch. After John’s new piece Carole then plays about 18 minutes from the PTO concert that was partially played before at the end of the Cardew Brothers segment.
Carole then concludes the segment with a few minutes of music from the Harmony Band which was a sub-group with Dave Jackman, Chris May and Carole Finer. This little bit played featured a quite subdued background droning whine with sharp, louder interjections plucked from stringed instruments. This was pretty great I think, the contrast between the drone and the spikier elements keeping it interesting and a beautiful ending with ringing bells.
Harmony Band piece
19) Forty Years from Scratch: Sound Out
Carole Finer is joined by Stella Cardew for an hour of Scratch Orchestra memories and music. Stella felt like she was never a member of the Scratch, it was just a part of her life. She was involved in performing and with the art aspects of it though. The Chelsea Town Hall concert was one that featured artists, including Stella, painting during the performance on a giant expanse of canvas upon which they flung paint. This was Keith Rowe’s suggestion apparently, to paint in the style of Sam Francis. Rivers of paint. She also along with Tim (?) painted backgrounds for the Scratch opera , Sweet F.A.. They played a few pieces of music that were “covered” by the Scratch beginning with the Rolling Stones, Honky Tonk Woman whose performance not surprisingly was a lot more noisy and chaotic. Stella spent a decent amount of time talking about Cornelius and she pointed out how good he was with people, he’d make every one he’d talk to feel like they had a special relationship with him (which you can contrast a bit with Tilbury’s talking about how Cardew always seemed a bit detached. Perhaps this is part of how he changed in his political era). Another anecdote that Stella told was that while Cornelius hated school he loved the Cubs (like the boy scouts) skills from which he put to use in the Scratch camps. Some of the other music she played included a recording of a choir song, Ash Grove, sung unaccompanied by her daughter Emily. The song is about nature and greenness which is the color that Stella associated with the Scratch Orchestra. There were too many good stories and anecdotes to fully document but a really interesting segment from a vital perspective.
At the end Micheal Chant joined them and they talked about Private Company which he founded and included Stella and Carole. Chant would set impossible tasks for the company and the attempts to realize them was the performance. Stella read some of her impressions of PC that she jotted down back during its time, which mostly revolved around doubt, mystery and yet rewarding. Carole said she always found Chants instructions mystifying and asked him if he had any idea of how they would actually realize these instructions. He answered saying that the pieces were very philosophical and that PC was formed perhaps as a reaction to the Scratch even though it existed from the beginning. Chant traces its history back to Pavilions in the Park which were these events in 1968/69 from which he signed up whoever showed up: Bob Cobbing, Allen and Joe Davis and others, Stella and Carole joined later. Private Company would do a lot of events eventually doing weekly events at the Poetry Society until 1973 when they ended as Chant left for political work. Once again there was too many good stories to fully document. But they ended with a new Private Company piece that Chant handed out unexpectedly. They read it through and deemed that the performance.
Scratch Orchestra plays Christian Wolff Burdock
They played a Scratch performance of Christian Wolff’s Burdocks as filler after this segment.
20) Forty Years from Scratch: Radio Smith
Dave Smith, Richard Ascough, Derek Barker, Hugh Shrapnel and Carole Chant in the studio performing a number of Smiths’ pieces. Performance of Coin Piece (1972) which was written for but never performed by the Scratch. Coin Piece uses spun coins from each performer to select from a set of activities. This was nice piece made up of a lot of sound of coins spinning on plates, with a hard edge metallic sound and then various short events from a variety of instruments as well as spoken text.
Dave SmithCoin Piece
He talks about how his recent work, which seems pretty far away from the Scratch, is still heavily influenced by it. He has recently written 42 1 minute piano pieces, the limited time scale he feels gives you permission to do things you couldn’t get away with at length. He began with Multiple Mazurka Mix which is made up of Chopan’s many mazurkas and can be said to hearken back to John White’s Scratch piece for the Beethoven concert where he played only the left hand parts of all of Beethoven’s piano sonatas. Moonlight Restricted, which borrows from an idea of Chris Hobbs where he recomposed a Tchaikovsky piece applied to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Other pieces played included: New World Order, Reverse Swing, and Eagles As Orb an anagram of Rob Grassay.
Moderation in Nothing, piece from 1976 written for four ex-Scratch members Howard Skempton, Micheal Parsons, John Lewis and Dave Smith. Schonfeld after the first performance stated that it reminded him of the Scratch. Smith hadn’t thought of that but on hearing him say that, felt it made sense as it was a somewhat unusual piece. They were all playing instruments that weren’t their regular instruments (wine glasses, soprinano recorders, electric piano, finger cymbals, ocarina, bells and so on), it was only rehearsed once as he wanted each member to perform as if it was a solo, which gave it a rather informal sound akin to the Scratch. After this explanation Smith then played this piece, which began with high notes from the wine glass and the recorder. Thin short phrases, spaciously presented with events overlapping at times at others being on their own. I quite liked this extract from this piece: it was shifting, sedate, hypnotic, but not from drone as its all made up of these shorter elements.
