Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Free Jazz vs. Free Improv part 2 (another list!)

I've already collected a lot of different groups, but am adding more things together to make this work. It seems since I started this project of looking at free improvisation, free jazz, etc... I've come to a little bit of a conclusion. To me, or my definition so to speak, I tend to view Free Improv as a musical art that comes more out of 20th century compositional techniques, and Free Jazz coming simply out of jazz. Both worlds though are attempts at shattering barriers, and going to the extreme of what can be done. So without further ado, a partial list of some great free improv albums:

1) AMM - AMMusic 1966

You can hear a clip of the album here. This group has existed since the 1960s, and as far as I know continues to exist via the duo of pianist John Tilbury and percussionist Eddie Prevost. This specific album though is before Tilbury was a member, and includes, Prevost on percussion, Lou Gare on saxophone/violin, Cornelius Cardew on piano/cello/electronics, Keith Rowe on guitar, radio and electronics, and Lawrence Sheaff on cello/clarinet/accordian/radio. This group to me is the quintessential band, they would get together once a week, not talk about the music at all, get their instruments out, and just start playing. The sounds became more quieter and involved more silences as part of the music, the later the band got. There are many different incarnations of the group, but if you want to find more out about them check out the spiral cage blog.

2) AMM/Musica Elettronica Viva - Apogee

There was an early record on Earle Brown's label that featured both groups, each on a different side of the record. Much later in history the band's actually recorded together in 2004. MEV seemed to go more in the electronics direction than AMM, and also incredible at having a huge sound/timbral world to aurally dive into. The AMM musicians on the album are Eddie Prevost, Keith Rowe and John Tilbury, while the MEV musicians are Alvin Curran, Richard Teitelbaum, and Frederic Rzewski. Both groups had more members than that throughout their career, but these are very much some of the core players from each ensemble. Really incredible wild and free music!

3) Cornelius Cardew - Treatise (2 different albums)

I am keeping a thread going so far with AMM and Cardew to start off with. Part of my free improv album list will involve playing written music, as much of an oxymoron as that sounds. Cardew composed a mammoth 193 page graphic score (with no instructions on what to do with it) in the late 1960s and there are two great recordings, to my knowledge, of the piece in its entirety. I have heard rumor of eventually a Boston musician release of Treatise heading by Stephen Drury, but do not know the update on that. The two versions of Treatise are first the QUaX Ensemble, which is a group that Cardew worked with, directed by Petr Kotik, and is the first version ever performed (as far as I know) in 1967. This is a 2 hour version, and is very raw and intense. The other version of Treatise is much later, conducted by Art Lange, featuring Jim O'Rourke, Jim Baker, Guillermo Gregorio, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Carrie Biolo, who are mostly all Chicago musicians. The version of the piece is also about 2 hours long, and features more space and silences, and more electronics. This is a more mystical sounding recording to my ears, like polished, free, and slightly mechanical (not in a bad way).

4) Sonic Youth - Goodbye 20th Century

This is another oxymoron album, that is the band with special guests, Christian Wolff, William Winant, Jim O'Rourke, Christian Marclay, Wharton Tiers, Takehisa Kosugi performing works of the 20th century like Wolff's "Edges," and "Burdocks," Reich's "Pendulum music," and works by John Cage, Yoko Ono, Pauline Oliveros, Cornelius Cardew, James Tenney and more. This album seems to exploit the more improvisatorial pieces from the 20th century and puts it through the Sonic Youth's filter. It's a really wild and free record, that due to the nature of the some of the pieces, calls for a large variety of improvisational settings. This is an incredible record, and I am very glad that you have a mix of rock musicians, composers, and experimental musicians all working together for this large project.

5) Earle Brown - Folio and Four Systems

This is a tzadik release of Earle Brown's music. Earle Brown is another great composer, that did come out of jazz, and wrote different modular pieces, and pieces that put the performer's into new spaces. This collection of some of his freer work involved a plethora of musicians who are paying homage to this incredible composer. A lot of very free and varied versions of his music, featuring Stephen Drury, Mark Feldman, Merzbow, Christian Wolff, Wadada Leo Smith, Joan La Barbara, Larry Polansky, Morton Subotnik, and many others.

