Entries tagged with “Rohan de Saram”.

There has been some question as to the AMM lineup at various points in their history.  It is a complicated issue considering that the group has been around for nearly fifty years now and has constantly changed its membership over the years.  Additionally there have been plenty of guests, members at large and collaborative performances to further complicate the issue. Over the course of my reviews of the various bootlegs floating around I have made various assumptions w/r/t to the line up on a particular recording, some of which have conflicted with the information circulating with the sources.  In general the information that comes with the sources is highly suspect – they simply use information that is highly generalized or from sources that are not particularly accurate (the AMM page on Wikipedia is fairly useless for instance).  My process is to always start with principle sources, amend it with secondary sources and then to finally rely on the evidence of my ears. Based on this process I have complied the following timeline of AMM’s membership, all of which is verified via the sources cited.

AMM Timeline


Early 1965
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare(1)


Mid 1965
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare, Lawrence Sheaff (1, 5)

1966 to mid-1967
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare, Lawrence Sheaff, Cornelius Cardew (1, 2)

Cardew officially joins in January(2; p. 254)

Mid-1967 to April 1968
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare, Cornelius Cardew (1, 2, 8)

Lawrence Sheaff leaves group a few months after recording AMMMusic (8, 5, 1; p185) probably April 20th 1967

April 1968 to 1969
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare, Cornelius Cardew, Christian Wolff, Christopher Hobbs (1, 2, 5)

Christopher Hobbs joins April 1968 (2; p. 304)
Christian Wollf’s Sabbatical Year(1; p.185, 2; p.304)
John Tilbury filling in for Cardew at times
(1; p.185)

1969 to May 1971
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare, Cornelius Cardew, Christopher Hobbs (1, 2, 5)

Hobbs leaves the group in May 1971(2, p.650)

May 1971 to March 1972
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare, Cornelius Cardew (1, 2; p.650)

March 26th 1972 – final AMM show(2; p. 651)

AMM: double duos

March 1972 to January 1973

The occasional double AMM:  Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare and Cornelius Cardew, Keith Rowe(1, 2; p. 651)


mid-1972 to 1975
Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare (1, 2, 3)


Summer 1976
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare, Cornelius Cardew(1; p.186, 2l p.816)

Unrecorded, no performances, practices only, which apparently didn’t work out.


1977 to 1979
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost (1, 2, 3)

(1979/80:  Supersession: Evan Parker/Keith Rowe/Barry Guy/Edwin Prévost)


late 1980 to 1986
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, John Tilbury  (1, 3)

1986 to 1994
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, John Tilbury, Rohan de Saram (1, 3)

1989(?) to 1992
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, John Tilbury, Rohan de Saram, Lou Gare(4)

1994 to mid-2004
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, John Tilbury

May 1st 2004:  Final AMM show


2005 to present
Edwin Prévost, John Tilbury


The sixties are of course the most contentious, being a long time ago and featuring the largest amount of changes. Cardew joining, Sheaff leaving in 1967, Hobbs and Wolff joining and then the fracture in the 70s. Tilbury’s Cardew bio goes a long way to providing specific dates for some events though others remain somewhat vague (no specific date for Sheaff leaving the group for instance just “April 1967, though his last concert with the group is mentioned, as being at the Commonwealth Institute which the Factsheet(5) lists only one in April on the 20th.

1968 to 1970
The information that I begin with for AMM from 1968 to their breakup in 1972 is primarily sourced from Prévost’s article AMM 1965/1994 — a brief and mostly chronological historical summary published in No Sound is Innocent(4) :

In 1968 American composer Christian Wolff joined the ensemble for the duration of his sabbatical year in Britain. Also during this time Christopher Hobbs, a percussionist and composition student of Cardew’s, at the Royal Academy of Music, regularly performed with AMM. John Tilbury occasionally participated when Cardew was not present.

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

1969 is a question: was Christian Wolff’s “sabbatical year” – was it a school year, so Autumn 1968 to Summer 1969? Or was it literally 1968?  Additionally by saying that Hobbs played “during this time” does Prévost mean exclusively during Wolff’s time? Considering that Hobbs is part of the group for The Crypt sessions (12th June, 1968) but not Wolff I’d say this is the case.  This is further backed up by the fact that Hobbs was part of the group ion December 1969 when they played in Denmark as released as part of the Laminal box set. Thus I think that that sentence is too compress, it seems that Hobbs was a part of AMM from 1968/1969 presumably starting around the time that Wolff did. Alas there are no AMM recordings floating around with Christian Wolff , leaving this as one of the most egregious missing eras in the historical record. In the various bootlegs floating around It seems to be generally assumed that Hobbs is still part of group in 1970 and there has been some question as to why I don’t always follow this assumption. Again it is the above quote that by “early 1970 the ensemble remained the quartet”.  Clearly Hobbs left at this point but what exactly qualifies as the “early 70s”? Of the two bootlegs that I have in question from this period (Jan. and Feb. 1970) it sounds like there are two percussionists in the January recording and only one on the February recording. Thus I make the cutoff here.