Dave SmithModeration in Nothing
After this extract from Moderation in Nothing, we return to another bit of A Day in the Life of John Tilbury to fill the gap between this and the next bit.
21) Forty Years from Scratch: Live Gala Concert
This segment was the longest of the the marathon at four hours and contained a wide varity of interviews, live music and archival performance. It began with a reading of a short abstract from Richard Church’s Improvisation to Revolution a history of the Scratch Orchestra ’69-’72. This sounds like an interesting, essay, or book that I’ve not been able to find much more on. A sample quote on the founding of the Scratch:
“Disillusion with the unnecessary complexity of much avant-garde notation and its inability to communicate on a human level, was a central issue in the Scratch Orchestra and acted as common link between many of its members.”
Shrapnel’s Wood and Metal Band was going to do a live performance but three of them couldn’t make it so they ended up not playing live. They did however play recordings from 1972 performances at the Spielstrasse for the Munich Olympic Games. The members of this sub-group in the studio were Hugh Shrapnel, Chris May, Carole Finer, Dave Smith and Richard Ascough, missing were Barbara Piece and Alec Hill and Bryn Harris. This sub-group was created for the Beethoven Today Concert to perform a simple Beethoven march that Hugh arranged for a few instruments. Sometime after this concert Micheal Parson’s suggested reforming this group as its own little band. The idea of the band was to play composed pieces straight, but with ad hoc instruments. It is interesting how many of the sub-groups took on this idea. This was the group that played Liberty Belle, which we’ve so often heard. They’d often take obscure British composer and elevate their music to popular classics status: Ketelby, Ezra Reed were examples cited. The Wood and Metal Band pieces played from recordings in this session included Ã‰cossaise, that initial Beethoven march, Liberty Belle, Little Toddles (Ezra Reed) and Carolina Cakewalk.
Wood and Metal Band Little Toddles
Next up Richard Ascough played an extract from the Queen Elizabeth Hall concert, the infamous Pilgrimage from Scattered Points of the Body. The impetus for this concert was Fantastic Voyage, the SciFi film where Raquel Welch among others fly through the body in a tiny submersible. There was a collection of popular classics associated with each region of the body, for instance Mahler s 6th Symphony for the brain. The final piece of the concert was a composition by Richard Ascough called Rationalization and Realization which ended the BBC broadcast of this concert (though they cut off a bit in the beginning. This piece Ascough wrote to utilize the trained and untrained musician aspect of the Scratch and includes Micheal Parsons on the organ. This piece had typical Scratch density, but was somewhat low key, with a steady state feel from the long organ tones. Short meandering bits from various instruments would come in and out rising above the organ but not until half way through or so do drums start to really rise above the background sound.
Scratch Orchestra Rationalization and Realization
He followed this with a computer realization of a quintet he wrote in 1971 that was never performed. This was followed by Hugh Shrapnel, Chris May, Carole Finer, Dave Smith, Richard Ascough and Derek Barker doing a live performance of Paragraph 6 from Cornelius Cardew’s Great Learning. This is a nice take on the piece, which by its nature is a collection of semi-discrete events. Their sound sources included bells, crumpled paper, mouth organs, recorders, slide whistles and voice.
Cornelius Cardew Great Learning Paragraph 6
Following this was another reading, this time a Jeffery Barnard essay on From Scratch, an Australian take on the Scratch Orchestra started by David Ahern who was part of the Morely College group and early Scratch activities. Quite a bit of the experimentation of the Scratch Orchestra was transmuted into this group though they mainly focused on compositions from composers outside the group. This turned into Teletopia which was more AMM like then Scratch like. Some music from these various groups that Ahern started (he was something of the Cardew of Australia) is played behind this segment and beyond. It does have a sort of scratchy, sound oriented, though less focused, early AMM feel to it. This came to an end and there was a bit of Schooltime Compositions played as they set up for the next piece.
This was followed by a new work by Hugh Shrapnel After Forty Years. for any number of performers playing any number of instruments performed in studio by the attending members of the Wood and Metal Band. It involves tunes from the 1940s amongst other things.It began with a bell, wooden percussion, mouth organ of some sort, a cell phone rings, toy pianos and other simple cheesy electronic sounds. These come in and out, in a shifting rather chaotic pattern. Later it on it has some political speech, from Cardew himself, then a musical hall-ish segment with piano and sort of hummed melody and toward the end a more chaotic bit with ping-pong balls and random percussion. Definitely a Scratch piece. They returned to the previously playing Schooltime Compositions after this as filler.
