Pictures of the Scratch Orchestra

Being the Experimental Music Catalogue, one of our favourite topics is that of the Scratch Orchestra, an experimental ensemble founded by Cornelius Cardew, Michael Parsons, and Howard Skempton. After all, the founder of the EMC, Chris Hobbs, was the designer of their first concert, at Hampstead Town Hall, in November 1969. Over recent years, more pictures of the Scratch Orchestra have emerged, showing them realising Improvisation Rites, Scratch Compositions, and Scratch Music of all sorts. But Frank Abbott, a member of the SO in 1972, has just uploaded a set of pictures of the Scratch Orchestra at play.

Here they are on a trip to the Munich Olympics, having fun in and around a swimming pool.

Frank Abbott was asking for confirmation of names and the exact trip. These are the names, as best we can find out (thanks to Dave Smith for identification. There are tales to tell about this trip and the people in it, but first we’d like to pin down these people, so if you know them, do let us, or Frank, know.

UPDATE: Bryn Harris has kindly added to our knowledge on these pictures: ‘Just to advise that the location was the swimming pool adjacent to our camp site at Solbad Hall, Tirol, to which we moved straight after Munich in summer 1972’. It certainly looks like you all were having fun, Bryn!

Picture 1: + Walter Cardew?

Picture 2: +Horace Cardew?

Picture 3: Tim Mitchell’s child?

Picture 4: same?

Picture 5: Tim Mitchell’s wife or a friend of John Tilbury

Picture 6: John Tilbury

Picture 7: Barbara Pearce

Picture 8: Chris May

Picture 9: John Bangs

Picture 10: Kevin Richards

Picture 11: Stella Cardew

Picture 12: Pete O’Sullivan

Picture 13: Catherine Williams

Picture 14: Cornelius Cardew

Picture 15: John Bangs

Picture 16: Unknown

Picture 17: Bryn Harris

Picture 18: Carole Finer

Picture 19: Dave Smith

Picture 20: Jenny Robbins

Picture 21: Dave Russell

Picture 22: Ian Ward

Picture 23: Wahid?

Picture 24: Hugh Shrapnel

Picture 25: Lisa Major

Picture 26: Penny Jordan

Picture 29: Alec Hill

Happy 101st birthday, John Cage!

Here’s a delightful video for the event, if you haven’t seen it. It’s from Mondays with Merce, part of the materials produced for the centenary. This (Episode 15) is a cracker, with contributions from Christian Wolff and Gordon Mumma, Cage performing 4’33”, and some amazing insights into dancing to electronic music from Merce Cunningham (it’s in the nerve, not the muscle, apparently). Beautiful and fun.

The Prepared Mind, with John Cage and David Tudor:

On debate

In his useful PostClassic blog, Kyle Gann has taken up the question of whether today’s composers debate, or if they are too cool to do so. In the course of his blog entry, he talks about the fights of the 1980s between Uptown and Downtown, serial and minimal. It’s here:


Radio 3 BBC Prom 50

For those of you who can get it, there are five more days of Prom 50:

The Radio 3 information is here:


1 hour, 30 minutes

First broadcast:
Monday 19 August 2013

BBC SSO and Ilan Volkov live at the BBC Proms with Gerald Barry, Feldman’s Coptic Light and the World Premiere of Frederic Rzewski’s Piano Concerto with the composer as soloist.

Live from the Royal Albert Hall, London

Presented by Andrew McGregor

John White: Chord-Breaking Machine
Gerald Barry: No other people. (UK premiere)
Frederic Rzewski: Piano Concerto (BBC commission: world premiere)
Feldman: Coptic Light

Frederic Rzewski (piano)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Ilan Volkov (conductor)

Ilan Volkov brings his spirit of adventure to this late night Prom, featuring music as beautiful as it is ground breaking.

The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra performs music by a quartet of visionary and idiosyncratic composers, including two premieres. John White’s Chord-breaking Machine could be seen as belonging to a tradition of experimental English minimalists, deconstructing musical material into its constituent parts and reforming as repetitive machine structures; Irish maverick Gerald Barry’s No Other People, tonight receiving its first UK performance, also draws on repetition and seemingly simple musical figures, but here to create strongly contrasting canvases of bold, wild and stark music.

Frederic Rzewski’s BBC Radio 3-commissioned Piano Concerto, tonally kaleidoscopic and stylistically far reaching, receives its world premiere, with the composer as soloist. And the concert concludes with Morton Feldman’s late masterpiece, Coptic Light, a meditation for orchestra: a beatific and spiritual end to this late-night Prom.

