AMM March 31st 1990

The Nameless Uncarved Block

March 2010 I acquired a bootleg of an AMM performance from March 31st, 1990, from the Taktlos Festival in Zurich Switzerland.   AMM at this show was Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare and John Tilbury which of course is the same lineup on the Matchless release The Nameless Uncarved Block.  Looking at the linked page for this album we see that it was “Recorded at concerts given in Zurich and Basel organised by the Taklos[sic] Festival, Switzerland, April 1990.” A cursory listen to the two recordings reveal that the Matchless release contains the entirety of this bootleg (the Zurich show) plus additional material presumably from the Basel show. The purpose of this series is to examine the unreleased AMM material and while this exists as a bootleg it is beyond the pervue of this project. It is worth considering boots of released material where there are significant variance in sound or editing or those with additional material. For instance the final AMM show (May 1st, 2004) which I had a bootleg of prior to its official release is about five minutes longer then the official release and it is worth considering the complete performance.  So there isn’t too much to say about this one, beyond go pick up the album! While I’m not really a fan of Gare’s work on this one, it does have my favorite title of any AMM release. Anyway a brief analysis of the recording quality and comparing the two releases follows.

A recording of the performance seemingly offers the possibility of “documentary” recovery, allowing a consciously analytical response to the sounds and the developing structure. Even as it refigures the past, however, the recording indicates its remoteness. -Ed Baxter(2)

The bootleg begins with odd stuttered chords from the piano, over which Gare, in quite a tonal mode, layers lower register lines, which become increasingly melodic.   Tilbury’s piano then shifts to a jazzier mode and as Prévost begins to tap out a fragmented tattoo on the toms it almost sounds like a jazzy ballad. Only after some time does Rowe come in offering a counterpoint, that shears away from what was previously quite uninteresting. Gare mostly sticks in this more tonal vein, though more fragmented at times as the rest of AMM explore their own language. It weaves between these extremes, neither really giving ground. And yet its not quite as interesting as that contrast makes it sound, it is not as if Rowe tuned in a free jazz sax solo on the radio and let it run in opposition. Gare is too reactive to the group in that sort of call and response style of jazz and not the laminal nature of AMMMusicThe Nameless Uncarved Block on the other hand begins with a skittery laminal sound of tinkled ivories,  bowed metal and real subtle un-sax like squeaks from Gare. The first track, Sedimentary, is not contained within this bootleg and most likely is from the Basel shows. The second track, Igneous, seems to begin at around 6’15” minutes into the bootleg, cutting away that ballad-like section. The mix is quite different as well, the drums a lot more buried in the official release and this low, almost bass-like, playing from Rowe a little more present. In fact the mix and the audio quality is so different that it is worth hearing this bootleg as a demonstration of how different this can be. A good example is around 8’30” in the boot 3’15” in Igneous there is a louder more “freak-out” type section that clearly from the boot is a lot more intense than in the recording, whether that was done in post or just a different microphone placement or what have you is hard to say.  Igneous runs for 37 minutes  and then there is a final track, Metamorphic, which is 7’21” long. This is track is contained in the final track on the Zurich bootleg from approximately 3′ in until the end. Interestingly on the boot there seems to be about 15″ cut from the end but then there is applause. All told the bootleg has maybe 8-9 minutes that aren’t part of The Nameless Uncarved Block.  The differences in the recording are the most interesting to me, it sounds as if the boot is an audience recording, though a very nice one, with audience conversation clearly audible during several quiet sections (and possibly why that little bit was edited out at the end). But clearly the person recording this was closer to Gare as he is a lot more up front in the mix and interestingly this recording seems to capture a slight different aspect of Rowe’s playing — less of the subtitles but more of the rumble if that makes any sense.

This recording is interesting in that it makes explicit how different a recording can be based on how it is done, where it is done, not to mention editing and any other post processing work. Even at a live show ones position in the audience makes a huge difference. Of course this aspect is only of limited interest and won’t bring me back to it after this initial period of listening. Personally though if I was interested in hearing this concert I’d stick to the official release, it has better balance between the members. This being the complete performance certainly gives it a documentary interest,  but personally I’m not much of a fan of Gare’s more tonal playing with AMM and The Nameless Uncarved Block never gets much play to begin with.

1) The Nameless Uncarved Block, Matchless Recordings, 1990
2) Liner notes from The Nameless Uncarved Block, Ed Baxter,  1990


AMM Membership timeline

There has been some question as to the AMM lineup at various points in their history.  It is a complicated issue considering that the group has been around for nearly fifty years now and has constantly changed its membership over the years.  Additionally there have been plenty of guests, members at large and collaborative performances to further complicate the issue. Over the course of my reviews of the various bootlegs floating around I have made various assumptions w/r/t to the line up on a particular recording, some of which have conflicted with the information circulating with the sources.  In general the information that comes with the sources is highly suspect – they simply use information that is highly generalized or from sources that are not particularly accurate (the AMM page on Wikipedia is fairly useless for instance).  My process is to always start with principle sources, amend it with secondary sources and then to finally rely on the evidence of my ears. Based on this process I have complied the following timeline of AMM’s membership, all of which is verified via the sources cited.

AMM Timeline


Early 1965
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare(1)


Mid 1965
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare, Lawrence Sheaff (1, 5)

1966 to mid-1967
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare, Lawrence Sheaff, Cornelius Cardew (1, 2)

Cardew officially joins in January(2; p. 254)

Mid-1967 to April 1968
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare, Cornelius Cardew (1, 2, 8)

Lawrence Sheaff leaves group a few months after recording AMMMusic (8, 5, 1; p185) probably April 20th 1967

April 1968 to 1969
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare, Cornelius Cardew, Christian Wolff, Christopher Hobbs (1, 2, 5)

Christopher Hobbs joins April 1968 (2; p. 304)
Christian Wollf’s Sabbatical Year(1; p.185, 2; p.304)
John Tilbury filling in for Cardew at times
(1; p.185)

1969 to May 1971
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare, Cornelius Cardew, Christopher Hobbs (1, 2, 5)

Hobbs leaves the group in May 1971(2, p.650)

May 1971 to March 1972
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare, Cornelius Cardew (1, 2; p.650)

March 26th 1972 – final AMM show(2; p. 651)

AMM: double duos

March 1972 to January 1973

The occasional double AMM:  Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare and Cornelius Cardew, Keith Rowe(1, 2; p. 651)


mid-1972 to 1975
Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare (1, 2, 3)


Summer 1976
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, Lou Gare, Cornelius Cardew(1; p.186, 2l p.816)

Unrecorded, no performances, practices only, which apparently didn’t work out.


1977 to 1979
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost (1, 2, 3)

(1979/80:  Supersession: Evan Parker/Keith Rowe/Barry Guy/Edwin Prévost)


late 1980 to 1986
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, John Tilbury  (1, 3)

1986 to 1994
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, John Tilbury, Rohan de Saram (1, 3)

1989(?) to 1992
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, John Tilbury, Rohan de Saram, Lou Gare(4)

1994 to mid-2004
Keith Rowe, Edwin Prévost, John Tilbury

May 1st 2004:  Final AMM show


2005 to present
Edwin Prévost, John Tilbury


The sixties are of course the most contentious, being a long time ago and featuring the largest amount of changes. Cardew joining, Sheaff leaving in 1967, Hobbs and Wolff joining and then the fracture in the 70s. Tilbury’s Cardew bio goes a long way to providing specific dates for some events though others remain somewhat vague (no specific date for Sheaff leaving the group for instance just “April 1967, though his last concert with the group is mentioned, as being at the Commonwealth Institute which the Factsheet(5) lists only one in April on the 20th.

