Interviews

Eddie Prévost – An Interview

June 7, 2010

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When I decided to begin to include occasional interviews in these pages, Eddie Prévost was the first name on my shortlist of people to ask. As a member of AMM, Eddie was part of the first improvised music group I ever saw perform live. Since that date, almost two decades ago now I have spent many many hours in the company of his music, either on CD or through attending his concerts. However in recent years my ears have been turned significantly by the wealth of strong improvising musicians that have emerged from Eddie’s weekly improvisation workshop, which has been held on Friday nights for more than a decade now. In any interview I wanted to discuss the workshop in depth, its structure, impact and attendant philosophies.

When I first approached Eddie regarding this interview, some months ago now, I was not aware that he had recently given an interview to John Eyles for the All About Jazz site. John’s interview asked many of the questions that I had originally wished to ask regarding Eddie’s music, but I also felt that there was plenty of scope to delve deeper into the weekly workshop’s activities. So the following interview focusses primarily on this area. My interest in, and admiratio of the workshop and many of its attending musicians will already be known to regular readers here. Conscious of this, I also placed myself in the role of devil’s advocate, and asked a number of specific questions that I have come across before from less approving sources, so giving Eddie the opportunity to answer some of the workshop’s criticisms.

Originally this interview was meant to be conducted in person, but each of our somewhat full schedules meant that we had to resort to an emailed solution. Thanks are due to Simon Reynell and Massimo Magee for proof reading support. All of the photographs here were found on the internet and are not credited purely because I don’t know who to credit. If any of the images are yours please contact me and I will immediately either add a credit or remove them.

The purpose and organisation of the weekly improvisation workshop

 

Why did the workshop begin? What was its original purpose or goal, if there was one? Has any of this changed over time?

Ten years ago, at the suggestion of the American improvising violinist LaDonna Smith, I returned home from appearing in the Guelph Jazz Festival in Canada and decided to found a weekly improvisation workshop in London.  At a percussion forum at Guelph, I deviated from a presentation and began to interact with the audience. They, rightly, wanted answers to various questions: ‘how do you do that?’ was soon superseded by ‘why do you do that?’ In engaging with the audience and attempting to answer their questions, I was formulating responses that went some way to explain (at least to my own partial satisfaction) what were the defining moments in the practice of improvisation.

I had reached a point in my life when there was more time behind me than ahead. In a sense I wanted to test whether the activity to which I had devoted most of my life had any validity beyond my own narrow sense of satisfaction.  I did not know where it would lead. Waiting for people to come to the first workshop I couldn’t know who would come or what they wanted. I wasn’t certain anyone would show up.

Naturally, I had views about what potential an improvisational approach to music making suggested. I have been long enough in this arena to know most of the arguments to date. One thing was certain, if the AMM success as international stars in the music world meant anything (heavy irony here), then perhaps our operating characteristics would bear analysis. Readers must be aware that even within the modest confines of improvisation there are stars and attendant philosophies which assume a greater priority of concert and media space than was ever afforded to AMM. In brief, our way of doing things had hardly been fashionable.

Nevertheless, it was clear that even if AMM music was not fashionable it had created its own right to exist.  If, as sometimes suggested, AMM operated as if there was a secret musical cypher then, as John Tilbury noted, quite a number of people had ‘cracked the code.’ Far from being elitist the music we made was (and is) approachable and accessible. Audiences needed the courage and the imagination to go on a journey with us. An itinerary for such a journey would however be irrelevant and an insult.

A workshop that followed any part of the precept that informed AMM music would have to be couched similarly. I was not going to insult the people with whom I wished to engage. If they wanted to be told what to do they would have come to the wrong place. Because what I had to offer them was not an answer to the secret of making a successful improvisation — but a process which they might use to interact with the world.

Has the workshop changed over the years? I hope so. I suppose what characterises things now is that there is a body of work and attendant confidence to draw upon. My achievement is that I have made myself redundant. The workshop operates just as well without my presence. I am simply a member of the group that meets weekly to work on our music. We have developed and (more importantly) are developing. It is a continuum, offering a challenge to those who join us. However, new voices (through the openness of the forum) contribute and refresh the perspective.