They played a decent amount of Schooltime Compositions and then abruptly cut it out to talk with Caroline Rogers on the phone. They talked about the performance of Christian Wollf’s Burdocks in Munich. This is the instance where they were playing it and Morton Feldman stood up and said “This isn’t Christian Wolff!” and walked out with John Cage. They exchanged various anecdotes from this trip including border guards at some crossing insisting they unload and unpack all of their instruments at one point. At another point she performed in a reverse strip tease where she was dared to start without her knickers on which she did much to the surprise of the rest of the band. While a fairly short conversation there was again too many good anecdotes to go over.
As filler throughout the next couple of hours she played various extracts from the David Jackman interview that didn’t play earlier due to technical reasons. In this first extract Jackman talked about how he had Scratch scores from 1969 through 1971 which he thinks dates his participation pretty well. At the ICA concert, he played he continuously played a tape loop that he’d put together of the tambora intro from an LP of Indian music. He first met Cardew at a performance of Paragraph 2 from the Great Learning at which he showed up slightly drunk and slightly late. His concert was December 1969, though he doesn’t remember much about it. He found his score though, Eight Groups of Players, which was the section on Tibetan Ritual music from the Grove Dictionary of music. Tibetan ritual music was made up of eight categories: thudding, clashing, sowing, ringing, sharp tapping, moaning, bass moaning and shrill sounds. Each group takes one of the eight categories and plays continuously for two hours. Jackman recalls it was a wild affair, though it evaded recording, and he goes on to say:
“What I like about Tibetan ritual music, at least my perception of it, which is a mis-perception I know now, is that the pitches don’t see to matter as long as you have all the textures there it will hang together in a very vibrant way. And that was my concert. Like so much of the Scratch it disappeared very soon after we did it. Those sort of principles of putting sound together have been more or less what I’ve done in my own music, since. So in a way I’ve been playing that that piece, or recording it anyway, ever since.”
Ian Mitchell is in next who while he was never a Scratch Orchestra member, become associated with many of its members shortly after its demise. He was studying at Goldsmith college in 1975 and became associated with John Tilbury who played various concerts with him. When Tilbury found Mountains among Cardew’s manuscripts he asked Mitchell to perform it. This had been a piece commissioned in the late seventies but it had never been performed because it was thought to be unfinished. When Mitchell examined it, he found that it indeed was finished. The piece begins with a poem by Mao Zedong:
Piercing the blue of heaven, your barbs unblunted!
The skies would fall
But for you strength supporting.
- Mao Zedong, Three Short Poems (1934-357)
After this he goes on to play the rest of the piece. This is an interesting piece with a number of contrasting sections, that explore the full range of the instruments. In the beginning it uses a lot of shorter tones in the upper register and then begins dropping in single contrast low tones. In the middle it works with long, drawn out tones that are made to vibrate in various ways to interesting effect. It concludes with little runs and melodic fragments across the whole range of the instrument.
He follows this by introducing four of his students from Trinity College of Music that then perform a number of Scratch related pieces. First is the very short piece Little flower of the North from Schooltime Compositions which they play with mainly short, often oscillating tones, mostly in upper registers. They then play two pieces from Scratch Music, the first is England and its performance is somewhat indicative of trained classical musicians playing these sort of unstructured pieces. Lots of notes, quick sharp attacks, rather as if they are taking all their tools and just putting them out there. This is followed by Think of a Person, This is played as four solos, beginning with the harpist, who mostly plays little plucked notes, but also throws in a few harp cliches: descending arpeggios, harmonics and the like. Next is the flute, who plays long, slow rather melancholy tones which contrasts to the more sprightly harp solo before it. The violin follows with slow bowed tones mixed with sharp rather scratchy attacks. Finally the piano plays mostly single isolated notes in a rather sad floating way.
In between pieces Mitchell asked his students what they thought when they came to this kind of music. One of the students felt their training helped as its about connecting with their instruments. She also said she found it therapeutic. Another student said she found it very relevant as she found it liberating as they rarely have this “freedom of choice and individuality”. Another student said she found it easier to play fully composed pieces after working with these more improvisatory pieces as it helps her to bring new elements to these old pieces.
