It's not surprising to meet any musician anywhere anymore, but meeting Evan Parker at a 3 day workshop at the Italian Communist Party's National Fair in Modena last August was an exception - and a pleasant one as well. Nearly 10 years had elapsed since we'd met during a memorable concert at the MIDDLE EARTH in London, when Evan joined in with the MEV group (Musica Elettronica Viva). Then, as in this occasion, it was our musics that revealed more to one another than our words. Evan's rapid-fire, breathtaking polyphony and my floating seven note melody which needs 15 minutes to evolve seemed in the context of this programm like Yang and Yin compliments. Recently, Evan was in Italy to do some concerts and a record with a percussionist Andrea Centazzo and myself. As promised he brought me a copy on MUSICS 15 - another pleasant surprise. Since I have been somewhat out of touch with the English scene since 1967-69 when MEV, AMM, The Scratch Orchestra and People Band were conscientiously laying the foundations for a new improvising tradition, I was particularly delighted to have the impression that all this had become a thriving moment - at least as manifested in this rich and lively issue. An issue with all the best aspects of an artisans journal and family album. Hence, the reflections:
David Toop's review of the Lovens/Lytton record "WAS IT ME?" I found was an unusually subtle analysis of the essentials of improvised music, leaving little to say and much to think about. So with all due respect to L/L whose record I have not yet heard, I would merely like to add a few words about its title. This enigmatic little phrase "Was It Me?" not only struck me as if meeting an old friend but appeared to me as a unique key to, if not a definition of improvisation itself. Toop's discussion goes right to the heart of the matter: TIME and the non-duality of music's elements. It is precisely here that "Was It Me?" changes from an unassuming question to an illuminating answer. In that it implies that illusive state in all creative experience where time "ceases", or rather ones subjective sense of it. This psycho-musical state seems to occur where the performer or listener gets so deeply into and in tune with time (time here intended as any aspect of musical sound: tone, timbre, density, loudness, rhythm, silence, etc.), that he/she experiences the sensation of not only becoming the sound itself, but momentarily stepping through it and outside of time altogether. Timelessness of this kind can be likened to a loss of ego, or to any similar psychic state in which the ego is surpressed, accompanied often as it is by a sense of complete merging of inside /outside, objective/subjective, me/you - in short, unity. The performers, their instruments, the listeners, the very musical space itself all "disappear" so to speak, as they become fused into a boyant wave of energy. The music, now, no longer slave to its makers and "liberated" from time becomes, (as Toop well points out) regenerative; that is, it virtually plays by itself. Thus with the time, the sound, and the players so mysteriously unified, the moment becomes a "Was It Me?" - in effect the inevitable question one poses afterwards in trying to reconstruct such a moment and the lingering enigma of ones memory of full participation, yet strange absence. In any case these moments of whatever duration usually comport an extraordinary sense of harmony and well being, as well as good music.
There are as many ways as there are musicians to transcend time in music and all of them require unusually great concentrations of physical and mental energies. Without wanting to be pedantic or accademic in probing into the nature of these wanderous phenomena, I would merely like to note some of the more common situations where a "Was It Me?" is likely to occur. Unity, as Toop's poetic description underlines, is again the key; hence unity arising from: playing the same note, chord, rhythm, color, phrase, etc. Accidentally or at will imitation where one or more players become "locked-into" each others playing or approach ones playing; playing uniquely independant musics simultaneously, or very slow, very fast or continuously repetitive musics; playing in a space with a long reverberation time or unusual acoustics; playing with more than 20 people at once; playing near or exceeding the limits of ones own psycho-physiological (technical) capacities; playing a music you've never heard before or one you've always known and played etc., etc. can all potentially lead to stepping out of time.
American variations on the same theme:
DID I DO THAT?
DID YOU DO THAT?
WE DID THAT?
WHAT DID THAT?
In the infant days of MEV (1966-67) it was just this feeling of stepping into and outside of time that became almost the sole "raison d'etre" for the music - so powerful was its attraction. So when we would get to those magical moments where the music began playing all by itself, there would follow an almost frightful awareness along with the joy, as one might experience on entering a totally unknown place - as Archie Shepp so simply noted of us: we were "into some deep shit."