In your interview with John Eyles you mention that you see it as a continuation of your personal philosophy from within AMM. Could you elaborate further?

What I had learnt (and am still learning) in my tenure as a member of AMM is difficult to distill, although I know the lessons took longer to learn than I think necessary. Put it down to my inherent slowness. One thing though of which I am certain: it is rare to learn anything of significance from the words or even the actions of somebody else. Experience is all. Paradoxically, something is lost by not trying. Something is gained by failing.

Is there any attempt by yourself, or anyone else, to teach any particular approach to music making, be it aesthetic, theoretical or ethical?

The telling phrase in your question is ‘to teach.’ There is certainly no programme to which new people are asked to sign up. Some may believe that attending the workshop may be a means of  becoming a better improviser, or a way to become better ‘known’ as an improviser. I certainly (as you already know) have views about what it means to a person to improvise. I occasionally speak of, and people can read in my books and other writings, of my twin-analytic propositions of heurism and dialogue. There is no secret. Nor is there any compulsion to put this very broad and reductive programme into practice.  I occasionally ask people to consider it. I certainly observe whether it is practised or not.  Given that we have so little time for any conversation during a session, such a recommendation may well go unnoticed by many who have attended. Nevertheless, it is discernible from the actions of those who participate in the workshop.

Any aesthetic or ethical position must in my opinion arise from our reflections of what is being done. The way we regard the material we use, or the manner in which we engage with other people, display (reveal) our attitudes and our ethical priorities. I hope to flesh out many of these points in my forthcoming book.

Logistically, what actually happens in the Welsh Chapel each Friday? Are there leaders, either deliberately chosen or accidental?

I could tell you what procedures we enact. You can ask anyone (of the 300 or so) who has attended any of the workshops with which I have been associated and I think that you would get a similar answer. Procedurally it is very simple. It does not however, add up ‘to what happens.’ What occurs can only be understood by the experience of each of us. Are there leaders? Probably, but this suggestion alludes to an imagined scenario. If we learn from each other then all are potential leaders. Different lessons are learned at different times and from different examples depending upon the relative state of personal development. Obvious ‘leaders’ sometimes give way to subtle examples that have perhaps gone unnoticed for a long time. Musicians may not even know what it is their fellow musicians value from their work. The workshop is not a competitive environment. I am a substitute for a leader. My role is just to keep the process going so that we can all get on with the work at hand.

eddieprevost_2_jkWhat might happen if somebody turned up one Friday evening with a score?

They would keep it in their briefcase! Joking aside, there is a wider question here. But I would set the scenario a little wider. ‘What happens if somebody turned up on Friday evening with a whole range of prearranged materials?’ Such might constitute a score.

We are all encultured. We bring our life experiences and anticipations with us. No one is free from this. We can however, be aware of this situation and work towards freeing ourselves from its potential negative strictures. To this end when anyone new comes I suggest to them this is a place to try things out, to experiment, to allow — in the freedom of action and a sympathetic environment — to fail.  It is not a performance space. Anyone who treats it so is depriving themselves (and the rest of us) of a unique opportunity.  Cherished musical thoughts — possibly worked out in the introspective meditative atmosphere of a studio — can be kept for another and more appropriate place and time. The workshop is a location to develop new thoughts and actions in the process of making music with others. It is a collective studio space. We replace subjective reverie, initially with a reductive awareness of possible processes, and then (hopefully) apply a creatively synthetic response arising out of the moment and all the materials therein (the fabric we are using, instruments of various kinds) and the human agents. This kind of language is not often used in the workshop. But I think that it describes things well enough.

A score, or a prearranged position regarding a musical work is, of course, quite an acceptable philosophy. It probably describes how most music is made. There are an infinite number of places and institutions in which such a practice can be nurtured and encouraged. The Friday night workshop at The Welsh Chapel in Southwark happens to be one of a very few places where this ‘other’ philosophy can be applied. You can appreciate therefore why I might ask those who come to Southwark with ‘scores’ to leave them in the briefcases.

