Forty Years from Scratch part 3

Forty Years From Scratch
Broadcast on Resonance 104.4 FM

May 2nd & 3rd, 2009

I’ve not forgotten the final segment of my report on the Forty Years from Scratch radio broadcast, I’ve simply been busy and there has been other things going on.  Plus, perhaps I’m a victim of my own success, after the last two reports I felt I couldn’t give the final section short shrift.  The final hours did contain some sections that I was a bit loathe to revisit, political stuff that certainly hasn’t aged well. However there was again an amazing amount of fascinating information and fantastic music so it has been mostly a pleasure going through the final twelve hours or so of this epic event.

If you missed them be sure to check out the first two reports on the Forty Years from Scratch: Part 1, Part 2

13) Forty Years From Scratch: Chris Hobbs’s Sudoku Slot

No Hobbs, this seems to actually be just jukebox selections, in fact it seems to be the Scratch Jukebox I from Liberty Belle on for about 15 minutes.

14) Forty Years from Scratch: Self-Built-Breakfast

Stefan Szczelkun, noted visual and plastic artist, theorist, polemicist and builder, hosts a special Scratch breakfast show. Stefan’s Art Projects Flickr Set which includes a bunch of Scratch related scans.  Explores politics and music. Opens with Joan Baez and then a few songs by arch-hipster Richard Ferrena exploring as he put it the problem of hipsterism.  Stefan gives the following anecdote when having lunch with Tilbury and Prévost in Huddersfield just after 9/11.  Tilbury said, “They deserved it”, they being the institutions in the Twin Towers as they in his opinion had killed many more people then were killed in the towers.  This, Stefan says, underscores the deep hatred of capitalism by members of the Scratch which hasn’t faded. This is a good summery of much of the next few hours.  “Culture and politics are both about coming to agreements. Political expressions in culture have often be excised from capitalist culture.”

Stefan played many other pop songs, poetry readings, folk tunes and the like all that had a populist or directly political nature. In many ways he is illustrating how the horribly Scratch propaganda songs were an utter failure: this is music that had a message and was good music within it’s styles. Not much of this music appealed to me here (there was some all right dub played) but I think that Stefan illustrated some strong points about politics and music. The best music in this segment was the piece he concluded with which was  field recording he made as he walked through London to this studio.

Stefan Szcelkun Walk in the Park

15) Forty Years from Scratch: The Cardew Brothers
16) Forty Years from Scratch: Ascough On

This segment begins directly with the Cardew Brothers et al playing  a new composition based on a Christopher May piece in Scratch Music for Tom Chant (tenor sax),  Horace Cardew (clarinet), Celia Lu (voice), Mizuka Yamamoto (violin) and Walter Cardew (electric guitar).  The music is initially these fragments of wobbles, squeaks, whistles and hesitant scrapes. This is really nice but alas pretty quickly in Celia starts doing vocalizations that I found rather dreadful: sort of Liz Tonne-esque vocal improv with sounds, operatic bits, scatting et. But even worse was the Walter and Sabrina songs they played with Celia singing along with Mizuka Yamamoto on violin.  I really couldn’t take Celia’s singing, I can’t even really describe her voice, it was extremely unusual but in a grating way, this sort of chanting staccato squeak.  Now I should say that the voice is a very personal thing and what one person likes another person won’t.  Celia’s singing was absolutely not to my taste but others might enjoy her sound and technique.  The initial piece I feel was still worth hearing to get a taste for how Walter and Horace play which seems really good.  The best piece was a duo of Walter on guitar and Mizuka Yamamoto on violin though it wasn’t fairly straight in an expressive, almost romantic way. In between playing Carole Finer interviewed the Cardew boys about their memories of the Scratch Orchestra when they were young children.  They concluded with a Walter and Sabrina version of Cornelius Cardew’s We Fight for the Future, which was certainly not improved in this version.

Walter Cardew, Mizuka Yamamoto Guitar and Violin duo

After they played the show went on to the next hour which was supposed to be with Richard Ascough but he didn’t make it in to the studio due to a mixup so Carole played more jukebox stuff beginning with a very nice Two Harmonium Piece (1970) composed and played Hugh Shrapnel and Micheal Chant, that had an almost Organum feel to that.  The hour was finished off with some rather bad revolutionary choir music featuring Emily Cardew called The Velvet Fist. The final thing played in this was filler from the Promenade Theatre Orchestra (PTO) which was a sub group of the Scratch that was entirely trained musicians playing difficult music on mostly toy instruments.  This bit of filler included four pieces,  beginning with a piece consisting of these over-driven ringing tones with a continuous almost metallic drone all playing rather minimalist like shifting patterns. This was followed by a waltz from John White that was a lot more percussive and will a meandering melody line. Next they played Straight Off the Top by Chris Hobbs, which seemed to be mainly low toned wind instruments. The next piece, whose composer and title I couldn’t make out, was a combination of wooden block sounding percussive and staccato horn playing with a shifting melodic line on maybe a clarinet.  Concluding with another Chris Hobbs piece again mostly on wind instruments with some additional percussion that was faded out as the next segment began.  In the main this was good stuff though the recording was pretty rough.