See what you think and let us know. We liked the White of course, and the Feldman — always good. Nice of Ilan Volkov to programme this. He’s been an enthusiastic proponent of this music for some time. And he got the Beeb to programme John White. Cool.

Okay, one gripe. We’re hoping that someday the BBC will not only programme the music, but also someday actually learn something about it; for instance, the description, ‘John White’s Chord-breaking Machine could be seen as belonging to a tradition of experimental English minimalists’. Well, duh. John White is the main man, the big daddy, the big Kahuna, the founder and leading exponent of English minimalism. He invented Machine processes and if we’re talking about any minimalism in Britain before 1980, that minimalism has White to thank in some small part or other — for Machines and other systems processes. If you don’t know John White’s minimalism, try his Promenade Theatre Orchestra music. Or his electric music. Then try some Parsons, or Skempton, or Bryars, or Nyman, or Hobbs, or Dennis, or Shrapnel, or Smith, or Lewis, or Hill, or….

Hobbs and Budd on the wireless

It’s amazing what one comes across when idly surfing the web. For one thing, although we know Music from Other Minds Friday radio show on KALW and love what Richard Friedman and Charles Amirkhanian does with it, we have missed a lot of these programmes. Luckily, these days we can get to them any time, such as this show, 308: Mostly Rare, from 11 May 2012: , which features (along with a bit of Delius, Hauer and Stephen Montague), two excerpts from Marty Walker’s old Advance album. There’s Hal Budd’s In Delius’ Sleep (1974), played by Walker (Bb clarinet) and Barney Childs (piano and percussion) and Chris Hobbs’ Recitative (1979), played by Walker (bass clarinet), Childs (celesta), Virginia Anderson (percussion), and Hobbs (vibraphone). If you haven’t heard these two pieces from the 1970s, it’s worth a listen.

Cardew Treatise article

Virginia Anderson’s 2006 article, ‘”Well, It’s a Vertebrate”: Performer Choice in Cardew’s Treatise‘ is viewable on her page on

It’s in draft form and lacks examples from Cardew’s Treatise and other pieces due to copyright issues. But you can see it (and a number of Virginia’s other articles) on these pages, and decide to read these articles in their original settings (this article, for instance, is in the Journal of Musicological Research).

Drinking and Hooting: Theme

We continue the Video Watch comparison of performances of John White’s Drinking and Hooting Machine. Click Variation IVariation IIVariation III, and Variation IV for previous entries. You may also like to check out the EMC Facebook page for June 6 and June 8 for comments on this series from the composer Paul Epstein. Another composer friend of the EMC, Oded Assaf, has commented on a previous entry in this blog, as well. Please feel free to get in touch!

Well, this small series of Video Watch on Drinking and Hooting Machine has brought up a number of issues about performing indeterminate music. One of the most interesting points made about the UCLA performance was Paul Epstein’s comment on our Facebook page: ‘Frankly, I don’t regard the piece as all that experimental; the instructions seem fairly precise and the concept elegant’. I agree that the piece is precise and elegant. The piece is experimental/systemic, or experimental/minimal, though. It comes from a time when minimalism was a type of experimental music (think In CPendulum Music, and so forth). Drinking and Hooting uses compositional indeterminacy or chance, like Cage’s Music of Changes. Unlike Music of Changes, however, Drinking and Hooting also employs performance indeterminacy. We can compare this to Cornelius Cardew’s graphic piece, Treatise, which was very carefully structured and organised syntactically, but played freely. The ‘good’ performances — the ones that I return to and think about — are the ones in which the performers exercise thought and care as to what to do with it. Whether they interpret it syntactically or not is not the issue — Cardew didn’t provide instructions — what matters is that the performers treat it sensitively and creatively.

Paul Epstein obviously takes care about what kinds of bottles he can use in an observant performance of Drinking and Hooting. And given his care and attention, I would like to step back (but not completely back) from my tentative approval —actually an understanding — of any performance using only the two sections of the piece that exist in Nyman’s Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond. Certainly we can say that such a performance is an arrangement of Drinking and Hooting, or a paraphrase or exercise on it. A partial performance is less artistic, though, and probably more educative, analytical, and pedagogical. One of the first mature performances of a graphic piece in which I took part was also an ‘arrangement’: an ensemble reading of Earle Brown’s Four Systems (1954). Four Systems does not specify its instrumentation, but Brown limits it implicitly, first, by dedicating it to David Tudor on his birthday (which begs the question of whether a ‘good’ version could only be played by Tudor, perhaps only on his birthday); second, by explaining that the boundaries of the graphics indicate the limits of the keyboard. But our group at Barney Childs’ New Music Ensemble at the University of Redlands in 1974 — consisting of first-time members — learned so much about playing suggestive indeterminacy (which has limits of pitch and time) that I have used this piece as an introduction to the interpretation of indeterminate music ever since.

