The spring of 1994 found AMM in the US for a short tour. Brought over for the Table of the Elements Manganese Music Festival (along with Faust, members Sonic Youth, Tony Conrad, etc.) they played at least two other dates and this recording seems to be a third. As far as I can figure out this was the extents of the tour:
* April 23rd, Atlanta, Georgia (Table of the Elements Manganese Festival)
* April 24th, Allentown, Pennsylvania (released as AMM live in Allentown USA)
* May 3rd, Context Studios, (released as Contextual, disc 3 of Laminal)
This concert recording, which does not correspond to the two official releases, circulates under the same date and location as as the May 3rd Context Studios show. So far I have not been able to determine if they did more then one show there or another show between the rather long gap between Allentown and Context studios. The possibilities seem to be that this is either the April 23rd show, or another undocumented performance. The recording is open air and there is little audience noise so it doesn’t seem to be a festival recording. It could be a studio recording, perhaps even at Context Studios, though coughs and camera clicks indicates that there is at least some audience present. It also could be a radio broadcast from this tour. Of course the possibility certainly exists that its not from this tour at all. It does sound like fairly typical 90s AMM but that is a pretty wide range of time. Anyone reading this with any further information is requested to please get in touch!
This show is right at the end of the era where AMM was much more fluid and exploratory in their lineup. Rohan de Saram was clearly becoming less available and they now played primarily as what would become the stable trio. Two weeks after this show they would play the excellent Bielfeld Germany show, the last documented date I have with de Saram (which is not to imply that there weren’t others, just no record of such). After that show it was the trio AMM with the occasional guest or special collaboration (such as with Formenx, the Stadler String Quartet and so on). This show feels like it is from that period in that it has much more of an experimental music feel then the later nearly ambient feel of the late 90s material. It also differs remarkably from Contextual released as part of the Laminal box set. That set is nearly rock music like, with Rowe playing some of the most guitar oriented guitar I’ve heard from him since perhaps Amalgam to which Prévost responds in kind pounding out tribal tattoos on his drums that we never hear from him outside of a free jazz set. An odd show and rather unlike anything else I’ve heard from the trio AMM. Perhaps this was a delayed influence from playing the experimental rock oriented Manganese Festival?
May 3rd 1994, Context Studios, NYC NY USA
“It’s still a challenge and it’s still something that’s actually interesting to do, because I don’t think we have said all we set out to say, it’s not like we’re being dragged out of retirement for some sort of ‘show.’ It’s nice that we’re still making progress.” – Eddie Prévost(2)
This recording begins with muted piano strikes and police whistles, that stalwart of mid-twentieth century composition and an instrument you’d hear frequently in the Scratch Orchestra. These sounds are spaced out and between them is nearly perfect silence. There are some rustling sounds, perhaps our recordist, more likely Prévost rubbing on his drums. Some mechanical like soft whirrs from Rowe and then low rumbles that are clearly objects rubbed on a drum head. Various more familiar sounds come and go: bowed metal, buzzes, ruler scrapped on guitar strings, piano notes and chords, but its all very separated out, spacious like a late Cage composition. This restless stew of disconnected sounds is really gripping, constantly fading out to near silence before another sound comes in, the density level shifting all the time, not following any discernible arc. After the very beginning Tilbury’s hardly playing at all in the first fifteen minutes or so and Rowe and Prévost come and go using one sound and then another in spaced out succession. Then quietly Tilbury comes in with these soft bass chords and Rowe, equally soft, buzzes in the background. Lurching, grinding, yet also soft, metallic noises from Prévost are added to the mix. This all comes together around eighteen minutes or so into the set in what would be about the most active portion of this set, raw and dense but not really loud or aggressive.
It doesn’t last though and the set evolves into a bedwork of shifting tones ground out from bowed metal as Tilbury drops in gentle chords and Rowe just hums away. From this point on this set because an exercise in shifting stasis with minor little eruptions and variances from the various members. It reminds me more of the nearly purely static nature of Fine much more then the typically more event driven 90s AMM. As I’ve worked through this project I’ve found more and more that any attempt to stereotype AMM (noisy for the 60s, droney in the 90s, EAI-ish in the early aughts) has constantly come up short. There are chaotic sets from 2001 and ambient sets from 1970, all of the multi-faceted approaches that we think of AMM are tools that they have applied throughout their history and each show demands its own application of them. One of the aforementioned eruptions occurs at 30 minutes with pounded drums and metal and a return of the police whistle. Rowe seems to merely bring up the volume a bit on his static buzz (perhaps the fan) to blend better with the percussion and piano and as they settle down and drop off it is all that remains. While this eruption breaks the stasis I described above it is short lived and they soon return to it. This minor event and really the earlier dense period as well are anomalies in this otherwise quiet set, but they are also the events that differentiate this set from others and also from genuine ambient music. It still challenges and pushes and does unexpected things and while it may have an overall static character is in the end not very static at all.
Another interesting feature is that structurally it differs from many AMM shows in that it seems to reach a conclusion nearly 50 minutes in. While all AMM sets are unique entities there is often a slow, floating, quiet feel that many of them end with and this one has that in spades from about the 48 minute mark. Metal bowed low and slow, sparse piano chords, the occasional buzz from Rowe, the space between these events widening, getting quieter as if to wind down to an end. But this is not to be, Rowe brings up a much louder buzz sounding like a damaged dentist drill and as the others drop out he brings it up. In short order the others join back in adding more driven piano notes, hard struck in the upper register and Prévost continues to bow metal but the languidness is gone. Its still soft, but the calmness has been replaced by an urgency in direct contrast to the sense of closure from just a minute or two before.
From here things get a bit weirder; sounds come and go, sometimes loud, other times soft. Big drum crashes, an electronic roar, single tinkled piano notes, followed by rolled chords. It mirrors the beginning of the set in a way, but with much more varied dynamics. Sounds are still pretty separated, individual, just coming in and then usually quickly ending. Around twelve minutes before the end there is a rough scrabble of radio and what sounds almost like breathy flute which seems to have been from a second radio source as it comes and goes several times over the next few minutes. Things space out even more, like a second winding down, but the sound events retain that restless urgency even as they fade down. The set finally ends after this long, long fadeout in which a single piano note is repeated, some vocal jazz is grabbed from the airwaves and metal is slowly bowed. With the false ending almost twenty minutes ago, this piece has an odd structure, unique amongst the AMM sets that I’ve heard.
1) Staying True to a Truly Esoteric Mission, Alex Ross, New York Times, May 7th, 1994
2) White Flags Over Georgia, Alternative Press, August 1994
3) AMM Live in Allentown USA, Matchless Recordings.
4) AMM Laminal disc 3, Matchless Recordings. Liner Notes