1968 to 1970
The information that I begin with for AMM from 1968 to their breakup in 1972 is primarily sourced from Prévost’s article AMM 1965/1994 — a brief and mostly chronological historical summary published in No Sound is Innocent(4) :

In 1968 American composer Christian Wolff joined the ensemble for the duration of his sabbatical year in Britain. Also during this time Christopher Hobbs, a percussionist and composition student of Cardew’s, at the Royal Academy of Music, regularly performed with AMM. John Tilbury occasionally participated when Cardew was not present.

From the early 1970s until the fracture of AMM in 1972 the ensemble remained the quartet: Cardew, Gare, Prévost and Rowe.” (4, p.185)

1969 is a question: was Christian Wolff’s “sabbatical year” – was it a school year, so Autumn 1968 to Summer 1969? Or was it literally 1968?  Additionally by saying that Hobbs played “during this time” does Prévost mean exclusively during Wolff’s time? Considering that Hobbs is part of the group for The Crypt sessions (12th June, 1968) but not Wolff I’d say this is the case.  This is further backed up by the fact that Hobbs was part of the group ion December 1969 when they played in Denmark as released as part of the Laminal box set. Thus I think that that sentence is too compress, it seems that Hobbs was a part of AMM from 1968/1969 presumably starting around the time that Wolff did. Alas there are no AMM recordings floating around with Christian Wolff , leaving this as one of the most egregious missing eras in the historical record. In the various bootlegs floating around It seems to be generally assumed that Hobbs is still part of group in 1970 and there has been some question as to why I don’t always follow this assumption. Again it is the above quote that by “early 1970 the ensemble remained the quartet”.  Clearly Hobbs left at this point but what exactly qualifies as the “early 70s”? Of the two bootlegs that I have in question from this period (Jan. and Feb. 1970) it sounds like there are two percussionists in the January recording and only one on the February recording. Thus I make the cutoff here.

In the 70s the originally group came to an end but several interesting events occurred. First off due to prior commitments the group had a tour and a festival in the Netherlands. With irreconcilable differences between the Rowe/Cardew and Gare/Prévost camps they played as the double duos. Gare/Prévost presumably playing as they would in AMM II but the Cardew/Rowe duo is completely unheard at this point. The record indicates that they were more in the traditionally abstract AMM realm (as opposed to Gare/Prévost’s more ‘free jazz’ sound) and would often play over tapes of the Peking Opera and other such revolutionary sound musics). AMM II would be the other major event of the mid 70s, this was the continuing duo of Gare and Prévost, who constantly got billed as AMM so they rolled with it. At the end of the 70s when the duo of Rowe and Prévost formed they used AMM III a the moniker indicated that the Gare/Prévost duo was AMM II, which I’ve used throughout.

The most strange and interesting things though occurred in 1976 when Rowe made an attempt to get the quartet back together again. There was a concert on April 1st of that year that Rowe refers to as a “hidden” AMM concert that included himself, Cardew and Prévost plus flautist John Wesley-Barker and double-bassist Marcio Mattos(2; p. 816). This event has been heretofore unknown only revealed in Tilbury’s massive Cardew biography.  The other event, more well known, was a series of practices in June of 1976 of the quarter of Gare, Cardew, Prévost and Rowe(2; p.816).  These apparently didn’t work out and Tilbury cites Gare as feeling that Cardew didn’t have the level of commitment necessary and abandoned the attempt.

This is basically the question of Rohan de Saram. He was definitely considered part of the group, but he clearly was the one with the most demanding schedule (being a member of the Arditti String Quartet at this time) and thus there are cases of the trio AMM as well as a quartet with Lou Gare.  There also are various lineups with the clarinettist Ian Mitchell (quartet and quintet with de Saram) but I tend to think of those as more guest spots as I would the occasional shows with Evan Parker.

1989 to 1992
The early 90s quintet AMM was something I only stumbled upon during the course of this review process. I have a bootleg from 1987 from this quintet and in the course of my research I found this line in the updated CD liner notes accompanying the CD release of The Crypt:

“And the band goes on: for to date we have still not recorded the current quintet line-up of de Saram, Gare, Prévost, Rowe and Tilbury.” – Edwin Prévost, Februrary 1992(5)

This version never would be recorded and it seemed that Gare left again soon after. De Saram would soon follow though there would be the occasional gig through at least 1994.

After Rowe left AMM in 2005, Tilbury and Prévost made the controversial decision to continue on as AMM as a duo. I refer to this as AMM IV as per Rowe’s definition that AMM should be at least trio with himself and Prévost at the core.  It is interesting to note that AMM IV now often plays with other musicians but they are always listed as “AMM+” indicating that these are all guest spots. These guests have included Sachiko M, Christian Wolff and John Butcher among others (see the comments for more info).


1) Edwin Prévost, No Sound is Innocent, Copula, 1995
2) John Tilbury, Cornelius Cardew: A Life Unfinished, Copula, 2008
3) Notes on AMM: Entering and Leaving History Stuart Broomer, CODA Magazine no. 290. 2000
4) Edwin Prévost, The Crypt Liner notes, 1992 (Matchless)
5) AMM FactsheetThe Crypt Liner Notes (not online), Matchless Recordings 1992
6) The AMM page at the European Free Improvisation Home
7) Meta Machine Music, Rob Young, The Wire Issue #132 (February 1995)
8) Edwin Prévost, AMMMusic Liner Notes (originally published in RER Quarterly vol.2 no.2, Nov. 1988)

AMM October 13th 1995

In the autumn of 1995 AMM engaged in their first tour of Japan, details of which seem to have escaped much documentation on the Internet.  The only two confirmed dates are October 13th at the Nagoya City Art Museum in Nagoya which is the bootleg in question and October 22nd at the Egg Farm in Fukaya. This later concert was released as From a Strange Place on PSF Japan. It is interesting to have these two documents from nine days apart, to compare how AMM is sounding at this point in 1995. Any additional information on the Japan tour would be appreciated.