The impact of the workshop on its attendees

 

Do you see any “workshop style” appearing in the music, either aesthetically or theoretically?

‘Workshop style’ is another loaded phrase. However, if you reflect upon certain priorities within the music making and reduce the emphasis on others, then it will inevitably be translated into playing attitudes with attendant characteristics. Whether these amount to ‘style’ I have to leave to others to decide. Given that style is usually attached to known formulations with historical associations I tend to favour a sense of ‘stylelessness.’

There is however a theoretical consideration. Briefly, if a small group of people work together in a focused and concentrated way, there is a certain inevitability that their practices will concentrate and coalesce. This occurs quite naturally in organic life. There is a biological tendency for groups within a species to divide and develop different characteristics (i.e. biologically drift) when material conditions demand extraordinary responses. Read your Darwin. Can we allow for a cultural drift? If so, something similar is bound to happen with groups of people who begin to question the normative and construct alternative perspectives.

From the outside looking in, the workshop in recent years at least seems to have created a very close inner community of musicians within the external London community of improvised music. Do you see this as a positive thing?

This situation of ‘cultural drift’ is probably at the heart of the suggestion that the workshop has created a close community that somehow coexists (albeit uneasily) within a wider association of improvising musicians. I cannot control what the relationship might be between the so-called host community and this other community. I only know ‘the close inner community’ to which you refer, is your construction. There have always been alliances (looser or tighter) within the London improvising fraternity. Their existence has not been a problem. Most such associations are friendly and receptive. They exist precisely because of the priorities they represent. People tend to find one group or another more to their cultural, artistic and social taste. There have been, are, and will be, such divergences emerging from the workshop itself. This should give the lie to the sense of exclusivity and elitism that seems to have been accorded to the workshop output.

Why did the concert series start? Was there a specific reason for adding an audience to the equation?

Within the workshop process there is tension and to this is added the work ethic. The idea (as you can see from the above) is not simply to come and along and play — at least that is not what I hope for. People ought to realise I do not turn up to the workshop (most weeks for the past for ten years) simply to provide a creche for bored musicians. I work against this possibility. I suggest to those who come to the workshop that it is the place to practice the skill of improvisation. In particular, to engage with the synthetical challenge suggested by heurism and dialogue. To this end, in the workshop, I propose combinations of players that may not necessarily produce good musical formats. My purpose is to present musicians with challenges. So often the groupings are not obviously compatible. The subsequent work might be to see what can be derived from these collaborations. In brief, the workshop is a place to work on these techniques. Anything ‘musical’ is a bonus. I am not interested in free improvisation that remains casual and unreflective. The sound constructions that a musician makes within this context are revealing — personally. Perhaps more so than playing a composition. If things go wrong in a written piece, or are unsatisfactory, you can always blame the composer. An improvised work is attributable only to the improviser.

If the workshop is the place to practice the techniques of this meta-music, then the concert situation adds a further dimension to this activity. Some, of course, (and in this I include myself) play in the same exploratory manner as they might do in the workshop. A concert gives a different environment — physical and musical. There might be choices of playing partners. There is also the added (and unavoidable) expectation that an audience provides. These things become part of the expanded cultural context into which a musician places their work and activity.

Musicians come and go, but has the actual music performed in and around the workshop changed over the last decade? Has the music reflected the changes in improvised music over recent years or does it just attract a particular type of musician in the first place?

I am not at all certain whether the workshop attracts a particular type of musician. Maybe it attracts a particular kind of person. The music has been almost as varied as the people themselves. Some came to the workshop as a way of finding people of like mind. Some have been resistant to my suggestions. However, it is evident that the generation who have been closest and longest at the workshop, for example, Seymour Wright, Ross Lambert, Jamie Coleman, Nat Catchpole, Sebastian Lexer, do represent a specific line of development to which others have followed and contributed. It is I think (and for reasons I have outlined above) distinct and self-aware. There is, of course, an overlap with other improvising initiatives going on elsewhere. There is some interplay between these other groups. There is much common ground. However, a particular ethos and playing practice can be identified by those closest to our procedural ethic.

