This lecture transcription is not entirely precise, there were a few words where I couldn’t quite make them out, but made the most sense of them as I could, while also hoping to have a clear cut document of what the lecture says. Either way enjoy!
Eddie Prevost Lecture, 12-14-2010 at VAMH
“I’m not going to give a lecture, in fact I don’t really know what we’re going to do, which is not an unusual situation because in a way its how I think you should approach improvisational situations. More on that as we go on, and I’m feeling my way into this, this is how I play, and this is how I do these kinds of talks now. I used to write stuff and present it as a lecture but it seemed to be totally inappropriate, a formal lecture style discussing music that has a great deal of informality so I have turned the thing around and I stand in front of you now wondering what will I say next, this is what is going through my mind now, what do I do next? But that’s the condition you’re in as a player. Now I imagine many or all of you are musicians of one kind of another. Is that true, or some of you are not. I imagine from our conversations that you are informed or not to know little about what goes through musicians’ minds so hopefully it won’t be too arcane.
Now where to begin, I’m going to propose this kind of music in which we will call improvisation is that needs to be constantly reappraised and I’ve come to the conclusion late in life that some of the messages that I heard earlier in my life I never really noticed. I’m now beginning to understand. Curiously I begin to understand because I’ve been working with a workshop in London which we meet weekly with mostly young people, most people are younger than me now anyway not surprisingly, but there are one or two older musicians which is great. And its lead me initially to appraise what is was I was doing because I thought well maybe is there anything boring in this activity other than my own selfish satisfactions in life, does it have a meaning beyond my satisfaction in making some of this music. So what I am going to do this evening is to present you with a few ideas and get you to ultimately engage with me and discuss them to see whether we can push this thing along because I don’t think its meant it seems to me the music itself demands in the way its played a certain sense of collaboration and maybe in discussing what this music might mean and to the wider world, if it ever gets to the wide world, what it should mean. That’s the way I’m going to push this.
I’ll play a few examples of some of the material which you may or may not have heard, but the first piece I’m going to play, just to put us in the mood, and to give context to my earlier remarks about having messages earlier on that I didn’t realize now, it’s the first record that the AM made and this was in 1966 and of course it had then Cornelius Cardew in the band. Just to set the record straight it was never his band, he joined us, we had to stop to fight people from saying it was the Cornelius Cardew band. While the Musical Times called it the Cornelius Cardew ensemble and Jazz Journal called it the Cornelius Cardew quintet, which of course it never was, he joined us. He was as scared of us as we were as scared of him, but that’s beside the point. Here’s a bit of that music now, this was made in 1966.
(Prevost plays about an eight-minute excerpt of the first AMM recording)
It goes on like that for some time. Before I discuss more, I’ll just give you some background on that recording. It was originally released by Elektra, Jack Hopkins (sp?) and two of the producers, part of the small production company, were managers of Pink Floyd and the other person who was involved was another well known English rock and folk fusion musician Joe Foyle (sp?). Symptomatic of the time 1966 they thought anything could work, while trying these things out. It was available for weeks, and then was not available for a long time after, in fact the first recording session we did, they panicked and scrubbed the whole thing and called Jack Hopkins (sp?) to come in and record it personally, because they didn’t know how to record this stuff. This seems very strange now, but I think you should remember this was 1966 there was very little reception of this kind of activity being called music at all, perhaps there still isn’t. Now that’s the background to it and it has remained unavailable for a long time. Chris Cutler approached me and said we should re-release this and I agreed; so I said let’s ask them. Chris ended up sending telegrams to Elektra and Warner Brothers asking “Can we release this?” and they never answered. In the end he gave up and said we’ll release it and they object we’ll give them some money, because that’s all they want anyway. We’re still waiting for the reply to the telegram.