From a Strange Place begins immediately with piano work from Tilbury and a restless working of the strings on the guitar from Rowe.  Taps and hits of the drums from Prévost interject here and there but are not dominate. He does move through objects signifying the full percussion setup, but unlike the previous. The beginning of this piece is rather helter-skelter with a worrying behavior as a dog at a bone. Sounds come in and stop but aren’t developed for long without a gap or a change. Rowe seems the most persistent, working his strings again and again without manipulating the electronic aspect, but with a wide degree of variance. When it does build into a denser structure it includes Tilbury’s arpeggios and grumbles and percussive string manipulations from Rowe’s guitar along with more vigorous drum work from Prévost. While overall this is a restless piece of music and it varies from silence to aggressive outbursts as a whole it seems less dense then the show from the week prior. There is a great section of a sustained spoken radio grab that Prévost responds to with more aggressive drumming, both rolls on the drums and singled pounded events that demonstrates the effectiveness of more muscular drum work (in contrast to the set under consideration today).  The center of this piece is a long, spacious very tentative feeling section, made of squeaky bowed metal, oscillating but low intensity guitar feedback interspersed with string manipulations and chording from Tilbury whose decay takes far more precedence then the attacks. The weakest part of this show though was a Prévost led assault on the drums, but here (and again in contrast to the boot) Tilbury and Rowe match him in density and volume.  But the gesture, that of a jazz drum solo, pulls you out where pure sound, however loud or ugly does now. But this event was short lived and the ending of this set, culminating with a Kabuki like clapped object amidst far away scrabbles on Rowe’s pickups, softly grinding metal and rumbled chords is among the best in its uncompromising yet stunningly beautiful nature. Here it feels as if all the musicians are finding their way, working through something which I think is characteristic of the best AMM sets.  In that regard this recording is a think a nice example of a “typically great” AMM set if not as transcendent as the absolute top tier pieces.  It also has my favorite of Keith Rowe’s painted covers 🙂

AMM October 13th 1995
Nagoya City Art Museum, Nagoya Japan

AMM has always been about searching for the sound in the performance.(5)

The recording begins with applause, presumably as the musicians took the stage. It begins quiet, with Prévost bowing some object and then rubbing on the surface of a drum. Apart from maybe some occasional moans from Rowe’s electrics the beginning sounds are all Prévost and move on to include short snare rolls, the occasional taps on a larger drum and at one point the shaking of some object.  Even so it is spacious and tentative with good gaps as Prévost’s stops or switches objects. Tilbury eventually comes with a a very prepared piano sound, chords on strings that have been muted or had objects on them. A few of these and it goes silent again, followed by Prévost stroking a metal object and letting it ring. He seems to have had a kit here as he seems to be playing a kick drum with a pedal whilst scratching the surface of another drum and bowing something – rather active if still a bit subdued for a short burst.  A very quiet, very thin electrical sound come from Rowe and the single piano notes from Tilbury on heavily muted strings. This is really one of the more exploratory openings with severe restraint from Rowe and Tilbury and Prévost almost seeming as if he is playing head down in his own space, not worrying or listening to anyone else, not concerned with sudden flurries of sound widely spaced out.  A near drum solo comes from him, in that scattered jazz style that is all drums, but seems to just skitter over surfaces. Of course being AMM there is no obvious rhythm.  Rowe is now letting a ripping static come from the radio, sometimes resolving into garbled speech, but all at a super minimal volume, just barely present.  And then with a rip of feedback it all explodes, with Prévost pounding the skins and several abrupt big chords from Tilbury. More volume and more active now, it is still quite stilted though Prévost seriously flirts on drum solo territory rolling across all of his drums and even working a cymbal at the end of some of these gestures.  Rowe is more aggressively attacking the strings, but in short bursts.  The spaces between events widens a bit but with no decrease in intensity for a minute or so and then it becomes spacious and soft.

Oscillations on prepared strings from Tilbury, skittery bowed metal from Prévost and a warbling sound from Rowe, perhaps a knife under his guitars strings all of this allowed to run for a bit a kind of sickly stasis. Low end radio added to the mix, plus additional groaning sounds, purer bowed metal and tapped drums from Prévost with almost buried repeated gentle high registered piano chords from Tilbury continue this queasy miasma, that even a few big drum hits from Prévost can’t resolve.  Most of this slowly fades away, leving a dentist drill wine and gentle piano playing, almost music box like from Tilbury. Finally it all fades away.

From a short gap, piano notes, now more mid-register and some of them prepared return joined shortly with brushes on the drums. A quiet electronic grinding whine whirls in and away, followed by gently tapped drums. Mallet work on the drums now, picking up the pace and as Tilbury begins to roll out big arpeggios on the ivories Prévost begins to work the cymbals, back in drum solo mode.  The occasional roar and groan from Rowes electronics are buried under this assault, which even as it drops in intensity does not reveal it any clearer. Short, spaced out events now, squeaks from Rowe’s strings, shorter spaced out drum assaults and a tenacious working of a few piano keys all stops and now a whine, thin and upper mid-range from Rowe dominates the nearly empty soundfield. Prévost begins to rub a drum head, contrasting the higher pitch whine with short, low interjections, Tilbury works the piano strings directly.

Everything fades away leaving just Prévost working a drum head. After a bit of this the sound of Tilbury striking the pianos strings with an object is heard along with  a low, quiet oscillation from Rowe. This continues apace until as it all fades away Prévost returns to gently and then not so gently pounding a floor tom. The brings Tilbury back to the keys, restless working a few bass notes. An uneasy tone come in, almost more felt then heard, just at the threshold of audibility amongst the other sounds. When it goes it away its absence is more obvious then its presence.  As Tilbury rolls chords Rowe returns now with a more persistent buzz, restless and more at a volume with the others. Things become wobbly: the bobbing sound of a spring or utensil on strings, Prévost drumming arrhythmically, fragments of chords from the piano. This fades out, almost into a false AMM style ending, with Tilbury’s chords getting quieter and quieter, Rowe’s rumbles being turned down, and very soft bowed metal.

But the bowing of the metal picks up a bit in intensity and the piano chording is still quiet, widely spaced but persistent. Tilbury now playing quiet fragments of little melody’s and Prévost adds the odd strike of the drum to his bowing.  Background roars and amplifier hums from Rowe come in and out, very widely spaced and then a grinding sound. Things keep pausing, as they seem to struggle to bring it back up. Now its that hurky-jerky style that is so oft driven by Prévost – start/stop little rolls on drums, hitting of other objects, short gestures. Rowe, as also is pretty common, with turn up a guttural roar and just as quickly cut it off sometimes seeming to work these sounds in parallel with Prévost’s staccato style. Vigorous rubbing of the guitar strings now and definitely the most aggressive from Rowe as Prévost now vigorously works the skins in true drum solo mode. This section played blind for most people would just sound like a jazz drum solo, not very AMM like at all. Prévost eventually backs it out, fading away on a long roll, Tilbury and Rowe now silent. A very quiet sound, perhaps a rubbing on Rowe’s strings, or a metal object of Prévosts is all that remains.

An electronic buzz comes up, a broken chord. Steady bowing now, quiet and thin. Rowe’s background hum. The last 8-10 minutes of this piece are beautiful – very spare with low end rumbles coming in and out, Tilbury putting in these deep chords that seem to come from the very depths and lots of space and silence. Out of this a little Feldman like broken chord, or a single stroke on the metal edge of a drum, or the the buzz of Rowe’s electronics. Very, very nice ending to what overall is a pretty mixed set.

