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

By Published: April 7, 2013
Indeed, considered in such terms, the stance of AMM was most definitely an ethical one, though not in any formulaic sense. In practice, Ritter's comments convey very well the close relationship between these two philosophical disciplines and also the kinds of questioning that AMM, and others, were engaged in during the sixties. AMM, however, raised and tried to answer questions of value and practice with a degree of articulacy that grew from their own internal dialogue. In his sleevenotes to The Crypt on CD, Prevost is not just expressing the group's understanding with hindsight. His words state unequivocally how they saw the music they were making:

AMMMusic served no demand and it supplied no market. Neither did it swerve into the slip-stream of any cultural correctness. And although the experience of AMM informed the more jazz-like playing of my duets with both Gare and (later) Rowe, and also my work with other musicians, AMM could not, would not it seems, be made to serve the objectives of any reality other than its own. AMM was, and "is," both a medium for discovery and a mirror by which it could meditate upon things, but its concern was itself. (Prevost 1995, 10)

And while on an American lecture tour in November 1967, Cornelius Cardew addressed the key issues that—for him, for AMM and others—were raised by improvised music-making:

Written compositions are fired off into the future; even if never performed, the writing remains as a point of reference. Improvisation is in the present, its effect live on in the souls of the participants, both active and passive (i.e. audience) but in its concrete form it is gone forever from the moment that it occurs, nor did it have any previous existence before the moment that it occurred, so neither is there any historical reference available. (Quoted in Prevost 1992)

Cardew even argues, as others continued to suggest, that recordings of improvised music were pale reflections of the real event:

Documents such as tape recordings of improvisation are essentially empty, as they preserve chiefly the form that something took and give at best an indistinct hint as to the feeling and cannot convey any sense of time and place. (Quoted in Prevost 1992)

He continues by describing AMM's approach and its rationale:

Informal "sound" has a power over our emotional responses that formal "music" does not, in that it acts subliminally rather than on a cultural level. This is a possible definition of the area in which AMM is experimental. We are searching for sounds and for responses that attach to them, rather than thinking them up, preparing them and producing them. The search is conducted in the medium of sound and the musician himself is at the heart of the experiment. (Quoted in Prevost 1992)

AMMMusic certainly broke entirely new ground, and yet other material recorded at the same sessions suggest that the focus was softened to a degree for the Elektra album that was finally released. It is interesting to note that Cardew, somewhat ignorant of jazz, had thought that he was joining a "jazz group" with AMM. At this juncture, some jazz inflections remained and the origin of the sounds made are pretty clearly discernible. It is a remarkable debut, but The Crypt—12th June 1968 (Matchless; Matchless) is like nothing else. One gets used to hearing music described as "dark," "disturbing" or "disorienting." The Crypt session, though finally released way outside our period, stretches such words to snapping point. It is one of the most extreme examples of music-making. There are times when one can make out a sound and attribute it to a piano or saxophone but mostly it is a collage of sounds.

It is, as Prevost describes it, music without beginning or end and one can still hear its presence, rather than influence, in much that came later—in Paul Rutherford
Paul Rutherford
Paul Rutherford
's Iskra 1903, perhaps, and in the growth of electro-acoustic music, perhaps, in the 1990s and the early part of this century. One is forced into analogy, as opposed to description, in discussing music like this. It disturbs in a way similar to the cut-up writing techniques of William Burroughs and Brion Gysin or the art of Max Ernst. It does not so much shock or force one to flinch or withdraw. Instead, like William Burroughs's Naked Lunch or Max Ernst's The Robing of the Bride, it holds you suspended in a kind of state of severe foreboding and remains with you, whether you wish it or not, when it is over.

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