In the 70s the originally group came to an end but several interesting events occurred. First off due to prior commitments the group had a tour and a festival in the Netherlands. With irreconcilable differences between the Rowe/Cardew and Gare/Prévost camps they played as the double duos. Gare/Prévost presumably playing as they would in AMM II but the Cardew/Rowe duo is completely unheard at this point. The record indicates that they were more in the traditionally abstract AMM realm (as opposed to Gare/Prévost’s more ‘free jazz’ sound) and would often play over tapes of the Peking Opera and other such revolutionary sound musics). AMM II would be the other major event of the mid 70s, this was the continuing duo of Gare and Prévost, who constantly got billed as AMM so they rolled with it. At the end of the 70s when the duo of Rowe and Prévost formed they used AMM III a the moniker indicated that the Gare/Prévost duo was AMM II, which I’ve used throughout.

The most strange and interesting things though occurred in 1976 when Rowe made an attempt to get the quartet back together again. There was a concert on April 1st of that year that Rowe refers to as a “hidden” AMM concert that included himself, Cardew and Prévost plus flautist John Wesley-Barker and double-bassist Marcio Mattos(2; p. 816). This event has been heretofore unknown only revealed in Tilbury’s massive Cardew biography.  The other event, more well known, was a series of practices in June of 1976 of the quarter of Gare, Cardew, Prévost and Rowe(2; p.816).  These apparently didn’t work out and Tilbury cites Gare as feeling that Cardew didn’t have the level of commitment necessary and abandoned the attempt.

This is basically the question of Rohan de Saram. He was definitely considered part of the group, but he clearly was the one with the most demanding schedule (being a member of the Arditti String Quartet at this time) and thus there are cases of the trio AMM as well as a quartet with Lou Gare.  There also are various lineups with the clarinettist Ian Mitchell (quartet and quintet with de Saram) but I tend to think of those as more guest spots as I would the occasional shows with Evan Parker.

1989 to 1992
The early 90s quintet AMM was something I only stumbled upon during the course of this review process. I have a bootleg from 1987 from this quintet and in the course of my research I found this line in the updated CD liner notes accompanying the CD release of The Crypt:

“And the band goes on: for to date we have still not recorded the current quintet line-up of de Saram, Gare, Prévost, Rowe and Tilbury.” – Edwin Prévost, Februrary 1992(5)

This version never would be recorded and it seemed that Gare left again soon after. De Saram would soon follow though there would be the occasional gig through at least 1994.

After Rowe left AMM in 2005, Tilbury and Prévost made the controversial decision to continue on as AMM as a duo. I refer to this as AMM IV as per Rowe’s definition that AMM should be at least trio with himself and Prévost at the core.  It is interesting to note that AMM IV now often plays with other musicians but they are always listed as “AMM+” indicating that these are all guest spots. These guests have included Sachiko M, Christian Wolff and John Butcher among others (see the comments for more info).


1) Edwin Prévost, No Sound is Innocent, Copula, 1995
2) John Tilbury, Cornelius Cardew: A Life Unfinished, Copula, 2008
3) Notes on AMM: Entering and Leaving History Stuart Broomer, CODA Magazine no. 290. 2000
4) Edwin Prévost, The Crypt Liner notes, 1992 (Matchless)
5) AMM FactsheetThe Crypt Liner Notes (not online), Matchless Recordings 1992
6) The AMM page at the European Free Improvisation Home
7) Meta Machine Music, Rob Young, The Wire Issue #132 (February 1995)
8) Edwin Prévost, AMMMusic Liner Notes (originally published in RER Quarterly vol.2 no.2, Nov. 1988)

As I’ve intimated elsewhere the music that is really exciting me these day is modern composition, particularly that of the experimental composers. While I had listened to some of the experimental composers prior to my interest in contemporary improvisation it was really circling back to them from that perspective that really captivated me. I’ve since come to the conclusion that the improv I was particularly enjoying was that which was exploring the ideas of the experimentalists in improvisation. Of course a lot of so called “eai” wasn’t doing this, which I think partially explains why there are large segments of that music that don’t appeal to me. Anyway of late I’ve found that going back to the source has been a lot more rewarding for me and one thing I’ve quite enjoyed has been people that are involved in both worlds. Last years recording of four pages of Cornelius Cardew’s Treatise (Planam) by Keith Rowe and Oren Ambarchi is a good example as would be John Cage’s Four6 by Tom Chant, Angharad Davies, Benedict Drew, John Edwards on the otherwise unremarkable Decentered (Another Timbre). Of course last year was strong with new takes by established classical performers of pieces from the experimentalists, John Tilbury’s beautiful rendition of Morton Feldman’s Triadic Memories leading the pack. Historically interesting recordings such as the Treatise from the Quax Ensemble on Mode and new recordings of very recent pieces from Christian Wolff and James Tenney on New World made for a solid year of music for those who share my interests.

