This double CD version of The Crypt - 12th June 1968 is the third edition of this recording and contains all the material that was recorded at the session in question. The fades are at places where the tapes ran out. So there was some music that escaped into the ether. The earlier vinyl pressings limited the amount of material that could be published. And to be honest, after such a long time, we had forgotten about the material excluded hitherto.
Despite being (arguably) the most â€˜difficultâ€™ material on Matchless, The Crypt has been a mainstay for the label. It obviously pays not to underestimate the audience. Its continued success has enabled us to release other works. So we felt committed, obliged almost, to keep it available. But as stocks ran low it became obvious that we would have to rethink its presentation. One CD would have meant omitting material contained in the double album boxed set. Two CDs enabled us to release the complete session. We took the plunge even though it was (is) a considerable strain on our cash-flow. But this music has proved itself not to be ephemeral.
Now, of course (at February 1992), there is more AMM material available than was the case when The Crypt was first released. Our very first album, AMMMUSIC (1966) has been rereleased (1990) as a CD together with additional music from the same sessions by RéR MegaCorp. Generative Themes (1982) MRCD06 is still available, as is The Inexhaustible Document (1987) MRCD13 and The Nameless Uncarved Block (1990) MRCD20. Whilst a session recorded in Chicago 1984, Combine + Laminates, has been released by Pogus productions and the AMM 111 Japo/ECM recording of 1979, It had been an ordinary enough day in Pueblo, Colorado, has been rereleased (1992) as a CD. Certain other AMM discs have sold out and there is some interesting archival material still to go public. And the band goes on: for to date we have still not recorded the current quintet line-up of de Saram, Gare, Prevost, Rowe and Tilbury. So we have enough releases to think about for the foreseeable future: cash flow willing.
Twenty six years on and still AMM operates on the margins, rarely gets the opportunities to perform in public more than a few times a year, its member musicians dispersed away from London; Keith Rowe now lives in France. Yet we are bound together in the common cause of music making that surely transcends the sentiment of â€˜times past.â€™ Young people coming to the music for the first time still find the AMM aesthetic radical and challenging - as do we. The performing, wrestling with the problems, of improvisation as a musical discipline, and its relevance to our time, still consumes us. We still feel many of the liberating impulses and responses that prompted our very first explorations. The form has shifted a bit, but perhaps it is as critic David Ilic suggested: â€œWith AMM, their albums are as alike or unalike as trees.â€ (The Wire 9/91). Certainly we feel that we have been involved with a work that maybe requires many life-times to complete. But, despite the frustrations, it is the only musical life with which we feel at ease. The vehicle of AMM has given us each a unique outlet for our creative work. Far from being a negation of individuality, the group (as perhaps The Crypt illustrates more vividly than any other of our albums) allows each to express himself without fear of being subordinated or exploited. The players could, at time, share a timeless immersion in a world of sound, while simultaneously being free to pursue their individual paths. It was not uncommon for the musician to wonder who or what was producing a particular sound, stop playing, and discover that it was he himself who had been responsible.
Eddie Prévost - February 1992.
Hui-sze said to Kwang-sze: â€œ I have a large tree which men called Ailantus Glandulosa, or â€˜the fetid tree.â€™ Its trunk swells out to a large size, but is not fit for a carpenter to apply his line to it. When he looks up at its smaller branches they are so twisted and crooked that they cannot be made into rafters and beams, when he looks down to its root, its trunk is divided into so many rounded portions that neither coffin nor shelf could be made from it. Lick one of its leaves and your mouth feels torn and wounded. The mere smell of them makes a man frantic, as if intoxicated, for more than three whole days on end. Though it were planted in the most convenient spot besides the road no builder would turn his head to look at it. Now your words, Sir, are great, but of no use: all unite in putting time away from them.â€
Kwang-sze replied: â€œCan it be that you have never seen the pole cat, how is crouches waiting for the mouse, ready to leap this way or that, high or low, till one day it lands plump on a spring of a trap and dies in the snare? And what about the Yak, so large that it is like a cloud hanging in the sky? It maintains this vast bulk but would be quite incapable of catching a mouse. You, Sir, have a large tree and are troubled because it is of no use; why do you not plant it in the realm of Nothing Whatever, or in the wilds of the unpastured desert? There you might saunter idly by its side, or in the enjoyment of untroubled ease sleep and dream beneath it. Neither bill nor axe would shorten its existence; there would be nothing to injure it. What is there in its uselessness to cause you distress? (KWANG-SZE 1&1V)
AMM was formed in 1965 and concerns itself - certainly outwardly - with musical improvisation of an experimental kind. This music is apparently unsuited to mechanical reproduction. AMM has made three records and broadcast in Britain, Denmark and Germany. In all this it has â€˜displayed its uselessnessâ€™ (in the sense of the story quoted) for reproduction purposes. About the live performances - AMM has given many public concerts, including some in the USA - the Press has said some surprisingly nice things and some not-so-nice things, but few (nice or otherwise) ever revealed any insight or relevance. If we believed everything written by the critics we would have long since stopped playing - if they had ever let us start!
