Born in the early 1960s to libertarian parents who fully subscribed to the fevered freedom-dreams of the times, a friend of mine recalls the only parental guidance he ever got from his father: “Never do what I tell you.” 40 years on he’s still struggling with that one, his lips tightening in anger and consternation at the memory of his boy-child mind spinning in an evertightening ball of confusion out of his desperation to crack the koan and please his dad, dimly aware that to obey him would be to disobey him, and vice versa. He was still looking for resolution to the riddle when his father walked out on the family. Yet when he came of age in the late 1970s, he went underground himself, participating in Industrial music’s early subversions of art and performance as a means of generating media controversies to reach a wider audience. He soon resurfaced for air and crossed over into more legit work in film. His Industrial underground experiences haven’t altered his highly jaundiced view of 1960s counterculture pressuring the collapse of England’s class based social hierarchies and helping to usher in a more democratic era, where anyone can shout loud and long enough to make their voices heard, regardless of accent or accident of birth. Remembering the boy ordered by his father to disobey all rules, he’ll always be suspicious of that decade’s egalitarian aims.
The unanswerable riddle that permanently damaged my friend’s trust in the libertarian will to freedom recurs as a mantra silently chanted throughout this issue’s feature on Eddie Prévost’s improvisation workshop. Philip Clark’s philosophical essay, mixed with reportage, asks whether one person can lead another to freedom without the door slamming shut the moment the teacher raises his finger to point the way. Eddie Prévost has been struggling to resolve the riddle from the opposite angle. He has spent 50
years searching for the political and philosophical meaning of freedom in music, through the ongoing improvisations of AMM, looking for it in the spaces opened up in the performance of a graphic score by Cornelius Cardew, or through ad hoc combinations of free jazz players and improvisors. AMM’s enemies repeatedly declare there’s no freedom left in AMM music, when all AMM improvisations are always immediately identifiable as AMM. The same enemies dismiss his workshop as Eddie’s attempt to turn AMM into a quasi-religious cult. Well, if it is a cult, it hasn’t got a name or a leader. And it’s governed by the principal rule that you just can’t teach people how to play free.
From the start, Philip says he’s there out of desperation to find a way up from the bottomless pit he fell into when he couldn’t for the life of him remember why he was a composer. In that moment, the walls of knowledge raised around a life devoted to learning everything about music to realise his ambitions vaporised into nothing. The crisis cut deep into his sense of self, leaving him feeling worthless, adrift from the circle of friends established through composing and performing his works, while carrying on a second life writing about music for The Wire and other publications. Though he continued to engage with music in the act of writing about it, his crisis effectively destroyed his public life as a composer, his ego constantly gratified by the musicians looking up to him as they performed his music, followed by the audience’s applause.
None of this meant a thing once he’d entered the workshop. His life in music was effectively over; by participating in the workshop he slowly unlearnt everything he knew about music and found his way back to sound. Chris Bohn
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Issue 339 May 2012 £4 ISSN 0952-0680
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Words Steve Barker, Mike Barnes, Dan Barrow, Clive Bell, Marcus Boon, Michael Bracewell, Britt Brown, Nick Cain, Philip Clark, Byron Coley, Julian Cowley, Alan Cummings, Sam Davies, Brian Dillon, Phil England, Kodwo Eshun, Mark Fisher, Phil Freeman, Louise Gray, Andy Hamilton, Adam Harper, Jim Haynes, Richard Henderson, Ken Hollings, Robin Howells, Hua Hsu, William Hutson, David Keenan, Rahma Khazam, Biba Kopf, Tim Lawrence, Alan Licht, Dave Mandl, Marc Masters, Bill Meyer, Keith Moliné, Will Montgomery, Brian Morton, Joe Muggs, Alex Neilson, Andrew Nosnitsky, Ian Penman, Richard Pinnell, Edwin Pouncey, Nina Power, Simon Reynolds, Nick Richardson, Bruce Russell, Peter Shapiro, Chris Sharp, Philip Sherburne, Nick Southgate, Daniel Spicer, Joseph Stannard, David Stubbs, Dave Tompkins, David Toop, Dan Warburton, Val Wilmer, Barry Witherden, Matt Wuethrich
Images Thomas Adank, Jon Baker, Dusdin Condren, Mauro D’Agati, Tara Darby, Jonathan de Villiers, Glen Erler, Jason Evans, Jason Fulford, Luke Gilford, Leonie Hampton, Brad Harris, Jamie Hawkesworth, Pieter Hugo, Jak Kilby, Heinz Peter Knes, Benjamin McMahon, Tom Medwell, Jason Nocito, Fergus Padel, Cristobal Palma, Shawn Records, Savage Pencil, Jaap Scheeren, Michael Schmelling, Bryan Sheﬃeld, Ben Stockley, Chris Verene, Eva Vermandel, Kai von Rabenau, Jake Walters, Jeremy & Claire Weiss, Val Wilmer