Morton Feldman Trio (Mode)Though still in the first month of 2010 this year is already shaping up to be another banner year for this music that is capturing my interests.  A couple of weeks back I got a copy of the new recording of Morton Feldman‘s 1980 composition Trio released on DVD by Mode.  I’ve watched this DVD several times since then and left it running with the TV off several other times.  This performance by Aki Takahashi (piano), Rohan de Saram (cello) and Marc Sabat (violin) is sublime and the quality of the recording is amazing. It’s recorded in the 24/96 standard which is much higher than what CD’s are recorded at and also I believe in surround sound. I only have a stereo so I can’t take full advantage of the surround but the stereo spatialization is very nice. Anyway its the sound of the instruments that really matters to me and they are remarkable in this piece. The piano is so rich and reverberant, audible throughout the entirety of its decay, more so then I’ve ever heard on any recording. The violin and cello, sometimes played as one in a dry wheezing chord, at other times contrasting in their separate registers are equally well presented. I don’t think I’ve heard a recording that sounds more like I was actually there than this one.

The performance of the piece is equally stunning, with Rohan de Saram gently “conducting” with his head as the play through this piece over a very leisurely 1’45” which again thanks to the format you can enjoy uninterrupted. All the sounds are given their full weight and time, perfectly placed in the space.  I have a copy of Trio that was released on the HatART label performed by members of the Ives Ensemble and I always thought of it as a rather minor work. This version, about thirty minutes longer, brings out so much more in the piece and I really prefer how it is played. Piano is the key to Feldman for me, his compositions, solo or ensemble, with piano are my favorites and just seem the most representative of the essence of his compositions.  The pianist is thus supremely important and while I love the Ives Ensemble I’ve never quite liked John Snijders piano as much as some of the other Feldman interpreters. I mean his playing is very, very good and all the recordings I have of him playing Feldman are completely acceptable. But for me I think that the piano player needs to be almost transcendental to really get to that essence of Feldman’s work. Tilbury of course is my favorite, but Aki Takahashi is I think one of the top tier, especially for the chamber pieces. There is no other cellist that I’d like to hear playing  Feldman more than Rohan de Saram and his performance here is exquisite. Perfectly played as he marks the time keeping the ensemble in order.  The cello can be such a rich, reverberant instrument and Feldman works with that, as well as the dry, flat sounds he so often evokes from string instruments. Finally Marc Sabat is fairly new to me, though I know he has been involved in several of the Mode Feldman edition releases now. In this piece the violin seems mainly in line with the cello, though there are certainly parts where all of the instruments seem to be in opposition to each other.  Sabat’s playing seems really fine to me here and I’m definitely interested in hearing more of his work.

For various reasons I’ve somewhat avoided the Mode Feldman releases but on hearing this piece completely open up for me I’m definitely going to check out a bit more of their Feldman Edition.

Lost DaylightEarlier this week I got the four new releases in the “piano series” put out by the Another Timbre label (read a review of all four here). While I am of course interested in listening to the entire series, the long awaited John Tilbury release has gotten almost all of my attention so far.  Announced almost at the beginning of the label’s history (it’s AT 10, the most recent is AT 25) it contains recordings of solo piano pieces by the minimalist Terry Jennings plus an innovative working of John Cage’s Electric Music for Piano.  The Terry Jenning’s pieces are sublime, delicate piano miniatures from 1958-66 that anticipate Feldman’s late piano pieces in their soft, deliberate nature if not their length. Jennings is woefully underrepresented in performance and recordings, I can only think of a few other pieces of his that I’ve heard. Thus it is a wonderful gift to hear some of his piano pieces so perfectly played by Tilbury on this recording. There is sound and silence and a sense of waiting in these pieces;  patient and without any anxiety.

It is music of simplicity and great mystery. There are bar lines, but nothing feels counted: things happen in moments and not measures. There is always time for the resonance of the piano. (Is there any player better at feeling this resonance than John Tilbury?) The sounds drift, suspended in a dense medium of some kind. The shape of a piece emerges gradually, like the hills appearing as the marine layer burns off. Each piece feels like a small even extended in time” – Micheal Pisaro from the liner notes to the Jennings pieces.