The point about it from my point of view, and sorry it was a bit loud earlier on, was that Cornelius in his early days was our spokesman, our very articulate spokesman, and one of the things he said about the approach because not only was it different in terms of general music, it wasn’t what the rest of the improvisers were doing in Britain at the time. It was a very different approach to spontaneous musical ensembles of Derek Bailey and Evan Parker and those kinds of approaches to the music. It stuck in my mind and I’ve used it very often now, what Cornelius said about the music, he said, “The way AMM was experimental is in the fact that we are searching for the sounds and looking for the responses that could be attached to them.” What he meant this, or at least what I’m sure he meant, and what I definitely mean by it is the difference in the approach is that we are looking for the sounds in the moment making the music, it isn’t a matter of working away somewhat introspectively in your studio working on a body of sounds to produce, to present as you like as a legitimate of doing things. That’s a perfectly valuable way of producing improvised music or any kind of music in fact you could say that the idea of composition is a continuum of the idea composition if you like ranges from studiously putting together a whole range of ideas represented on paper, or get something else to produce right through to improvising and recording that composition. I always had trouble with that for a long time until I realized that the imperative for most improvisers is exactly the same as a composer. “What do I do next” is the issue. Composer when he is presenting formal, I’m talking about the tradition of composing music in the conservatories generally is based on a pretty well understood structure in which the ideas are moved in a fairly linear form and search in a compositional exploration is in “what happens next,” “what do I next.” And this is what most improvisers do. In jazz music that is definitely a presentation of an approach, which is based upon an undefined moment next, but the moment is defined by the course of the piece you’re playing so there is definitely an imperative there which is to discover “what is the next moment.”
Now in music that we are talking about this evening like what we heard there is the first movement towards an ethos, an aesthetic which wasn’t involving that kind of imperative it was involving searching in the moment for making music. Now this may seem like a subtle not particularly interesting distinction but actually the more you think about it, and I’m just finishing off my third book which is all about it, is its absolutely different from what makes most music happen. I’m not saying it’s different because of its internal structure; it’s different in its relationship to people and things.
Now one of the most interesting conversations I’ve heard about music in relation to the musician was Phil Collins, who did he play for Genesis? He was asked what was his relationship to the audience. He said “when I make music its like making love to the audience.” Those words are quite so different, making love TO not making love WITH. That is a big distinction about how one hopes to approach ones creative life. Not doing things TO people, or doing things TO things but doing things in conjunction with, in collaboration, together with. I think in a sense what this issue, I think it all stems from searching for sounds, seeing what they’re about, engaging with the materials, engaging with the people you’re working with to see how you can make some kind of creative moment that might have significance with your self, and hopefully have significance with the people who hear. Now I’ve already said too much. I’ll play you a bit more music. I’ll step the timeframe up, that was 1966 this is now 1992, unfortunately Cornelius had died in the 1980s, Lou Gare had left the band, the band had gone through a few changes, John Tilbury had joined us, and this is fairly early on in the period where John Tilbury joined, so this is what I suppose some people think is the classic trio form of AMM, and this is a concert we did in Newfoundland, significantly called Newfoundland. Poverty of imagination there, heh heh, but it has some poetry there of course, with NEW FOUND LAND. Right, I haven’t played this in a long time, so I don’t know what its all about, we’ll see. This is a long form, it’s eighty minutes, but we won’t play that much anyway.
(Prevost plays about a thirteen-minute excerpt from AMM’s Newfoundland)
It goes on for nearly seventy-seven minutes, it’s a continual piece. I guess it would be a chance to anybody in the audience to deal with that, which makes lots of questions I think. It is a kind of journey, which we invite the audience to come along with. It isn’t a journey that we know the destination of. Perhaps we should open this discussion up a bit. Do you think musicians should map the journey? Do you think it’s their responsibility to map out a journey of this kind of a corporeal journey? It seems to me this kind of approach begs a lot of questions. Most music is worked out beforehand and it re-presented to you and the structure is fairly well familiar to the musicians and eventually to the audience. Or it’s presented to you as I’ve described jazz was and much improvised music is. Or do you get this other experience? Now what is it? Does it have a meaning for you? Are people searching for sounds for themselves of any significance for anybody else? What is going on? Does anyone want to engage me on this, because I’d like to know the answer.”
