Entries tagged with “London”.

“Certainly what I do on the guitar is there without me playing it.”
– Keith Rowe(3)

This is the last of the early boots that have been leaked to the nets. This set occurred about two weeks after the previous one and is most likely the lineup of Cardew, Gare, Prévost and Rowe and possibly Hobbs (*see note below). While that set had that chamber feel to it with multiple bowed string instruments, this one differs in many ways yet feels informed by it. It has a very electronic, controlled noise feel in the beginning with the percussion sounding mechanical and various statics, pure tones and electronically amplified scrapes, buzzes and the like. It then enters a very spacious period, where drumming (very traditional jazz style), isolated piano clusters and a murmur of bowed instruments come in and out. Quite a bit of radio or tape or both in this one especially toward the end. Overall there is that uneasiness and tension from the previous set, but the variety of sounds used is a lot wider.

AMM – London 3 February 1970

This one begins tentatively, with a rattling metallic percussion, static and this intermittent high whistling sound. The occasional beat of a drum accentuates this rather mechanical noise. A bit into this a warbling bowing sound can be heard now and again pretty buried below the other sounds. A piano note or two. Then it drops dead. A bell rings out and then some squeaky bowing comes in and rises in volume.This doesn’t last and the playing becoming bursts of sound in space. Quiet piano chords, short snare rolls, guitar hum comes in and goes. Some faint radio at one points rises almost inaudibly in a fairly quiet place, so not much volume. Eddie then seriously picks up the snare rolls, not so much playing loudly as continuously and to this the piano responds accordingly. Again they break off and it becomes more pointalistic; electronics swelling via volume pedals, percussion effects, choppy bowing. More aggressive piano chords.

Things become very spacious, the piano plays short melodic figures, a persistent electronic hum, squeaks as of rubbed drumheads, the radio or tape coming in and then fading away, a cymbal crash.  Things meander for a bit before picking up again, once again led by the drums, this time a furious assault on a tom or bongo. Some kind of Cecil Taylor-ish figures on the piano, fingernails on chalk bowing and muffled radio. Again the dense part doesn’t last and fades to a persistent low volume wail, like an ebow’d string, quite piano notes, bowed metal, the occasional voice from the radio. After a bit of this a real beat driven thing come on the radio, to which the piano responds with a ragtime fragment of the Ode to Joy, and everyone else does this holding pattern of sounds – quite rattly percussion, low bowing and so on. The radio doesn’t last long but this uneasy, persistence does. Some louder percussion is brought in and the bowing becomes more aggressive. Things really quiet down from here, a background of humming, quiet percussion very steady state. Radio again briefly appears, with a snippet of the Beatles as does bowing of a sliding nature. Very electronic sounding in this bit almost like an ambient fadeout -if it was done on a factory floor with some of the machines winding down. In the last minute again the drums go crazy, almost in a full on drum solo. Clearly a full kit was present at this session. The piano tries to fight through this, with low end chord crashes, and there is a persistent electronic buzz and then the tape ends.

“This improvisation is inherently about problem-solving; it’s inherently dialogical.”
– Edwin Prévost (3)

The feeling to me of this one is that of a desire to not develop anything too far where too far is defined by the individual player. For some things this may be only a fragment of sound for others it may take a minute or five but nothing overstays its welcome. Now you might argue that this is what makes improvised music good in general, but as a deliberate strategy it creates something markedly different then just sensitive playing. Not to mention that this is quite different from later AMM with its layers of continuous sound. This constraint (if it really is one beyond my speculation of course) curtails droning, overuse of the same sound world, reliance on established gestures and so on. When allowed those things can all be great and used well and thus argued to not overstay their welcome. But in this piece it feels like a deliberate strategy and it gives a markedly different feel to it. At times it can kind of hint at insect music with a variety of short sounds coming and going, but as other sounds can last a few minutes or longer this is never a dominate mode. Especially as the individual players may not be synchronized in how long the develop what they are playing, so you get a nice overlapping of short quick events, with longer more developed ones.  Overall an interesting effect that gives this a brooding feel but with a prickly surface.

There has been some question as to the AMM lineup at this time in various places including in the published sources. My primary source has been Prévost’s article AMM 1965/1994 — a brief and mostly chronological historical summary published in No Sound is Innocent(4, p. 185-186) namely this quote:

From the early 1970s until the fracture of AMM in 1972 the ensemble remained the quartet: Cardew, Gare, Prévost and Rowe.” (4, p.185)

However the AMM Factsheet in the Crypt Liner notes(8) states that Hobbs is still part of the group as of October 1970. Now while the Crypt Factsheet is quite possibly fraught with errors one would that this basic fact would be correct.  Finally the most recent and specific confirmation comes from John Tilbury’s recent biography of Cardew where he states that Hobbs “had already left the group in May 1971”(7, p.650). This I think has to be the case as the degree of scholarship is so high in this book and Tilbury was of course present and friends with all the principles. I’ll rely on his legwork with having asked all of the surving members of AMM w/r/t this issue.

All that being said I still don’t think that Hobbs was present at this concert. There is  plenty of documented cases of additions or subtractions from the group on a show by show basis, and clearly at some points people couldn’t make the gigs.  So my basic operating procedure has been to follow the lineup as the sources indicate, but to also follow the evidence of my ears.  The previously reviewed recording from January, does sound like there are five disparate sound sources and the most likely case would be that it is Hobbs. In this recording it sounds like four members and certainly there is little aural evidence for dual percussionists.  Barring confirmation from principles or contemporary sources this is I think the best that can be done.