One comment by a journalist, however, came close to expressing, albeit unwittingly, something of why we play. Peter Willis wrote (in Peace News) â€œUltimately, however, AMM fails.â€ Ultimately AMM will fail. There may be rare moments when we, or others, sense a kind of success, but there can never be â€˜ultimateâ€™ success. Nevertheless, with kind of perversity that really belongs only to nature, AMM continues to play. It continues to want to play and in playing fails; appears at times to be succeeding then fails and fails. The paradox is that continual failure on one plane is the root of success on another (and Iâ€™m not thinking of the hack violinist of the metropolis passing himself off as a virtuoso in the provinces). We certainly must not look for failure any more than for success.
The problem with AMM is that it is enormously difficult to honestly justify any approach or promotion which will lead to a playing situation - paid performances in particular. When somebody pays they expect the goods - we may not have the goods, and if we have we may lose them tomorrow. And if we do we may yet spend our lives â€˜in the enjoyment of untroubled ease.â€™ Meanwhile the risk spurs on the music.
Cornelius Cardew and Eddie Prévost c. 1970
Lou Gare wrote the following â€˜Subjective view of an AMM session.â€™ It could be about one evening in particular, or it might be a random assortment of impressions.
I arrive at the place, probably we have played there in previous weeks. Mostly we play once a week. The place is familiar then. Some or all of the other players are there.
We chat a bit, set up equipment, tinker with things. Small sounds go on. The playing increases as we get involved in listening, searching, trying to perfect a sound, an action.
The lights go out, or sometimes stay on but usually very low - almost dark.
In the dark it is like having your eyes shut. All the sounds seems to go on inside.
The sudden shocks of loud noise jolt one into alertness.
The energy flows through the body.
I think - a sound isnâ€™t good - it doesn't fit - weâ€™ve heard it before - but all the time Iâ€™m playing.
And then something happens and Iâ€™m listening very closely - itâ€™s beautiful and sharp and falls away, everyone is maintaining it, a slight change comes in, it alters, breaks down picks up again.
It makes me laugh - I work hard - I canâ€™t go on - itâ€™s too difficult, why donâ€™t they stop - but I play all the same.
Just for an instant, or slightly more Iâ€™m right on the brink so to speak.
It is good just to listen. I donâ€™t know what to do.
Keith is playing fantastically tonight.
Why is Eddie laying on the floor?
I canâ€™t hear Cor.
Why doesn't Christopher turn that thing off whatever it is?
I shall go deaf if this noise goes on much longer.
Why doesnâ€™t someone turn the lights on - I hope they donâ€™t, donâ€™t stop.
I canâ€™t bear it.
One is tossed this way and that - and I donâ€™t move.
It would be nice to play in this.
It is very quiet.
I must have been sitting here a long time, my ankle hurts.
The silence goes on for what seems like a long time.
The lights come on.
Cor is still playing the cello.
There are one or two or more people in the room as well.
It seems as though I canâ€™t listen - it has come to me.
We chat a bit, make arrangements, discuss business, say goodbye.
Lou Gare c.1970
Written compositions are fired off into the future; even if never performed, the writing remains as a point of reference. Improvisation is in the present, its effect may live on in the souls of the participants, both active and passive (i.e. audience), but in its concrete form it is gone forever from the moment that it occurs, nor did it have any previous existence before the moment that it occurred, so neither is there any historical reference available.
Documents such as tape recordings of improvisation are essentially empty, as they preserve chiefly the form that something took and give it at best an indistinct hint as to the feeling and cannot convey any sense of time and place.
