Edwin Prévost (better known as Eddie) has done as much as anyone to put Improvisation back at the heart of musIc making. As the drummer and percussionist since the mid--60s of the legendary group AMM, not to mention his jazz-based groups of the 70s and 80s or as an organiser (one of the key people behind the recent resurgence of the London Musicians' Collective), he has always been at the centre of things. Yet as he would be the first to InsIst, Improvised music is nothing If not a collective phenomenon â€” a network that has gone on making new connections for more than three decades. What does mark Prévost out is that, like Derek Bailey, he has staked out his position not just through his musIc but through writing, raising his voice consistently against the hostility â€” or, worse, the smug silences â€” of successIve musical establishments.
Unlike Bailey (whose 'Improvisation Its Nature and Practice In Music' is perhaps the essential companion to this book), his thoughts have until now been scattered in obscure places. So It is to be welcomed that some are collected here, along with the nine 'meta-musical narratIves' (improvisatory meditations on the key Issues In Prévost's and AMM's aesthetic) that form the core of the book.
Someone once called all art 'ways of world-making', the phrase could have been made for Prévost. He is unashamedly transcendentalist "in art we make the world, he writes. The Important questions of how you find your Individuality are never purely technical (avoiding doing this or that), they are always personal and socIal. When musicIans play, the question he wants them to ask is "What kind of world would be sympathetic to the music we feel must be made?"
He manages to bring off an original combination an ascetic personal philosophy of "perpetual self questioning" and self-discipline, with a biting sense of the sordid way the musIc industry works (he is scathing about the self-serving blindness of the classical music establishment and the feathered luxury of the PRS multi-millionaires).
The reason the combination works is because his anger at the way creativity is stifled in our society (by 'technocracy', by dlrectlonless 'economics') is fed straight back into his determination to hold onto a vIsion of a different way of doing things He rarely wastes time on polemic for Its own sake.
There is, he Insists, no basIs for sermons; there are no 'rules.' And this, perhaps, is the point that underlies his use of the slightly mysterious term 'meta-musIc'. Meta-music is a way of making music that "reveals a new way of looking at the world" â€” not through some overblown 'grand vision' (one of Prévost's biggest bugbears is Wagner), but through standing apart from receIved musical notions of what comes easily ("I am not that") by refusing "to own or to be owned."
I know of no one else addressing these questions so unflinchingly (If they're out there, I'd like to read them). This more than makes up for two faults that run through the book. One is minor: an occasional lapse Into portentousness (but most of the time, the style is clear and hits Its targets). The other is more serious: sometimes there is a jarring Intolerance of other musIcs (especIally rock) that perhaps operate by different rules from those Prévost has set for himself, but deserve at least the chance to speak for themselves. If there is one way of 'resisting, there are surely others too. Anyway, Prévost sounds no more convincIng than Adorno did In condemning regular rhythm or harmony as automatic sell-outs to capitalism. Here he judges musIc-making from the outside, a mistake he never makes elsewhere.
It's a small fault, however, to set beside the book's virtues. This is an Inspiring, modest and (to use a word that Prévost is not ashamed to use) beautiful book. Nothing in It is more beautiful than his own cry of resistance: "I am something other than what you tell me I am."
The Wire April 1996