The next group of pieces they played was Cardew’s Songs of Pleasure from Schooltime Compositions, Fireworks from Scratch Music followed by another take of Little Flower. The first piece is played with more extended techniques – a drumming on a the harps body, just breath through the flute, short attacks on the violin and then it resolves into more straight playing. Fireworks is played solo harp and as the name implies it’s pretty much all technical fireworks: glissandi, arpeggios, harmonics and big bass thumps. This version of Little Flower, is quite short and made up of all staccato notes on solo piano.
Waves. Shingle. Seagulls
Next up is is Four Strings by Howard Skempton, which is a great piece whose score is reproduced in its entirety above. that I have a fantastic AMM version of. On this version Mitchell comments that “this is the first time he’s seen a violin played as a wind instrument”. This was one of the more abstract realizations from this group, lots of overlapping disparate tones, in the flowing and pattern based with random interjections which you can certain read into the score. The final piece that they play is Christian Wolff’s Edges, which Mitchell introduces by saying that with Wolff’s music what at first seems totally open and completely free but when you get into the music you find how extraordinarily restricted you feel. This is a barrier that you have to get through and I have to say having played Edges myself I completely understand this. In fact I’ve made almost the same comment to others, that I found this one of the hardest graphic scores to find a way into, but so rewarding when you do. Their take involves fairly isolated events, but with the four members lots of overlap. There is a much wider dynamic range in the piece, which is called for in some elements of the score and also a much wider variety of sounds: rubbings, squelches, taps, percussive elements, noise all of which makes this a pretty diverse and interesting piece of music.
Christian Wolff Edges
This segment was in my opinion a great thing. Classically trained musicians often come across as stiff playing this kind of music and some never seem to be able to break free of their routines. Having students work with less structured pieces probably goes a long way to get them to shake free of some of their training. This could be the creation of the next generation of experimental musicians.
22) Forty Years from Scratch: Au Revoir
The final two hours of the thirty-six begins with what sounds like Organum and as its followed with another section of the David Jackman interview this seems very probably. This opens with Jackman asking himself the question: “What did I learn from the Scratch? … I very much like a sound that’s collective. That has a collective feel to it, even though strangely enough its mostly just me. … The sound itself doesn’t have a soloist, so its a collective noise of some sort, whether its a consonant noise, or its discordant or its just noise. … I think this came from Scratch Music.” Jackman also says he doesn’t have much faith in the work he did at that piont that he kind of rejects it now. Not like how Cardew rejected his old music, which Jackman felt had an essence of violence to it. He felt it was too bad he published material from then as he was still a student in musical terms. “I made all of my mistakes in public”. He lost all interest in performing after the Scratch and has never regained interest in it. I don’t want to perform live, I make my music in the studio which suits me down to the ground”. This fragment ends with him saying; “I don’t think my music is new, I’ve recontextualized things so that they appear new”.
There is more Organum played and then Micheal Chant comes on to discuss current activities with fellow composer Hugh Shrapnel. They talk a bit about the legacy of the Scratch and one point that Chant makes is that the revolutionary movement that it came in contact with is still in progress. He allowed that its perhaps in retreat but that they are still proud of it. But really the ideas of the revolution are completely bankrupt, and while the basic goals of improving things for humanity are truly worthy and ones that I’m highly sympathetic toward, there is nobody seriously championing those ideas. It is in my opinion absolutely vital that we discard ideas that have proven to to be unfeasible and that we turn our energies toward generating new ideas. The great thing about programs like this is that they teach us the ideas that have been tried and if we are paying attention we can learn what works and what doesn’t. Chant goes on to say that a lot of the point of this marathon is how the effects of the Scratch is still being felt today, which I think in the musical sense is completely true. The real legacy of the Scratch is the music and the ideas behind the formation of the group. The political stuff is just a footnote on how the group ended. Anyway they go on to talk about their current activities and how they still work in their political agenda. Some of it, anti-war activities for instance, I can totally get behind, though it shows that they themselves aren’t agitating for violent overthrow of the bourgeois so much these days.
Some music was then played beginning with a piece from Hugh Shrapnel that he wrote as a soundtrack to an anti-war film by Stuart Monroe as part of the Not In Our Name movement. This is a sort of melancholy keyboard melodic line meandering over a background wash that becomes increasingly dissonant and various audio samples such as Bush’s “Axis of Evil” quote from the State of the Union are played. This was followed by the last five minutes from Chant’s contribution to this project, Seize the Initiative, which he says he wrote with the Scratch in mind in that it can be played by trained and untrained musicians. This piece was basically various voices reading rather revolutionary-ish slogans while initially sedate music rambled along becoming increasingly bombastic.
