High Culture and The Nature Concert
on Form and Meaning in the Music of AMM
(extracts from an earlier essay)
If anything around you was designed for this sound, you made it yourself.
Self determination is the basis of creativity and cooperation. The overriding economic order must virtually deny these to worker and consumer.
Self-determination, creativity and cooperation are basic formal resources for AMM. Various kinds of texts, such as the images produced by an alien
civilization, are understood by undercoding. ..... Undercoding may be defined as the operation by means of which in the absence of reliable, pre-established rules, certain macroscopic portions of certain texts are provisionally assumed to be pertinent units of code in formation, even though the combinatorial rules governing the more basic compositional items of the expression, along with the corresponding content units, remain unknown. (1) The music of AMM may be positioned in this 'alien civilization' - one that we are in the process of simultaneously constructing and recognizing; one from which we are
alienated, where the common basis for interaction is that each participates 'without fear of being subordinated or exploited.â€™ (2)
Equality of status is assumed in free improvisation and is as pertinent formally as any more tangible constraint or possibility of technique or occasion. AMM's social model is articulated at the heart of what we hear. Music-making is relocated to the ground of autonomy specific to AMM.
Since there can be no absence of form, in free improvisation form must be self-organising. The process is intrinsic to life. Coming now to definitions of organization, we will say that functional organization at some given level is equivalent to thermodynamic coupling (utilization of information) at the same level. It would seem also that a structure could be called organized if its existence were either necessary for the maintenance of some functional organization or dependent on the operation of some functional organization. Without reference to functional organization it seems to be impossible to define structural organization in a useful way. (3) The ensemble could be considered the level of functional organisation; listening and responding, utilization of information; and the music, structural organization. This schematic comparison: 1. provides a base-line in defining form outside of any tradition; 2. emphasises the formally necessary (and not incidental) strict correlation that exists between the group and its music; 3. helps to explain the sense of natural occurrence one can have during a performance. The music unfolds as event and resonates as environment, resulting in a profound experience of both becoming and location. This is far beyond AMM's social model, but it is a
salutary society that encodes this kind of knowing. Sound production and musical meaning cannot be separated. The music reverberates inwards towards complexities of feeling and outwards towards complexity of personal interaction which, because it is more than two, extended over time and
constructive, is inherently social. Noise is a formal necessity to AMM: And since the environment is essential to an open system ... an 'intrusion' from the environment... may lead to a restructuring or an elaboration of structure at a higher level. The reason is that environmental interchange is not a ramdom or unstructured event, or does not long remain so (remain as 'noise'), because of the mapping, or coding, or information processing capabilities of the open system, its adaptiveness. (4) The use of the complex sounds that are 'noise' introduces the environment into the music of AMM: it permits the group to search a 'ground' not restricted to musical sounds and to act directly upon it, to engage symbolically and literally in 'environmental interchange'. The world around us â€” as available to the sense that most unifies, hearing â€” is evoked by AMM as its starting point. Yet the sounds of AMM are demarcated from the environment by the autonomous order constituted by musical intention and the group's social practice. AMM takes up a similar stance of autonomy and development vis-a-vis Western art and art music. Just as AMM explores and develops themes from the ideological climate and elements from the aural environment, it has built on aesthetic themes. Some of these include relativity and multiplicity of perspective, the valorisation of expression and subjectivity, the ambiguity of figure and ground and questioning the role of the frame. AMM is capable of a huge repertory of sound characters which belies its size. Each instrumental voice can stand out in strong relief allowing the ear to follow separate but simultaneous developments while indefinite and sliding pitch and noise permit convergent uses of timbre. The formal imperative of free polyphony in AMM plays upon this potential and develops its significance. Timbre is used both to differentiate and to unite. Identity becomes voluntary, mutable, shared, as do roles and decisions. Roles within AMM merge in the percussive, fricative and whistling. Each of the instruments is extended, its boundaries redrawn to augment its potential for 'noise'. The use of timbral overlap functions dimensionally in a way not unlike its use in the string quartet where the capacity to unify a field inclusive of extreme registers can be articulated to signal complex, profound and heightened emotion. The expressive content of the music confronts and contemplates this world. We move in the delicate experience of sound as cooperatively shaped and developed material of encoding and in the experience of sound as energy. Among the successes of AMM in the formal challenge of self-organisation are the expansiveness of reference and variety of articulation achieved through this ranging of source sounds from noise to microtonality.