This set is one of those that rather defies the ethereal floating nature so oft ascribed to AMM in the 90s.  Taken along with From a Strange Place one can see that this is fairly typical for AMM at this point. The trio in fact constantly worked with eruptions of volume and density even in this configuration. The sounds are just a lot more recognizable, usually being piano chords or big drum assaults then the more pure noises they’d have used in the 60s.  While I enjoy the roller-coaster nature of this period of AMM, I find that whenever Prévost has a full kit there is often a bit too gestural drumwork for my taste. When it becomes like a typical jazz drum solo, my interest wanes a bit.  Interestingly the other members tend to just let these events play out,  laying out (as it were) until space opens up again. I do feel that I should note that it is quite possible that Rowe was lost in the mix as I’m not sure what the sourcing on this one is.  However being pretty familiar with AMM boots at this point I do listen for his playing as opposed to its relative volume and it clearly was not present at many points.  Tilbury was pretty audible when he chose to be and I can more confidently assert his more withdrawn performance.  As always when the music seems the most ego free it was immediately familiar as AMMMusic and as powerful as ever.  As the decade would wear on it would seem that Prévost would pare down his tools and this I think would lead to the more austere final phase of the trio AMM.

1) AMM From a Strange Place (PSF Japan) 1996
2) Edwin Prévost, No Sound is Innocent, Copula, 1995
3) The AMM page at the European Free Improvisation Home
4) Notes on AMM: Entering and Leaving History Stuart Broomer, CODA Magazine no. 290. 2000
5) Keith Rowe Interview, Paris Transatlantic, Jan. 2001

AMM May 3rd 1994

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

Index of AMM Bootlegs

There’s been a bit of discussion on the available AMM bootlegs. So I thought I’d list all the ones that I have here and that I’ll be investigating in the future. This can also serve as an index to this series. If there are any that I’m missing that it is okay to share, please get in touch!

AMM Bootlegs

March 23rd 1966, London, England, UK

March 16th 1969, London, England, UK

January 20th, 1970, London, England, UK

February 3rd, 1970, London, England, UK

March 26th, 1972 Frankfurt Germany with the Gunter Hampel Group

April 23rd, 1979, BBC Studio, London, UK AMM III (Prévost/Rowe)

Unknown date, 1980, BBC Studio, London Supersession (Parker/Rowe/Guy/Prévost)

March 1st, 1987, London, England, UK (Prévost/Rowe/Tilbury/de Saram/Gare)

January, 1988BBC Maida Vale, England, UK (Prévost/Rowe/Tilbury/de Saram)

March 31st, 1990 Taktlos Festival, Zurich, Switzerland (Prévost/Rowe/Tilbury/Gare)

Unknown date, 1993, BBC Broadcast. England, UK (Prévost/Rowe/Tilbury/de Saram)

May 3rd 1994Context Studios, NYC NY USA

May 16th 1994 Ravensberger Spinnerei, Bielefeld, Germany (Rowe/Prévost/Tilbury/de Saram)

October 13th 1995, Nagoya City Art Museum, Nagoya Japan

April 25th 1996, Seattle WA, USA (often listed as May 25th)

July 20th 1996, Jazzgalerie Nickelsdorf, Austria

June 28th 1997, Glasgow, Scotland, UK

March 4th, 1998 Padova, Italy

October 14th, 2000 Boston, MA,USA

November 5th 2000 with the Stadler String Quartet

December 5th, 2000 with Abstract Monarchy Trio, Voicecrack+Günter Müller, Budapest Hungary

April 15th 2001, International House, Chicago IL, USA

December 15th, 2001, Fonotech Portugal

July 11th-14th, 2002 Festival Jazz  Luz, France

Summer 2002, CoMA Summer School, Yorkshire England, UK

November 23rd, 2003 Glasgow, Scotland, UK

May 1st, 2004 Conway Hall, London, England, UK

November 1st, 2005 AMM IV with David Jackman, LMC London UK

March 11th, 2008 Rome IT  AMM IV (Prévost/Tilbury)

Supplemental Material

AMM Membership Timeline – How I determine who is playing in a given bootleg.


AMM in Seattle

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

AMM play Cardew, Wolff, Cage & Skempton in Germany

John Cage, Variations III
John Cage: Variations III

I had heard that AMM used to stage performances various new music pieces at various times in their history (2). Of course Treatise was something they always did, finding a group of simpatico musicians to play that with was part of Cardew’s reason for joining up back in the ’60s.  But from what I understood they also played Wolff, Cage, Brown and others of the Experimental school.  The period where Tilbury first joined the group (early 1980s)  was one these periods, perhaps as a way to ease him into the groups dynamics.  So it shouldn’t be too surprising that at the point when de Saram was brought into the group they also performed those work from the 20th Century repertoire that he also might have been familiar with.  I’ve not managed to find any recordings of the early 80s AMM playing any of these pieces but recently a recording turned up from the Westfälisches Musikfest in Germany of the Rowe, Prévost, Tilbury, de Saram iteration of AMM performing pieces by Cardew, Wolff, Cage and Skempton.

Excepting the Skempton, these are all pieces that I love and have heard in a number of interpretations.  It is very exciting to me to get to hear AMM tackle these pieces. The Skempton, which I had not heard before this, is an amazing piece along with the Variations III is the highlight of this performance.


May 15th 1994
AMM play Cardew, Wolff, Cage, Skempton
Ravensberger Spinnerei, Bielefeld/Germany
first concert in the series: “Mobil – Offene Form mit Variations” within the “Westfälisches Musikfest, edition 1994”
recording from the original broadcast on WDR3, June 6th 1995

Set 1
Cornelius CardewSolo with Accompaniment for 2 instruments ad libitum
A real brooding interpretation of this piece with sounds struck and allowed to fade away. Especially quick bowed and struck gong which reverberates and fades away and either bow length strokes on the ‘cello or quick sequences of notes,  Rowe doing a fast brush over his strings or striking.  The piano is the solo here and it is sparse little figures and chords. This is an amazing take on this piece that you can hear in a much more formal version on the Matchless Cardew Chamber music disc. It shows how AMM, using nontraditional percussion and Rowe’s prepared guitar by musicians who aren’t classically trained can do a brilliant interpretation of this composition.

Christian Wolff: for 1, 2 or 3 people, any sound producing means
The piece opens right up with a circular attack on the head of a drum and some metallic percussive sounds. Little spurts and fits of sound from Rowe’s guitar with occasional outburst of swelled sound. This seems to be percussion, ‘cello and guitar with the characteristic sounds of Prévost: quick snare rolls, bowed metal, short metallic attacks, Rowe: filled strings, swelled attacks, spring-work and edgy bowed guitar and de Saram: scritchy bowing, col legno and short, sharp attacks. The nature of this piece leads to a spacious sound field with bursts of sound and density.

John Cage: Variations III for arbitrary number of players and arbitrary sound originators
This piece opens up with a crunching bit of over driven attack on the spring that evokes the initial moments of Tudor’s version of Variations II. After a bit of this de Saram works in almost a pure tone generated by slow deliberate bowing. Very spacious piece with long moments where you only hear incidental sounds. Quiet sounds such as Tilbury rubbing the piano strings and Prévost pressing an object into a drum head barely transcend these moments of stillness. Again and again though Rowe delivers the sharp attacks on his pickups.  Fantastic version of this piece, fill with space, single plucked ‘cello notes, crunching electronics, soft percussion and extended piano: the best version of this piece that I have heard.

