Tuesday, January 25, 2005


AMM: Laminal. Posted by Hello

Laminal is a 3-disc set of three live performances of the free improvisation group AMM from three different decades. The longevity of AMM is a testament to the endurance of their approach toward improvisation.

Today I put on disc 1 and was transported to Denmark on December 16, 1969 (another reason to love the technology that preserves documentation of such performances is the chance to experience events prior to my own existence).

The initial draw of the AMM experience of this era is Cornelius Cardew on cello. Cardew should be getting the "hall of heroes" treatment shortly as I hold so much of his music, politics and ideas in high esteem. AMM is one way to hear a portion of his creative output.

The AMM Music experience is unique. Each member of the group contributes as an equal toward a prevailing texture. There's no "solo" or "head" or "changes" or many other trappings of other improvisation traditions. What comes out of AMM is often long, quiet and intense. For this particular 1969 experience the group delivers three "movements" of texture that is at once delicate and aggressive. The sounds emanating from these instruments are so unusual that it's hard to pin down the precise instrumentation at any given moment. The percussion bubbles and quakes quietly under a heavy layer of sustained, harmonically ambiguous sound that periodically recedes to expose microcosms of similar textures operating just below the surface.

It sounds like angst. It sounds like a human scream that is held within as it reverberates toward madness. It's the sound of a slow, steady release of pent-up anxieties. At the same time, the sound takes on a near-zen tone of indifference toward unresolved tension. A sense of beauty within the "darkness" emerges without overt changes to the sonic texture. The time scale involved gently nudges the listener into finding stasis in the face of uncertainty. Finding tranquility in the unsettled details of a magnificently sustained texture. It must have been a great concert to behold.

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