17) Forty Years from Scratch: Out of the Scratch – Music and Class Struggle

The issue of the politicization of the Scratch has certainly come up time and time again, but there are a number of segments in this final block that feature unapologetic supporters of this politicization.  I certainly don’t blame anyone for what happened in their youth but the fact is that the music the Scratch did was far more radical and far more lasting in their politics.  Consider Keith Rowe’s reflection on that period from earlier in this broadcast:

“.. At the time it was uncomfortable but [we felt] necessary.  We were  “˜politically clumsy’,  not to say that  the content of what we were trying to do was wrong but the way we did it was really, really clumsy. “¦Humanly clumsy; the way we dealt with people.”

The members of the Scratch that revel in the banalities of its politicization seem to have not gained any of this sort of perspective.  The  loss of a creative, vital musical and essentially human movement for the narrowest and least effective political movement in perhaps the last hundred years.  Trying to turn the Scratch Orchestra into a musical propaganda unit of this dogmatic, narrow and cruel political organization was a real tragedy.  The earlier segment by Stefan Szczelkun underscores this by playing political music that is actually also good music and there is not a single Maoist anthem to be heard.  A lot more of the issues of the politicization of the Scratch is dealt with in Tilbury’s Cardew bio so perhaps I’ll get into that in greater depth when I post my review of that book, so here is a fairly condensed version of what went on in this two hour block.

This segment was hosted by Brigid and Laurie Scott Baker along with guests Vicky Silva, Bethan Phillips and Chris Thompson.  This segment to me was one of the most difficult with lots of insufferable bad  political music and the discussion was basically apologetics for turning the Scratch into an unsuccessful propaganda unit.  The music played included the Cardew compositions Thalmann Variations, Boolavogue and Will of the People and Nothing to Lose but out Chains which is a Baker composition based on Peacock Soldiers/Mac the Knife which included an overlay of snippets of a recording from Cardew’s last speech and an improv at the end (which was fairly bowed bass solo at the end, though with lame drums and noodling from other instruments).

Laurie says that listening to that final speech you can see that Cardew had not softened his political views at all. That the fact that toward the end of Cardew’s life was a sign he was engaging composition again was a sign of political maturity not a change in direction.  This is confirmed by Tilbury’s bio, in which he describes that the party, as it moved away from Maoism, softened its stance on so called “revisionists” and realized that working with sympathetic people as opposed to alienating them because they weren’t 100% toeing the party line was a smarter move.  Cardew was encouraged to reengage with the composing community in an attempt to further these aims. Tilbury does hint that Cardew missed the rigorous intellectual climate he’d once been part of, so while he clearly was mainly into it for the political reasons he might also have had his own personal reasons.

18) Forty Years from Scratch: White in the Afternoon

Begins with some Scratch Jukebox including the oft played Liberty Bell, before John white comes on air. John’s first meeting with Cardew was him in the audience laughing uproariously at one of White’s compositions.  Later they became friends after Cardew criticized him for a choice he made in playing a certain symbol in Octet ’61.  At the time the avant garde  traditions of Darmstadt ruled the day which wasn’t very appealing to White.  Meeting Cardew along with other experimentalists (Cage, Tudor, et al) led white toward that direction.  When the Scratch was formed White was playing both experimental music, but he was also conducting musicals in the London’s West End. Thus he wasn’t able to be present at all of the Scratch performances and rehearsals.

White got fed up with the Scratch Orchestra’s free improvisation he felt it was therapy for the player and not much fun for the audience. So he broke away with small group to do music inspired by the minimalists. After sketching out his history with the Scratch White then went on to play a fairly long recent composition of his: Latin Phrase book Ritual which basically follows a fairly typical cantata form but with “amusing” Latin phrases as the sung material (I came, I saw, I vomited) and a bit more abstract musical elements: toy pianos, gongs, banal samples, etc.. Very White-like.

Promenade Theatre Orchestra
The Promenade Theatre Orchestra founded 1969 by John White with Hugh Shrapnel, Alex Hill and Chris Hobbs playing on toy pianos, reed organs and so on in reaction to the improvisatory nature of the Scratch. After John’s new piece Carole then plays about 18 minutes from the PTO concert that was partially played before at the end of the Cardew Brothers segment.

Carole then concludes the segment with a few minutes of music from the Harmony Band which was a sub-group with Dave Jackman, Chris May and Carole Finer. This little bit played featured a quite subdued background droning whine with sharp, louder interjections plucked from stringed instruments. This was pretty great I think, the contrast between the drone and the spikier elements keeping it interesting and a beautiful ending with ringing bells.

Harmony Band piece

19) Forty Years from Scratch: Sound Out

Carole Finer is joined by Stella Cardew for an hour of Scratch Orchestra memories and music. Stella felt like she was never a member of the Scratch, it was just a part of her life.  She was involved in performing and with the art aspects of it though. The Chelsea Town Hall concert was one that featured artists,  including Stella,  painting during the performance on a giant expanse of canvas upon which they flung paint. This was Keith Rowe’s suggestion apparently, to paint in the style of Sam Francis. Rivers of paint. She also along with Tim (?) painted backgrounds for the Scratch opera , Sweet F.A.. They played a few pieces of music that were “covered” by the Scratch beginning with the Rolling Stones, Honky Tonk Woman whose performance not surprisingly was a lot more noisy and chaotic. Stella spent a decent amount of time talking about Cornelius and she pointed out how good he was with people, he’d make every one he’d talk to feel like they had a special relationship with him (which you can contrast a bit with Tilbury’s talking about how Cardew always seemed a bit detached. Perhaps this is part of how he changed in his political era). Another anecdote that Stella told was that while Cornelius hated school he loved the Cubs (like the boy scouts) skills from which he put to use in the Scratch camps.  Some of the other music she played included a recording of a choir song, Ash Grove, sung unaccompanied by her daughter Emily. The song is about nature and greenness which is the color that Stella associated with the Scratch Orchestra. There were too many good stories and anecdotes to fully document but a really interesting segment from a vital perspective.

