March 10th, 2011 | Published in Blog
I’ve had a bit of a falling out with Improv over the last couple of years, particularly in its freer forms. It just doesn’t seem to work for me any more – particularly doing it, but increasingly whether I’m listening to it on record, or in the flesh (or at least 9 times out of 10 for an very honourable exception see John Butcher’s recent Bang the Bore performance). Not a promising start to a blog post on an experimental music site perhaps, but thankfully I’m not about to develop this into a broader theory or launch into some kind of anti-Improv polemic – I think this is probably just a personal reaction and perhaps partly to do with the musical trends in Bristol where I live.
All of which begs the question: “since it has only personal significance why bother to air it?” Well, either because I’m an insufferable egoist incapable of having a thought without expressing it, or because I think it serves as a neat preamble to a very brief discussion of a noteable exception in my listening habits – AMM, whose significance I think stretches well outside of Improvisation, (capitalised or otherwise).
Even if I don’t any more and as a rule get much out of listening to improv and even though I personally find improvisation increasingly sterile ground for thinking/ practice, AMM’s cds still spend an awful of a lot of time on my hifi, I spend a lot of time thinking about AMM and I still I find myself seeking out interviews with Rowe, Tilbury and Prevost (don’t worry, we’ll get there – the rule of blogs states that you pay for the links by first having to read the linker’s indulgent waffle).
For me Tilbury is the particular inspiration – he hits on something pretty spectacularly his own. It has something to do with (but is certainly not exausted by) his almost mathematically precise grasp of tiny, delicate, often fragile formal variations, as they filter through the piano – an instrument whose resonance and solidity of sound is only possible thanks to it’s sheer bulk and centuries of technological refinement. There’s something fascinating about the piano anyway – that sound coming out of this most engineered and mechanical of all instruments – and Tilbury’s approach to playing it only emphasises that quality.
In the 80s, after Cardew’s death, that sound found its home in AMM on a regular basis; pressing up against the coarser, more obviously base materials of Rowe and Prevost’s prepared guitar and percussion – and the result was, to my ears, perhaps the first convincingly full synthesis of the formal idealism of western composition with the rather messier process of coaxing more or less refined lumps of matter into making sound. Rather than dismiss conventional instrumentation and technique entirely AMM in this era explored the productive liminal zones where the notatable/ideal rubs up against and blurs with the un-notateable and material – complex sounds that, in order to be convincing had to be produced by a musician monitoring and guiding the sound of the instrument (however broadly defined) rather than striving for a predefined effect (as in Lachenmann whose work developed in the same period).
That’s my very brief take on AMM’s significance anyway. I’m fairly certain it only has a limited cross over with the members’ views – views, far more articulate and fascinating than the above and (here’s the payoff) detailed in these three fairly excellent interviews from All About Jazz.