Listening and interpretation are the central formal strategies from which all else follows. Form therefore depends on the physical characteristics of hearing, the quality of attention and the instrumental skills of the musicians. Continual listening entails continual development. Improvisation does not lead to a music without meaning, architecture or development. Spontaneous group composition by AMM means that the relations between these are altered by altered time and subject relations: the time is immediate and the subject is multiple. Inventions and their consequences do not serve a singular aesthetic intent but co-exist, inter-relate and inter-obstruct, multiplying perceptual vantages and creating complex aural depths. There are messages, architectures, developments in a web of viewpoints. Developments are no longer logical but dialogical. Direction alters as in conversation where each speaker has a different version of the subject. Shifts in orientation lead to repatterning within the ensemble of contributions. Each individual action or each local intervention has a collective aspect that can result in quite unanticipated global changes. (5) The tensions between sustaining and investigating structures and creating new ones generate the overall form of a session. AMM's music is made in a sensitively constructed occasion where the boundaries of ' skin bound biological individuality', 'psychic "self"', and 'social "role'" are not 'quite different' and this constitutes an emotional field in which a symbiotic and non-exploitative epistemology will always seek to remain aware of the various levels of correspondence at the same time as it remains aware of its own epistemological act of repeatedly homesteading a wilderness - 'Nature hath no outline, but Imagination has' (William Blake, 1822).(6)
The primary, organising role of listening has profound consequences for the way the music is heard. The dominant spatial and temporal assumptions do not apply. Time is no longer a uniform quantity subject to division which can then be manipulated to give a dramatic account of an event, after the fact, which performance skills bring to life. Nor is it marked by a steady pulse which unifies parts and carries an audience along. Pulses exist, discovered within a free time which is immediate because all the resources are, and multiple because multiple perceptions and rhythms of perception create the tempi.This immediacy amplifies the sense of event as a complex of temporal relations. The quality of listening essential to development of the music is
communicated to the audience, which listens similarly. The ambiguity of figure/ground relationships means that listening by the audience, as well as by the performers, becomes constructive. Hearing and feeling, close for the musicians, become close for the audience. The performance space functions principally as a sounding body of specific qualities which are explored for their potential and this inevitably contributes to developments. Assumptions of empty, neutral space fall. Spatial perception is sensitised to a delicate,
contiguous and varied tissue. Free improvisation implicitly reacts against our decontextualising culture which produces any music any where at any time by asserting, instead, this music here at this time - any moment has potential for art, discovery, and new emotion. It recovers differentiated living time from scheduled time. In public performance free improvisation requires an audience eager to experience the tensions between expanded attention and implementation of judgement. A demanding, attentive audience that needs art, for sensitisation, regeneration, inspiration and aspiration.
Free imrovisation in the hands of AMM valorises the unknown, combining unpredictabiity with contexual coherence and the implicit drama of emotion and meaning in play. By opening out the moment it reveals the inherent wilderness of living processes that we lose sight of in an environment of over-determination, where the planned and the manufactured are foremost in our surfaces and where the principle disorders of poverty and extreme wealth are generated by strategies of control. Ambiguity and complexity enrich the perceptual field, create the conditions for the vital exercise of sensory powers of discrimination and emotional response. The music of AMM is based on challenges to this culture that arise from within it and are informed by sources outside of it. As 'the West' becomes 'the World' new indigenous cultures begin to organise, experimenting with propositions. What are 'production without possession, action without self-assertion, development without domination'?(7) AMM has created a pathway as a result of their musical and political thought that asks us to question many things, including the function of music in our lives.
1. Umberto Eco, A Theory of Semiotics, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1979, p. 135
2. Eddie Prevost and Keith Rowe, Notes to The Crypt - 12th June 1968, Matchless Recordings, MRCD05
3. Karl Kornacker, 'Towards a Physical Theory of Self-Organization' in C.H. Waddington, ed., Towards A Theoretical Biology, Vol. 1, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 1968, p. 95.
4. Anthony Wilden, System and Structure: Essays in Communication and Exchange, Tavistock Publications, London, 1972. p. 143.
5. llya Prigogine and Isabell Stengers, Order out of Chaos, Fontana, 1985. p. 203
6. Anthony Wilden, as for 4 above. p. 220-221
7. Confucian, quoted in Christopher Small, Music, Society Education, John Calder, London 1977. p.75
Paige Mitchell 1987. 1993.