The bulk of the album is a near forty minute realization of John Cage’s Electric Music for Piano, which was written for David Tudor in 1964 as a set of loose instructions for combing several disparate elements. These elements are instructions for use of parts of Cage’s Music for Piano 4-84, realized using electronic equipment (the score mentions microphones, amplifiers and oscilloscope) and constellations from an astronomical chart. John Tilbury performs this piece as a duo with Sebastian Lexer handling the electronics (you can hear an earlier take on this piece by them here (scroll to the bottom)). Lexer has developed this system he refers to as Piano+ which is basically the piano captured by microphones and manipulated by MAX/MSP patches of his own devising. Of course MAX/MSP manipulation of the piano is an academic trope done enough so that even the most varied of patches share a certain amount of familiarity. Lexer’s solo release Dazwischen on the Matchless label aptly displays these tropes and the kind of digital excess that MSP can lead to. But in the case of this piece, in I think attempting to capture aspect of Tudor’s electronics, which often used cascading amplification, feedback, phase shifting and other simple and frankly abused electronics, these excesses are mostly avoided. Which isn’t to say there isn’t the occasional bit of cheesily delayed tones, autopanning or video game type of sounds, just never to any sort of excess. Most of the time the sounds seem to be more faint crackles, distorted piano tones, restrained feedback and the like.  The piece is remarkable in its spaciousness and subtlety with the most dramatic parts coming from the piano: crashes of the lid or bangs on the body or strings.  The setup of the electronics itself as well as the excerpts from Music for Piano and finally the editing of the piece all used overlaid astronomical charts to arrange their construction. This adds additional layers of indeterminacy to the  piece and fully succeeds in Lexer’s stated desire to “… go beyond a realisation that comprised of simply adding electronic effects to the piano”.  With a piece like this one is always going to be in the shadow of Tudor and I think that Tilbury and Lexer succeeded admirably in creating a realization that is fully their own but acknowledges this influence. Tilbury’s pianism is markedly different from Tudor’s though I’d say they share many a common goal. As an example of how they are different but akin Tudor’s realizations of Feldman’s indeterminate pieces are I think far superior to Tilbury’s but I would definitely rather hear Tilbury handle the late Feldman. The two pianists strengths I think lie in different areas even if their sympathies are closely aligned. Likewise the electronics that Lexer employs, digital simulations of analog effects, are a far cry from the wild, on the edge, virtuoso electronics of Tudor. And he makes no attempt here to cavort in that territory. It is far more restrained and safe then Tudor and yet it nods toward it, acknowledges the sounds if not the application. This makes the piece theirs and it is a remarkable bit of music, something that is simultaneously new and old a piece of music that could really be read as an application of new technology and ideas to older music that is open to such experiments.

The beautiful Jennings pieces and the thoroughly engaging Cage realization make for a varied and fantastic CD. One of the best releases yet on Another Timbre and absolutely well worth picking up.

For fans of the music under discussion here 2010 will clearly be another solid year. The above two releases are an incredible start, recordings that I’m sure will remain favorites throughout the year. There is a lot more to look forward to this year though, as there are two releases forthcoming that are sure to be among the years best:

Bandoneon !David Tudor Bandoneon !  (a combine)  (E.A.T./ArtPix/Microcinema)
Another DVD from the 9 Evenings of Theatre & Engineering concerts, this one featuring an early David Tudor composition that has never been released.  In this piece Tudor plays a bandoneon (a sort of accordion) manipulated with electronics and controlling some sort of visual projection system. This is one of the essential steps that Tudor took toward becoming a composer and his focus on live electronics. The combination of acoustic instruments and electronics is an area I’m fascinated by and something I’ve worked with a lot with my Prepared Wire Strung Harp. Tudor with pieces such as this one, his realization of Cage’s
Variations II and the like really pioneered this whole area and getting a chance to hear and see this seminal piece is something I’m looking forward to more then anything else this year.

The other essential forthcoming release is the first of a series of DVD-Audio discs of John Tilbury playing Feldman pieces with the Smith Quartet. I’ve long wanted to hear some of Feldman’s Piano and … pieces with Tilbury and I can’t say how excited I am to finally get the chance. For John Cage and Piano and String Quartet are two of my favorites in this category making this DVD even more exciting. The only wildcard here is the Smith Quartet of whom I’m completely ignorant but the seem to have a good history and a sold pedigree.

Morton Feldman Music For Piano And Strings Volume 1 DVD-AUDIO (Matchless)
The Smith Quartet (Ian Humphries, violin; Darragh Morgan, violin; Nic Pendlebury, viola; Deirdre Cooper, cello) with John Tilbury (piano) live at the Huddersfield Festival of Contemporary Music, 2006.

01. For John Cage, 1982 (1:31:14) (Darragh Morgan and John Tilbury)
02. Piano and String Quartet, 1985 (1:29:30)

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

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

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

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

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

AMM 1993, BBC Broadcast. England, UK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – –

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

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


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