Howard Skemptonfor strings (waves, shingle, seagulls)

“Shingles are little stones like very large grains of sand, that make a sucking sound as the tide comes in and out.” – Keith Rowe(1)

Thin wails from de Sarams upper register, and low gentle rumbles from mallets on Prévost’s floor tom open this piece. Tilbury joins in with what sounds like a two handed chord on the piano with the sustain pedal, but oh soft softly pressed so that the piano mallets just caress the strings. Rowe generates a very high pitched, very seagullish I’d say squeal from his guitar. The piece grinds on in this fashion evoking the waves shingle and seagulls for strings that the composition calls for. It ends as it begins, with gentle tapping evoking walking on a shingle beach, the high thin wails from the ‘cello and restless piercing feedback from the guitar. Calm yet sharp. A piece I’d not heard before, but came to immediately love from this performance of it. Slow paced, as of the sea on a calm day and filled with those sounds that can evoke natural processes but are miles away from the instruments from whence they came.

 Set 2
Cornelius Cardew February pieces for piano (#2)
Solo piano played by Tilbury. The February Pieces are transcriptions from Cardew’s supremely indeterminate Autumn ’60 and Tilbury has been playing it pretty much from the beginning.  Little clusters of chords and drops of single notes sprinkled amongst the background of these chords.  Short little pauses and a Feldman like attention to sounds duration and placement. A certain points it plays with traditional musical notions: fragments of scales, sections that evoke serialism, subverted near romanticism. It ends with listless wanderings up and down the keyboard leading into some quick muscular chording. It’s a whole musical world in a six short minutes. A beautiful little piece, perfectly rendered by Mr. Tilbury.

Right into full volume piano for this as if Tilbury just continued on from the February Pieces. Rohan de Saram jumps right in with short sharp strikes with his bow on the ‘cello strings and Prévost shortly adds in that circular sound of a bowed tam tam.  Only Rowe lays out initially though not too far into it he fades in and out with a mechanical whirr.  This improv, one of the shorter AMM pieces I’ve heard, seems highly informed by the music that preceded it.  It doesn’t quite have the laminal feel so typical of this period of AMM, it is built of short segments, cobbled together from fragments of the pieces that preceded it.

Almost as if compressing a typical AMM hour into it’s thirty minutes length, they do bring it together from the beginning described above. It becomes denser with more pronounced bowing, heavier mallet work on the floor tom and clear chords on the piano.  The alternations between densities that was so pronounced in the quartet AMM is shortly established though through the piece retains some of the flavor of the experimental compositions earlier performed. The piano is more dominate then normal and more Cardew like, Rowe, when he becomes more prominent is in the more fragmented attack and decays of Variations III and de Saram sounds the most Arditti-esque of all the AMM I’ve heard him on.  Only Prévost I’d say switched right to improv mode almost into the excesses of free improv at times with a quite muscular near drum solo-ish style; perhaps trying to create a clear break or perhaps due to being the furthest removed from the experimental tradition and the most heavily invested in improvisation.  The highlight for this piece for me is about half way through there is a low density section where Rowe lays in a quiet, slightly staticy
radio grab of a classical piece, a string quartet it sounds like, probably 19th Century.  An interesting bit of commentary on this classical festival and the tradition that they have been dabbling in. 

The very end of this piece is much more reminiscent of the previous recording reviewed from this quartet and is simply fantastic. It begins with this series of two note figures from Tilbury, to which de Saram adds some soft bowing and for a time it’s just these sounds.  Then Prévost drops begins this rattly metallic percussion sound and Rowe emits short growls and guttural scrapes from running a serrated edge over his strings. Tilbury moves to low rumbling sustained chords and the density builds into this glacial weight, slow and powerful and then it all just flakes away into it’s constituent parts and from these parts an urgency begins almost a frantic level of short, yet not dense activity. Then the announcer comes in and the piece is faded out, leaving us to question how they ended this from this rather active point and how much longer they played to arrive at that point.


Not the best of AMM performances I’ve heard, a bit too free improv, a bit too compressed and possibly due to wanting to break from the earlier music it seems to not be as in the moment as normal. Had it continued from how it began into an improvisatory exploration of the experimental tradition that would have been a pretty interesting piece of music. I’ve argued in previous installments that that is where AMM music lies anyway – their concerns didn’t entirely overlap but were in the same realm. So a natural progression from the experimental compositions into their unguided explorations would have made for a natural counterpoint and commentary instead of trying to force the issue.

While the short little section of AMMMusic in this performance certainly doesn’t reach the heights of that they have previously attained it is these performances of New Music compositions that puts this as one of my favorite AMM recordings. This marks the half way point of my transversal of my collection of AMM bootlegs and is the last of the quartet AMM recordings that I have acquired, from this point on it will be the trio AMM.

1) Keith Rowe interviewed by Gino Robair 1991, Transbay Calendar (11.07, 12.07 and 01.08)
2) Edwin Prévost, No Sound is Innocent, Copula, 1995
3) The Inexhaustible Document Liner notes. Paige Mitchell 1987
4) Rohan de Saram homepage

AMM on the Beeb in 1993

“Since there can be no absence of form, in free improvisation form must be self-organizing. The process is intrinsic to life. Coming now to definitions of organization, we will say that functional organization at some given level is equivalent to thermodynamic coupling (utilization of information) at the same level. It would seem also that a structure could be called organized if its existence were either necessary for the maintenance of some functional organization or dependent on the operation of some functional organization. Without reference to functional organization it seems to be impossible to define structural organization in a useful way.” – Paige Mitchell (3)

It is worthwhile to consider the structural nature of AMM performances, to ponder to what degree AMMMusic had codified. There are two fundamental aspects of AMMMusic that are immediately apparent even upon cursory listening: The laminal nature of the work and an oscillation between densities.  AMMMusic is often defined by this laminal structural agent, layers of sounds creating an entity that at its best exceeds the sum of its parts.  However in what can arguably be called the most creative period of AMM, the 1960s, we find much less of a reliance upon this method. Or more accurately we find less use of complimentary sounds then in the later AMM.  By complementary I mean sounds that work toward this end, they may in and of themselves seem absolutely incompatible, but when layered with the others create a unique floating world.  The ’60s AMM I would say was far more interested in sounds in opposition, not just to each other but to the situations of the times, the individuals and to conventional notions of music.

It is more or less the same process but refined and perhaps more oriented toward creating a specific sonic environment. It was refined to the point where it could pretty easily absorb new elements (though not always, see the recording with Gare a couple of reviews back) as is the case with de Saram. As this set of four recordings that I have with de Saram displays he is often providing a bed of bowed tones upon which the others place their sounds. Likewise the others often work with layers of sounds built up through repetition, for instance in this recording Prévost works extensively with mallets on the floor tom adding a low level rumble to the others sounds.  Tilbury and Rowe have their own laminal methods – bowing, fans, electronic rumbles from Rowe and repeated chords, minimalist styled repeated notes and Feldman-esque broken chords floating in the sound space.  But these two often add the disruptions that make up the an essential part of the laminal sounds – radio from Rowe cutting through the amniotic fluid of the layers of sound, or a melodic phrase from Tilbury providing an anchor of familiarity amongst the alien soundscape.