At the end Micheal Chant joined them and they talked about Private Company which he founded and included Stella and Carole.  Chant would set impossible tasks for the company and the attempts to realize them was the performance.  Stella read some of her impressions of PC that she jotted down back during its time, which mostly revolved around doubt, mystery and yet rewarding.  Carole said she always found Chants instructions mystifying and asked him if he had any idea of how they would actually realize these instructions. He answered saying that the pieces were very philosophical and that PC was formed perhaps as a reaction to the Scratch even though it existed from the beginning.  Chant traces its history back to Pavilions in the Park which were these events in 1968/69 from which he signed up whoever showed up: Bob Cobbing, Allen and Joe Davis and others,   Stella and Carole joined later. Private Company would do a lot of events eventually doing weekly events at the Poetry Society until 1973 when they ended as Chant left for political work.  Once again there was too many good stories to fully document. But they ended with a new Private Company piece that Chant handed out unexpectedly. They read it through and deemed that the performance.

Scratch Orchestra plays Christian Wolff Burdock

They played a Scratch performance of Christian Wolff’s Burdocks as filler after this segment.

20) Forty Years from Scratch: Radio Smith

Dave Smith, Richard Ascough, Derek Barker, Hugh Shrapnel and Carole Chant in the studio performing a number of Smiths’ pieces.  Performance of Coin Piece (1972) which was written for but never performed by the Scratch. Coin Piece uses spun coins from each performer to select from a set of activities. This was nice piece made up of a lot of sound of coins spinning on plates, with a hard edge metallic sound and then various short events from a variety of instruments as well as spoken text.

Dave Smith Coin Piece

He talks about how his recent work, which seems pretty far away from the Scratch, is still heavily influenced by it.  He has recently written 42 1 minute piano pieces, the limited time scale he feels gives you permission to do things you couldn’t get away with at length. He began with Multiple Mazurka Mix which is made up of Chopan’s many mazurkas and can be said to hearken back to John White’s Scratch piece for the Beethoven concert where he played only the left hand parts of all of Beethoven’s piano sonatas. Moonlight Restricted, which borrows from an idea of Chris Hobbs where he recomposed a Tchaikovsky piece applied to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.  Other pieces played included: New World Order, Reverse Swing, and Eagles As Orb an anagram of Rob Grassay.

Moderation in Nothing,  piece from 1976 written for four ex-Scratch members Howard Skempton, Micheal Parsons, John Lewis and Dave Smith.  Schonfeld after the first performance stated that it reminded him of the Scratch. Smith hadn’t thought of that but on hearing him say that, felt it made sense as it was a somewhat unusual piece. They were all playing instruments that weren’t their regular instruments (wine glasses, soprinano recorders, electric piano, finger cymbals, ocarina, bells and so on), it was only rehearsed once as he wanted each member to perform as if it was a solo, which gave it a rather informal sound akin to the Scratch. After this explanation Smith then played this piece, which began with high notes from the wine glass and the recorder. Thin short phrases, spaciously presented with events overlapping at times at others being on their own. I quite liked this extract from this piece: it was shifting, sedate, hypnotic, but not from drone as its all made up of these shorter elements.

Dave Smith Moderation in Nothing

After this extract from Moderation in Nothing, we return to another bit of A Day in the Life of John Tilbury to fill the gap between this and the next bit.

21) Forty Years from Scratch: Live Gala Concert

This segment was the longest of the the marathon at four hours and contained a wide varity of interviews, live music and archival performance. It began with a reading of a short abstract from Richard Church’s Improvisation to Revolution a history of the Scratch Orchestra ’69-’72.  This sounds like an interesting, essay, or book that I’ve not been able to find much more on.  A sample quote on the founding of the Scratch:

“Disillusion with the unnecessary complexity of much avant-garde notation and its inability to communicate on a human level, was a central issue in the Scratch Orchestra and acted as common link between many of its members.”

Shrapnel’s Wood and Metal Band was going to do a live performance but three of them couldn’t make it so they ended up not playing live. They did however play recordings from 1972 performances at the Spielstrasse for the Munich Olympic Games. The members of this sub-group in the studio were Hugh Shrapnel,  Chris May, Carole Finer, Dave Smith and Richard Ascough, missing were Barbara Piece and Alec Hill and Bryn Harris. This sub-group was created for the Beethoven Today Concert to perform a simple Beethoven march that Hugh arranged for a few instruments.  Sometime after this concert Micheal Parson’s suggested reforming this group as its own little band. The idea of the band was to play composed pieces straight, but with ad hoc instruments.  It is interesting how many of the sub-groups took on this idea.  This was the group that played Liberty Belle, which we’ve so often heard. They’d often take obscure British composer and elevate their music to popular classics status: Ketelby, Ezra Reed were examples cited. The Wood and Metal Band pieces played from recordings in this session included Écossaise, that initial Beethoven march, Liberty Belle, Little Toddles (Ezra Reed) and Carolina Cakewalk.