There is another bit about the politics where Chant and Sharpnel point out that they were young and that it was the spirit of the times which justifies the propagandist nature of their political music. However from reading Tilbury’s book I don’t think this is entirely true. The Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) persisted in idealizing Mao and Stalin well past the discrediting of their idealogies and revelations of their horrible abuses and well after many of the other British communist parties (splitters!) had long moved on. Yes it was revolution was in the air and I think that youth forgives a lot, but to me that means as you get old you learn from your failures and repudiate your mistakes. Yes you should stand up for core beliefs and I think its great the work they’ve done, but that doesn’t forgive the excess, banalities and inhumanities of the time. Anyway that’s a discussion for another time.
It was back to the music after this political digression Hugh Shrapnel playing a piece that he wrote on the piano, Love/Hate, which was a lovely piece driven by repetitive chords. The next piece played was New Love the middle piece from Chant’s Three Mayday Studies, which had a romantic, almost Beethoven, feel to it, very nice. Hugh described it as “searching” which I think neatly sums it up. So this was it from Chant and Shrapnel and they played out with an extract from Chant’s opera Occupation is Not Liberation. This part of the opera anyway (the overture perhaps) was long organ chords and little melodic fragments with spaces between them. Then there was narration in English announcing the court coming into session reading out charges against Bush and Blair. Heavy handed but sentiments I can agree with.
The final 25 minutes featured Scratch members Carole Finer, Laurie Baker, Brigid Scott Baker, Michael Chant and Hugh Shrapnel plus Tom Chant and Tanya Chant. They wrapped it up with some thoughts about the weekend and how the marathon went. Thanks to Resonance went out and Laurie Baker (I think) pointed out that this program allowed for some of Cardew’s later works to get played which have almost never been played publicly. Brigid joined in saying that nobody but Resonance would have done such a program, which is possibly true though there are some college radio stations that do 24 hour marathons of a single artist that possible might. Carole said that some of the best stuff for her was playing and hearing the early Scratch music, how much fun it was to revisit. Thanks were given to the engineers and to the shows they displaced. All well deserved and as a listener I add my thanks to Resonance as well. Brigid: “The weekend has definitely been a breath of fresh air.”
The final bit of music, right before midnight, the Chant Quartet concludes this herculean broadcast with a live fifteen minute performance. The Chant quartet features two generations of Chants: Micheal on piano, Carole on banjo, Tom on saxophone and Tanya playing violin(?) and they played Beautiful Music a piece that Micheal Chant wrote back in the Scratch days. This was a very nice, slowly evolving piece with dry scratchy bowing, metallic plucks on the banjo, very well placed long single notes from the sax, and at first gentle almost background chording on the piano. The piano chords pick up a bit in intensity now and again, later becoming big crashes and there are sharper interjections from the banjo here and there, and one short section of rippling saxaphonics but mostly it is deliberately paced Beautiful Music.
The Chant Quartet Beautiful Music
The program begins as it ends with Carole Finer ringing a bell, this time a single chime. So that’s it, thirty-six hours of music, reminiscences, stories and details from a vital part of musical history. An amazing, historic program that was just filled with so much information. Even in three long (too long I’m sure) posts I’ve only scratched the surface here. Much thanks to all involved, but especially Carole Finer who spearheaded this event and also provided more information and corrections to these posts. However any and all omissions, mistakes, misspellings, misinformation, typos and the like rest entirely on myself. Further information and corrections are absolutely welcome!
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 WolffExercise 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 MitchellNine 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 AllenMaria 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 BakerCircle 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 Cardew – Mechanical 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 OrchestraHampstead 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 ChantA 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 Orchestra, Journey 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 whichfeatures 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.
In June 1969 the draft constitution for the Scratch Orchestra was published in The Musical Times. A month later the first meeting of the orchestra took place. The concept for the orchestra was Cornelius Cardew’s and it arose as an extension of the improvisatory work that he’d been doing in AMM. He had for some time been teaching an experimental music class at Morley College for which he’d written The Great Learning. Needing a larger amount of people for this piece’s choirs of trained and untrained musicians he, along with Howard Skempton and Michael Parsons, put together the draft constitution and put out an open call for members.
In celebration of the forty year anniversary of the Scratch Orchestra, Carole Finer put together an entire weekend, thirty-six hours worth of interviews and music. The last major Scratch event was fifteen years ago for the twenty-fifth anniversary (pdf of the 25 Years from Scratch programme) which involved a whole day long concert but like so much of the Scratch was London centric. The impact of the Scratch extends far beyond the UK and this radio program, available worldwide on the Resonance internet stream brought this celebration to all.
