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

FMP CD 119

Peter Niklas Wilson


Making connections

Nowadays, as the demarcation rituals between new composed and improvised music lose their importance, it becomes easier to talk about areas of contact and reciprocal influences. Over the last years, the importance of Anton Webern’s and John Cage’s music for the development of European Improvised Music has been frequently dealt with. Webern’s crystalline reduction and Cage’s rejection of the European work aesthetic, combined with the do-it-yourself pragmatism of the bricoleurs undoubtedly had a catalytic effect – at least with the forerunners of British Improvised Music. Less frequently discussed, but nevertheless no less important in my opinion, is the listening experience of electronic music. There is hardly a British improviser of the early years who has not, at some point, expressed his fascination for the pioneer work of Stockhausen, Pousseur, Schaeffer, and Henry, let alone the inspiring effects of the low-tech-live-electronics of John Cage and David Tudor – a collection of instruments with an improvisational life of their own, resisting all attempts of “mastering” them. In the case of the Stockhausen disciples and serialism dissidents Hugh Davies and Cornelius Cardew we have two musicians who were involved in the British scene and who integrated their experience from the electronic studios directly into the music of the early improvisation collectives: Davies in the “Music Improvisation Company” with Derek Bailey, Evan Parker and Jamie Muir, Cornelius Cardew in the group “AMM” with Keith Rowe, Eddie Prévost and Lou Gare.

Impulses of this kind developed a double thrust: On the one hand they motivated improvisers like Tony Oxley, Barry Guy, Paul Lytton, Keith Rowe, Phil Wachsmann (to name but a few), to experiment with electronic sound generation and transformation. On the other hand they forced the players of more conventional, unmodified instruments to work on the “connectibility” of their sounds to the ‘electrified’ sound worlds. In Evan Parker’s words: “The impetus to develop the circular breathing technique came through playing with electronic instruments: feedbacks, long-sustained sounds as were produced in the ‘Music Improvisation Company’ by Derek Bailey and Hugh Davies. It was very frustrating for me that they could hold notes indefinitely; I wanted to have the same potential. There was thus a musical imperative behind the need to develop these techniques.”

The new instrumental playing techniques which came into being in this way soon developed such a dynamic of their own that the electronics which helped spawn them soon receded a little into the background. Or rather: after a lot of fascinating attempts, live electronics in Improvised music soon lost ground (this may also have had to do with the inadequacies and poor suitability for practical use of the instruments at that time). Over the last years, at least three factors helped to change this dramatically, to bring about a new presence of different forms of electronics in Improvised Music: first of all the availability of samplers and computers as musical “household equipment”, secondly the boom of media-specific creativity in the DJ and New-Electronica-culture and last but not least the “rediscovery” of AMM founder member Keith Rowe, the guitar player who had already in the sixties shown how to reinvent the guitar by using mechanical and electronic modifications and integration of the radio.

The extreme form of the electronics renaissance seems to be the contemporary Laptop-Ensemble currently thriving in Vienna and Berlin and other cities (in the same way as the powerbook, in general, has in the meantime become the most popular second instrument of instrumentalists of every creed and kind). In comparison with this, the approach of the four “Ilinx” musicians is almost traditional: They continue to work with concentration and intensity on the aforementioned mutual “connectibility”, on the integration and permeation of electronic and non-electronic sounds and textures, and: they work at making electronics flexible, at opening them up for the Here and Now, at keeping the results of their sounds open instead of predetermined. They work at making the electronic sound generation, sound reproduction, sound modification “playable”, “playable” exactly in the sense of the famous definition stated by Friedrich Schiller in his letters “On the Aesthetic Education of Man”: “The play-impulse would be directed at suspending time within time, at reconciling development with absolute being, change with identity.” As regards the music of “Ilinx”, this quote from a classic is not mere intellectual pretentiousness. The name of the quartet which first came together in Bremen and has been working in Berlin since 1999 refers to one of the four fundamental categories of play as worked out by Roger Callois in his treatise “Man, Play and Games”. Not without good reason is it the category of games where obsession and physical intensity play a central role: “Ilinx – the last category summarizes those games which originate from the urge to spin about and whose attraction is to interfere for just one instant with the stability of perception and to induce clear consciousness with a kind of sensual panic.”

Translation: Isabel Seeberg & Paul Lytton

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