Wood and Metal Band Little Toddles

Next up Richard Ascough played an extract from the Queen Elizabeth Hall concert, the infamous Pilgrimage from Scattered Points of the Body.  The impetus for this concert was Fantastic Voyage, the SciFi film where Raquel Welch among others fly through the body in a tiny submersible.  There was a collection of popular classics associated with each region of the body, for instance Mahler s 6th Symphony for the brain.  The final piece of the concert was a composition by Richard Ascough called Rationalization and Realization which ended the BBC broadcast of this concert (though they cut off a bit in the beginning. This piece Ascough wrote to utilize the trained and untrained musician aspect of the Scratch and includes Micheal Parsons on the organ. This piece had typical Scratch density, but was somewhat low key, with a steady state feel from the long organ tones. Short meandering bits from various instruments would come in and out rising above the organ but not until half way through or so do drums start to really rise above the background sound.

Scratch Orchestra Rationalization and Realization

He followed this with a computer realization of a quintet he wrote in 1971 that was never performed. This was followed by Hugh Shrapnel,  Chris May, Carole Finer, Dave Smith, Richard Ascough and Derek Barker doing a live performance of Paragraph 6 from Cornelius Cardew’s Great Learning. This is a nice take on the piece, which by its nature is a collection of semi-discrete events.  Their sound sources included bells, crumpled paper, mouth organs, recorders, slide whistles and voice.

Cornelius Cardew Great Learning Paragraph 6

Following this was another reading, this time a Jeffery Barnard essay on From Scratch, an Australian take on the Scratch Orchestra started by David Ahern who was part of the Morely College group and early Scratch activities. Quite a bit of the experimentation of the Scratch Orchestra was transmuted into this group though they mainly focused on compositions from composers outside the group. This turned into Teletopia which was more AMM like then Scratch like. Some music from these various groups that Ahern started (he was something of the Cardew of Australia) is played behind this segment and beyond. It does have a sort of scratchy, sound oriented, though less focused, early AMM feel to it. This came to an end and there was a bit of Schooltime Compositions played as they set up for the next piece.

This was followed by a new work by Hugh Shrapnel After Forty Years. for any number of performers playing any number of instruments performed in studio by the attending members of the Wood and Metal Band.  It involves tunes from the 1940s amongst other things.It began with a bell, wooden percussion, mouth organ of some sort, a cell phone rings, toy pianos and other simple cheesy electronic sounds. These come in and out, in a shifting rather chaotic pattern.  Later it on it has some political speech, from Cardew himself, then a musical hall-ish segment with piano and sort of hummed melody and toward the end a more chaotic bit with ping-pong balls and random percussion. Definitely a Scratch piece. They returned to the previously playing Schooltime Compositions after this as filler.

They played a decent amount of Schooltime Compositions and then abruptly cut it out to talk with Caroline Rogers on the phone.  They talked about the performance of Christian Wollf’s Burdocks in Munich.  This is the instance where they were playing it and Morton Feldman stood up and said “This isn’t Christian Wolff!” and walked out with John Cage. They exchanged various anecdotes from this trip including border guards at some crossing insisting they unload and unpack all of their instruments at one point. At another point she performed in a reverse strip tease where she was dared to start without her knickers on which she did much to the surprise of the rest of the band. While a fairly short conversation there was again too many good anecdotes to go over.

As filler throughout the next couple of hours she played various extracts from the David Jackman interview that didn’t play earlier due to technical reasons. In this first extract Jackman talked about how he had Scratch scores from 1969 through 1971 which he thinks dates his participation pretty well.  At the ICA concert,  he played he continuously played a  tape loop that he’d put together of the tambora intro from an LP of Indian music.  He first met Cardew at a performance of Paragraph 2 from the Great Learning at which he showed up slightly drunk and slightly late. His concert was December 1969, though he doesn’t remember much about it.  He found his score though, Eight Groups of Players, which was the section on Tibetan Ritual music from the Grove Dictionary of music. Tibetan ritual music was made up of eight categories: thudding, clashing, sowing, ringing, sharp tapping, moaning, bass moaning and shrill sounds. Each group takes one of the eight categories and plays continuously for two hours.  Jackman recalls it was a wild affair, though it evaded recording, and he goes on to say:

“What I like about Tibetan ritual music, at least my perception of it, which is a mis-perception I know now, is that the pitches don’t see to matter as long as you have all the textures there it will hang together in a very vibrant way. And that was my concert. Like so much of the Scratch it disappeared very soon after we did it. Those sort of principles of putting sound together have been more or less what I’ve done in my own music, since. So in a way I’ve been playing that that piece, or recording it anyway, ever since.”