Audience Member: “I don’t have an answer but I have a feeling that you’re beginning was, and not that nothing would happen, but it was more like a situation that would go on for quite a while and I don’t know if I may say that you have time to sink into it and if the audience had to get into it more like a situation. What I mean by the situation then at the end just before you came in would somehow get to another point. It was quite a while, and it opens up a space.”
Prevost: “It opens up but it’s a space.”
Audience Member: “It’s an open space.”
Prevost: “It’s a greater factor on your part.”
Audience Member: “And there also of course I would say there are some things after awhile I realize, and you said it would last for eighty minutes that it would not stay in that situation but then I would not so much expect that something unusual for this situation would begin to happen and get into it self. Which is different of course especially from the piano, or the guitar.”
Prevost: “So the audience in that sense though are engaging with the music and they are being creative in their responses to it. They are finding out for themselves what it might mean.”
Audience Member: “…kind of a creative…”
Prevost: “That’s just, unfortunately that comes in stride in a recording, and in a way I kind of hate the fact that it is, because the experience of being there when it is happening is so different from this embodied experience of what you hear now, it’s not the same, it can’t be the same. Curiously enough just the fact, some people know, I rarely listen to it, this record very well, and they speak to me, they say, “I love that bit when it does this that or the other.” I have no mindful experience of that, it’s not like that at all. All I remember is the mayhem and the confusion in my mind when we were doing it. That’s the creative moment for me when I can recall it like that. I would imagine that maybe something like is possibly true when anybody listens to it for the first time perhaps. Unfortunately in a way once it’s recorded it gets classicized and remembered and those roots become familiar when the real value is in the new roots, finding new roots, finding new places to go in a sense.
In fact that’s one of the things I always say to people who come to the London workshops, I say, “Look for new places to go, look for new things in yourself.” That’s the point of this in a way, and I think for audiences that’s probably good suggestion also. Not to expect and to be satisfied. Not to have this warm, kind cozy experience, some of its going to be awkward some of its going to jar, that’s the human experience anyway and that way it replicates that I suppose in a sense, but I’m meandering.
Come back to that, do you think is that a response back at you for musicians to have, not to know where they are going but to be actively searching.”
Audience Member: “Yeah it’s a possibility.”
Prevost: “It’s wonderful.”
Audience Member: “Oh yeah to be open.”
Prevost: “To be open.”
Audience Member: “To be open to hear to listen to the situation to what is…”
Prevost: “And you trust the musicians maybe to do that, that’s what very often happens. In fact I would hope it happens more often then it does. I do fear that sometimes what is suggested to be improvisation, and in a respect is, because I’m offering a rather more severe critique now, I’m suggesting you shouldn’t know where you are going and if you do you’re involving presentation rather than this other stuff. I’m arguing that the musician should come back to this stage of not knowing much more often rather than organizing their thought. I mean we all do it and I’m as guilty as the rest. Having said that I know it seems to me the really creative moments are in those places where you don’t know where you are. And to keep coming back to that and create a discipline where that is possible, rather than relying on your reputation or relying on what you’ve done before. It’s hard to let that go but it seems to be absolutely imperative that you do otherwise you’re forever repeating yourself you know. Now this is ventriloquist conceit. You’re talking to yourself you’re repeating what you said endlessly. You’ve got to get out of that nonsense and get to find new…what Boulez referred to as “primary material.” Easier said then done. You’ve got to find the primary material, that’s what we’re after. It’s invaluable; otherwise it’s all secondary.
I mean the curious thing, you could argue, its been argued successfully I think that the great painters, Matisse, Rohtko, even Jackson Pollock had really one big creative idea each, and what they were doing thereafter was representing this idea. We all love it, we thankfully we got all these wonderful examples. As a creative moment they probably did it once, and they never really managed to repeat that kind of intense creative experience. You could say that’s true of, lets say close to home, I’ve got many Derek Bailey records, but once you recognize the musician that closely, once you know what he does, and he has produced a lot of records, but actually the great moment is perhaps gone and he has got into the point of repetition and maybe most of us do. The really creative moment is to get beyond that, to try and keep it fresh and open all the time. It’s not easy as I’m suggesting but it’s the only one we should work towards.