EP at Derby

 

How do you answer claims by some that the workshop produces homogenous musicians all playing the same way, and that younger musicians’ creative growth could be stunted by their close involvement and education by older musicians rather than enhanced?

I am not entirely familiar with these claims of homogeneity. I am not sure of the basis for such an assertion. All I can say is groups or loose affiliations of musicians usually create similar approaches. They gather, presumably, because of an aesthetic and a social connection. This is part of the human condition. If homogeneity is a negative response to these who have frequented the workshop, then I would suggest that those who make such claims should note the historical tendency for affiliations to occur and note from the recordings available, the unique contributions that alumni workshop musicians are making. I note, however, that most of the negative views that are expressed about the workshop come from those who have not attended its sessions and know nothing about what goes on. This kind of analysis is not to be encouraged.

The idea that there is an ‘educational’ aspect to my involvement with the workshop is misleading. I would claim to have learnt as much as anyone through this association. It is a misunderstanding of the process because such a view obviously has no grounding in the experience we share. Obviously, I have ideas about the music. So do others who are connected. These things we share and debate. At the end of 2009 we instituted a monthly forum for discussion, separate from the workshop sessions. [Sheer weight of numbers now preclude the possibility of much talking!] The forum is exclusively to talk about the music and matters arising for those who want this. There is no obligation to attend.

Likewise, how do you respond to the suggestion that the workshop discourages innovation in favour of collective involvement in an established, perhaps tired form of the music?

Again such a suggestion betrays a lack of knowledge of what happens during the workshop. To this I must add that one or two visits are not enough to begin to know what is going on. Musicians who have not examined the basis of their own ‘innovation’ and ‘individuality’ will, in my opinion, find neither. You only find out anything significant about your self through some kind of musical and social engagement and discourse. Being unwilling to test your ideas within a larger framework than your own studio betrays a certain nervousness and lack of courage. Anyone who claims that they do not want to be influenced by such a process only reveals how easily influenced they must be.

Do you pay any attention to how the workshop is perceived locally and globally?

I am not really aware of what is said beyond what comes to me via the workshop itself. I am not an avid web trawler. What I get to hear is usually secondhand. Although one direct exchange did strike me hard when I met a younger musician who told me he had heard about the workshop and that it sounded rather authoritarian. It turned out that he and I got on rather well. He later told me that meeting and working with me — we shared a bill at a small festival of improvised music — led him to revise this view. It was a rash judgment based upon an uninformed bias he had. Others have recounted to me the suggestions gleaned from outside that I was in some way brainwashing those who came to the workshop. I can only refer those who make such statements to people who ‘have been’ to the workshop and recommend they look for evidence before making such absurd remarks. Such is an insult to all those who have attended the workshop, who I consider to be some of the most reflective and creatively self-motivated people I have come to know.

The workshop and you

 

Has the workshop changed your music? You mentioned to John Eyles that since AMM has taken up less of your time you have found yourself freed to explore other areas you could not have tried in that group. How much has the workshop influenced this, particularly over recent years?

It is difficult to know precisely what changes have occurred in my own work as a result of my association with the workshop. Maybe it is for others to gauge. Whatever impression I may have given via the John Eyles interview, AMM has never confined my own playing. It has informed and nourished it. However, it is true to say that there were certain practices and musical procedures that would not have been appropriate within AMM music. Over the years I played outside of the frame of AMM. This continues, as does working with precepts developing out of the AMM experience but with other musicians who embrace some of its tenets rather than the more conventional methods associated with free improvisation. The major point to note however is that AMM itself was (at its best) a process of music making. Many of the new associations arising, for example from the workshop, are themselves productive of fresh thinking and stimulating influences.