“We move in the delicate experience of sound as cooperatively shaped and developed material of encoding and in the experience of sound as energy. Among the successes of AMM in the formal challenge of self-organization are the expansiveness of reference and variety of articulation achieved through this ranging of source sounds from noise to microtonality.” – Paige Mitchell (3)

Even with all of the activity of four members the piece is pretty spacious, running from open to dense as was often the structure of AMM pieces. A common critique of Free Improvisation is that there is a cliche of oscillating from loud to soft with each existing solely to emphasize the other.  AMM in the 60’s was not trapped in this structural cliche – they might do an entire hour at a crazed level of energy. Or by utilizing extended silences (rumored to be up to 20 minutes though I’ve yet to hear a recording that contains one of these) undercut any sort of emphasize of energy through periods of quiet.  They even actually would alternate between soft and loud but not as a rule but as another tool.  But as they continued on and developed the refined AMM sound of the 80s and 90s they settled into a structure system of sparse and dense.  These could be of varying volumes, sparse and loud, dense and soft and so on but like their free improv brethren they tend to oscillate between these two extremes.  This piece is a good example of this with the shift between densities occurring a good half dozen times throughout.  It is interesting to note that at the very end AMM broke out of this dichotomy achieving at time a degree of stasis that pointed toward an evolution of the AMM sound. But the group was not to last in a recognizable form past that point.  Anyway we will examine that further as we get to that period.

AMM 1993, BBC Broadcast. England, UK

Opens with a gentle piano chord a few notes and then silence. Nearly inaudible is the rumble of Rowe’s guitar.  A few more piano notes come in and then a dry sawing from de Saram.  Slow, molasses like sawing with no affectation creating a rustling bed that the piano drops notes and broken chords upon. A very quiet, high thin wail comes in, Prévost bowing some metal perhaps. A dull thud. Repeated. A careful density is reached then abandoned leaving only the bowing, which takes on a more cutting tone now. Low register notes from the piano here and there the briefest strike on a cymbal.  This delicate brooding balance is reached, of quick sharp bow work, very spaced out piano chords and something being rubbed on a drum head.  The beginning of the piece though is so uncertain so unlike anything else, it feels the most like contemporary composition but it doesn’t behave at all like any examples of that I can site. It is the palette deployed in the service of atmosphere.  Prévost begins to use mallets on a floor tom creating an off kilter tattoo against which the uneven piano work and the schizophrenic bowing contrast. I think Rowe is also bowing his guitar there is a much more saw like bowing the effect of the bow on wound strings in contrast to the sharper bowing of the ‘cello.

The density is now thick with the guttural bowing, mallets and the swirling sharp bowing creating a thick stew of sound. It doesn’t last though, it all fades away for a second and then there is just sharp attacks on the ‘cello and a disconcerting background rumble. As the bowing declines, Prévost returns with the mallet work and perhaps a distant chatter of radio.  The sounds of pickups being abused come into play. Things become a lot more uncertain now, with the bowed ‘cell back but not creating a drone but more like banshee wails as disconcerting groans and grinding sounds are evoked from Rowe’s guitar. Heavily distorted radio comes in with unintelligible speech sounding like an alien Orwellian broadcast. De Saram switches to pizzicato playing which layers into Prévost’s deep rolling mallet work against the muffled radio broadcast. This darker section basically fades out from all of the musicians and very quiet piano chords are heard and some sweeet bowing. Its all brought way down but never quite stopping. A nice long section of just drums, muffled electronic thumps and a very high thin bowing sound.

From the space de Saram starts a much rougher, scratchy bowing sound akin to the kind of sounds Lachenmann often gets from his string players.  This leads to more aggressive drum work and hard attacks on Rowe’s guitar and the denisty and volume come up. Some big piano events here, sometimes sounding like inside piano work other times big low end chords.  After this explosion of sound it opens up with big sounds still but less of the density.  Short bowed attacks on the ‘cello, brief drum rolls and simple chords on the piano. Prévost drops out and it becomes even more spacious. Distant, noodley bowing from de Saram and mid range piano chords spaced so that the sound is nearly fully gone before the next. Very quiet is a bit of a hum from Rowe. The piano becomes very soft and the bowing a bit less erratic. Rowe brings up a grinding sound that fades in and out. A gentle passage of rough sounds.

Almost melodic piano now, with only a quiet swirling bowing sound and a background hum from Rowe that almost sounds like an electric organ with a note held down. Fan work from Rowe, still pretty gentle but adding a metallic oscillating sound against which the increasingly soft piano playing fades away from.  With the bowing from de Saram and this part it is a really interesting sound field of tones coming in and out.  Prévost begins to drop a few louder percussion bombs, answered but a short burst of radio and then more aggressive attacks right on Rowes pickups. Bowed metal in the distance as Rowe takes prominence. Fast screeches from the ‘cello as if the bow is just whipped across the strings. Then it all quiets down and just the nearly inaudible bowed metallic sounds remain. Muffled sounds as of something pressed on pickups buidling back up now. Rattly percussion is added in, the attacks on the guitar becoming pretty strong like rumbles of thunder.  Swirling bowing now with drum rolls and strikes on the tom from Prévost. Sounds of things scrapped against the guitar strings, the piano with muffled chords evoking some preparations. Things build up to a pretty high level of intensity and then drop down reveal just the component elements: thin bowing, sparse mallet work and then Tilbury starts with fast runs on the piano. De Saram echoes these.

Almost a pure tone now cutting through everything which one by one drops out. Then a simple rhythm is developed on the floor tom and the cutting bowing fades away.  Sounds like eBow on the guitar with that characteristic buzz as it hits strings.  It rises to a crescendo and then is gone. And all that remains are soft two handed chords on the piano. Very beautiful piano in the space. Short aggressive bowing comes in and out but nearly inaudibly. Almost sounding like solo piano improvisations now, mostly chord based by spacious and with hints of melody. Then the electronics are brought up, and echoy, hollow buzz that takes over the space along with the slapping of strings. This fades out and a near silence falls, but it keeps coming back never quite going completely away. Bell like sounds come in, perhaps from percussion but it sounds more like prepared piano to me. Rowe keeps bringing up the buzz but never very loud. Drums come in, proving the bell like tones to be piano after all.

The piano develops now almost sounding like a section of the Sonata’s and Interludes for Prepared Piano as the drums and hums fade out. Very background is an electrical hum that sounds like a motor being picked up via a telephone coil.  Prévost brings back the drums and Tilbury keeps working the prepared piano now sounding like a percussion suite. He manually fades this out as a whiny bowing sound comes in and amongst this Prévost hits his gong or tam-tam a couple of times, softly but definitely there.  Chunks of pickup sounds, buzzes and rips from Rowe. Things are building up to a head now with cymbal crashes, single loud piano notes and rhythmic staccato bow work from de Sram. The spring puts in an appearance on Rowes guitar as de Saram falls into a regular sawing pattern. A confluence of scattered sounds from Rowe over this and regular drumming build up and then it ends.

The period of time that Rohan de Saram played with AMM is interesting in that the dynamic of the group shifted greatly toward that of a classical chamber group.  The balance between immediately recognizable sounds- the piano and ‘cello, against the alien sounds coaxed from metals, electronics and the aether, shifted toward the former. Even with extended techniques on the ‘cello and preparations on the piano at times this iteration of the group sounds very classical but in a modern sense.  For it isn’t the chamber groups of a Mozart or even a Stravinsky that they evoke, no it would be more the sounds of Cage, Wolff, Cardew – continuing the experimental tradition.

