In the human domain there are various kinds of observation. The principal of these are the active and acquiring form of enquiry associated with empiricism and modern science and a more detached, acquiescent and contemplative attitude traditionally marked as spiritual. There is an important third stream of observation that when best practiced uses both the acquisitive and the acquiescent frames of thought. Mixed together with alchemical energy they make art.
Tony Moore's solo cello performances display this third stream. He combines the skill and rationality needed to command the instrument together with the improvising ethic â€” to range beyond reformulation and to risk all in the development of something new. The contrast with the fetish for 'technique for techniques sake' and the draconian discipline of performing ever-new compositional constructions which characterizes so much of modern music, could hardly be greater. Although, ironically, at first hearing a listener may not be able to tell the difference.
It is argued that 'how' a music is made is subordinate to its effect. If this is so, then why is the composed work prized more highly in our culture than the improvised? For finally the meaning of a sound made in the art arena depends upon that multi-definable code we call poetry. Any reading of a text centres upon the hegenomy of received techniques and established narratives. The question is, whose techniques and narratives?
The solo improviser is certainly not free to play whatever may pop into his head. Promiscuity of this kind leads to freakish offspring of unsure parentage and direction. The whole point of being a meta-musician is to practice an art beyond and free of the nodes of established culture. To an extent the way of doing it â€” inventing a new world â€” is as important as any aural product. Paul Rutherford, a brilliant and under-valued, trombonist once gave a performance of Berio's Sequenza for Trombone. At the end of the concert he was congratulated. The listener had never heard the piece played better. But this was no real surprise to Rutherford because after a few moments of following the score he had freely improvised the remainder. The interesting corollary to this frank and provocative admission was that Rutherford's performance (and his professionalism) was thereafter devalued! My sympathy is with Rutherford. But as interesting is the listener's mis-reading of the performance. For clearly there was something of vigour and interest which transcended Berio's prescription. The reward in listening to such works depends so heavily upon the creativity of the performer.
Of course the instrument has a history. The way a cello sounds is a cultured inheritance â€” available to all performers. The fabric, the tonality and the technique have evolved through centuries. Only the predominance of the composer in recent times has precluded the performer from the moral right to extend the repertoire. As an antidote to this situation improvisation puts the performer at the heart of musical creation. In this example, Moore observes the cello. His playing respects the inheritance and the challenge it poses. He asks questions of the instrument and extends its vocabulary. Moore observes the narratives and practices that inform western musical culture. He opts for the continuous and courageous experimentalism of improvisation. Moore observes himself, and in playing not only discovers new musical forms and new meanings but invents himself.
Eddie Prévost October 1993.
Notes on cello techniques used on the recording of Observations.
The techniques used here are largely conventional and in common use on the cello in many forms of music, although to some listeners they may appear to be in abnormal combinations. This is more to do with individual vocabulary than an invention of any great consequence. The use of much spiccato bowing owes much to my study of the later paintings of Jackson Pollock. And anyone familiar with the more recent school of double bass playing willi am sure recognise the pizzicato and tapping techniques I have employed. The bowing technique used on the last track, Observation 16, is one that I have developed. I call it reverse spiccato or bounce. As you will hear this technique allows the player to obtain several different pitches simultaneously. This is achieved by changing both the position of the left hand and the bow, while holding the bow in a reverse grip. String crossing, double stopping etc. are also possible with this technique.
Tony Moore September 1993.