Without being rude, I am guessing (possibly incorrectly) that you are the workshop’s oldest regular attendee? Compared with AMM, in which you have almost always played with people of your own age how is working with younger generations different? There must be frustrations to go with the inspiration.

At the moment there are two regular members of the workshop who are older than I am! If I look back (and outside of workshop associations) I can see that I have had fairly long associations with younger musicians. For example, Jim O’Rourke, Peter Kember (aka Sonic Boom) and of course Tom Chant. I played with Tom’s mother Carole Finer in the Scratch  Orchestra (c. 1970). Incidentally, Carole now comes to the workshop. I hope that age has not much to do with anything. In some ways, of course, it is a burden. I am always expected to behave myself in a particular kind of way! The only frustration is that I will not be around to see how some of my younger friends develop.

In Minute Particulars you were quite critical of the use of electronics and computers in improvised music. In your essay within the recent Noise and Capitalism book you clarified your position to some degree. The workshop has always had people attending that use electronics. Do you think that sharing a space with them on a regular basis has changed your opinion at all in a way that may not have happened otherwise?

I hope that I shall always be open — with ongoing experience and information — to revise and enhance my views. The workshop’s openness to all means that it becomes a forum for these issues. At heart my critique is invariably always about the man or woman and not the machine, although these ‘machines’ have extraordinary scope. I have never shied away from sharing musical space with those who use electronics or computers. In some ways I have found them unexpectedly inspirational, although perhaps not always in the manner which some of their operators might recognise. The obvious value of electronics and amplification is to make small sounds audible and to make new sounds that did not exist in a pre-electric age. In this limited area of sound production these machines can create a range of sound and volume far beyond anything possible with acoustic instruments. From a dialogical point of view this is the danger zone and a challenge. Those who have the power to out-shout others have a great responsibility to monitor this potential. What is the point of making music with anyone who makes so much noise that other contributions are rendered musically and acoustically inconsequential? Also, (and this is something that all electronics and computer musicians will have to deal with) their audible output is through speakers. This means that the range of sound (apart from volume) is limited by the specifications of the speaker. Nothing has yet persuaded me that the overtone range, structure and general listening experience of an (unamplified) piano, cello or saxophone has been equaled by sound coming from an electric speaker. Maybe with the advance of technology this will change. Maybe with the advance of musical sensibility musicians will find that using these machines with skill and discretion may begin to offer them rewards hitherto absent.

On the more positive (and surprising) side many of those who use such devices with whom I have a musical relationship are (despite the speaker sound) making new and inspirational work. So much so that I personally find the sounds and textures that they utilise and engage with, provoke new responses from myself. I seek to find and work with similar sounds within my own material  — which is of course wholly acoustic. My good friend Vitor Rua, a Portuguese musician who uses electronics and amplification, has often invited me to perform with him in works which require an electronic feel. According to him I provide such textures and sound world only without any electronics or amplification. I rather suspect that this ability to transform percussion this way (which of course is not unique to myself) has led audiences to confuse the source of the sounds they are listening to. This may have been to some disadvantage to myself.

Picture 3Your own music right now

You have said that you do not go in search of performing opportunities these days, but I think I have seen you appear on concert flyers more than ever over the past couple of years. This has partly been as a result of the way the workshop has blossomed, but you also continue to be in demand as someone that visiting musicians always want to play with, Otomo and Sachiko, Seijiro Murayama and Jean–Luc Guionnet are all recent examples that spring to mind. Is the sense of adventure as strong as ever? Is there much that you still wish to do, people that you would like to play with?

