MIMEO / John Tilbury - The Hands Of Caravaggio (CD)
MIMEO (the Music In Movement Electronic Orchestra) was joined by the noted pianist John Tilbury (piano) on this special concert.
OUT OF PRINT
Lossless digital (16/44) is available.
MIMEO (the Music In Movement Electronic Orchestra) was joined by the noted pianist John Tilbury (piano) on this special concert.
OUT OF PRINT
Lossless digital (16/44) is available.
1. The Hands Of Caravaggio (49:24)
(released April 1, 2002)
Keith Rowe, guitar, electronics
Kevin Drumm, guitar, analogue synthesizer
Phil Durrant, software granular samplers, treatments
Cor Fuhler, inside piano
Thomas Lehn, analogue synthesizer
Kaffe Matthews, computer, live sampling
Jérôme Noetinger, electroacoustic devices
Gert-Jan Prins, electronics, radio, FM modulations
Peter Rehberg, computer
Marcus Schmickler, computer, digital synthesizer
Rafael Toral, guitar with analogue modular system
Markus Wettstein, amplified metal garbage
John Tilbury, piano
recorded live at Angelica, Festival Internazionale Di Musica, Bologna on 20 May 2001.
front cover painting by Keith Rowe
MIMEO, the Music In Movement Electronic Orchestra, is a band composed of twelve of Europe's premier electronics improvisers. Due both to logistical and financial constraints, they have only performed together a handful of times since the establishment of the current lineup in 1998.
After the remarkable success of their epic, 24-hour long performance in Vand'ouevre in May of 2000, the band did not assemble again until almost a year later in Bologna, for the Angelica festival (thanks to festival organizer Massimo Simonini). The concert was a singular one, as MIMEO was joined by the noted pianist John Tilbury, nonpareil Feldman interpreter and longstanding member of AMM. The performance was built around a concerto for piano and electronic orchestra, titled The Hands Of Caravaggio and loosely inspired by the Caravaggio painting The Taking Of Christ, as interpreted by Keith Rowe.
The piece begins with a low test-tone drone from Cor Fuhler, working inside the piano, followed by Tilbury's entrance a few minutes later. Next, Jérôme Noetinger sets off a flare, signaling the introduction of the electronics. The accumulation of electronics gradually reaches critical mass, at times obscuring the piano altogether. But Tilbury is never completely hidden for long; space opens, and the piano emerges. As the piece evolves, the musicians discover a more delicate counterbalance to work within, which ultimately dissipates into silence.
Liner notes for this release can be found on the 021 catalog page on the Erstwhile web site. These include an essay by Michael Graubart on the history of the concerto and The Hands of Caravaggio's place within the tradition, as well as notes from some of the musicians involved, including Rowe and Tilbury. The stylistic range of the music is echoed in the artwork, which intertwines the original Caravaggio, a painting and a graphic score by Rowe, and original work from Erstwhile designer Friederike Paetzold.
All Music Guide, Brian Olewnick
A staggering achievement, one is tempted to call The Hands of Caravaggio the first great piano concerto of the 21st century. The work is the brainchild of Keith Rowe, eminence grise of MIMEO and co-founder of AMM who, inspired by the recently discovered painting The Taking of Christ by Caravaggio, imagined a piece combining the mighty forces of MIMEO's electronics with the pure, gorgeous sound of John Tilbury's piano. Technically, therefore, the work is not really freely improvised, as the musicians were asked to consider the painting (particularly the array of hands within it) and to employ various strategies during its performance. When arriving at the venue of this live recording and surveying MIMEO's set-up, Tilbury remarked, "In one second you guys can eliminate me once and for all." Electronics manipulator Jerome Noetinger deadpanned, "Less than a second."