1) Cornelius Cardew, Towards an Ethic of Improvisation Cornelius Cardew(1936-1981): A Reader, Copula 2006
2) Notes on AMM: Entering and Leaving History Stuart Broomer, CODA Magazine no. 290. 2000
3) Meta Machine Music, Rob Young, The Wire Issue #132 (February 1995)
4) Edwin Prévost, No Sound is Innocent, Copula, 1995
5) The AMM page at the European Free Improvisation Home
6) Keith Rowe interview by Dan Warburton at Paris Transatlantic
7) John Tilbury, Cornelius Cardew: A Life Unfinished, Copula, 2008
8) AMM Factsheet, The Crypt Liner Notes (not online), Matchless Recordings 1992

AMM in 1968


A couple of years back a collection of AMM boots appeared online that came with no documentation but were clearly from the same source. The 60’s AMM was the most exploratory and really revolutionary version of the group and while they kept up their uncompromising approach to music making, during this period there was no limitations. You could argue that eventually they created their own set of limitations, while AMMMusic may once have been defined by what it was not, in later years AMMMusic was clearly its own sound. The fundamental nature of what AMM is and more importantly isn’t was only really obliquely discussed outside of the group. The fact that they did reject many conventions of music is known, but there is no list of what was “in” or “out”. The musical documentation gives us the clues toward this and in the 60’s material you can hear things being removed and added between the recordings. So in these posts I’m analyzing the AMM recordings from this perspective: how do they fit into what we know, and what else can we learn from them. This post examines a recording from 1969 the only other AMM bootleg that I have from the 60’s. At this point Lawrence Scheaff would have left the group leaving the quartet of Rowe, Prévost, Cardew and Gare with the addition of Christopher Hobbs and possibly also Christian Wolff.

AMM – London 16 March 1969


The tape begins with the group already in the midst of a  maelstrom of percussion at that reminds me of the tribal organized chaos of the mass percussion sections of Cardew’s The Great Learning. From this peak it slowly backs down and sounds of flutes, metal percussion and a wandering hum perhaps from Rowe’s guitar become audible. This eventually works its way all the way to silence with the minutes before being small percussive sounds and various rattles, scrapes and buzzes.With the space now opened up a variety of sounds twinkle out of the darkness. One amusing bit is what sounds like recorder (or flute I suppose) playing a bit of an advertisement jingle. Another sound is a very electronic tone, almost sine wave like most likely from feedback. Bell like percussion, a distant grinding sound that reveals itself to be sax and bits and pieces of traditional drums and percussion. This all increases in frequency becoming a swirling stew of sounds that are still isolated and not overly dense.

The density begins to increase with snare rolls, long low tons on the sax and a sustained wind like electronic wail that’d either be Rowe or amplified cello. Again this fades away this time down to near silence with the quietest bowed cello and rare taps on a drum. The cello picks it up, with a kind of melodic sawing that is then complemented by a sustained electronic tone. This part hums along with a barely controlled malice that explodes in short burst of dry loud bowing, drum bashes and electronic squiggles. Eventually this loud moaning sound is brought in and out, never sustained too long but wholly dominating when it does. Again things mellow out, this set really is a roller coaster of density this time with hollow percussive sounds, either a mallets on cymbal or faint electronics and what sounds like whistling in the far background.

Back into spacious territory around the half way point some really interesting sounds are placed into near silence. Some very low sax moans that hover right on the edge of sax feedback. Later squeaks from the sax as drum rolls come and go while Rowe’s guitar evokes a metal object being dragged across a cement floor. Quite a bit of this half of the show is in this territory of isolated sounds, small swells and perceptible gaps. There is a pointillistic nature to this section, different from the “insect music” of some EFI as the sounds themselves can be of long durations. It is much more an element of restraint, not feeling a need to play. Putting a sound out there without consequence of what ever else may be going on. The last few minutes of this show feature some much more dramatic sounds, but still fairly isolated so not leading toward any sort of wall of sound. Some frantic electronic wails, muscular drumming and assaultive percussion in the main. These elements layer on top of each other at the very end and just as it becomes mass of serious density the tape ends.

“In 1965, AMM began a radically different kind of Music-making. The prevalent notions of musical theory, practice, hierarchy and structure (thematic reference, jumping-off points — for example the ‘head’ arrangements from which improvisation lifted off — and even the relatively informal criteria of the then ‘free jazz’ movement) were replaced by the creation of, and engagement with, a soundworld in which there was not even a formal beginning and ending.”
– Edwin Prévost (2, p.9)


Structurally this piece differs from the earlier piece. That one really had these clearly defined segments where they would work at one dynamic level for some time. In this one it is much more roller coaster like as I think my attempt to describe its changes above indicates.  This in fact is a constant in the other early bootlegs that I have. I think that it is reasonable to imagine that a tendency toward an obvious structure was noted and was added to the list of things that should be discarded. This is an aspect that you would see especially in the later AMM, often described as “timeless”, “floating” and “nearly static”. It is in these early pieces that you can hear them developing and discarding things as they work from what they know and from what they are hearing in others to a total disconnection to that.


1) Notes on AMM: Entering and Leaving History Stuart Broomer, CODA Magazine no. 290. 2000
2) Edwin Prévost, No Sound is Innocent, Copula, 1995
3) The AMM page at the European Free Improvisation Home
4) Keith Rowe interview by Dan Warburton at Paris Transatlantic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional (11.04.09):

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

AMM – ICA London 23.03.66

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


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