It is true that I do not have a campaign to promote my music to attract the interest of festival organisers and the like. This is not to say that I would refuse any invitations to perform. It merely reflects the lack of invitations. I may not be of sufficiently high artistic calibre or of international musical fame to command such interest. Although, obviously the range of CDs that I produce through Matchless reflects my sense of priorities, some of which I think ought to get more exposure than they do. There is little one can do other than make material available. I am, of course, pleased and honoured that particular people seem to want to work with me from time to time. I am not sure about the word ‘adventure’ regarding these activities. ‘Challenge’ might be better. However, it fits with my general philosophy of working with others. Because what interests me is the seemingly infinite variety of responses possible. When I listen to other musicians, especially the ones I know closely, I look to see how they respond to the musical challenge. There seem to be two principle ways of dealing with a situation. One, is what I have previously referred to as parallelism. This is where the parties involved do not seem concerned with the existence of each other except perhaps as contrast. If both parties of say, such a duo, stand their musical ground, then it is for the audience to piece together any aesthetic meaning. It is a combination of different but essentially inflexible parts. The second (which I favour and which, by the way, seems infinitely more problematic) is an engagement with the sound attributes and general sensibilities of another human being. This suggests examining one’s own responses and being prepared to move beyond the habitual or the prearranged (as discussed above). This is a procedure often doomed to failure and may be something that proves, at times, to be unsatisfactory as a listening experience to an audience. On the positive side, a dialogical exercise demands — as in any real conversation — that the parties should be prepared to alter their responses and perceptions as a result of the new information that is being imparted and exchanged.  This, in my opinion, positively enhances the respondees. It potentially changes the musician. In responding to an unfamiliar situation they discover, uncover, something new about themselves.

In your interview with John you allude to what is almost a split musical personality that you now have, there is the full kit, perhaps jazzier approach, and the stripped down tam tam, snare and percussion approach. How do these differ for you? Does the improvisation begin when you make the first decision on which set-up to work with?

I have come to the conclusion that the conservative tendencies which prevail in us all — and this includes concert goers, CD listeners and promoters — prefer to know where they stand with a musician. That I have two distinct musical personalities — although hopefully, as described above, malleable — means there is uncertainty about what I do and possibly ‘who I am.’ Regarding my kit playing, this — at the moment —  is firmly with a reference to jazz. The material is historically based within this genre, although many jazz aficionados may not be disposed to agree with me. Our approach (for example in SUM) is not anything the jazz world (as it has become) accepts. Yet the de-emphasis on conventional technique (which now pervades ‘jazz’ education at the expense of its founding spirit), the way we manage the materials and the respect we attribute to jazz, makes me think that we are on the right lines. As do the positive responses the band gets from those who know jazz but are also wedded to a new experimental musics.

At a conservative guess, I have probably seen you perform live about sixty times down the years. Recently, watching you play in your SUM group with Seymour and Ross I am sure I saw you smiling far more than during any of the other performances. Would I be right in thinking that playing in a more jazz influenced style taps into something basic within you that was perhaps suppressed in AMM, something highly enjoyable for you personally?

 

The SUM aesthetic is (for me) an extension of the AMM aesthetic. However, whereas in AMM the whole world of sound was potential material with which to work, SUM uses the history of jazz as its primary source orientation. This still leaves scope for experimentation. The associations of AMM with jazz were confined to Keith Rowe, Lou Gare and myself. Keith has long since absented himself from any interest in jazz. I still believe that it is a vibrant form with much potential for development, although I have to agree that what now passes for jazz mostly makes me shudder for its continued well-being.

When you say that you have seen me smile when playing in SUM this could be that the jokes are more obvious than they might be in an AMM concert. Often, I hear (with due respect to my partners in crime) some distorted reference to some well known feature in jazz that Ross or Seymour are strangling, it makes me laugh. Nothing vindictive. Just through joy at hearing creative, if mischievous, minds at work.

Matchless and improvised music in general

 

You have spoken and written at length about the immediacy and vitality encapsulated in a live improvised music moment. The workshop seems to be all about just playing, and working through ideas and issues in an informal manner. However you also run a CD label. In some ways these two sets of activities seem to be slightly at odds with each other. One encourages a constant flow of activity with the learning and growth of the musician(s) the primary concern, the other packages up bits of the music to be consumed (to use a slightly provocative term) by listeners who may have no immediate connection to the music. What do you see the role of the CD to be, purely a form of documentation or more of a clear musical statement?