Anyways, this is because I have no formal structure in the way I’m shooting this whole thing, and hopefully it will make some sense. Shout at me if it doesn’t, because I don’t know the answers, but I’m hoping to learn from yours in this process. This is the improvisational moment, you know what is coming and you’re inspired by your colleagues and hopefully surprised by them and you hope to surprise them in turn, otherwise the relationship is very uneven. So do interject, do tell me.”
Audience Member: “I have a question, so if you don’t know where the process is going, so do you accept wherever it goes or does it happen that you sometimes don’t like the way it takes?”
Prevost: “That’s interesting, that whole issue of liking or… Are you a player, do you play music?
Audience Member: “I’m a composer.”
Prevost: “You must have moments when you are dissatisfied with what you do. I think as a composer you have the option. As an improviser you’ve got to get it right the first time. But then you are suggesting well maybe we don’t have to worry about being correct or not correct, maybe that’s not an issue, I don’t know, I’m feeling my way here. It seems to me, the only thing you can ask the musician of, or the musician can ask of themselves is that “Are they being honest with themselves about their approach to the music?” “Are you engaging with this?” “Are you looking, in the scenario I suggested, are you really looking for stuff you’ve never been to before, looking for places you’ve never been to before?” Are you looking at the materials and saying, “Where does this go?” “What can I do with it, that has not happened before?” To open it all up, and using that same experience with your fellow musicians, What does this do, what is this, how can I make this relationship a ritual?
The new kind of evolutionary biologists talk about social intelligence and technical intelligence a lot, I don’t know whether you’ve read much about that stuff. This seems to be quite interesting. I draw parallels with the propositions that I’ve used in trying to describe this music as being the biological and heuristic. It seems to me the biological is definitely the social intelligence and the heuristic is the technical intelligence you know, looking at things from the technical point of view, and then engaging with people, that’s the strategy for life. We have to do those things, and to do them successfully makes good music, Other than the music we normally… Your life is musical if you get the heuristics right, if you could find something to eat, and you could propagate and you could make life continue. When its right or whether you like it they’re variable factors aren’t they, they’re to do with things that are not absolutes, are they? They’re not fixed they’re culturally based. I suspect that the liking or disliking is whether or not those relationships are being developed or whether you gain as a musician, as a playing musician, you gain a certain amount of satisfaction that you have done something creative that time. Which then maybe in hindsight an audiences’ satisfaction with what you’ve done or what you’ve not. You can’t answer for them, I can’t tell what you are as a composer, you don’t know what the audience wants. If we knew we could make a fortune couldn’t we, but we don’t know what they want. So you have to work with your own integrity, with your own music and hope that it means something. If it doesn’t mean anything to you then I doubt it will mean anything to anyone else so that’s the first step I think, working with other people and working with your materials to the best of your ability and you’re going to fall flat on your face. It’s not for everyone sometimes; you’re not going to be happy.
Audience Member: “But the problem is if you are dissatisfied with yourself, but the audience likes it.”
Prevost: “Hahaha, but maybe you seek some comfort from that.”
Audience Member: “I don’t, the problem is when I was improvising I sometimes would have this feeling that the thing goes wrong and I am dissatisfied with it but how can I show it, this is not the way it is supposed to be. “
Prevost: “Let me give you my experience first, I have something similar. I will refer to AMM, if you had Keith Rowe and John Tilbury they might have told you these stories anyway. The last time we went to America on tour with AMM there were a couple of concerts that stick in my mind. One we went to San Francisco and played there and we didn’t even have play, the audience was so pleased to see us that we didn’t have to play. We did play, and they seemed to like that and it seemed to be quite an enjoyable experience, and it was recorded and we thought we might use that at sometime.