36 hours of material is really too much to remember much less go over, so I’m just going to summarize each segment with extended details on some of the really striking material. If the post gets too long I’ll probably break it up into a couple of parts. Basically you can summarize this program in three major categories: music, reminiscences, and legacy. There currently is only about two hours of recorded material available from the Scratch which makes the vast amount of musical material broadcast in this program the most valuable aspect in my opinion. The individual experiences and anecdotes of the members is fascinating, though with the publication of John Tilbury’s exhaustive Cardew biography many of the best of the anecdotes are familiar. Getting these direct from the sources without any editing or filtering certainly adds a lot though in both content and perspective. Finally the aspects of the program that dealt with the the impact of the Scratch on the world beyond itself for musicians and beyond are fascinating. Whether it is the current activities of the original members, members of the British musical community that were influenced by the Scratch or new students just beginning to learn about them the legacy of the Scratch is vast and underrated.
The program began Saturday 4am Seattle time and ran to 6 pm Sunday. I listened from 4am to midnight, slept for 8 hours or so and returned to it before 9am Sunday listening until its conclusion. I recorded the entire stream using the excellent Audio Hijack program and have since the initial broadcast listened to the 8 hours I missed and re-listened to many of the various chunks. Overall I found the whole thing very charming, the members would be talking to each other and cutting off anecdotes as everyone knew about that, as if they weren’t on radio at all. The music displayed the whole range of the orchestra from inspired cacophony to clumsy political anthems. Their setup, being that most of them were inexperienced radio presenters was quite well done; they had a collection of files that they referred to as the Scratch Jukebox that they would dip into when they finished interviews early, needed to set up for live performance and any sort of potential “dead air” situation. Of course this lead to a number of tracks being played a multiple times and many (too many) of them weren’t ID-ed. So scatted among 36 hours of recordings is tons of music, of varying interest and mystery. Without listening again to every hour I can’t talk about all of them but I would like to try to catalog them at some point, perhaps in a latter post.
Saturday, May 2
1) Forty Years from Scratch: Introduction
The program began with Carole Finer, giving a brief introduction to the Scratch, how the 36 hours was going to run and then played an excerpt of the first Scratch Concert, from Hamstead Town Hall the summer of 1969. This portion at least of the concert had an a similar feel as parts of The Crypt with an almost undifferentiated background roar overlaid with barking, blasts from various brass instruments and innumerable percussive sounds. Pretty interesting in a way, lacking the focus of AMM but capturing a pretty overwhelming though fascinating soundworld.
The Scratch OrchestraHampstead Town Hall concert (two excerpts, 1969)
This was followed by Virgina Anderson (who wrote a thesis on Cardew and the Scratch) gives an introduction to the Scratch. This seems to be from a podcast that she is doing on British Experimental Music but I’m not sure if it is actually available. Carole is then joined by Hugh Shrapnel who plays 4 piano pieces he wrote between 1970-1973 during the Scratch: a) Lullaby b) Le Shell for the Promenade Theatre Orchestra c) Aria from Sweet FA, b) Ursa Fling
There is more chatting and piano from Hugh and then Frank Abbot, who discovered the Scratch thanks to a friend into avant Jazz. After seeing them perform he joined the group. They played an 8 min piece of his that he spliced together from cell phone recordings he made with the visual artist Duncan Higgen. The segment concludes with Carole playing the banjo: two pieces by Howard Skempton Banjo Piece for Carole from 1970 and another short one from 1972. and a recorded piece by Micheal Parson for Carole’s 70th Birthday (from a recording) and a reading from Tilbury’s Cardew bio.
2) Forty Years from Scratch: Keith Rowe
When the schedule for this was first announced I was rather surprised that what with all the key members they were talking with Keith Rowe wasn’t among them. So when the program was finalized I was pleased to see they had added Ed Baxter talking to Keith Rowe on the phone
He begins by asking Keith what he’d been doing when the Scratch was formed which was of course AMM which Keith described as the most important musical thing he’s done in his life. He described Scratch as an extension of the way that Cardew was dealing with notation. The orchestra as notation. Did the Scratch Orchestra impact AMM Ed inquired: ” Not really.” Cor was kind of moving on from AMM having “figured” them out and needed more challenges. Keith felt his role in the Scratch was as an orchestral member, he never wrote any pieces for it.
I found the section of the interview about the political transformation to be the most surprising. How the Scratch and Cardew in particular became so politicized is a big part of Tilbury’s Cardew biography but Cardew’s transformation from being rather apolitical to a complete radical is still somewhat mysterious. But he does imply that Keith became totally transformed (though no explanation of how that happened) and that he was a major influence on Cardew and this was a big part of it. I can’t help but wonder if the way this was presented in the bio influenced Keith’s thinking on this. In this interview he says:
“.. At the time it was uncomfortable but [we felt] necessary. We were ‘politically clumsy’, not to say that the content of what we were trying to do was wrong but the way we did it was really, really clumsy. … I guess it would have all been avoidable and I feel a great responsibility for its ultimate demise but maybe it would have demised anyway in one or two years but in a less spectacular fashion. Who knows?”…” Humanly clumsy; the way we dealt with people.” [emphasis mine]
They return to the music with Ed asking was was the best aspect of the SO for Keith to which he replied, the all-over nature of the Scratch ala abstract expressionism. The interview concludes with some discussion of Keith’s current activities which have been playing in the pit for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company with Christian Wolff and Takahashi Kosugi. These sound as interesting as ever for the Merce Cunningham dance company – wish I could have seen some of these.
