Keith Rowe’s guitar, Los Angeles, CA, April 24, 1996(1)

“One effect that the AMM approach to spontaneous composition has on the listener is to shift attention away from music as a singular object and toward the musical experience as a process.” – Art Lange(3)

There was clearly a US tour afoot of the AMM in the spring of 1996. On April 19th they performed at Rice University, Houston, Texas, which was later released by Matchless recordings(2). Five days later on April 24th they performed in LA, where the photographs posted here were taken. The next day, April 25th, they played a show at the now sadly defunct OK Hotel in Seattle WA. (* see Additional). Having spent considerable time this week with the available recorded documentation of this tour I can say that this was a particularly strong period for the trio AMM. Since this is the first recording we have examined of the form of AMM that was to outlast any other, perhaps an overview of the trio is in order.

At the end of the 70s Rowe and Prévost reunited and spent a brief period as AMM III. In short order they asked John Tilbury to join the group and the initial trio was formed. The documentation of the early trio is to be found on Laminal disc 2: The Great Hall (Feb. 1982), Generative Themes (Dec. 1992) and Combine + Laminates + Treatise ’84 (May 1985 + 1984)). Then there was the restless period where Rohan de Saram, Evan Parker, Lou Gare, etc were all in and out, or guesting and whatnot. They definitely did consider AMM to be the quartet (with de Saram) for a while and there is that quote from Prévost where he intimated that a quintet AMM (with de Saram and Gare) was a going concern(4). However all of this transpired with the various members (the story has always been that de Saram was too busy with the Arditti’s and Gare never quite got back into that form of music making) after this period that ran from the mid ’80s to the early ’90s they settled again on the core trio. Clearly the early 90s was a bit of a transition period as we have bootlegs up to May 1994 with de Saram and there had been trio AMM albums recorded in 1992 (Newfoundland) and 1994 (Live in Allentown USA) just prior to that date. It seems from probably around 1992 that they changed their modus operandi to that of a trio but they would do occasional shows with de Saram, Gare, Wolff and others as the circumstances arose.

By 1996 AMM was pretty firmly ensconced in the trio format. The sound world of the trio is not as ossified as it is often portrayed, it actually underwent a continual refinement from its earliest days (documented on The Great Hall – the first performance of this trio) to its final performance in 2005 (released as Apogee). The 80s material is a bit rougher containing some of the energy of the 60s era, constrained by the reduced membership perhaps and experience. Then working with de Saram smoothed out some edges and I think the on and off relationship with him and others led to them becoming able to absorb various additional inputs. This too was an annealing process, certain tendencies, excesses and other dross burned away. So by the time they returned primarily to the trio format in the early 90s they were right off quite different from their earlier incarnation. By the time of this recording under examination here, in 1996 they had arrived at the sound that people tend to think of the trio AMM: sounds floating in space, austere, glacial, beautiful music. It is worth noting that this sound, was really only about 8 years of the trio AMM‘s nearly 20 year span. I alas don’t have any boots of the trio in the 80s so for those curious see the official releases listed above.

Some of Eddie Prévost’s kit, Los Angeles CA, April 24, 1996(1)

AMM April 25th 1996 (*)
OK Hotel, Seattle WA

Right away on this track you hear the warbling of oscillating metal on Rowe’s guitar, the spring or a knife vibrating in the strings. Not aggressive, just these quick jittering sounds pointillistic and textureless. Prévost almost immediately joins in first rubbing drumheads, and then really stuttery playing of the drums, struck, muted or the sound of sticks hitting the edge of the drums or other non-resonate objects. It becomes fairly frenetic but not at all laminal, in fact it is more in a free improv vein, but it comes up and then backs down in a way that you’d never hear there. Radio is dropped in and in the distance there is soft chording (the background nature of the piano could be due to the recording, see the final paragraph). This intro is highly divergent from what people have come to think of 90s AMM, it’s rough and ready, frenetic, disparate sounds not at all ethereal, beautiful or floating.

After the initial outburst of activity Rowe and Prévost drop out and you hear just the piano, sounding a bit mechanical here. Quite audible though probably not as much as it’d have been live. Now it is the guitar and percussion that take a back seat as this odd piano line develops; fragments of radio dropped in, bursts of rubbed drum heads or metallic squeaks. This continues apace and then about 15 minutes into the set things begin to head much more toward how people think AMM sounds at this point. There is a wall, not super aggressive but dense, of feedback from Rowe which he drops in squiggles and modulations and transforms into the wash of the fan on the strings, to which he layers in a long classical radio grab. Tilbury can be heard, working and reworking short patterns on the piano adding to the overall sound as Prévost scrapes metal.