We then did another concert in a place called Allentown in Pennsylvania; I’ll set this up slightly. The night before we played in a concert in Atlanta and we had then had to get from Atlanta, off the plane after midnight to get to Allentown the next day in Pennsylvania to an afternoon concert and we were in no fit state for it. It was a very uncomfortable journey, we hadn’t slept much, there were only fifteen people in the audience, most of the percussion equipment I put back in the music room because it was so…I had to wash my hands…it was not a very promising situation. The piano was terrible. It was a glorious spring day outside and we thought what are we doing in here; everybody should be out having a picnic. Anyway they said we should start even if no one else would come, there were fifteen people in the audience, so we thought, and we got on with it. It was hard work, perhaps you can guess probably the same. We listened to the recordings and the San Francisco one was bland, self-satisfied, hopelessly un-interesting and the one where we had to work was interesting and we released it. It has been one of the best AMM recordings in terms of its response.
That was a good lesson for us; it’s the work that’s important, you’re not enjoying yourself actually. I’m not saying we should wear hair shirts and be…. The point is about the music is its about being engaged with it and having sometimes to work quite hard at it, and not enjoy it. It’s peculiar; it’s the way sometimes it works. I hope to manage a good median between those things. Enjoy being in the moment and enjoy doing it with certain people in fact it’s often the case for me. But it is an interesting case in point, our feelings about it weren’t positive, it was hard work and we all thought that this was not going to be any good. We were relieved. The concert series had actually finished with our performance, we thought it was us. We thought, they’re not doing this anymore because we’ve ruined it completely. Happily it wasn’t the case it turns out.
This sounds all kind of puritanical and it should be something we enjoy to do, I’m not saying we shouldn’t but at some level it can be actually quite difficult I think and we shouldn’t avoid it I don’t… I’m suggesting it maybe. Maybe in some of the things that you write, maybe you’re not entirely satisfied but you feel compelled to do it in some way and that’s the way it comes out, so be it. Like I say, I don’t think you can assume you understand any of what the audience might think, beforehand anyway, afterwards that’s different, that is their prerogative, to say whether it had any meaning for them and we should learn from those things I suppose. Does anybody else want to get involved?”
Audience Member: “I wanted to ask about recordings because I was thinking while I was listening, do you listen to the recordings afterwards? Is it a totally different experience being on the outside, in the audience then actually being on the stage creating it? And do you learn anything from it, or do you listen to your own thing?”
Prevost: “I think we do, yes, but its no…I don’t think its necessary. It can be a guide of what not to do, which is a good lesson. Well I don’t spend an awful lot of time listening to them now. During the process where they were being released you spend time with them, but after that I’m more interested in the process of doing them, playing them. I suppose these things become a means of a…well they do become representations of it. They are representations. They’re not the music itself, they’re something else, and I live with that kind of contradiction, certainly uneasily. But we live in a strange world, most people if they’ve heard AMM at all have mostly been through recordings, so I’m grateful for that.”
Audience Member: “But is it different for you listening to it afterwards then?”
Prevost: “Yeah, it is different. Frankly I hate listening to it immediately afterwards, I would always leave at least two or three months, then I’d dissociate from it, it’s not me anymore. If it is the next day I feel like I did that is so close to me and I feel responsible. I feel less responsible after six months and after twenty years even less responsible.”
Audience Member: “I’m just a listener and I know I’m going to lots of concerts and sometimes it doesn’t work. I mean that’s the risk of these concerts where people don’t know where they’re going and where they’re going. It can go longer and it doesn’t work and I just wondered if you were sort of analyzing the music or trying to find what went wrong, or why didn’t it go wrong, what didn’t work.”