3) Forty Years from Scratch: Parsons in the Afternoon
This segment with Scratch Orchestra co-founder Michael Parsons begins with a section from the Scratch’s Pilgrimage to Scattered Points of the Body to the Brain, Inner Ear, Heart and Stomach from Queen Elizabeth Hall 1970. This piece was a typical Scratch concert in that it involved a lot of disparate material being played simultaneously. A number of sections from this concert was played throughout the 36 hours and it seems to be one of the better recorded concerts they have. A CD (or even better a DVD with some of the filmed material as well) release of this would be I think a valuable addition to the Scratch Body of work.
The Scratch OrchestraPilgrimage to Scattered Points.. (excerpt, 1970)
After the above chunk of Scratch music Parsons then has a discussion with Seymour Wright, Sebastian Lexar and John Lely, emphasizing the legacy of Scratch on later generations of British improvisers. John Lely is a British composer who studied with John Tilbury and Micheal Parsons and has played with Scratch stalwart John White. Lely first encountered the Scratch in Micheal Nyman’s Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond and he said it was the Scratch scores in the book that immediately appealed to him. The accessibility and informality of the musical approach, that anyone could do it with any objects. Wright and Lexar are both members of Eddie Prévost’s long running improvisation workshops and clearly have transmitted some of the ethics and methods of the Scratch to the younger generation. Wright cites a direct oral tradition from form members citing Tilbury, Prévost, Rowe and Jackman in specific. Lexar who took piano lessons from Tilbury said that Scratch stuff would occasionally crop up but that it was a lengthy process the transmission of the approach. Cardew’s notion that music is a dimension of perfectly ordinary reality was stressed by Wright and Lexar. Wright states that walking through London to the studio is no different then the performing that they’d be doing later on.
Parsons described how a number of the Scratch composers, including himself, Skempton, Hobbs etc went on to the LMC where their influence passed on to some degree. Then in the 90s he wrote a number of open pieces for Apartment House who are a group that certainly worked in the spirit of the experimental music of the 60s. He played several of his piece’s as interpreted by Apartment House, first Rythmic Canons which he wrote in 1998 for Apartment House followed by Sustained Sounds with Percussion. The first piece has a dynamic rhythmic feel rather like Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians and the second more or less sounded as the title indicated with a fairly spare feel. Later Parsons played a third piece of his performed by Apartment House that was of an indeterminate nature called Glissandi and Woodblocks.
“Inexperienced Improvisers tend to be playing for themselves. With experience one learns to listen and to respond and to leave space for other people.” – John Lely
There was a lot more in this segment, really one of the most interesting dealing with the ongoing legacy of the Scratch. The importance of Eddie Prévosts workshop was stressed and there was a bit of discussion on how those ran. The role of listening and responsibility of the player to work with the others was stressed. Also the moral element of the workshops. Lely: “Its a very serious occupation…Its partly to do with restraint and allowing other people to have space around them”. At one point Wright asks Parsons about the ideas behind the genesis of the Scratch Parsons cites Cages Black Mountain College happening with Cunningham, Rauschenberg, Tudor et al. The influence of Cage is cited over and over again among the 36 hours, from a live concert in London of the Cunningham Dance company with the Rauschenberg sets and Cage and Tudor performing that many of the members say, to Cardew’s closeness to the New York School and so on. He traces the notions even further back to Man Ray and Duchamp, once again connecting the visual arts to experimental music. Wright tries to insist on some sort of British experimental tradition but they had nothing to back this up. After this there was some interesting discussion on notation and Wright pointed out how useful the material in the Scratch Book has been for him, filled with ideas and notations that he can put to use.
Quite a bit of music was played throughout this block, new recordings from this younger generation. An excerpt from Wright and Lexars excellent duo blasen, and several pieces from John Lely’s including aduo with Scratch stalwart John White, amusing entitled LelyWhite and his Parsons Code for Melodic Contours. The final piece in this block was an extract from Lely’s Mechanical Rite which was a kind of an sample based take on the Scratch’s improvisational rites. There was a lot in this two hour block and I really only touched on it in this overly lengthy writeup but the primary notion is that the influences from the Scratch are legion amongst the current crop of British Improvisers and clearly the transmission continues. i found a lot in this segment highly interesting as of course I am quite involved in current trends in improvisation and it was really current improv that lead me back to Cardew and the Scratch in the first place.