What I am attempting to describe here is, of course, quite indescribable, but nevertheless not new to any serious musician or listener. It seems to be a universally known experience and not limited to any particular music. But in the context of this discussion, limited here to the relatively young tradition of collected-improvised musics (or Creative music as it is now widely called) the apparent transcendence of time appears, at least to me, to be one of its most significant aspects (in fact it is often the sole criterion for a good performance). For when the music is now longer a mere set of rules, symbols, directions to be followed aand executed, but rather the musician, his instrument and the musical space in which they are found, the only "score" is time itself - all time: historical, ontological, metaphysical, cosmological, geophysical, psycho-acoustical, whatever. It is no wonder, then that when one gets deeply into the "score" and finds that someone else is reading the same score at the same time, both will likely reply with the answer "WAS IT ME?"
"ECHOES" was another excellent article and one of particular interest to me in that delay is a fundamental element to much of my music. Coincidentally, as I was writing this, in a house above the bay of La Spezia, the Italian Naval Accademy is having its morning warmups with ships' cannon fire. The ca. 8 second echoes have a remarkable pattern reflecting the surrounding hills, cliffs, inlets, etc. down the coast; nonetheless, all the birds, domestic animals and most people are not happy about this practise.
After a MEV concert at Wesleyan Univ. in 1970, Alvin Lucier invited us to his home. Following the excellent food, wine and smokes, Alvin entertained us by playing his then recent piece "I AM SITTING IN A ROOM", accompanied by Mary's slides (the same technique Alvin used in recording used with photography i.e. a photo of a photo of a photo....etc.), all done in the same room where the recording and phto were made. As the process of gradual disentegration and transformation unfolded, and all intelligible speech and image disappeared, so too, everyone in the room themselves locked into this inevitable process seemed to disappear.
In the end when the resonant frequency of the room filled the air and the last image - a gray blur - stood immobile on the screen - heavy limbs gradually began to stir in wonder - "Was it me?"
David Cunningham makes no mention of a common (willed or accidental) multiplication of a tape-delayed signal which goes into "feedback". This can give rise to very interesting qualities of resonance, harmonic, and rhythmic "essences" of a continuously delayed sound. When properly controlled by manual gain - riding or automatic compression - long sustained wave patterns can be generated for as long as there is a tape, or let to decay slowly producing a disappearing sound image not unlike in Lucier's "I AM SITTING IN A ROOM".
Since no one made mention of Digital/Anolog delay devices (rightly so given industry's price tags) I would be happy to get in touch with anybody making home-made circuitry of this type which could produce variable delays of up to 1 sec.
FOG HORN EXCHANGE.....
As some of you know, I have been collecting sounds in nature for many years and have a rather extensive library of common and not so common sounds, many of which become part of my music. The sound of Fog Horns is lamentably missing - there are none in Italy and haven't had a chance to record them elsewhere. In any case I propose the following exchange of recorded sounds on a one to one basis with anyone who has quality recordings (mono, stereo, 7 and one half or 15 ips (19,38 cps)) of: Fog Horns, ship horns, flapping of wings of large flocks of birds, or flocks of bats coming out of a cave. In return I can offer: sounds of the marble quarries of Carrara, a nightingale duet (stetreo at 3 mts.), footsteps in deserted late night Venice, Pope Paul saying Happy Easter in about 20 languages, cats making love, a roman street musician playing a laurel leaf. I would be open to any exchange suggestions. In addition I would be particularly interested in collaborating on any unusual or interesting sound recording projects and can offer use of a Stellavox SP 7 (stereo) plus Schoeps ad Sennheiser mics.
Bravo Steve Lake - if black and white are still a problem, it could only be for some dusty accademics or sentimental black panthers. When race begins to divide musicians, we might as well forget music.
One last note on togetherness: I was pleased to see that the "PEOPLE BAND" is still active and flourishing. A most incredible encounter with this group happened during a MEV concert in 1969 at the Purcell Room. Inviting themselves past the stage doorman, the PB installed themselves quietly on stage during the intermission. There was no problem as we were sort of expecting the group to show up to help us out with a SOUND POOL where the audience is invited to participate. And they did. Within 15 minutes the whole hall was a divine madhouse of singing, playing and dancing, including an unforgettable ecstatic old lady in tennis shoes. The establishment got terrfied and called the police and fire depts. to quell us. Does anyone know who that little old lady was? or was it me?
Alvin Curran, January 1978, published in Musics 16