6) Joelle Leandre/Steve Lacy - One More Time

Now to get back to the totally free improvisational stuff, this duo record is one of the first truly free albums I ever picked up. The communication between the two musicians is really something beautiful to behold. Leandre is one of my favorite bass players, and i was fortunate to hear her duo with Matthew Shipp in Montreal in 2007. Any record that she is on, is a record blessed to my ears.

7) Peter Kowald/William Parker - The Victoriaville tape

These are two other of my favorite free players, and to me this is kind of on the line between free improv and free jazz, not to be picky. Both played with legends of Free Jazz, both all over the world, but to hear them together as two bassist approaching music in such a wild sonic field, with such a wide range of emotions, the thought of jazz never crossed my mind. This is a recent find, as I have very much been on a search for Peter Kowald albums. As a bassist myself I really dig that in some of Kowald's own solo performances, he would throat sing into the F hole of his bass! Check him out here!

8) Peter Evans/Nate Wooley - High Society

I have actually not heard this album yet, but have heard several live bootlegs of this duo, and their own solo projects, and their bands. These two are younger trumpet players on the scene, and are so much in the sound world of what a trumpet can do. It really is completely mind-blowing what both these individuals, and as a unit can do. Between the two of them they could completely re-write extended technique for the trumpet, so check this duo out, and any bands featuring either of these musicians!

I am running short of time right now, and just want to get this long awaited blog post done and out. I have focused a little too much on the 20th century compositional side, and there are tons of free improv musicians to check out in the world today, who specialize in doing mostly that. I wanted to have a partial list of some free improv/new music groups, and leave it to you readers to go from there!

Here goes:

ONCE group
Foss improvisational ensemble
La Monte Young's theatre of eternal music
Ongaku Kosugi's group
New music ensemble of Davis
Sonic Arts group of New York
Gruppo 70 in Florence
Derek Bailey
Evan Parker's various ensembles
John Zorn
Robert Dick
Mark Dresser
Barry Guy
the list goes on.... but check out as many of these people as you can find, attack it voraciously!

Be on the lookout for some CD review blog posts coming up, and a Zorn interview transcription of his "theatre of musical optics."

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Frederic Rzewski - Plan for Spacecraft

Frederic Rzewski - Plan for Spacecraft

"Form for a music that has no form. We begin with a group of performers and an idea. The idea concerns two kinds of space: occupied and created space. Each performer occupies a part of the space, which can be a theater, concert hall, radio station, or whatever. This space is corporeal and has limits defined by the performer's own body. his materials are the space around him, the objects within it, and his own body. His medium is the vibrating atmosphere. By means of concentrated energy, he excites the air, creating a situation in which lines of force are set up between himself and other persons. These alternating rhythms produce a sense of liberation in those whose ears they greet.

Each performer considers his own situation as a sort of labyrinth. Each begins by making music in the way in which he knows how, with his own rhythms, his own choice of materials, et cetera, without particular regard for the others, or for setting up some kind of simple ensemble situation. This primitive ensemble, however, is superficial and has nothing to do with the fundamental unit that is the final goal of the improvisation. He beings by making music in an already familiar way; he does not transcend himself and does not consider that he is creating anything or doing anything that he has not done already at one time or another. He sees himself as imprisoned in a labyrinth with many corridors; at the center of this labyrinth he imagines something like a movie screen with a loudspeaker; images flash across the screen and sounds emanate from the speaker, both without interruption. These images and sounds are incomprehensible orders snapped at him by an unknown master whom he feels compelled to obey. They are archaic runes and magic symbols whose meaning is unknown - all he knows is that action is required of him. The only action he knows is that of moving from one place to another within the labyrinth: left, right, forwards, and backwards, all the time with the more or less vague intention of getting out.