Ian Mitchell is in next who while he was never a Scratch Orchestra member, become associated with many of its members shortly after its demise.  He was studying at Goldsmith college in 1975 and became associated with John Tilbury who played various concerts with him. When Tilbury found Mountains among Cardew’s manuscripts he asked Mitchell to perform it. This had been a piece commissioned in the late seventies but it had never been performed because it was thought to be unfinished. When Mitchell examined it, he found that it indeed was finished.  The piece begins with a poem by Mao Zedong:

Piercing the blue of heaven, your barbs unblunted!
The skies would fall
But for you strength supporting.
- Mao Zedong, Three Short Poems (1934-357)

After this he goes on to play the rest of the piece. This is an interesting piece with a number of contrasting sections, that explore the full range of the instruments. In the beginning it uses a lot of shorter tones in the upper register and then begins dropping in single contrast low tones. In the middle it works with long, drawn out tones that are made to vibrate in various ways to interesting effect. It concludes with little runs and melodic fragments across the whole range of the instrument.

Cornelius Cardew Mountains

He follows this by introducing four of his students from Trinity College of Music that then perform a number of Scratch related pieces. First is the very short piece Little flower of the North from Schooltime Compositions which they play with mainly short, often oscillating tones, mostly in upper registers. They then play two pieces from Scratch Music, the first is England and its performance is somewhat indicative of trained classical musicians playing these sort of unstructured pieces. Lots of notes, quick sharp attacks, rather as if they are taking all their tools and just putting them out there. This is followed by Think of a Person, This is played as four solos, beginning with the harpist, who mostly plays little plucked notes, but also throws in a few harp cliches: descending arpeggios, harmonics and the like. Next is the flute, who plays long, slow rather melancholy tones which contrasts to the more sprightly harp solo before it. The violin follows with slow bowed tones mixed with sharp rather scratchy attacks. Finally the piano plays mostly single isolated notes in a rather sad floating way.

In between pieces Mitchell asked his students what they thought when they came to this kind of music. One of the students felt their training helped as its about connecting with their instruments. She also said she found it therapeutic. Another student said she found it very relevant as she found it liberating as they rarely have this “freedom of choice and individuality”.  Another student said she found it easier to play fully composed pieces after working with these more improvisatory pieces as it helps her to bring new elements to these old pieces.

The next group of pieces they played was Cardew’s Songs of Pleasure from Schooltime Compositions, Fireworks from Scratch Music followed by another take of Little Flower. The first piece is played with more extended techniques – a drumming on a the harps body, just breath through the flute, short attacks on the violin and then it resolves into more straight playing. Fireworks is played solo harp and as the name implies it’s pretty much all technical fireworks: glissandi, arpeggios, harmonics and big bass thumps. This version of Little Flower, is quite short and made up of all staccato notes on solo piano.

Four Strings
Waves. Shingle. Seagulls

Next up is is Four Strings by Howard Skempton, which is a great piece whose score is reproduced in its entirety above.  that I have a fantastic AMM version of. On this version Mitchell comments that “this is the first time he’s seen a violin played as a wind instrument”. This was one of the more abstract realizations from this group, lots of overlapping disparate tones, in the flowing and pattern based with random interjections which you can certain read into the score.  The final piece that they play is Christian Wolff’s Edges, which Mitchell introduces by saying that with Wolff’s music what at first seems totally open and completely free but when you get into the music you find how extraordinarily restricted you feel. This is a barrier that you have to get through and I have to say having played Edges myself I completely understand this. In fact I’ve made almost the same comment to others, that I found this one of the hardest graphic scores to find a way into, but so rewarding when you do. Their take involves fairly isolated events, but with the four members lots of overlap. There is a much wider dynamic range in the piece, which is called for in some elements of the score and also a much wider variety of sounds: rubbings, squelches, taps, percussive elements, noise all of which makes this a pretty diverse and interesting piece of music.

Christian Wolff Edges

This segment was in my opinion a great thing.  Classically trained musicians often come across as stiff playing this kind of music and some never seem to be able to break free of their routines.  Having students work with less structured pieces probably goes a long way to get them to shake free of some of their training.  This could be the creation of the next generation of experimental musicians.

22) Forty Years from Scratch: Au Revoir

The final two hours of the thirty-six begins with what sounds like Organum and as its followed with another section of the David Jackman interview this seems very probably. This opens with Jackman asking himself the question: “What did I learn from the Scratch? … I very much like a sound that’s collective. That has a collective feel to it, even though strangely enough its mostly just me. … The sound itself doesn’t have a soloist, so its a collective noise of some sort, whether its a consonant noise, or its discordant or its just noise. … I think this came from Scratch Music.” Jackman also says he doesn’t have much faith in the work he did at that piont that he kind of rejects it now. Not like how Cardew rejected his old music, which Jackman felt had an essence of violence to it.  He felt it was too bad he published material from then as he was still a student in musical terms.  “I made all of my mistakes in public”.  He lost all interest in performing after the Scratch and has never regained interest in it. I don’t want to perform live, I make my music in the studio which suits me down to the ground”.  This fragment ends with him saying; “I don’t think my music is new, I’ve recontextualized things so that they appear new”.