And this is part of the dynamic at work: the pitched battle and occasional accommodations between the 'orchestra' and the piano. It begins with a low hum to which, after a few minutes, Tilbury introduces the spare yet crystalline chords heíd perfected with AMM, very much out of Morton Feldman in one sense, but also very much his own. As MIMEO gathers strength, it changes form from a comfortable "nest" for the piano to an enveloping storm, flooding the sound-space with a nearly infinite range of sonorities, as chaotic and disciplined as a hurricane. The playing field would have been difficult enough as is, but Rowe threw yet another wrench into the proceedings by having pianist Cor Fuhler play inside the same piano as Tilbury with the motive of not allowing the latter to get into anything resembling a comfort zone. Fuhler tries to anticipate Tilbury's every move and acts to hinder it by damping the piano strings involved, clamping them down, etc. This forces Tilbury into areas that would otherwise have remained unvisited and adds yet another layer of conceptual complexity onto an already deeply rich endeavor. In this context, his playing takes on an almost Romantic quality, not just in the relatively melodic aspect of his approach but also in the heroic striving to achieve a balance against impossible odds. The multi-dimensional, thick conception and execution of the work allows for many repeated listenings that guarantee fresh discoveries each time, both in the actual sounds heard and, perhaps more importantly, in the relationships between musicians and, analogously, between past and present as represented by the two main factions here. The question has been asked: Where does improvised music go after AMM? This is one amazing answer.
The Wire, John Cratchley
Keith Rowe, founder member of MIMEO (Music In Movement Electronic Orchestra), couches his description of the group's dynamic in terms of factional struggle, or what he calls the "doubt-laden transition from the world of scarcity" (represented by the 'group primitive' members of the ensemble) to "the one of plenty" (represented by the 'Powerbook trio"). Of course, Rowe rightly sees this as healthy but also as inherently tactical. The disciplines of improvisation and electronics are brought head to head in a battle for supremacy or, at least, containment of "instruments rooted in history" by the forces of C21 technology. It is a fascinating strategy, and The Hands Of Caravaggio represents its latest theatre of engagement.
The pan-European MIMEO's 11 members (minus Christian Fennesz on this occasion) are involved in many other musical affiliations. After their 24 hour performance at Musique Action in Vand'ouevre in May 2000, they have not had an opportunity to reconvene until this recorded festival performance a year later in Bologna.
The collective is Kevin Drumm, Phil Durrant, Cor Fuhler, Thomas Lehn, Kaffe Matthews, Jérôme Noetinger, Gert-Jan Prins, Peter Rehberg, Keith Rowe, Marcus Schmickler, Rafael Toral and Markus Wettstein. Not content with the infinite variation already on offer, here MIMEO also bring in Rowe's AMM pianist John Tilbury, but with the constraint on his playing of its being instantly retrieved from inside the piano and manipulated in real time by Cor Fuhler. The potential power of this group to transmute, synthesize or manipulate any conceivable sound, either individually or collectively, is truly awe inspiring in its immensity. But the ability to self-destruct in a confusion of power to signal ratios and sinewave distortions is also a distinct possibility. The ensemble not only contend with the potential tactical struggle Rowe describes, they also willingly embrace the inherent, cataclysmic faultline within its structure. This is a dangerous performance scenario fraught with risk. Ideal conditions, in other words, for wholly original music making.
Being subject to instant sound manipulation must have been, for Tilbury, a physically disorienting experience akin to intellectual rape. He apparently quipped as he took his place, "In one second you guys can eliminate me once and for all". "Less than a second", snapped the reply. Tilbury not only transcends the hands of benevolent interference but also reconciles his performance triumphantly within this context. He is audibly pin sharp and concise, constantly reacting and repositioning himself within the electronic forest of sound enveloping and manipulating him. He accepts that MIMEO work as a collective, and individual performances do not gain priority. Finding room for constructive participation, he takes his rightful place within the composition. What is important here is the ability of 12 fine musicians to suspend ego for the common good, and create sound patterns that invest the piece with a depth of field that never loses its focus.
Rowe and Tilbury go back almost three decades as partners in AMM. Rowe has metamorphosed not only the physical fingerprint and boundaries of the guitar but also the collective unconsciousness of the instrument in perpetuity. Tilbury, on the other hand, is renowned for his interpretations of the music of Cornelius Cardew and John Cage. Here, in microcosm, is Rowe's dichotomy: the 'dysfunctional garbage collectors' juxtaposed against the weighty history of the romantic 'analogue spectrum'. Furthermore, The Hands Of Caravaggio is described as a concerto which, in Latin, can be construed as 'to contend, to dispute' or in its Italianate form as 'to arrange, to agree'. That this performance not only manages to resolve all its tactical, artistic and linguistic issues but also creates in the process a landmark work of great significance, beauty and integrity is nothing short of a miracle.