1) Rohan de Saram homepage
2Notes on AMM: Entering and Leaving History Stuart Broomer, CODA Magazine no. 290. 2000
3) The Inexhaustible Document Liner notes. Paige Mitchell 1987
4) Meta Machine Music, Rob Young, The Wire #132 (February 1995)
5) Keith Rowe interview by Dan Warburton at Paris Transatlantic
6) Edwin Prévost, No Sound is Innocent, Copula, 1995
7) Keith Rowe interview in Monk Mink Pink Punk no 12 (July 2007)

AMM – January, 1988 BBC Maida Vale

“What improvisation means in AMM: elsewhere there is music that argues for improvisation; AMM, more lethal, assumes the world of composition.”  – Stuart Broomer(2)

The is the second of three recordings I have featuring the ‘cellist Rohan de Saram. The first, along with the saxophone of Lou Gare, was our last entry and I felt rather dominated by Lou.  But when AMM was the quartet of Prévost/Rowe/Tilbury/de Saram, as it is here, it was de Saram who would be the driving factor. Rohan de Saram was a ‘cellist from the classical world specializing in contemporary music, though he was familiar and proficient with the classics of the repertoire. By the time he was asked to join AMM he’d already been a member of the renowned Arditti String Quartet for a number of years. Rare among performers of composed music de Saram has explored improvisation though how much prior to joining AMM it is hard to say.

“This is also a unique thing about AMM, in that we didn’t invite improvisers to join us.”  – Keith Rowe(5)

Cardew was of course the first composer invited to join AMM and interestingly he also often played ‘cello with the ensemble. The sound of bowed strings along with the extended techniques of modern composition gels well with the stew of percussion and electronics that forms the core of the AMM sound. Cardew though I think really informed the what became AMMMusic, though I have not had a chance to hear the one known pre-Cardew recording the reports have been that it is a bit more free jazzy, though still quite experimental.  Rohan de Saram on the other hand, while fitting in well with the group, drives them in a different way. He is generally playing, only laying out occasionally, he also tends more towards loud-soft-loud-soft dynamics as opposed to the more organic nature of AMM textural playing. It is almost as if he is a soloist playing with an ensemble as if this was a “Cello and Trio”.

“De Saram here assumes a special status: it may merely be that it is his sole appearance with AMM on a full-length CD, though, too, it may be his specific linearity. The Inexhaustible Document is as arresting a cello work as composed music has given us in the 200 years that they’ve been written – Shostakovitch, Kodaly.” – Stuart Broomer(2)

AMM, January 1988,  BBC Maida Vale, England, UK

Tentative piano chords, in a deep hiss. A rattle of percussion, a faint electronic sigh, soft dry sawing on the cello. Single notes, followed by piano chords burst out from the mid-range background. Very tentative start, very textural. Bow metals come in, still quiet and adding to the textures. Only the piano really contrasts, like drops of rain on a still gray pond. An oscillating rumble come in a bit more dense but still tentative, de Saram intensifies his bow, adding a grinding texture to the dry rustling sounds. The texture has evolved into being made up of squeaks, higher pitched bowed metal,   electronic buzzes but still the piano, now more in the upper register punches through. Prévost begins a tattoo on a bass drum or floor tom that comes and goes. Now determined attacks on the cello, things are brought up a couple of notches.  Prévost picks up the pace on the drums, arpeggios from Tilbury as Rowe, still fairly low volume, adds long slides up the guitar strings. Without any sort of crescendo the density was fades away. The components remain the same it is just no longer as loud or as dense. A swirling mass of sounds, Rowe picks it up a bit with electronic mutterings and groanings.  Again it is de Seram who brings things back up with high pitches attacks on the cello to which Rowe immediately responds with an aggressive mix of muted radio, fan on the guitar and thumps and thuds of the pickups. Tilbury laying out at this point, Prévost drops in background strums of bowed metal. Now plucked notes from de Seram the radio, though unintelligible, the most dominate sound.  As this is backed off you hear the low drum rolls that were in the background, delicately plucked strings, low tone bowing and clipped muted piano attacks.

A whistling bowing comes through above static, drum rolls and a background grumbling.  Space out pounds on the piano, aggressive but not that loud really and what sounds like Rowe pulling the guitar strings up and letting them snap back. Very spacious but increasing in volume and then a struck gong! It drops to near silence moments later. Only soft bowing and the occasional rip of an object run up a wound guitar string.  A keening tone of bowed metal. Super high pitched whiny bowing. Grinding guitar and then the bowing becomes rough and scrabbly. Short piano runs. The intensity picks up again – a bow bouncing across strings, violently bowed metal, rubbed guitar strings, bleats from the radio, rolled piano chords – a chaotic miasma of sounds increasing in volume and complexity. Almost a minor freak-out now, rapid bowing, drumming from Prévost, big piano chords.  Rowe seemingly laying out. Almost as soon as it approached this level it drops into super spacious territory.  Rowe providing a low level buzz, Tilbury big pounding chords but with many seconds between them, and almost gentle bowing from de Seram. Very quietly Prévost begins to bow some metal adding a high pitched whine to these sounds.

Things have mellowed right out. Very gentle piano chords, a delicate bowing, an oscillating low volume hum and jagged quiet bowed metals.  Things swell with a little more pressure on de Serams bowing, but settle right back down.  A swirling effect from the cello, piano and electronics and Tilbury far in the distance works through an odd set of figures. After a bit Rowe begins to bring the noise, with aggressive attacks on the guitar, a couple of radio snippets and the sound of amplified metal on metal.  Some cymbal crashes from Prévost and a big chord from Tilbury. Things don’t really take off but stay at this level of stuttering sound and volume for a bit then as de Seram begins these loud bursts of whisking sounds it dies off into an uneasy scattering of disparate sounds. Prévost begins to work the cymbals as Rowe coaxes thundering echos from the guitar. Out of these ashes things pick up the pace with de Seram heroically bowing out a what could be an alien melodic line. Some drum fills from Prévost as Tilbury adds texture with chordal fills.  Rowe stays pretty background during this layering in clacks from the pickups and scrabbled sounds of objects rubbed on the strings. As this dies down you hear that Tilbury was actually playing a continually repeated set of small figures almost like a bit of minimalism.

Things pick up to a low range very dense but not super loud section.  Pounded out rolls on a bass drum, low range aggressive bowing, big chords in the lower end of the piano and a grumbling rumble from Rowe.  To this Prévost adds in the occasional cymbal crash and de Seram a high pitched attack on the strings.  Slowly Rowe brings up an aggressive buzz – a fan over the pickups as he rocks the volume on his radio.  Things become pretty intense for a bit. But it backs down by everyone just spacing out their sounds and Rowe turning down the volume till all we hear is piano and a background buzz. Almost a bit of a piano solo now, nicely spaced but with some louder chords. Very quiet squeaks from de Serams bow and Rowe’s buzzing comes and goes and then builds up a bit to this jagged, echoed hum and wobble.  Rowe backs this down in fairly short order and then arises this great segment of very percussion-y prepared piano and gentle spaced out mallet work on the drums as a static-y whistling sound creates a canvas upon which this sounds rests.  This goes on for a while in various permutations, some bowing foregrounding now and again, Rowe added in some string scrapes and electronic outbursts, Prévost eventually switching to bowing a cymbal.