Prevost: “Maybe you think this is too simplistic but I think it only goes wrong, I know it’s a tricky word, it only goes wrong if you’re not actually attending to what you’re doing, and in that case it’s always right. It may not be much fun to listen to, but that is what, in terms of the process of doing it, then that is it. I mean there was a recording I did with a young colleague of mine called Seymour Wright, he’s a young saxophonist and we produced a much more sterile recording I’ve ever released. I really didn’t like it from start to finish but I know the process itself was correct and therefore I knew it because of that and although it was released I wouldn’t wish it one anybody to be quite honest, haha. It was definitely a record of that process with a great amount of austerity and not a lot of fun so to speak, but then it could be that I’ve become too entrenched in my expectations, because what you have to allow for is that if this is essentially going to grow, if the meaning of the music is embedded in the process I described for example, the searching and in the dialogue with other people, and an understanding of the process, that becomes a basis for the aesthetic. It also becomes of a basis of how you listen, and that ultimately will be transformed into your likes and dislikes about the music, it must of always been there some suggest.
We do become familiar with certain things, we get to like them because of… I mean my first experiences as a young person was jazz, I thought “What the hell is going on?” I couldn’t understand all this stuff that was after the tune there was this other stuff, albeit you’re talking about a twelve year old, I had no conception as to what was going on. The only way you learn what the priorities were, what the aesthetic priority was that you could begin to get some understanding of what was going on and therefore and then begin to maybe assess its value and whether you like it. The liking comes out of an understanding of the process wherever you say. Anyway, so anything else before I play some more music? This will be a light relief to this, haha. Any other ideas come to mind from anyone? I’ll play you some more music. This is ’66, this is ’92, this is this year, earlier this year. John Tilbury and myself in Poland, I’ll play a little bit of this. This again is an old concert, its fortunately got some tracks on this one, they were superimposed after the fact, it’s just a convenient way of being able to handle the material. This was just a concert which lasted a totality of 63 minutes or so and I’ll play you the third section of this piece.“
(Prevost plays about an fourteen-minute excerpt of this recent recording of Prevost/Tilbury in Poland)
Prevost: “I was thinking about what you were saying about the right and the wrong and being involved and being in the moment and… That was done in May of this year (2010), a wonderful concert hall in Jaslo in Poland, again there was no more than twenty people in the audience, it was a pity. To give you some idea, my feelings about that were very mixed at the time that is. The year before John Tilbury had a stroke, and we hadn’t played that much in between times, an occasion, so part of my feeling in being involved in that was great joy of being with him and doing it and being as ever completely enthralled by it. Also, because of the nature of the environment, it was a very beautiful acoustic, but I’m a percussionist, I got all these bits and pieces around and the first thing I don’t want to do is drop anything or shift anything. So I had to be extremely careful and I was really on the edge in terms of care to everything, extreme care, and John was playing at a level which I thought it was fairly loud, the general level was very subdued, very quiet. Really I think he’s a master of doing what Morton Feldman recommended to Karlheinz (Stockhausen) of “Not pushing the sounds around.” He was just gently easing and not really doing much with them at all, in fact that’s probably part of its always hurrying the sounds rather than might making them. Where will they take you rather than where will you take them.
So it had all of those ingredients, although its… I don’t know how you perceived it, but from the back there it seemed to be quite peaceful, contemplative, but actually during it I was quite a wretch in just trying to hold it, trying not to do the same thing, not to, basically silly things like dropping the stick and general clatter, and the terrible noise and all. I think that brings the conversation to an end, I hope not.
Does any of this make any sense? Do my suggestions about coming back to a proto-musical position from that, not being musical. In fact in a funny kind of way I think the moment that it gets to the point where someone says, “well that’s good music” I’ve always lost interest in that. The process is the most interesting thing. Maybe keeping ideas about music out of it is not a bad place to start. Contradiction as a suggestion perhaps.”
(The video cuts here and starts up abruptly with Prevost talking)
Prevost: “The imperative is on the… if you’re considering what you should do next, then you’re composing music. If that’s not an issue, if you’re actually engaged with the sounds from a different perspective of looking, you don’t know what’s there, you’re not expecting, you’re not trying, you’re actually just trying to develop a relation with the materials. Find out what’s there. Is that the same when you found it? It’s not, it might in my mind, it’s different.”