And since the last variation, I received an email from the director of the UCLA Contempo Flux group, the pianist Gloria Cheng, informing me about their performance. First, she took care to find the official version of Drinking and Hooting Machine, which meant getting the Scratch Anthology of Compositions through interlibrary loan from Australia. She knew of the student version in Brian Dennis’s Projects in Sound, which would have been shorter, but is also a viable version, but she took that extra step to ensure a good performance. Water bottles were supplied by the concert committee. The Contempo Flux performers rehearsed, then were placed throughout the hall to provide examples for the rest of the audience. One of the students explained the method to the audience, and the piece provided the end to the concert — a happy one, from the video evidence. Now, you can’t fault that preparation, which resulted in our favourite online version of Drinking and Hooting thus far.

But this is the final entry for this Video Watch piece at present. After looking at the variations in performances, we now reveal the theme: the score itself. John White has graciously allowed the EMC to make Drinking and Hooting, in a facsimile of the official Scratch Anthology version, available for download. You can access this piece on the EMC Freebies page. On this page you will also find pieces that Michael Parsons and Chris Hobbs have equally generously allowed us to offer. Just click here: . We’d like to pass on the information and any good words you might have for these composers if you do download any pieces, so please get in touch.  And whatever you do, keep drinking and hooting!

Drinking and Hooting: Variation IV

We continue the Video Watch comparison of performances of John White’s Drinking and Hooting Machine. Click Variation IVariation II and Variation III for previous entries. You may also like to check out the EMC Facebook page for June 6 and June 8 for comments on this series from the composer Paul Epstein. Another composer friend of the EMC, Oded Assaf, has commented on a previous entry in this blog, as well. Please feel free to get in touch!

Speaking of Facebook, a little while ago, the LA composer Sean McCann sent out a YouTube link for a performance of Drinking and Hooting Machine in the Powell Library Rotunda at UCLA. Marked ‘Hooting and Drinking Machine’  by the poster/filmmaker, it is a successful and rather beautiful performance. You can see it here:

There are several factors in this version that suggest that the performers may not stick strictly to the rules of the piece itself. First, the grouping is unclear: White specifically states that this piece is for four main groups of performers, with up to five sub-groups, making 4-20 distinct parts. White does not limit how many performers may play each part. Moreover, the actions requested in each part are different, but due to the instrumentation (bottles), the timbre is pretty close. And even if everyone played the same part, their choice of breath, ability to hold a note, and what constitutes a SIP, SWIG, or GULP differs. This is another reason that Drinking and Hooting Machine is so like Riley’s In C, which itself has only one part, and which performers move through the material at their own speed. But there’s another factor in this and other performances that is referred to by a person commenting on the YouTube upload. Bruno Ruviaro asks if they used the full score, as he had only been able to access the score excerpt in Nyman’s Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond. (Well, Bruno, we have a fix for you there — stay tuned!).

So, can a performance using only half a score be a legitimate performance? This reminds us of Christopher Hobbs’s piece Pretty Tough Cookie, which is built up from one figure in an internal horn part in Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet. That certainly is more Hobbs than Tchaikovsky in that one, and it’s designed that way. Half a Drinking and Hooting Machine actually destroys White’s random series and the system itself. But there is still an identity there that we can see as being Drinking and Hooting.

The UCLA performance is certainly White, and it’s a good one. Why? First, the acoustics in the Rotunda are gloriously resonant, sustaining the rather short breaths of the assembled masses (this is audience participation). And the simple fact that there are so many players solves the problem that appears early on in the Zeitkratzer video of silence appearing between hoots. The players in the UCLA video settle into longer hoots as the performance goes on, just like the Zeitkratzers do. But even though some performers hoot almost as fast as the Isle of Wight students in our first video (perhaps because of unfamiliarity with their instruments), the sound is always covered by other performers.

Was it universally liked? I think I heard the words, ‘Stop it, now!’ about 2 and a half minutes in. But what was absolutely lovely was the response at the end: joyous laughter, rather than the embarrassed laughter of the first video. They came, they drank, they hooted, and they enjoyed. What could be more fun? It’s almost like hanging out with White himself.

Right, that finishes this series on videos about John White’s Drinking and Hooting Machine, in its four variations. But next, we’re going to supply the theme itself. John White has agreed to allow the Experimental Music Catalogue to make Drinking and Hooting Machine — the official version published in the Scratch Anthology of Compositions — available on the web. This is coming soon, so keep watching, and of course, keep hooting!