Things take an uneasy turn in the last few minutes, a looped queasy cello line, the low crackles of abused guitar pickups, bowed metal and a wobbly low volume figure on the piano.  Individuals increase the intensity briefly but drop it back down immediately. A heavily garbled radio announcement comes in and just as soon departs. An evil buzz comes up as a knocking on the percussion demands our attention.  A rather flatulent electronic tears in and out as cymbals crash and a low cello string is plucked. Notes on the piano are crashed as a sawing begins on the cello.  Chaotic and staccato the ending of this piece. Very atypical AMM ending, not of that minutes long fading out, just blasts of sounds and short repeated figures. They bring it down in the last few seconds almost as if someone is just turning down the volume.  Then there is applause and a radio announcer telling us who it was.  Apparently it is “bring the improvisational ideas of 1968 up to date”.

– – –

The period of AMM with Rohan de Saram is a unique and short lived phase. He eventually became too busy with the Arditti String Quartet and his participation became sporadic for a couple of years before ceasing.  From that point on it was just the trio of  Rowe/Prévost/Tilbury with the occasional guest. These guests though again would often come from the classical world, Christian Wolff, the Stadler String Quartet and so on.

“One of the important things in AMM was the inviting of classical performers. This was important for us. I think it true of our whole scene. We badly need people who have another kind of perspective.” – Keith Rowe(7)


1) Rohan de Saram homepage
2Notes on AMM: Entering and Leaving History Stuart Broomer, CODA Magazine no. 290. 2000
3) The Inexhaustible Document Liner notes. Paige Mitchell 1987
4) Meta Machine Music, Rob Young, The Wire #132 (February 1995)
5) Keith Rowe interview by Dan Warburton at Paris Transatlantic
6) Edwin Prévost, No Sound is Innocent, Copula, 1995
7) Keith Rowe interview in Monk Mink Pink Punk no 12 (July 2007)

AMM – London 1 March 1987

“Sometimes the waiting before you enter, or contribute a sound, is because you’re seriously having to think about how and whether and why, what you should contribute at any given moment. You’re listening all the time to everything, and it’s a question of how can I enhance or contradict this, or change this, all those kinds of questions, which with us have to be instantly resolved or partially resolved – often they’re not. On a bad night there might be an accumulation of problems which might en up unresolved at the end.”
– John Tilbury(1)

When last we checked in with AMM bootlegs they were reconvening as a musical unit and seemingly working out just what that would be. The next bootleg that I have been able to find was from seven years on and thus a lot of development was missed.  In 1980 John Tilbury was added to the group as a member primarily playing piano.  Then in 1986 Rohan de Saram, a classical ‘cello player, was added to the group. Throughout the late ’80s Lou Gare flirted with the group and apparently rejoined the group to form a quintet again: “…for to date we have still not recorded the current quintet line-up of de Saram, Gare, Prévost, Rowe and Tilbury”(2).  They never would record that lineup though there are one disc each featuring de Saram and Gare along with the core trio. However this bootleg appears to be that quintet and thus serves as a document of that short lived lineup.

AMM – London 1 March 1987

Begins with cello and horn honking from Rohan de Saram and (most likely) Lou Gare. Individual piano notes are struck and allowed to dye out. Into this sparse territory comes a grinding roar that I can only assume is from Rowe’s electronics, bowed guitar perhaps distorted beyond recognition. Some heavy percussion begins. Really noisy for this period of AMM. This backs down a bit in volume, a few sax runs come in and some drum kit work. This kind of turns into a Free Jazz freakout after a bit, even relentless noise from Rowe can’t obscure wailing tenor and a serious drum explosion. Tilbury is either buried in the mix or laying out. I’ve never been much of a fan of Gare’s playing with AMM after the ’60s group and this is pretty clear example of why. He isn’t playing  AMMMusic he’s playing free improv. The piano becomes more obvious with pounded chords and glissandos, as does a skittering sound from de Saram, that was there all along under the strang und durm.  Gare at last gives it a rest for a bit and it is just mechanical sounds from Rowe, the scittery bowing of de Saram and clanks from Prévost. A nice segment reminds you that its still AMM. A lot less dense even with a decent amount of activity feels like a reaction to the blowout a moment ago.

Gare comes back in as Rohan drastically cuts back his wash of bowing. Short tones from the sax, Eddie picks up this metallic pounding and Rohan again does his scratchy bowing but much higher and quieter. The tones increase, the density rises, Prévost now working the cymbals.  A low bowed drone from de Saram as Gare works the upper register and almost everyone else drops out. A spattering of notes from Tibury and the occasional single drum beat from Prévost. Rowe seems to have retreated from all this activity. It winds down a bit until its just Gare wailing to himself. A discordant chord from Tilbury and a strained wailing sound, perhaps a bowed cymbal or rubbed drum head to contrast with Gare’s “solo”.  At last Gare backs off and this enters much more spacious territory. A twangy wiry sound, percussive rattles and a low grinding hum come in and out along with a bit of audience coughing. A nice good bit of this, subdued crashes, a bell the sound of a pipe rolling on a cement floor, a crushing low bowed scrape on the cello (must be a contact mic on that cello), and other minute sounds. A great section in what’s so far been a not very AMM sounding set.

A low bowing comes in, continuous and providing a base in witch clanks of percussion, and short single tones from the sax rise above. They continue on in this erratic messed drone for a while, eventually this oscillating high pitched feed back comes in and persists along with this non rhythmic bowing and rubbed percussion. There are a couple of tones from a bell and it cuts off.

“Obviously AMM in the late eighties is not breaking new ground, and we content ourselves (as do some of our contemporaries) with the fact that much that we innovated has been incorporated into the common domain.” – AMMMusic Liner Notes(3)

This quote from Prévost is interesting in that I think most people would not disagree if he had specified “AMM in the late nineties“. However in context to the ’60s AMM it is mostly true. In the 60s they were exploring territory that had heretofore been uncharted. The break in the ’70s more or less signaled an end to those explorations. When the reformed the group in the ’80s I think there was a different goal entirely.  The parameters of AMMMusic had been set in the 60s and the later groups were applying them in a variety of contexts. They were still questioning but it was no longer the nature of music itself instead they were interested in contexts and absorption. Can we bring in a non improvising classical musician, can the music absorb tonal saxaphonics, how far can it be pared down, or distorted and still be AMMMusic.


1)  Notes on AMM: Entering and Leaving History Stuart Broomer, CODA Magazine no. 290. 2000
2) The Crypt liner notes by Eddie Prévost,1992 (Matchless Recordings)
3) AMMMusic liner notes by Eddie Prévost,1988 (ReR MegaCorp/Matchless)
4) Meta Machine Music, Rob Young, The Wire #132 (February 1995)
5) Keith Rowe interview by Dan Warburton at Paris Transatlantic
6) Edwin Prévost, No Sound is Innocent, Copula, 1995