The images and sounds flashing at him are formulae drawn from the reservoir of tradition, that which he knows as art, which has been transmitted to him in various ways and is registered in his mind. They are like dream-images and appear to have a certain meaning expressed in the form of command; but they also seem to have a deeper, secret meaning that is incomprehensible. The commands are not specific, they are only commands. The response to them is to move spontaneously, executing already learned actions and empty gestures: mechanical repetitions of the past. His mind is like a complicated organ with many keys: an "inspiration" key, a "composition" key, a "communication with God" key, a "Beethoven" key, a "Stockhausen" and a "Cage" key: one for every myth. This is all right; he is a practiced musician and knows that he has a battery of arms at his disposal. He knows that if one thing does not satisfy him he can immediately flip a switch and turn on something else. This is his virtuosity. But he has done nothing to escape from his labyrinth, he is still reading images flashing across his individual mind, he has not transformed the space in any way.

Each performer begins by making his own music in his own way. The result is chaos, a great tumult and confusion of sound, with occasional chance harmonies which appear for a moment and then vanish, sometimes with clashing forces: sounds battering against each other and trying to push each other out of the way. Each person is contained within his own labyrinth. The object of the music-making is to escape from his labyrinth. The way out of the labyrinth is not forwards or backwards, to the left or to the right, but up. To go up it is necessary to fly. The performer must enter into someone else's labyrinth.

Now, two things can happen: either miraculously, by magic, music will immediately result; or, as is more likely, music will not happen, and the tumult will continue and tend to grow worse, or the harmonies will become more superficial. It is difficult to make music. If the magic takes over and the music happens, the entire space and everything in it will be transformed; the audience, too, will be drawn into the music and eventually contribute to it, either by producing sound or by remaining silent.

In the event that the magic does not operate, the performer finds himself confronted with a heavy task. He beings to search the atmosphere for lines which may unite his rhythms with those coming from other sources; he begins to examine his own rhythms, searching for those which he can cast out, hoping that someone will attach himself to them. It is as if each man were an atom floating in space, emanating feelers towards other atoms. Manifold tentacles of rhythm creep out from each vibrating body, catching hold of each other. Very slowly a single, fundamental rhythm, with which all of the musician can join in one way or another, begins to emerge from the chaos. As each person lends his weight to this rhythm, as if to a central pendulum, its force increases. A general oscillation, which forms the tonic for everyone's individual music, sets in: it is as if a giant molecule were taking form out of nothing. The relations, manifold, between the individual parts of this structure make it, as a whole, infinitely richer than the individual musics with which the process began.

The performer finds that he has been transported into a new situation in which there are other laws of gravity. He discovers a new economy of energy; he is almost weightless and is able to move with fantastic ease. The energy, which formerly had been expended in the general tumult and conflict, is now used more efficiently, used to move the giant pendulum. By placing his balance upon this fundamental rhythm, he finds he can devote his energies to the adornment of this rhythm, to its enrichment with smaller and more complex sub-rhythms. Ultimately, the sound of the players oscillating in a harmonic relationship with one another will acquire an unimaginable richness and fineness, completely transferring the individual musics. The spirit, endowed with grace, will ascend from the body, escape from the spatial limits of the body, and become one with the atmosphere in vibration - it will be everywhere the sound is. The space will no longer be occupied, but created. If this desired transformation of space takes place, it will not be magic (which should have happened immediately) but rather the creating of conditions where music becomes possible at the end of a long process. It will be work. The difference between magic and work is one of duration. It is possible that this work process may not take place at all. Two negative conditions can result. The tumult and confusion may grow worse. Or, the performer may find himself with nothing to do, nothing to say: he is surrounded by nothing and in him there is nothing. In both cases it is possible to transform a negative condition into a positive one.