Audience Member: “It’s something you never can fix so its composition is normal, not modern improvisation.”
Prevost: I suggest it’s a different category of tendency. It’s maybe something, and maybe I’m fooling myself, and I will accept that’s a possibility, I’m still with it, I’m still trying to work on it myself you know. It seems to me it is fundamentally different and you maybe well aware that I’m scrupled. But I think it’s worth thinking about because even if I’m not absolutely correct in that basis, it is an important distinction to make about how you deal with the materials. I mean, in English you commonly hear the words mastery, command, mastery of your instrument, commander of the materials. These are strange words to use aren’t they? Why don’t you get rid of that stuff? Well let’s not have mastery of; let’s not have command of over, let’s have a relationship with. It’s different. It’s no different from the same way as when you…
This is a microcosmic kind of response to the one, which we perceive us as a species messing around the world. We want command over it, we want to control it and in doing so we’re destroying it but that’s the kind of parallel level I would make in this, it’s a different relationship with the stuff. I might be wrong, you ask me to come over and give a talk a bit and that’s where I am, I feel very strongly in the moment so I’m sharing with you, hoping you might give me some ideas so I can develop an idea better. Anybody want to ask about the general ideas or back or…?”
Audience Member: “The difference between what’s next and this music of energy which you preferred. What’s next is not your preferred musical energy in the improvisation, it’s more wider… contemplative…?”
Prevost: “The consideration isn’t what’s next. What next will be, what is next? Go back to what we discussed earlier about right and wrong then. If you’re actually playing materials, searching for materials, as Cardew said all those years ago, “One way that AMM was experimental is that we are searching for the sounds and looking for the meaning which are attached to them.” If you adopt that attitude that is significantly different from… and it’s not musical, it’s different entirely, because it’s not planned, it’s not trying to present anything, it’s just actually doing it.”
Audience Member: “But you have to make decisions. I mean you may have decisions, maybe not consciously…”
Prevost: “You have the make a decision to turn up to the concert, right? You have to make a decision to bring an instrument, and to play but after that you can actually, there’s a different mindset available. “
Audience Member: “There are different concepts of making decisions.”
Prevost: “Yes, I’ll go with you on that.”
Audience Member: “A reaction is also a decision.”
Prevost: “It comes down to, I try to define it maybe not very well as the difference between what should happen and what does happen. But I’m more interested in what does happen then the should and I know you may say well there’s no distinction, they’re the same thing but actually the point before that, before you get to the should or the does that’s the decision you’re talking about. Now that is different from doing something which you think might be right, doing something which you think might work. These are the composer issues you have, but what if you don’t have them? What if you don’t have “I know what will work,” “I know this will sound good,” and you discard that and you just search for the materials, engage in the materials in a way. Is that not slightly different? We’re not entirely there, but I think there is a distinction there and an important one.”
Audience Member: “You know there is the other side of the decision, if you search for some things you avoid other things that you might not find interesting because you already know it and you leave that side and search for others and that’s also another decision, not to play anything that you’ve ever played before.”
Prevost: “I’m suggesting something, which is a virtual impossibility. I’m accepting that, I know it, I’m not that much of a fool. I know it’s virtually impossible, what I’m suggesting is that in most cases much of the material we produce as improvisers will be a presentation of what we’ve done. That’s when it becomes music. But I’m looking and hoping, using this other thing sort of like investigatory searching attitude, as a way to find new music. Unless you divorce yourself from the idea of presentation, then you’re never going to get there. It has to be, you have to stick to it, otherwise it doesn’t work, you end up repeating yourself. This is coming back to the many Matisses and so on, you end doing another Matisse, another version of the same thing. To get beyond that you have to have a different mindset, it’s not easy, I’m not suggesting it’s easy. But I am suggesting it to the audience; I know it works. I’ve seen it with young people I’ve been working with over the last eleven years and even longer; I’ve seen quite remarkable things happen. Maybe they’re minute, maybe hardly anybody else sees it or hears it other than maybe myself, but I’ve seen it, I’ve heard it, I know it works. And that’s all you can hope for in a way.