4)Forty Years from Scratch: Independent Pulses 5) Forty Years from Scratch: Some M-Chanted Evening
While there were completely set programs for every hour of the 36 things got progressively looser and some things ended up not happening. This block of programs covering four hours all kind of merged together. There was more chat with Michael Parsons followed by a live performance of his Independent Pulses. There was a bit from the Scratch jukebox after this, Howard Skempton playing a couple of pieces on the accordion. This was followed by Haydn Dickenson playing two Cardew piano pieces, Croppy Boy and Father Murphy, followed by short extract from an Eddie Prévost improvisation.
Cornelius CardewSong of Pleasure from Schooltime Compositions
performed live in studio by Harry Gilonis, Psi Ellison, Derek Barker, Hugh Shrapnel and Frank Abbot
Next up was another in studio performance this time Cardew’s Song of Pleasure performed live in studio. There was some filler as then transitioned into Michal Chant including Pilgrimage 1 & 2 from Pilgrimage to Scattered Points of the Body to the Brain, Inner Ear. Heart and Stomach. and Laurie Bakers Circle Piece from 1970.
Laurie BakerCircle Piece (1970, performed by Scratch members)
It evolved into Micheal Chant first talking but mostly playing One Day in the Life of John Tilbury, a 24 hour piano piece that he wrote for John TIlbury’s 60th birthday. This gets played on and off throughout this marathon broadcast. Its a nice rather minimalist type of piece with slow repeated phrases. The first performance of the piece was actually over 24 hours by multiple performers for Carole Finer’s 70th birthday. This is a nice relaxing piece, that I could definitely see having on for hours in the background.
6) Forty Years From Scratch: Mao destroyed my Band
The Scratch Orchestra’s agent, Victor Schonfield, is interviewed by Ed Baxter. Schonfield set up concerts as Music Now for many British musicians including AMM, Cornelius Cardew, John Tilbury, Christopher Hobbs, John White and the Scratch itself. As an agent Schonfield didn’t get rich didn’t even really make money at all. He mainly worked to get gigs for those he represented but his main interest was to put on shows he wanted to see. “It was a way to enable me to listen to as much music as possible”. He was interestingly frank about the things he didn’t like; he wasn’t a fan of The Great Learning which he felt was the exact opposite of everything the Scratch Orchestra stood for. The best performance ever in his opinion was the Schooltime Compositions performance at the ICA pre-Scratch. What he loved about the Scratch it was the “One and only John Cage Big Band (or Orchestra)”. He disliked how legalistic it was and he disliked the sub-groups that played straight music. He felt this was too choir boyish.
“I got driven out of supporting music by the Scratch Orchestra as much as anything”
On the politicization he was unimpressed as he had done actual political work for the Labour Party for years and felt that the Scratch’s sudden politicization was naive and ineffectual. He once lectured the members of AMM in the mid sixties about their total indifference toward politics and the world outside of music. He also describes Keith Rowe as being early and particularly politicized and stressed his closeness to Cardew. Most of the music though he felt wasn’t any help promoting the political ideas behind it. He described the political music of the Scratch as as “Fascist Sunday school hymns. Sunday school hymns talking about the musicological aspect, fascist in the sense of revealed authority, giving no scope for interpretation or ambivalence, ‘this is the message you’ve got to like it or lump it.’ ” He thought almost all of the political material was rubbish though he gave the PLA some props. He also quite liked Cardew’s piece ‘10,000 nails in the Coffin of Imperialism” which I have to say is a great score which would be great to hear live. His final analysis was that you can do better work directly in politics and that political music never really does much good and thus he moved on to directly trying to move the Labour Party to the left in the mid 70s.
“They did lots of activities that you had to watch or there was nothing there.”
Schonfield’s analysis of the Scratch is actually some of the most astute in this whole program. He connects much of the activities to Cage’s notion of combing music with other activities. Up to half of the actions going on in a Scratch performance maybe no sound Schoenfeld. Activities that don’t make any sound but are timed or scored. He gives the example of Cage’s Waterwalk but with forty or fifty people doing it all at once over wide area. The surprising things that would crop up in performance were Schoenfelds most treasured moments, inserting folk music into the piece, or a short tenor sax obbligatos and short melodic phrases from Lou Gare or a small group spontaneously singing a fragment of a pop song.
Stay tuned for part two of my examination of this epic broadcast.