Fizzle for a fiver

News from Birmingham: Free improv— well, not actually free, it’s £5 at the door. But good improv, with our favourite sax guru, Bruce Coates, and always, always, good real ale.

Tuesday 26th January,

The Lamp Tavern, Barford St, B5 6AH

Bruce Coates – Saxophone
Chris Mapp – Double Bass
Mark Sanders – Drums
David Sugden – Drums
Olly Chalk – Piano
Lee Griffiths – Saxophone

£5 OTD


A few days ago the music theorist Kevin Holm-Hudson shared a Soundcloud file to my Facebook timeline. Almost the same time the artist John Emr posted the same link to Hey Exit’s file. And it’s a good one. Hey Exit has time-stretched every recording of Erik Satie’s famous first Gymnopedie in its original piano version (so no Three Dog Night) to the length of the longest version.

Sounds a bit gimmicky? Well, there is a good precedent in British experimental music for the presentation of simultaneous versions of a particular piece (Christopher Hobbs’ McCrimmon Will Never Return, having four variant versions of the original piobaireachd lament played together). Also—and I don’t know if I’m reaching a bit here—the combination of the reverb on this recording and the arpeggiated attacks, due to variants in expression, create a sound that reminds me of Southern Californian ‘pretty music’: to an extent, Harold Budd’s ‘soft pedal’ style, but also the 1970s ABC recording of Daniel Lentz’s Song(s) of the Sirens. A gorgeous experiment; thanks so much for sharing, Kevin and John; thanks for making, Hey Exit!

Bowie and Cardew

There’s been a lot of discussion surrounding David Bowie’s sudden death. Here’s a connection with Cornelius Cardew, albeit in reaction to one gross misstep that Bowie made in his life and career. Robert Worby has published a link to the Musicians’ Union reaction to David Bowie’s 1976 Nazi salute (which he denied), in which Cornelius Cardew helped draft a statement about musicians and fascism. You can find the article here, on the MU History page:

Science and the experimental method

Virginia Anderson’s chapter for the book Experimental Systems: Future Knowledge in Artistic Research (ed. Michael Schwab) is available as a version of record on her page. This chapter details some ways in which British experimental composers have used real scientific methods in their work, often with fictive materials or impossible conclusions. Composers include Cardew and the Scratch Orchestra, Gavin Bryars, and Christopher Hobbs.

You can find it here:

Differently drumming

For some months now I’ve been playing with the South Leicestershire Improvisors Ensemble, a great local British free improvisation group, and the brainchild of the drummer Lee Allatson. Lee Allatson is a true original, as can be said of most ‘frimp’ drummers (for example, AMM’s Eddie Prévost, or Derby-based Walt Shaw). But most other frimp drummers I’ve worked with either separate their activity into ‘experimental’ and more traditional work. In the 1980s, especially, Eddie Prévost used various kinds of percussion, including the AMM barrel drum, for his experimental performances, moving to his kit drum for the Eddie Prévost Quartet. Walt Shaw, a visual artist who also drums, applied visual-arts sensibilities to his work, creating an assemblage of sound sources on and around a table, much like Keith Rowe has made an assemblage of his deconstructed guitar, which created for many, the sight and sound of AMM over the years.

Instead, Lee Allatson works mostly with his leopard-skin drum kit, augmented by a host of almost steam-punk beaters and sound sources. Lee has created a series of video etudes, in which he explores many of these sound sources on his kit. The result is, like the best etudes, a combination of the educational and the artistic. You can see them here: .

Here’s the most recent one, an improvisation moving into a king of “punky” beat.

And if you’re passing the East Midlands next month, come and see the South Leicestershire Improvisors Ensemble, which we lovingly know as S.L.I.E., on 4 February at Quad Studios, Leicester, from 8.30 pm. Those of you on Facebook may wish to follow S.L.I.E’s adventures here: The current lineup includes Lee on drums; Trevor Lines on bass; Chris Hobbs on keyboards and other stuff (resonating sound sources and perhaps bassoon); Bruce Coates on saxes. I’m listed as playing reeds, but will always be found on the clarinet end of things, and we may have a guest sitting in.