Most people maybe are not destined to produce great works of art via this process, that will give great satisfaction to a huge mass of people, but frankly that’s not my concern. I’m concerned about the process and seeing people find themselves, finding things for themselves, that’s the important thing for me. It’s a small music, not for majority of…and that’s its virtue, that’s the thing I like about it. The fact that, to try to transform this kind of approach into a mass medium or whatever, it’s not feasible; it’s not even worth engaging that idea. It’s about, the most important thing for me, it’s about the relationship between people and stuff and that’s worth thinking about and worth doing. And you may not make a career out of it, you make not make a successful financial rewards out of making music that way, but that is a good relationship for people to develop for themselves.”
Audience Member: “Do you sometimes rehearse, or do you make a distinction between rehearsing and performing?”
Prevost: “No, we never did with AMM. Two rules with AMM: Never, if anybody tried to tell what they were going to do, you’d shut them up. I don’t want to know what you’re going to do. Somebody might have a strategy for playing and they might give suggestions, and we’re talking about the early days now. And you’d say “No, I don’t want to know.” You want to be surprised, you want to actually have that opening experience that will lead you to something fresh. I mean otherwise you would… you need a system to be kept as open as possible. Think back to Physics, first law of Thermodynamics, close systems reject very quickly, the best systems are open because there’s new information coming in.”
Audience Member: “In terms of sett the music together, rehearsing in terms of velocities, or bowing a cymbal or something you can do very badly or something you can do very well. You want to do it well, maybe you rehearse it.”
Prevost: “I’ve been doing it for forty or fifty years, so I kind of know what I’m doing. I’m still looking for new things, I have mixed relationship with this whole attitude, because there are times when I do find, when you get to my age, that this curve of discovery which is like that (increasing) and gets to be like that (staying the same) plodding along a bit. And you find something and you think, maybe no one’s heard it, no one understands it but you, I know it, I now found it. I think, why didn’t I see that before, where have I been? Have I been so unobservant not to know that you could do this or that? That’s what’s so rewarding about it, but it may not be any great cultural phenomenon but it does translate into the music. But in terms of the rehearsal, you can’t rehearse this. What do you mean by rehearse; you see that is the issue, you can discuss what that…”
Audience Member: “Practice your instrument to help…”
Prevost: “You can only practice the discipline of what I just described. That’s not rehearsing, that is always doing it. That is always at the doing stage, never at the rehearsing stage. And you gain, it’s cumulative because you do, you learn, you learn from doing it. Your vocabulary gets wider and wider and also it’s a trap because you can really know what you can do and you’re attempting to do it obviously, because there’s all kinds of reasons why you might want to produce an acceptable performance perhaps. But in reality, you won’t say something really interesting unless you go that notch further; you push it. You should be pushed the whole time, it is a very rigorous critique, I understand that. It’s very severe, unrelenting, but it’s fun. That is the other thing; you get joy out of doing it. It’s not as if its… You can tell from my attitude, this is why I like doing it.
Audience Member: “But you play a lot for yourself, without the audience or…”
Prevost: “Not really, no, I’ve done a few solo performances, but I enjoy playing people and that’s an important part of the process for me. I do under duress situations. It’s interesting because I try to use this philosophy in the way that I’ve described and sometimes I fail, I very often fail, and then I think, well I got to do something. I feel myself reiterating, repeating, I know I do it. But it isn’t when I’m happiest, that’s when I’m unhappy, you know I’ve done that. I’ve let myself down, I’ve let the audience down, even if they’ve liked some of the stuff that I’ve done. See this is the interesting liking again, liking and disliking.
I’ve put you into silence. Thank you for listening to me, and thank you for having me here to discuss things, and I hope it’s not been too much of a drag coming around just to hear this old man rant for a bit.”