Is music an activity that can survive and develop without any discourse with the wider culture? Is not the activity of people getting together to make music together implicitly cultural?  Why do musicians want their music to be heard by a public beyond their immediate musical associates? Why does any kind of public find satisfaction and aesthetic exchange through listening to this music?  These and many other questions deserve to be examined. The confines of this interview will not allow us that much depth. However, I hope to make it clear that despite the apparent informality of this approach to making music, and despite its marginal cultural status, there is something very significant going on. Some of these issues I hope to have addressed freshly at length in my third book, which I am deeply into at the moment. So although, as you say, we are concerned with “the immediacy and vitality encapsulated in a live improvised music moment’, our appreciation of its meaning does not have to live only within ‘the moment’ (even if drawing attention to the vitality of being in the moment is of significance). It has, however, ramifications beyond the practice. If it does not feed into the wider practice of cultural and social being, then we need to ask if it is an activity worth pursuing at all.

Part of the point of the label is to place these marginal forms of music — and their attendant meanings — into a wider cultural focus. Given that most improvised music forms are not easily marketable, and such CDs do not sell in great quantities, this is not likely to happen unless we (that is the community of improvising musicians) take command of this situation. Whether the CDs themselves resemble the concerts from which they have been mostly taken, I can only leave to others to decide. Maybe here it is best to quote someone else’s view. Here is the final section of Victor Schonfield’s contribution to the notes which accompany the AMM Laminal three CD retrospective box set (Matchless recordings MRCD31).

[…] “recordings are an unsatisfactory way to experience AMM (maybe they are unsatisfactory ways of experiencing any kind of live performance). In real life every moment could be different, and the next time will never be the same. Once it is recorded, however, the unpredictability is lost, and the music starts turning into its own opposite. So these CDs are actually only a substitute for AMM — a part, or a reminder, or a way to prepare yourself for                   the real thing. Of course at the same time  they are also an experience in their own right — a terrific one. Just don’t confuse it with being there at the time. And if you get a chance to be there at the time, jump at it!”

As both a socialist and a CD label owner how do you feel about the impact that the digital age has had on the task of distributing music? People can now get music for free when they want it, so hurting the big businesses that have milked music dry for many decades, but also it becomes harder for the likes of you or I to sell CDs.

Whether you consider the dissemination of our music through the mediums of CDs or through the newer digital and internet methods, resources are still required to record and to place them in some kind of medium for listening. At the moment, given that there is no massive market interest and no state art aid available to us, the funds to carry out this project are from within. In this we co-opt the purchasers of CDs as a means of recouping the costs to produce the CDs and thus allow more to be made. I think many ‘customers’ are willing collaborators. They know the score. Running the label is mostly a chore. Of course, there is some satisfaction in seeing things develop. Our recordings are also us in proxy.  Maybe too they are calling cards that might persuade concert promoters to bill this kind of music from time to time. This might be important especially as most of the music exists outside of the structures of music education, development, promotion etc. If it all could be done without any financial involvement, without processing recordings, packing parcels and doing the accounts I would be first in the queue. The means of dissemination and even copyright are not issues for me. I do want the material to have a platform and at the moment the current way — however imperfect —  is the best option.

Do you listen to much modern improvised music? How do you see the health of the music right now, in London and in general?

Most of the music I hear these days is live and from those with whom I share the weekly workshop.  Occasionally I might venture out from ‘my country retreat’ to hear gigs of workshop alumni. I make it a point to be in attendance for the Workshop Concert Series at Cafe Oto. I make other concerts, less and less at the main venues, South Bank and Barbican etc. This is because mostly these seem to have become celebratory events. No risk is involved. Many such concerts have musicians treading water, going through the motions, trading (understandably) on past exploits and reputations. I am more likely to go to the small venues. Most recently I was well rewarded by a surprising pairing of Matthew Shipp with John Butcher at Cafe Oto. As for the overall health: the formal concert productions are mostly stuck in ‘art as product’ mode, mostly retrospective and celebratory. Fortunately, the underground scene is as fresh and as vibrant as I can ever remember it being.

First and third photos courtesy of David Reid

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