There is more Organum played and then Micheal Chant comes on to discuss current activities with fellow composer Hugh Shrapnel. They talk a bit about the legacy of the Scratch and one point that Chant makes is that the revolutionary movement that it came in contact with is still in progress. He allowed that its perhaps in retreat but that they are still proud of it. But really the ideas of the revolution are completely bankrupt, and while the basic goals of improving things for humanity are truly worthy and ones that I’m highly sympathetic toward, there is nobody seriously championing those ideas.  It is in my opinion absolutely vital that we discard ideas that have proven to to be unfeasible and that we turn our energies toward generating new ideas. The great thing about programs like this is that they teach us the ideas that have been tried and if we are paying attention we can learn what works and what doesn’t. Chant goes on to say that a lot of the point of this marathon is how the effects of the Scratch is still being felt today, which I think in the musical sense is completely true. The real legacy of the Scratch is the music and the ideas behind the formation of the group.  The political stuff is just a footnote on how the group ended.  Anyway they go on to talk about their current activities and how they still work in their political agenda. Some of it, anti-war activities for instance, I can totally get behind, though it shows that they themselves aren’t agitating for violent overthrow of the bourgeois so much these days.

Some music was then played beginning with a piece from Hugh Shrapnel that he wrote as a soundtrack to an anti-war film by Stuart Monroe as part of the Not In Our Name movement. This is a sort of melancholy keyboard melodic line meandering over a background wash that becomes increasingly dissonant and various audio samples such as Bush’s “Axis of Evil” quote from the State of the Union are played. This was followed by the last five minutes from Chant’s contribution to this project, Seize the Initiative, which he says he wrote with the Scratch in mind in that it can be played by trained and untrained musicians. This piece was basically various voices reading rather revolutionary-ish slogans while initially sedate music rambled along becoming increasingly bombastic.

There is another bit about the politics where Chant and Sharpnel point out that they were young and that it was the spirit of the times which justifies the propagandist nature of their political music.  However from reading Tilbury’s book I don’t think this is entirely true.  The Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) persisted in idealizing Mao and Stalin well past the discrediting of their idealogies and revelations of their horrible abuses and well after many of the other British communist parties (splitters!) had long moved on. Yes it was revolution was in the air and I think that youth forgives a lot, but to me that means as you get old you learn from your failures and repudiate your mistakes. Yes you should stand up for core beliefs and I think its great the work they’ve done, but that doesn’t forgive the excess, banalities and inhumanities of the time. Anyway that’s a discussion for another time.

It was back to the music after this political digression Hugh Shrapnel playing a piece that he wrote on the piano, Love/Hate, which was a lovely piece driven by repetitive chords.  The next piece played was New Love the middle piece from Chant’s Three Mayday Studies, which had a romantic, almost Beethoven, feel to it, very nice. Hugh described it as “searching” which I think neatly sums it up.  So this was it from Chant and Shrapnel and they played out with an extract from Chant’s opera Occupation is Not Liberation. This part of the opera anyway (the overture perhaps) was long organ chords and little melodic fragments with spaces between them. Then there was narration in English announcing the court coming into session reading out charges against Bush and Blair. Heavy handed but sentiments I can agree with.

The final 25 minutes featured Scratch members Carole Finer, Laurie Baker, Brigid Scott Baker, Michael Chant and Hugh Shrapnel plus Tom Chant and Tanya Chant.  They wrapped it up with some thoughts about the weekend and how the marathon went.  Thanks to Resonance went out and Laurie Baker (I think) pointed out that this program allowed for some of Cardew’s later works to get played which have almost never been played publicly.  Brigid joined in saying that nobody but Resonance would have done such a program, which is possibly true though there are some college radio stations that do 24 hour marathons of a single artist that possible might. Carole said that some of the best stuff for her was playing and hearing the early Scratch music, how much fun it was to revisit. Thanks were given to the engineers and to the shows they displaced.  All well deserved and as a listener I add my thanks to Resonance as well. Brigid: “The weekend has definitely been a breath of fresh air.”

The final bit of music, right before midnight, the Chant Quartet concludes this herculean broadcast with a live fifteen minute performance. The Chant quartet features two generations of Chants: Micheal on piano, Carole on banjo, Tom on saxophone and Tanya playing violin(?) and they played Beautiful Music a piece that Micheal Chant wrote back in the Scratch days. This was a very nice, slowly evolving piece with dry scratchy bowing, metallic plucks on the banjo, very well placed long single notes from the sax, and at first gentle almost background chording on the piano.  The piano chords pick up a bit in intensity now and again,  later becoming big crashes and there are sharper interjections from the banjo here and there, and one short section of rippling saxaphonics but mostly it is deliberately paced Beautiful Music.

The Chant Quartet Beautiful Music

The program begins as it ends with Carole Finer ringing a bell, this time a single chime. So that’s it, thirty-six hours of music, reminiscences, stories and details from a vital part of musical history.  An amazing, historic program that was just filled with so much information. Even in three long (too long I’m sure) posts I’ve only scratched the surface here. Much thanks to all involved, but especially Carole Finer who spearheaded this event and also provided more information and corrections to these posts.  However any and all omissions, mistakes, misspellings, misinformation, typos and the like rest entirely on myself. Further information and corrections are absolutely welcome!

The legacy of the Scratch lives on.


