This month's opening feature will be devoted to the improvisation graphic scores of Cornelis Cardew, known for the Scratch Orchestra and the group AMM.
( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornelius_Cardew )
"This kind of thing happens in improvisation. Two things running concurrently in haphazard
fashion suddenly synchronise autonomously and sling you forcibly into a new phase. Rather
like in the 6-day cycle race when you sling your partner into the next lap with a forcible
handclasp. Yes, improvisation is a sport too, and a spectator sport, where the subtlest
interplay on the physical level can throw into high relief some of the mystery of being
Connected with this is the proposition that improvisation cannot be rehearsed. Training is
substituted for rehearsal, and a certain moral discipline is an essential part of this training.
Written compositions are fired off into the future; even if never performed, the writing
remains as a point of reference. Improvisation is in the present, its effect may live on in
the souls of the participants, both active and passive (ie audience), but in its concrete form
it is gone forever from the moment that it occurs, nor did it have any previous existence
before the moment that it occurred, so neither is there any historical reference available.
Documents such as tape recordings of improvisation are essentially empty, as they
preserve chiefly the form that something took and give at best an indistinct hint as to the
feeling and cannot convey any sense of time and place.
At this point I had better define the kind of improvisation I wish to speak of. Obviously a
recording of a jazz improvisation has some validity since its formal reference -the melody
and harmony of a basic structure- is never far below the surface. This kind of validity
vanishes when the improvisation has no formal limits. In 1965 I joined a group of four
musicians in London who were giving weekly performances of what they called 'AMM
Music', a very pure form of improvisation operating without any formal system or
limitation. The four original members of AMM came from a jazz background; when I joined
in I had no jazz experience whatever, yet there was no language problem. Sessions
generally lasted about two hours with no formal breaks or interruptions, although there
would sometimes occur extended periods of close to silence. AMM music is supposed to
admit all sounds but the members of AMM have marked preferences. An open-ness to the
totality of sounds implies a tendency away from traditional musical structures towards
informality. Governing this tendency -reining it in- are various thoroughly traditional
musical structures such as saxophone, piano, violin, guitar, etc., in each of which reposes a
portion of the history of music. Further echoes of the history of music enter through the
medium of the transistor radio (the use of which as a musical instrument was pioneered by
John Cage). However, it is not the exclusive privilege of music to have a history -sound
has history too. Industry and modern technology have added machine sounds and
electronic sounds to the primeval sounds of thunderstorm, volcanic eruption, avalanche
and tidal wave.
Informal 'sound' has a power over our emotional responses that formal 'music' does not, in
that it acts subliminally rather than on a cultural level. This is a possible definition of the
area in which AMM is experimental. We are searching for sounds and for the responses
that attach to them, rather than thinking them up, preparing them and producing them.
The search is conducted in the medium of sound and the musician himself is at the heart of
C. Cardew Towards an Ethics of Improvisation
Eyedrum's long-running Open Improv night occurs on the first Thursday of every month -- our monthly gathering for instrumentalists and improvisers of all stripes. Bring your instrument! Hosted by the indefatigable Robert Cheatham.