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


Bert Noglik


Cecil Taylor: Music & Poetry

The body and the voice. The instrument an extension of the body, and the voice a mirror of the inmost soul. The continual challenge of having to bring the thing to life, of having to give it its own special identity. To get to the point: a black box set in vibration. In this respect it would seem as though it is easier for wind instrumentalists than for pianists. But nevertheless one can recognise Cecil Taylor as soon as he has played a few notes - whether they be furioso clusters or slightly varied single notes.

Cecil Taylor spoke of the "vocal sound" of the piano. "Letting the group sing" when playing together was something he once learned from Duke Ellington. For Taylor the soloist, music always means complete involvement, an involvement which demands both physical energy and the use of the voice. The recording of this concert presents the instrumental and the vocal in a condensed form and thus intensifies their effect.

A new dimension is created by the introduction of pre-recordings of Taylor's voice and the sparing use of percussion. Cecil Taylor once said that above all he had always endeavoured to be a poet - a poet on the piano, and a poet in thought, feeling and expression. Although recordings of Taylor's poetry - which he calls "music in print" - do exist, his real medium seems to be situative or oral communication. In this he follows the Afro-lndian-American tradition. Even if his music seems to be refined to the extreme, and is heard in the context of the contemporary avant-garde, one cannot deny that something in it echoes the heritage of oral cultures, something which seems to be related to the African Griots or Indian story-tellers.

Although the musical atmosphere is created for the main part by the voice - on a different level, like the text of a song which someone is interpreting - here too Cecil Taylor succeeds in amazing us by the clear and dynamic way in which he plays the piano: with ever softer sounds which however never become sentimental, and an ever increasing terrific intensity which never blindly rages. He reaches a complexity of spontaneous, formal creative power which one could consider to be the foundation of his way of life and his work.

The whispered words, the beseeching phrases, often spoken in a husky voice, form a contrast to the sonority of the piano. But the way in which Cecil Taylor combines the spoken word with music, the way in which he comments musically on his own vocal expressions, creates a feeling of wholeness and emotional dedication. We are moved by the physicality of the voice and the mysticism of the poetry.

The word order used reveals a very personal mythology, an awakened dream-world, a sensual philosophy. Memories and reflections, magic formulars, references to childhood, adolescent and adult haunts. Anyone who tries to "understand" as one would expect to understand an essay, cannot gain anything from it. If you open yourself to Taylor's music and poetry, you have to be free of any inner compulsion to interpret and discuss, and be able to experience the sound in its entirety. In Taylor's poetry of sound, tones take on meaning and words become sounds. The boundaries between the sensual and the intellectual fade.

The sociologist Ben Sidran writes that in oral cultures communication takes place on a very physical level. A member of an oral culture would never remove himself intellectually from his surroundings, he always remains part of them emotionally. One could draw the conclusion that the use of the instrument and the voice in Cecil Taylor's work create movement, or at least an illusion of movement, that they create a kind of dance. Those who take the trouble to understand the music experience this either live or in retrospect.

Taylor creates enormous arches of tension in music and poetry whereby he instinctively knows how far he can stretch them before they reach breaking point. Much takes place between opposing spheres: between heavy, earthy sounds, and airv, floating notes, between extremely Iyrical passages and some which are so dramatic that you feel as if you have become involved in an all-out argument. Sometimes Taylor's music and language seem very direct, and at other times shy and introverted. All this ranges between love and fear. We sense danger just as much as we sense vulnerability and tenderness.

After the concert in the Bechstein House in Berlin I wrote: He runs out, almost cowering, whilst the applause still thunders. He played much longer than was intended. You cannot really work according to plan as far as Cecil Taylor is concerned anyway. He slips away with a spring to his step. He has given himself body and soul. A survivor of musical material battles who knows that the sequence of chords is not all important. What is important is the labyrinth of passions. Taylor does not come back. Everything has been said. For a time the audience is speechless. Afterwards they are left with the feeling that they want to say something, the feeling of having been moved by the sound.

Translation: Margaret Neuendorf

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