Scores Performance

Julie Davidows score
Julie Davidow's score

As promised, my report on the closing party and performances of the Scores exhibition at the Lawrimore Project. I had poked around on the Lawrimore Project website as well as the site from the curator, Volume, prior to the show and the score posted above was the one that was leading my list of ones I wanted to perform.  I scrambled around Monday morning getting ready (I’ve not been playing out much for the last 6 months or so, so I’d developed a really non-portable studio setup) but was still able to make it to the gallery 45 minutes early.  There was only one other performer there at that point so I was able to get my pick of scores.  A quick survey revealed to me that my research was correct and that the score that appealed most to both my visual aesthetics as well as having the best musical possibilities was Julie Davidow’s score.  Scott Lawrimore, the gallery owner, helped me locate a table and power and then left me to set up. I got myself setup and then spent a bit more time working out an approach to the score. After I’d spent a lot of time looking at it and thinking about it I finally read the card with the title and description. This turned out to be: Evidence of Tudor in a Throusand Plateaus (a mashup in 3 movements). Well this was pretty amazing in my mind that this score was directly inspired by an experience the artist had with a score dedicated to David Tudor. I consider David Tudor a major influence and hero and I feel it’s no coincidence that this was the score which captured my attention.

By this time most of the other performers had arrived, selected their score and were setting up.  All told there were to be eight performers, most of them solo but there was one duo. Apart from the performers and Scott I’d say there was another dozen people there, a mix of art patrons and music aficionados.  The first performer was Emily Pothast of the band Midday Veil and also of the art focused blog, Translinguistic Other.  She was playing a piece by Steven Hull that directly referenced John Cage, including images from Fontana Mix as part of it. This piece was a tall black boxy sculpture with a train that would run through it and then out on the gallery floor. Emily was doing these wordless layered vocal drones that seemed to follow the path of the train and as it would disappear from her view she would stop.  This was quite nice and seemed to be a direct attempt to realize the score. A video of Emily’s performance can be found on Vimeo.  I should mention that not being familiar with the music of any of the people who performed my main interest was the degree to which they tried to play the score.

Pearson Wallace-Hoyt and Jon Sargent performing Nina Katchadourian's score

This performance was followed by the only duo performance, Pearson Wallace-Hoyt and Jon Sargent performing a score that was six pieces of paper about different birds and birdsong. They were playing tapes through effects and later some vocals and guitar work. This was in a sort of crunchy, noisy droney tradition at first which seemed a bit removed from how I recalled the scores. As an aside it should be noted that not many of these scores seemed to be made with music making in mind. They are art pieces with presumably some connection to music in the artists mind, but they are not like a musician attempting to make a piece of music that is best represented graphically.  Anyway as their set proceeded they began to add various sequels and squawks of feedback and distressed electronics that I felt could be thought of as a reading of that score.  Sort of in the vein of the abstract sounds that Tudor used in his Rainforest to so well capture that environment.  This duo was followed by David Golightly, also of Midday Veil, who did a short solo analog synth performance to a score by Laetitia Sonami that was a Flycatcher complete with flies. He was using an Octave CAT to created a sputtery layered environment that could evoke with gridwork of the piece with a few events perhaps representing the flies. A nice short little piece that you can watch in it’s entirety on Vimeo.

Amplfied Wire Strung Harp with Preperations and simple electronics
Amplified Wire Strung Harp with preparations and simple electronics

I was up after David and while I can’t really comment on my performance I can say how it went for me.  As I sat down I forget to setup a timepiece so I wasn’t really able to judge how I was going. In my experience without using a set time for a graphic score you don’t tend to pace it right.  This piece was in three panels with some common elements between them, but also different tones and feels. Its primary element is a wandering webwork that runs through it.  Personally I felt I rushed the piece at first giving a bit of short shrift to the first panel. I eased back and did better in the later two, but it was hard to sense how it was progressing. My favorite part of the piece was the last panel with its vast expanses of white space.  I interpreted this with a  new approach that I’ve been working with where instead of using silence directly I try to create something that would resemble what you experience when there is silence.

Wyndel Hunt and Fallen Fruit
Wyndel Hunt and Fallen Fruit

Following my performance was Wyndel Hunt tackling Fallen Fruit. This piece, which formed such a striking backdrop for the  Trimpin film panel a few weeks back, is one of the better pieces of art in the exhibit in my opinion.  I can’t see I see it much as a score and based on the process it was created (a group gets together with various jars of jam and jellies and has a “jam session” ha. ha.) I’m not sure how much of that was intended. Wyndel did an interesting interpretation on it that began with a lot of vocal samples, manipulated and distorted and then added rather noisy, perhaps a bit in the Thurston Moore vein, guitar on top of this.  Hard to directly relate the voices to the score though a friend suggested that evoked the group process behind it, but the cascading washes of guitar certainly could be read as following the lines of the image.

While everything was fairly free form w/r/t the performances Scott had decided on an order for us to play. He’d annouced the next performer and the artwork they’d be performing in between each piece.  Mixing it up a bit from the arranged orderd, next up was yet another member of Midday Veil, Simon Henneman doing a solo sax take on a video piece by Monique Jenkinson. This video piece seemed about as far from a music score as you could get, but it was a piece that could use a soundtrack, so perhaps if you think of a film as a score for its soundtrack it works that way. It featured images of a woman from the head down, sort of stripping, or dancing or something. It had a very noir-ish feel to it and Henneman responded with a pretty smokey, bluesy sound. Toward the end of the film he strayed into skronkier territory with sheets of wails and some sharper attacks.  I felt this all worked quite well as a soundtrack to the film.