The density is backed way down leaving us with these gorgeous piano chords that sound, linger and fade away before the next is sounded along with soft and delicately bowed metal. After some time with this, Rowe adds in this very soft, dull groaning sounds that adds to this fantastic, melancholy section. Of course this cannot last and slowly more and more elements are added in until Prévost is going at the drums ala Animal, Tilbury is pounding out more Cecil Taylor-ish clusters and Rowe is coaxing his guitar into producing a cacophony of grunts, grinds and squawks. For a bit here they rollercoaster from frenetic and dense to quiet and sparse finally landing on a soft section with this continuous rotating drone, layered with soft drumrolls, gentle piano and these otherworldly tones from Rowe’s electronics. There are fits and starts of energy but overall this less dense section persists, restless, constantly altering with some absolutely stunning passages. But all things must pass and this eventually builds up to a roar that rivals the 60s AMM, with Rowe leading the way with feedback and a wall of growling guitar, as Prévost adds in a bass element with rolls on the floor tom and Tilbury pounds the piano. A fantastic noisy section, much less recognizable then the earlier drum centered densities and more focused and clean then the rougher 60s noise. The set winds down from here, into the fragmented collection of sounds with which it began, not sounding the same but evoking that same textureless feel.

And so this one goes, transforming itself from dense to soft with moments of extreme beauty clashing with sounds that require effort on the listeners to fit together. The softer sections in this piece are some of the best I’ve heard from this era; Tilbury’s piano sounded more hesitant, more fragmented as it explores several stereotyped gestures but never goes all the way, Prévost at his most inventive with the bowed metals but also working the skins in ways that threaten to pull you out ’til you fit it all together and Rowe really working with noise here but in such a subtle and austere way that even when he brings it up to a roar it never obfuscates but reveals. This is one of the longer sets I’ve collected, clocking in at about an hour fifteen. Apart from the fact that the file is very low bitrate it is one of the more solid late AMM sets that I’ve found. A lot of the sets are just good, but you could see why they chose other ones to release. But this one is definitely in the category of releasable sets. It shows a lot more variety then Before Driving to the Chapel…and thus displays their range at the time. However that is probably more continuously solid and serves as an excellent document of 1996 AMM.

There is an interesting history to this recording that I happened to have found out from some local Seattle musicians. There apparently are two recordings of this show, each one with it’s own deficient; one where Tilbury is fairly low in the mix (this one I imagine) the other where Rowe is much less audible. The ideal solution would be to matrix the two recordings together but apparently one of the DATs was recording at a inconsistent rate (perhaps due to low batteries, the details escape me) making them nearly impossible to synchronize. I haven’t personally heard the other recording but I do think that this one is actually quite decent. Tilbury does get buried at times, but there are other moments where he is quite audible. Rowe’s guitar, radio and electronic detritus is very clear and Prevost’s drum work, metallic percussion and other events are loud and clear. The biggest complaint from me, is that I’ve only being able to find this in a low bit rate mp3.

* Additional
Okay so some rigorous internetting has revealed two interesting things, first off the show was from April 25th not May 25th which fits in with the other dates better and I found a listing of the entire 1996 West Coast Tour!

AMM Tour 1996 (from Beanbenders)

18 April: Austin, Texas, Mexic-Arte Museum
19 April: Houston, Texas, Rice University
20 April: Chicago, Godspeed Hall
23 April: Los Angeles, Avar [sic] Theatre – AMM
24 April: Los Angeles, Avar [sic] Theatre – solos/duos
25 April: Seattle, OK Hotel
27 April: Berkeley, CA, Beanbender’s

Even more additionally, a short report on the April 27th show:
AMM at Beanbenders

1) AMM at the Ivar Theater, Lou Zine republished at the Arcane Candy blog
2) AMM Before driving to the chapel we took coffee with Rick and Jennifer Reed (Matchless Recordings)
Before Driving to the Chapel… Review Art Lange, Fanfare, May/June 1998
4) The Crypt liner notes by Eddie Prévost,1992 (Matchless Recordings)
5) Edwin Prévost, No Sound is Innocent, Copula, 1995
6) The AMM page at the European Free Improvisation Home
7) Notes on AMM: Entering and Leaving History Stuart Broomer, CODA Magazine no. 290. 2000