The first case is that of conflict. Here the performer's task will be to give vent to violence in his music, and in an extreme form: to push the conflict further and let it break out into open warfare. He must localize and isolate the sources of resistance to the music, the inertia which interferes with the oscillation of the pendulum, and direct his energies aggressively toward the breaking-down of that inertia. Everyone must become aware of where the resistance lies and that the music is not taking place. The resistance may be in the performers, or in the audience, or both. The experienced performer's secret knowledge is that the resistance is normally in himself. The imagined hostility of the audience or of the other performers is a projection of a negative state, a hallucination manufactured to prevent strangers from entering into the performer's labyrinth. In this case. the performer is already at war with himself; it is too late for negotiations. One side must win, the other must lose. Before there can be peace there must be a clash of arms, a total thrust of the self into the struggle. An extreme state must be demanded of the body in order that the body accept other terms. The warlike situation is merely another form of work.

The second case, that of drifting in nothingness, is more critical because the body lacks the energy to plunge itself into conflict. It is a situation of silent hatred. The performer has been or is being destroyed. In this second case four courses of action are possible. These courses of action are consequences of different interpretations of nothing. Although they may all be necessary at different times, and may, at least within the limited framework of music-making, have no lethal consequences, they are to be considered as arranged within a scale expressing an ascending order of truthfulness and, therefore, of desirability. (1) To be destroyed = to do nothing. It is to deny the possibility of creation, to interpret nothing as absolute. The duration of this state of "drifting" must be as short as possible. (2) To destroy = to make a gesture of total negativity, to produce a change, any change that will transform the state of things. To destroy is to interpret nothing as if it were something out of which something else is to be formed. A negative force is mistaken for creation. The mind cannot see beyond the possibility of a single, blinding act, which would bring nothingness in its wake. (3) To put on a professional mask = to conceal, to falsify, to draw upon the reservoir of formulae that constitutes one's virtuosity, to save appearances. This is to interpret nothing as if it were a vacuum, to be filled with something already existing; it is to transfer something from one place to another, like the convict who is punished by being made to dig a hole and then fill it up again. It may save appearances, but it perpetuates a lie. It is not creation. (4) To go back to point zero = to wipe the slate clean, return to the original situation, begin the piece again. To return to zero is to identify with nothing. It is the only creative attitude. It is to take zero as the common denominator between oneself and all other creatures, to admit the possible identity of oneself and all that is and is not.

By returning to zero the performer reaffirms the possibility of accomplishing his original task. The music continues to live. He may have to go through this experience once, twice, several times during the course of a performance. But, as everything which has a soul is mortal, this cycle must also end. There may be insuperable obstacles which bar the way to music. The obstacles may never be overcome, and the piece will end in exhaustion.

Three possible courses of the music have been described:

1) The goal was achieved instantaneously, through magic.
2) It was arrived at after a natural and necessary duration, through work.
3) It was never found at all.

The third result will be as acceptable as the first two because of its excellence, but with the difference that it communicates sadness, whereas the others were joyous.

A final note with regard to the situation at the beginning of this piece. Here, the performer is not entirely without responsibilities; he does not merely begin to play in any way whatsoever. Since this piece is based on an idea, although it has no necessary form, and this idea is the transformation of space from one state to another state, the music at the beginning must express what state it is that exists at the moment when this transformation is about to be attempted. We consider the audience as being in a state of ignorance. The space in its present state is non-musical, it is merely occupied; the people, including the musicians, are merely what they are and always have been: flesh, bound and finite, imprisoned in labyrinths, repositories of the past, automata. There is, however, a state of expectation, of general anticipation that an attempt is going to be made to bring about another state of things. What the musicians have to make clear is that this change is not just any change, but a fundamental one: the redemption of the space and of everything in it.

For what the audience does not yet realize, before the beginning of the music, is that the space which it occupies is profane, dominated by demons, and that those demons are themselves. Each individual is a worshipper of images; what is going to happen now is that images are going to be smashed and meaningful rituals created in their place. The air is charged with stupidity, complacency, inaction, slavery; it is poisonous, and we have to become fully aware of its loathsomeness. The music now must necessarily be demonic, because demons are everywhere - even in the musicians. The musician is possessed; the first sound that he strikes must be one of terror. The breaking of the silence is a breaking of the spell of stupidity which shrouds the soul. The sound, which may be called "anti-music," awakens the soul to its demonic state; and only then may the exorcism begin, the struggle to cast lines through the tumult to another soul."