Timm Mason plays a score by David Schafer
Timm Mason plays a score by David Schafer

The final performance was Timm Mason who did a solo guitar read of a painting of text by David Schafer.  He used the tiniest little practice amp, a little round thing at the end of a chord he tossed away from himself. He appeared to read the entire score and play chords in an angular style as he read.  The tiny little amp made this very tinny and distorted it somewhat, but it was a sort of off the cuff, fairly straight chording with perhaps a nod to Derek Bailey.  A valid approach to the piece for sure, but it seemed to go on and on. Judge for yourself though, a video has been posted of his performance on Vimeo.

After this it was snacks and drinks in the back gallery and Midday Veil did a bit of playing in a side gallery.  I mostly packed up and talked to some of the people who I knew from the Eye Music group. All in all it was a pretty good time and certainly an interesting experience. Only afterward did I recall that this was actually the first solo performance I’ve done. Sure I’ve done two one minute solos and I did play solo at the end of the Vancouver New Music Treatise, but this was the first time in this sort of situation. Must have been why I felt so nervous.

See all my pictures from this event on my Flickr Page.
Find out more about this exhibition at the Scores page on the Lawrimore Project website and at Volume.
Video’s from this event on Vimeo.

Scores at the Lawrimore project

Saturday June 13th
“¢ Curated by Volume
closing party and performances at the Lawrimore Project

This Saturday (tomorrow as of this post) is the last day of the Scores exhibit at the Lawrimore Project. I was able to check out much of this exhibit when I visited the gallery for the Trimpin film panel I reported on a few posts back.  I’ve spent a lot of time playing graphic scores and I have to say several of these impressed me with their musicality.  I’ve been trying to get back to the gallery to more thoroughly explore the exhibit but alas its been a very busy period with the day job.  So I was happy to get an email looking for musicians to perform from these scores at the exhibits closing party.  This event takes place between 2-4pm Saturday, June 13th at the Lawrimore Project gallery.  I’ll be performing at some point in that period along with other local musicians.  So if you are local come on down and check out the scores and performances.

I’ll post again with more on this exhibit and how the performances went later. You can check out images of several of the scores at the Scores page on the Lawrimore Project website or from the website of Volume who curated the exhibition.

Tengu et Kitsune 2

Taku Sugimoto/Taku Unami Tengu et Kitsune 2 (slub)

I was a pretty big fan of the original Tengu et Kitsune so of course I had to pick up the follow up. This release features two tracks of 22′ and 26′ respectively. The first track is made up of rattles from Unami’s computer driven motors and devices and Sugimoto operating metronomes that gives the proceedings a rather interlocking mechanical feel. It somewhat evokes the clockwork’s of Ryu Hankil but not nearly as as interesting to these ears. It also evokes some the process pieces from the sixties especially György Ligeti’s Poème Symphonique For 100 Metronomes. I’m not sure if its based on a score but it doesn’t really seem so to me. Perhaps a very loose one, with instructions to just play at certain times. Anyway all things considered its not bad, if nothing earth shattering. I do rather like mechanical type sounds like this but I feel that the density at times mars the piece, if anything it could have used a bit more of the trademark Sugimoto space,

The second track is from six months later and seems to reflect a slight shift in direction as at least the reports of Unami in performance over the last six months seem to be in line with this performance. It is again focused on rhythmic structures but instead of the mechanical processes used in the first track it is mandolin and sounds that can be generated with the body. The mandolin playing is mostly broken chords, repeated rhythmic strumming and here and there, fragments of melodies. The other sounds are mainly handclaps though tapping the bodies of their instruments and tongue clicks feature as well. It seems to be an attempt to replicate the mechanical rythems of the first track naturally, perhaps even following the same loose structure. However these methods work a lot less convincingly then the first track mainly in the lack of precision. It could be deliberate or an element that they wished to incorporate but I was pretty unimpressed by the inconsistencies of their rhythms and the sounds themselves. I should note that it is definitely the rhythmic failures that make this less interesting, as failure in technique has long been a fasciation for me. That is to say the accidental events that occur that lead to different sounds are something I’ve exploited a lot. In fact I’ve even worked with failure in rhythmic structures with my Book of Musical Patterns and this is perhaps an insight into what would happen if someone chose to play those patterns very fast. Perhaps in the end I’m just not that interested in hearing handclaps and half assed mandolin melodies?

One of Sugimoto’s smartest moves is that he only really hints at what his point is in all of this. He is not like Mattin, who is right out there saying what exactly it is he is challenging. This almost always proves to be to the detriment of his activities as his challenges are almost always strawmen: he is railing against a situation that doesn’t really exist (see this post for a perfect example of this). Sugimoto for all we know could be just doing that but he doesn’t make dramatic public statements or issue manifestos, he simply does his show and puts out the occasional recorded documentation of it. Almost all of the assessments of what he is doing (and Unami as well, but I think he is mostly following Sugimoto’s lead in this) are pretty much conjecture, I don’t think we’ve had much of a statement from him since the beginning of his extreme silence phase. I tend to think these two (again Unami following Sugimoto) as trickster figures involved in a continuing commentary on improvised music and its audience.