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