Saturday, October 05, 2013

Free Range resumes with AMM

Veg Box Cafe, Canterbury
Thursday 3rd October 2013

After a few months' break, the weekly Free Range series of avant-garde music, poetry and film nights resumed on Thursday eve. This involved a set from the current incarnation of the now legendary free music ensemble AMM, one long improvised piece. AMM are currently just John Tilbury on piano (who's played Free Range before) and founder Eddie Prévost on percussion. As expected, neither the piano nor the percussion was played conventionally. Tilbury spent as much time manipulating the strings with various objects as he did playing on the keys, and Prevost didn't strike anything, instead scraping, rubbing and bowing various drumskins, cymbals, bowls and (to tremendous effect) a large gong. These two have been playing together for decades, so that kind of musical telepathy which such long-term collaborations tend to engender was very much in evidence.

The music was transporting (most of the audience seemed to have their eyes closed when I occasionally opened mine to look around), but almost impossible to describe, sticking to the AMM ethos of avoiding conventional melody, harmony or rhythm. Fortunately someone's uploaded a few minutes of video from a set they played in Poland last year so you can get some idea of what we experienced...

...but of course no two of their performances will ever be the same, so what we experienced was a unique happening in time and space.

Had they started (and finished) their set just twenty minutes later, though, our experience would probably have been even more unique (OK, unique is unique, but...) because a MASSIVE thunderstorm came in suddenly over Canterbury, with torrential rain, huge explosive bursts of thunder, horizontal fork lightning illuminating the city with strobe-like intensity. I was cycling home in this, encased in plastic waterproofs (I got soaked regardless), feeling the electricity in the air — other people I've since spoken to about it had the same sensation, and there were people out in the streets just revelling in it. Quite incredible, and I'm sure if it had kicked in during the AMM set, Tilbury and Prevost would have responded appropriately with their spontaneous sonic constructions. We'll never know.

Weirdly, I was watching this on YouTube the afternoon before, excerpts from a film about people's metaphysical experiences induced by having been hit by lightning (!) having been led to it via Fred Frith (who composed the soundtrack and who can be seen at the end being wired up to brain-electrodes by his neuroscientist brother):


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