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Book Excerpts

Trad Dads, Dirty Boppers, and Free Fusioneers: British Jazz, 1960-1975

By Published: April 7, 2013
Miles adds, "Syd borrowed this procedure and later used it himself on stage." Miles cites Peter Whitehead's film of the group as an example of this, in which Barrett can be seen with the guitar laid flat in what Rowe called the "table top position" (Miles 2006, 56). Robert Chapman in an excellent biography of Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett (Chapman 2010) locates AMM clearly within the UK/London underground and quotes John "Hoppy" Hopkins:
My impression was that many people were open to lots of different influences ... There was a great deal of crossover. Musicians of one sort listening to what musicians of another sort were doing; black soul music, white rock and pop music, classical and serious avant-garde stuff, the Cornelius Cardew end of things. There were American jazz musicians visiting like Ornette Coleman and Steve Lacy. There was also the British jazz of course and there was AMM. Their music was so far out it was on the border between music and noise and street sound. Of all the music and groups and ideas from that era, the ones that have stayed closest to the original concept are AMM, who are still around today. (Chapman 2010, 96)


Chapman notes:

AMM played several significant gigs with Pink Floyd between March 1966 and February 1967 including the Spontaneous Underground events at the Marquee Club that took place between March and June 1966, gigs at All Saints Hall in Notting Hill, and the International Times launch party at the Roundhouse in October of that year. Syd also attended the recording session for AMM's debut album in June 1966. (Chapman 2010, 99)


And as Chapman also points out, the producers of AMMMusic (Elektra; ReR) were Hopkins, Peter Jenner, Ronald Atkins and Alan Beckett—each of whom were associated with the Floyd. Chapman also quotes guitarist Fred Frith of Henry Cow on the issue of AMM's influence and originality.

Prevost's essay "AMM and the Practice of Self-Invention" in No Sound is Innocent (Prevost 1995) provides a detailed outline of the group's history, its working methods and its unravelling in the face of ideological pressures stemming from the adoption of Maoism by two of its member's (Rowe and Cardew). It will come as no surprise that the group engaged in intense, internal discussions about methodology and philosophy. Their practice was informed by ideas as seemingly diverse as Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism and Marxism, but was never, until the conversion of Rowe and Cardew, driven by any one or combination of these. The spiritual and idealistic frameworks of Eastern belief systems might seem at odds with the rigorously materialistic ideas of Marx and Engels. However, those systems are also practices involving study, meditation, question and answer, paradox, contemplation and reflection. In a meditative or contemplative state, with or without artificial stimulant, thoughts and ideas are allowed to flow unrestricted without the kinds of self-censorship or imposition of structure or meaning that might apply in a more actively conscious state. This can present new possibilities and ideas and/or new configurations of more familiar ones. It may be true that these practices are essentially introspective ones. However, in their focus on meaning, purpose and, to use the Buddhist terms from the "Noble Eighthfold Path," on "right intention, right conduct and right effort," they also concern themselves with actions and consequences. In these respects, their function, alongside Marxism, in the context of AMM should be more obviously apparent.

Prevost reveals that the members sought to understand and appreciate the contexts—social, political, cultural, aesthetic and environmental—in which they and their music functioned. It is worth pointing out here that both ethics and aesthetics are located within the broader field of philosophical study of value known as axiology. Put simply, while ethics weighs actions, statements and ideas in terms of what is deemed "good" or "bad," aesthetics weighs art and its products in terms of what is considered "beautiful" or "harmonious." As the philosopher Don Ritter suggests:

By understanding the ethical consequences of compositional decisions and aesthetic judgements, artists and audiences can have increased responsibility for the propagation of ethical values, the concepts that dictate which behaviours we deem appropriate and which we do not. Without this awareness, a person might promote any value whatsoever through aesthetic judgements. Having an awareness of the influences and consequences of aesthetic judgements is desirable because it enables a person to promote specific values with intention. (Ritter 2008, 14)


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