At this point I had better define the kind of improvisation I wish to speak of. Obviously a recording of a jazz improvisation has some validity since its formal reference - the melody and harmony of a basic structure - is never far below the surface. This kind of validity vanishes when the improvisation has no formal limits. In 1965 I joined a group of four musicians in London who were giving weekly performances of what they called â€˜AMM Musicâ€™, a very pure form of improvisation operating without any formal system or limitation. The four original members of AMM came from a jazz background; when I joined in I had no jazz experience whatever, yet there was no language problem. Sessions generally lasted about two hours with no formal breaks or interruptions, although there would sometimes occur extended periods of close to silence. AMM music is supposed to admit all sounds but the members of AMM have marked preferences. An open-ness to the totality of sounds implies a tendency away from traditional musical structures towards informality. Governing this tendency - reining it in - are various thoroughly traditional musical structures such as saxophone, piano, violin, guitar, etc., in each of which reposes a portion of the history of music. Further echoes of the history of music enter through the medium of the transistor radio (the use of which as a musical instrument was pioneered by John Cage). However, it is not the exclusive privilege of music to have a history - sound has history too. Industry and modern technology have added machine sounds and electronic sounds to the primeval sounds of thunderstorm, volcanic eruption, avalanche and tidal wave.
Informal â€˜soundâ€™ has a power over our emotional responses that formal â€˜musicâ€™ does not, in that it act subliminally rather than on a cultural level. This is a possible definition of the area in which AMM is experimental. We are searching for sounds and for the responses that attach to them, rather than thinking them up, preparing them and producing them. The search is conducted in the medium of sound and the musician himself is at the heart of the experiment.
In 1966, I and another member of the group invested the proceeds of a recording in a second amplifier system to balance the volume of sound produced by the electric guitar. At that period we were playing every week in the music room of the London School of Economics - a very small room barely able to accommodate our equipment. With the new equipment we began to explore the range of small sounds made available by using contact microphones on all kinds of materials - glass, metal, wood, etc. - and a variety of gadgets from drumsticks to battery operated cocktail mixers. At the same time the percussionist was expanding in the direction of pitched instruments such as xylophone and concertina, and the saxophonist began to double on violin and flute as well as a stringed instrument of his own design. In addition, two cellos were wired to the new equipment and the guitarist was developing a predilection for coffee tins and cans of all kinds. This proliferation of sound sources in such a confined space produced a situation where it was often impossible to tell who was producing which sounds - or rather which portions of the single room filling deluge of sound. In this phase the playing changed: as individuals we were absorbed into a composite activity in which solo playing and any kind of virtuosity were relatively insignificant. It also struck me at that time that it is impossible to record with any fidelity a kind of music that is actually derived in some sense from the room in which it is taking place - its shape, acoustic properties, even the view from the windows. What a recording produces is a separate phenomenon, something really much stranger that the playing itself, since what you hear on tape or disc is indeed the same playing, but divorced from its natural context. What is the importance of this natural context? The natural context provides a score which the players are unconsciously interpreting in their playing. Not a score that is explicitly articulated in the music and hence of no further interest to the listener as is generally the case in traditional music, but one that co-exists inseparably with the music, standing side by side with it and sustaining it.
Once in conversation I mentioned that scores like those of LaMonte Young (for example â€˜Draw a straight line and follow itâ€™) could in their inflexibility take you outside yourself, stretch you to an extent that could not occur spontaneously. To this the guitarist replied that â€˜you get legs dangling down there and arms floating around, so many fingers and one headâ€™ and that that was a very strict composition. And that is true: not only can the natural environment carry you beyond your own limitations, but the realization of you own body as part of that environment is an even stronger dissociative factor. Thus is it that the natural environment is itself giving birth to something, which you then carry as a burden; you are the medium of the music. At this point your moral responsibility becomes hard to define.
â€œYou choose the sound you hear. But listening for effects is only first steps in AMM listening. After a while you stop skimming, start tracking, and go where it takes you.â€
â€œTrusting that itâ€™s all worth while?â€™
â€œFunnily enough I donâ€™t worry about that aspect.â€
â€œThat means you do trust it?
â€œYes, I suppose I do.â€ *
Cornelius Cardew c. 1970