FMP/FREE MUSIC PRODUCTION - An Edition of Improvised Music 1989-2004


Bert Noglik


JULY 16th, '88

Concentration and freedom. Rationality and intuition. Spontaneous existence and deliberate gestalt. Sensuality and Reason. Such terms describe widely separated, if not quite opposite, polarities. The analytical approach, intimately bound up with the European cultural development, has lead to an enormously differentiated view of the world, and at the same time to a break down in holistic knowledge: finally it seems to have reached the point where it is almost impossible to consider the relationship between such things as emotion, reason and enjoyment without a feeling of contradiction.

Cecil Taylor, in contrast, develops a whole complexus composed of his many skills and experiences. One may subject the intricacies of his piano playing to a musicological analysis. No less meaningful, and perhaps even more critical will prove to be his ability to integrate differing cultural movements that appear, on the surface, to be very far apart, but spring from the same source. World-music in the sense of a contrived, or so called organised, bringing together of different musical cultures is a figment of the imagination. Cecil Taylor's piano-playing, which in itself exceeds definition in a closed system of thought, is a reality. The solo concert, which took place almost at the end of the Cecil Taylor Project '88, in Berlin, turned out to be not only a lasting homily, but also an uniquely intense experience.

Rhythm, melody and harmony, all expressions, or rather levels of imagination, which are traditionally employed in the explanation of music, pale into insignificance when one witnesses Cecil Taylor's solo performance. Taylor brings together those elements, which have often quite separate functions and subjects them to detailed analysis. Taylor's piano-playing is a poetic experience. Only poetry, with its play upon words, goes beyond the constraints of formal logic, sensual, at the same time literal. Taking all this into consideration, it is no wonder that the musician in Cecil Taylor grasps first and foremost towards the poet. Dichtung, the German word for poetry, implies concentration and hence complexity.

Avant-garde, what ever that is, is associated in the 'Art world' more and more with the idea of concepts. One of the lessons to be learnt from Cecil Taylor is just about playing. No hint of playing about. Playing as one possible expression of living; playing as a means of survival; playing as an expression of the vitality of life. The real and the immaterial no longer separated, but confluent. Neither concept or mere child's play. Motion. Straight to the essence.

Taylor's solo concert revealed a feeling for the flow of life, that could not be contained using a conventional presentation of musical form. Taylor structures the events in the course of time, develops one movement after the other, no overall grand-design, but intuitively following the form's own internal logic. Precise structures, intervals, motifs, rhythmic patterns or musical voices would be repeated or rather pushed along (in this 'spontaneous') type of music nothing repeats itself), transformed, assimilated, stretched out. The way in which Cecil Taylor shapes his solo performance feels neither calculated nor purely accidental. And at the risk of making a contradiction in terms, to put it another way: Taylor's use of structure has an organic feel to it.

It is not only the speed, but also the synchronism that gives Taylor's playing a certain ambiguity. Taylor combines differing techniques (eg. single notes, runs, arpeggios, block-chords), different keyboard registers, different tempos and types of attack. During the actual listening process the continuous outpouring of ideas hardly allows analysis of the music using any so-called conventional criteria. Nevertheless, and what makes it remarkable, there exists a transparency a type of clarity in the sound which makes the intention quite plain: Not to suppress one's individuality, but to make it visible for all to see. Any questions about private life seem inappropriate and secondary, considering the unconditional revealing of the personality occurring in the process of the playing itself.

Cecil Taylor transcends the piano. By making any observations about the solo concert one could just resort in seeking comparisons. An obvious analogy could be made with a percussion instrument. Taylor has insisted, quite rightly: the piano is a percussion instrument. Taylor, without any doubt, uses the piano as he would a whole orchestra - as a vehicle for creativity, the utilization of which goes back, historically, as far as Ellington. One further association, appropriate in Cecil Taylor's case leads in direction of Dance. Taylor had once said that whilst playing he attempted to reflect dancer's leaps in his own playing. This music, when really listened to, incorporates one into the actual physical motion, the body language - the leaps and bounds, into the sustained and advancing movements. Percussion, orchestral ensemble textures, dance and movement. Also, even a reference to the vocal could be conceivable. A conversation between the different layers. Treble and bass often simultaneously. Dialogues. Choirs. Singing voices as products of the inner-mind. Singing as in making music out of poetry.

And yet another hitch, that only acts to reinforce the dynamic; constantly re-establishing the bass register, a left jab, always certain to relate somehow to the free movements of the right hand. The breaking down of the dualistic thinking during the intuitive and coordinated activity of two independent hands. The reconciliation of the right and left halves of the brain. The spontaneous and the preconceived working in harmony. Red Indian, African, American, European, Asian . . .additional experiences that can no longer be separated out from each other. The Grand -View, as seen from New York, a link with the world.

The concert in Berlin, Saturday 16th July 1988, Mid summer, almost at the end of the Taylor Project, something like a resume of the different musical sides of Cecil Taylor. A music full of determination and at the same time (despite the cliché) extraordinarily gentle. Nowadays he plays more from "a feeling of joy", Taylor had confessed to me. On the question of fantasy, Taylor talked about Magic. Here at least the terms interlock: Magic is to be found in the essence of fantasy. Cecil Taylor has said that improvisation represent the raising of Man's spiritual capacities, in the trance state. This state, which exists outside the bounds of 'reason' does not mean a reduction in, but an intensification of one's capacity for awareness. The Berlin concert gave such an idea. Clarity, the feeling of something glimmering, integrity. All this may sound a bit euphoric, requiring some additional explanation: It is the music that stands out, no ideology, no personality cult, no over-interpreted idea, no New-Age.

Now, having put all this to paper, I must own up to the fact that immediately after the solo concert I was left speechless. It was just as Taylor said himself, a rejoicing in being alive. The fullness of life. And, once more, just in order to broaden the meaning of a musical expression, a further quote from Cecil Taylor: "I am in Harmony with myself ". July 16th in Berlin. Not forgetting the harsh reality; the magic, the concentration, the goddamned exertion, the unbelievable intensity, the feeling of total saturation, and being left totally speechless.

Translation: Paul Lytton

zurück / back