4’33” on the radio

Having heard Max Reinhardt’s deeply unsatisfactory introduction to La Monte Young’s Well-Tuned Piano (to put it kindly) the other day, I approached Robert Worby’s fifteen-minute talk about Cage’s 4’33” in The Essay: Five Seismic Moments in New Music (BBC Radio 3), with hope, as he has background — form — in experimental music. And it was really pretty good. Worby talked about his own first performance (on classical guitar), and discussed the way that performance is (or should be) active, rather than passive, and the shared element of listening between performer and audience.[1] And of course he mentioned the role of the environment in the piece.[2]

Worby mentions some restrictions that I have not found in a reading of the separate editions of 4’33” (David Tudor’s reconstruction of the original Woodstock score, the time-space notated Kremen score (and its slight variant in Source, and the published Peters ‘verbal’ score), especially the Peters edition, to which he refers. Worby stressed the idea that the three movements are required in all performances, and there is no such direction. He also seemed to suggest that one had to make some kind of gesture toward playing (Tudor depressing the pedal before closing the keyboard fall; Worby fingered different chords for each section in his performance). This doesn’t appear in the scores, so it isn’t a requirement that the performer do so.[3] Finally, Worby gave his political interpretation of the piece as resistant against McCarthyism and possibly homophobia. However, this, like his thoughts on the shared listening element in 4’33”, added a very welcome analytical conclusion to his narrative.

This was, given the introductory nature of the essay, a good take on 4’33”. It is certainly better by far than some of the mis/disinformation promulgated by writers in ‘academic’ publications who have never seen the score. Factually, you might get more from Kyle Gann’s book, No Such Thing as Silence: John Cage’s 4’33”. Perhaps Worby got some of his information from this book, or from Larry Solomon’s long-standing web page, 4’33”. But this is more immediate, especially for a student who is new to indeterminacy. Worby makes a great story teller; it’s well worth a listen even if you’re an old hand.

You can get this essay for a limited time (I’m not sure how long) on the BBC Listen Again pages:

[1] At the Royal Musical Association graduate student conference at Goldsmiths College in 1989, one presenter proved his thesis that 4’33” was not a composition by sitting down at a piano, starting a stopwatch, and fidgeting for the three durations given in the Peters edition. I asked, have you ever seen a proper performance of this piece? He said he had just performed it and I replied no, you certainly did not perform it, at least not correctly. The discussion entered into social and ethnomusicological connotations of silence, which was fascinating. The presenter, a young master’s student who had obviously been given poor instruction by his advisers, was mostly silent.

[2] My personal favourite performance was at the end of the Classic Masterworks of Experimental Music Festival at the University of Redlands, 1982, which I curated. The night being warm, the stage doors were open. Given that the other pieces on the concert — Terry Riley’s In C and Frederic Rzewski’s Les moutons de Panurge — were very loud, no one noticed the sounds of the outdoors until 4’33”, when the room filled with the sounds of Saturday night on campus; the stereo sounds and happy party shouts of the boys’ dorm immediately behind the hall, and, further, the shouts and cheers of a school football game. I called this sound event an Ivesian moment in my article on time and listening in experimental music, ‘(Re)Marking Time in the Audition of Experimental Music’, in Performance Research, which is available on my page.

[2] I simply put the cap on my clarinet mouthpiece; when we did it in a wind band performance, we suggested putting the instruments at ‘attention’ on the players’ laps, but this was a performance decision not a score response. I discuss the distinction between the exact content of indeterminate scores and performance decisions in ‘The Beginning of Happiness: Approaching Scores in Graphic and Text Notation’, in the book Sound and Score, also available on

Minimalism and Postminimalism gratis

Kyle Gann’s Postclassic blog (Arts Journal) is one site I like to turn to regularly. This time, Kyle has posted his chapter from The Ashgate Research Companion to Minimalist and Postminimalist Music. Called ‘A Technically Definable Stream of Postminimalism, Its Characteristics and its Meaning,” this forms the second of the four regional overviews of various styles of minimalism in the book, grid-pulse postminimalism. It’s well worth a read, as it corrects some misconceptions about postminimalism in some area, and expands our knowledge greatly about others. And it’s free. Free. I write again, free. The only reason this chapter, and this book, have not picked up as much of a readership is not because it’s dense or boring, but because the book was priced out of reach of all but the most well-endowed libraries.

So, enjoy!

And, while you’re at it, may I ever-so-humbly suggest the fourth chapter, ‘Systems and other Minimalism in Britain, that I wrote. There are sweet things in both of these chapters, and both are absolutely free.