“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.”
– Cornelius Cardew (1)

The third of these early AMM boots puts us in the very earliest month of 1970. The group had coalesced into the quartet of Keith Rowe, Cornelius Cardew, Lou Gare and Edwin Prévost.  There is possibly a fifth member (probably Christopher Hobbs ed. Jan 30, 2009), as there is piano played throughout during which at times you can hear two bowed instruments (Rowe and Cardew presumably) but who knows who is playing what? It could be Cardew on piano the whole time, with Rowe on cello and someone else bowing objects or a guitar.  Without outside input it is pretty much impossibly to say but this quote from Cardew sheds some light on this situation:

“In 1966, I and another member of the group invested the proceeds of a recording in a second amplifier system to balance the volume of sound produced by the electric guitar. At that period we were playing every week in the music room of the London School of Economics -a very small room barely able to accomodate [sic] our equipment. With the new equipment we began to explore the range of small sounds made available by using contact microphones on all kinds of materials -glass, metal, wood, etc. -and a variety of gadgets from drumsticks to battery-operated cocktail mixers. At the same time the percussionist was expanding in the direction of pitched instruments such as xylophone and concertina, and the saxophonist began to double on violin and flute as well as a stringed instrument of his own design. In addition, two cellos were wired to the new equipment and the guitarist was developing a predilection for coffee tins and cans of all kinds.”
– Cornelius Cardew (1)

So it is quite possible, likely even, that this is Cardew on piano, Rowe on cello, or bowed guitar and Gare on violin (or his homemade string instrument). There is very little obvious sax here so this scenario is likely. This recording, moreso than any of the other early AMM I’ve heard has a chamber feel to it. It is rough, dark and brooding but with the primary instrumentation being cello, piano and percussion it really has this new music feel. It doesn’t stick with this feel throughout, one bit toward the middle has this jazzy duet between piano and percussion, but it always comes back to this brooding chamber feel.

“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.”
– Cornelius Cardew (1)

This gets at the heart of what I was trying to say in the last post; that AMM was constantly adding to their list the things that they should get away from. In each of these recordings they seem to move away from anything recognizable in each one. At the same time, the found object whether from tape, radio or fragments of recognizable melody or sound that in themselves do not stray toward informality. So while AMM in and of themselves “have marked preferences” they still admit all sounds in this fashion.

AMM – London 20 January 1970

“Improvisation is a language spontaneously developed amongst the players and between players and listeners.”
– Cornelius Cardew (1)

Again we begin in progress but instead of the usual burst of energy this one is much more brooding, and quiet. Slow, melancholy cello lines, very Tilbury-ish piano tinkles, interspersed with big low chords, wooden sounding percussion as of sticks between rolled in ones hands. The occasional melodic figure on the cello jumps in, perhaps there are two cellists? Drum rolls on a low drum, then washes of static and more metallic percussion. Amidst the inward facing strings and piano these drum beats increase, building the volume and density, but only in short bursts.  Ah that other bowed instrument seems to be revealing itself as bowed guitar, Rowe presumably, while the melodic figures are possibly the cello of Cardew or the violin of Gare. These brief flurry of activity calms down a bit to just faint cello and piano, but then some very melodic percussion comes in. Some loud, low electronic tones burst into this space, answered by chimes and cymbals, as scrabbly guitar work comes in. The cello fades. Piano pounding out some seriously deep chords. And a weirdly muted melodic figure either from the guitar or from real short, sharp bow-work on the cello. Echoed by percussion. Odd how this strain keeps running through this one, it must have been a theme, or constraint of some sort.  Crazy percussion now, the volume up, mostly on the drums. This again drops out and piano rolls, static washes, creepy bowed cello and only the occasional pound of a drum or cymbal roll.

“You choose the sound you hear. But listening for effects is only first steps in AMM listening. After a while you stop skimming, start tracking, and go where it takes you.”
– Cornelius Cardew (1)

Back to the brooding melancholy, we have a very distant sounding guitar tones, slow bowed cello, clusters of piano notes and what sounds like fingers rubbed across a drumhead. Into this comes a radio announcement, rather distant and garbled, greeted by some cymbal chimes. An absolutely stunning moment after this, where things just hover in a gentle buzz of bowed strings, spare piano chords a warbling guitar tone. Beautiful and yet drilling right to the marrow. These AMM boots really show the range of the group at this time. The Crypt and even AMMMusic make the 60s stuff seem much more chaotic and noisy but the moments of beauty were everywhere. And yet they could take it somewhere else completely. About 8 minutes before the track ends, it goes from the spare section, to solo bowed cello and then applause. Pretty good amount of applause, must have been a decent crowd. Someone says “Thank You” so they did seem to end. Then there is typical post show talking for a second. Then the tape clearly changes, almost sounds like David Tudors Rainforest now. Heavy static, faint dripping sounds and a twittering almost like birds. Sounds like children playing in the deep background. An odd little sonic fragment tagged on to this show.

As always this recording starts with them in progress so one does not know how much was lost at the beginning. It is the shortest of these early bootlegs at only about thirty minutes before the applause and then the odd little coda. It is as I alluded to in the introduction to this recording somewhat removed from other period AMM, though not shockingly so. Moments in the other recordings are akin to this and thus one could look at this as a thirty minute exploration of a (mostly) confined space.  It does hearken toward the later quartet AMM with Rohan de Saram in its more chamber like feeling, though of course it has the rough edges that the trio AMM had mostly smoothed away.

“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 the experiment. ”
– Cornelius Cardew(1)


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) Edwin Prévost, No Sound is Innocent, Copula, 1995
4) The AMM page at the European Free Improvisation Home
5) Keith Rowe interview by Dan Warburton at Paris Transatlantic