The Spontaneous Music Ensemble was one of the first flowerings of a fertile British improvised music scene that would flourish through the ’70s and beyond. The SME was a loose collective centered around drummer John Stevens and, in its first decade, saxophonist Trevor Watts. Stevens was partially inspired by the example set by his contemporaries in AMM, but in forging his own take on improvised music, he deliberately did not go as far as AMM in rejecting his jazz background. SME music was freely improvised, without reference to underlying structures or overt jazz idioms, but the overall sound nevertheless retained a connection to jazz – and to the conventional ways of playing acoustic instruments – that ran counter to AMM’s ideas.
Even so, Stevens was an innovator and a radical in his own right. Continue reading
Here’s a solo guitar composition from 2011 by Michael Pisaro, performed with great sensitivity by Cristián Alvear, a Chilean guitarist who’s quickly establishing himself as one of the great interpreters of modern avant music. This piece is fairly typical of Pisaro’s work in that it is, paradoxically, serene and spacious yet dense with ideas. This is a work of seemingly simple beauty and elegance, but hidden in its structure are complexities and gentle twists that prevent the music from being merely a placid background listen. Continue reading
This extraordinary debut has become a legend, and with good reason. The importance of AMMMusic is difficult to overstate, particularly when considered as a prescient forerunner to certain strains of electroacoustic improvisation that would develop at the end of the 20th Century and the dawn of the 21st, with AMM’s guitarist (and shortwave radio operator) Keith Rowe serving as an elder statesman and frequent collaborator with younger musicians. This is ground zero, or close to it, for so much of the music that came after it. Continue reading
Here’s another challenging, provocative album from the recent Erstwhile Records batch. Like a lot of records in this area of late, it’s a tricky blend of styles and approaches, seemingly highly conceptual in nature but without spelling out what its concepts are. That makes it an enjoyably confounding and surprising listen, an album that keeps revealing new pleasures and new details every time I put it on.
Parazoan Mapping consists of 15 untitled tracks, all of them fairly concise (the longest is the first, at just over six minutes). There’s a great deal of variety here, and the sound field often shifts abruptly, but the tracks nevertheless flow seamlessly into one another as a fluid collage. The CD sleeve credits the musicians jointly with “recordings” and “devices,” which makes sense given their respective histories: La Casa works primarily with field recordings, while Unami is an unpredictable figure who, among other things, has assembled handmade motorized noisemaking gadgets. Unami is as always tough to pin down, and in addition to providing recordings of his own may be responsible for any of the odd, often unclassifiable sounds that work their way through the mix across these tracks. Continue reading
Lambkin and Pisaro are two of the most exciting musicians around, albeit in very different ways and for very different reasons. There is, on the surface, a sizeable gap between Lambkin’s raw, intense sound collages and the more studied, rigorous – though very affecting – compositions of Pisaro. I realize, though, that this is a false dichotomy, and as this disc quickly proves, there are strong commonalities between the two musicians as well. They share a fondness for juxtaposing more overt “musical” sounds against field recordings or less tonally grounded electronic elements, though Lambkin, who makes no distinction between the “musical” and the “non-musical,” certainly wouldn’t phrase it that way. They are united, too, by the conceptual heft of their work. Every piece arrives freighted with meaning, every sound backed up by theoretical frameworks and emotional associations. Their ideas, separately, may be quite distinct, but the great thoughtfulness of their individual musics provides rich soil for them to nurture the tension and interplay between their approaches here. Continue reading