Iain Cameron's Diary
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2004-05-07 - 2:38 a.m.
I have just been listening to You Make Sense by Su Lyn. Its on Bruce’s Fingers – the First Ten Years. Mark tells me that he has met Su because her partner runs another studio in Cambs broadly similar to the Spaceward enterprise in time and place. It’s a really good song – I like it a great deal. Its on Bruces Fingers the First Ten Years which is a cassette I bought cheap a few years ago. The label is still very much alive and well. In fact I have just ordered both Su Lyn releases and some of their discounted electroacoustic music.
On its website I have found a very interesting discussion between Fell, Phil England, Charles Hayward and Tim Hodgkinson. Tim was the organist in Henry Cow. When I lived near Peter Chatterton – that was about twenty five years ago – I used to see Tim selling left wing newspapers outside the Sainsburys in Balham.
Anyway here’s a TH quote from the discussion:
“That idea of giving yourself to the demands of the project I think is very important. But you can also think of music in general as having a kind of geography which is outside you. You can't simply do what you want. When I went throught the process of being in Henry Cow we started vaguely with soloing, quite jazzy and undefined, but gradually we pushed the elements apart so we'd end up with sets of free improvisations and completely written pieces - but there wouldn't very much in the middle at all. That is actually a division that I've tended to maintain in my own work. That was just my particular historical accident. But I think there is an argument that free improvisation is a specific practice and to the extent that composition is used in it, it's used to solve certain practical problems like size. Pure free improvisation tends to work beautifully with small groups of people but when you get above a certain number it's very difficult to make it work without there being limits of some type or another. Look at the classic examples of people who've used compositional techniques with groups of improvisers: it's tended to be larger groups and and I don't think that's a coincidence.”
Tim’s point about free improvisation being a specific practice is a good one. When I first heard Something Else – maybe seven or eight years ago – I heard it as a specific practice – related to the records that I had bought in the 6Os – Ascension for instance. Its worth mentioning that there s a passage in Patrick’s ND biography where he talks about the impact of a new jazz record – one that they have gone out of their way to hear and find unintelligible. I suspect that that is Ascension. So I was initially surprised that Mick was still doing that music.
At that point it seemed to me that Mick had become neo-classical – just as Steve was in the processing of becoming neo-classical when he and Mick crossed swords in Drury Lane. At that point – encountering Something Else – I thought that my version of neo-classicism - which involved taking bits of classical music and finding ways of using them as an improvisational vehicle – was a more original approach. I thought that the specific practice was rooted in a specific time and place.
Obviously I don’t believe that now – because outfits like Bruce s Fingers and Something Else have spent decades pushing the form on in this context. There are bits of Dhorn – especially on Plunderfonix where I pay some sort of homage to that endeavour. Although it needs to be said that the Dhorn is the exact opposite of MB’s attitude to instruments. He moved across from tenor sax to bassoon because he thought tenor was too easy.
Tim’s account of Henry Cow is also interesting in relation to the Soft Machine Third album which is roughly contemporary. I find the genius in that recording – never mind its weaknesses technically – is in the brilliant balance between composed and improvised within both the songs and the album itself – easy to hear when it’s a single CD rather than 4 sides.
Worth mentioning that in their overview of avant-song the Wire select We Did It Again by SM – which is a reductio on song form – spanning early Ray Davis and German Conceptualism/
I printed off along article by Andrew Duncan discussing how the net might impact on the production consumption and distribution of poetry. Very very impressive. I slowly made my way through it in the Saxon Mill after work. Its on www.pinko.org
Strange day – toothache appeared – am I falling apart? After I have eaten all that oily fish too.