This article/piece is found in issue no. 3 of Larry Austin's "The Source" magazine, a wonderful resource of avant garde music from the late 60s/early 70s. I couldn't find the text online, so I typed it up, my apologies if there are some transcription errors. There were a few lines in this that reminded me of performing Edges with Christian Wolff several years ago in a large ensemble. There were moments where various performers were stuck in their own labyrinth and simply moved from one thing that they knew, to something else that they knew. There were others that became so musically frustrated, with either themselves of the ensemble, that they chose to sit in silence, for 10 minutes or more at a time. Then there were few moments of actual violence, where the inner struggle/conflict became too much, and loud percussive noises from one member of the ensemble took over, but was incredibly musically necessary. This is one of the BEST writing that I've ever seen as far as what happens with free improvisation, and what options are out there. Rzewski was a member of group MEV, and an incredible pianist and composer. Check out his variations on "the people united will never be defeated" here.

Stay tuned for more blog posts, one on free improvisation recordings/groups, and another two on CD releases of Grant Gordy and Sam Trapchak.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Jack Kerouac, Kenneth Patchen and Music

I want to start this post off talking about books and seque into music at the end. I have been reading a lot since this last late summer and went through the entire Song of Fire and Ice series by George R. R. Martin, which is the series that has spawned the HBO series "Game of Thrones." Needless to say it's a great read and very addictive. Since finishing the last book up a few weeks ago, I'm finally able to dive into a lot more recent collections and half started books that have been sitting around. Right now I am reading two separate collections of Jack Kerouac, one is a short book of poems, and another is some of his very early writings, "Atop an Underwood." I came across this passage in [I Am Going to Stress a New Set of Values]:

"P.S. Whenever you get tired of everything, go down to a saloon, or a pin-ball machine house, or jump in the river. However, if you do it every day like I do, you don't get anywhere. But who wants, as Nick says, to go anywhere? And furthermore, you can get sick of everything every day like I do and be one thing:--A casual poet with no regrets, no excess baggage, and humour and intelligence and goodnight my old mad masters, so long and forget it. It is no harm. That's the idea of it all. How many times do I have to tell you. Sleep it off in bed, and when you wake up, work yourself up to a lather, world it all day, then go back to sleep it off at night, unless you have a woman with you in bed. In that case, don't sleep right away, but be sure to do so after you've spent. Good night, boys. The Grim Reaper isn't grim at all; he's a life-saver. He isn't grim because he isn't anything. . . . he is nothing. And nothing is a hell of a lot better than anything. So long, boys."

The other book that I have started up is Kenneth Patchen's "The Journal of Albion Moonlight." It is a dark and surrealistic book that involves a tale of descent into madness. Throughout the first 30-40 pages that I've read it has been changing writing styles, and referencing missing pages, and the main character's split personality taking over, with these pointed statements that are more philosophical that come out. It's an incredible read, and strangely fitting for my life right now. To hear the author reading some of the passages go here and here, which were released on folkways records (and I'm currently looking for it).

I found out about this author via John Hollenbeck. The new Claudia Quintet + 1 record features Theo Bleckmann and Kurt Elling which you can listen to some of and purchase here.
Almost all of the music on the album is Patchen's words set for either singers with this sextet. It's an incredible project and I highly recommend purchasing this CD!

I also have found now that Peter Brotzmann released an album several years ago "Be Music, Night" which is an homage to Kenneth Patchen. The group is the Chicago Tenet, which features an incredible array of Chicago's jazz/avant musicians, like Ken Vandermark, Joe Mcphee, Paul Nilssen-Love and several more. I'm still trying to get a copy of this, but you can purchase it at jazzloft's website here.

The last finding that I'm also looking up is a radio play from that Patchen worked with John Cage on called "The City Wears a Slouch Hat." You can here some of it on youtube here, and purchase it here. I don't know much about this, but I definitely will find this soon!

I will probably have some more Patchen updates from time to time, as there is a lot to check out and dig into, but enjoy the links, and purchase some of this music!