Signal To Noise, Dan Warburton
Keith Rowe's choice of album title and cover art referencing the great Italian painter Caravaggio (1573 - 1610), his stated intention that this concert (recorded in Bologna on May 20th 2001) could be considered as "a concerto for piano and electronic orchestra with John Tilbury", and the inclusion on the Erstwhile website of articles by Tilbury himself and Michael Graubart on the history of the concerto all invite us to come at these 49 minutes of music more from the direction of (contemporary) classical music than with any predetermined assumptions relating to the culture of improvised music. Pianist Tilbury is, after all, one of the world's finest performers of new music, having released benchmark recordings of major works by Cage, Cardew and Feldman, and the sensibility he brings to his improvised work with AMM has more in common with British and American Experimental music than it does with a "tradition" of free improv piano playing deriving essentially from free jazz.
At the heart of the concept of the classical and Romantic concerto is the idea of creative friction between soloist and orchestra, on a macro (formal) or micro (motivic) level, in conjunction with the idea that the work should be a showcase of sorts for the soloist's virtuosity (hence the tradition of incorporating a cadenza). Tilbury's mastery of the piano may be evidence, but there are several lengthy passages where his contributions are subsumed into the surrounding sonic plasma rather than engaging the other musicians in contrapuntal dialogue. As such, "The Hands of Caravaggio" has less to do with the piano concerto as we know it from Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms and Chopin and more in common with the baroque concerto grosso. A second pianist, Cor Fuhler, plays a kind of continuo (on inside piano), while the remaining eleven members of the Music In Movement Electronic Orchestra (a veritable Who's Who of electroacoustic improvisation: Keith Rowe, Thomas Lehn, Phil Durrant, Kaffe Mathews, Peter Rehberg, Kevin Drumm, Markus Wettstein, Marcus Schmickler, Gert-Jan Prins, Rafael Toral and Jérôme Noetinger) cocoon the pianists in a dense weave of electronic sound. Despite the considerable thickness of texture (Tilbury joked with the other musicians before the performance: "In one second you guys can eliminate me once and for all," to which Jérôme Noetinger responded: "Less than a second.."), the 49-minute span of music is eminently listenable and, from a formal point of view, surprisingly traditional: a slow crescendo and accumulation of material leads to climactic passages starting at about 13' and gently subsiding (after around 27') into an elegiac coda (about 40'30") and slow fadeout. Of course, apart from Tilbury's florid virtuosity and crystalline arpeggios, it's almost impossible to tell who's doing what: the concert itself was apparently fraught with technical problems (with the sound system and Tilbury's piano), and several of the participants expressed reservations about the performance at the time. However, as Erstwhile had already slated the project for release even before the concert ever took place (a rather risky strategy in my opinion, but one perfectly in accord with Jon Abbey's daring vision of his own label), it fell to Marcus Schmickler to go through the tapes and mix and master the final product. The fact that "The Hands of Caravaggio" is MIMEO's most coherent and impressive album to date is due in no small part to his ten days of painstaking work.
Fakejazz.com, Gil Gershman
A lone Powerbook, sampler, analog synthesizer, or prepared guitar/FX rig can drum up one heck of a racket, as solo sets by Gert-Jan Prins, Pita, and Thomas Lehn will attest. The Music in Movement Electronic Orchestra (MIMEO), a collective comprising a dozen of Europe's electronic-improv luminaries, has struggled with the challenge of bringing together many performers without devolving into formless, murky clamor. While unique Quadrophonic stage setups and extended durations (MIMEO staged a 24-hour performance in Vand'ouevre, France in May of 2000) have addressed this problem in the live arena, MIMEO has been less successful in reproducing its essence on record. Queue, the initial CD-R offering, was at best a crude, unsatisfying memento compiled from concert excerpts. Though much more listenable, Electric Chair + Table (Grob, 2000) lost too much of MIMEO's definition and power in postproduction tinkering by ensemble members Rafael Toral and Marcus Schmickler, each of whom constructed one disc of concentrated MIMEO from in-concert recordings. Such tactics have failed to capture MIMEO for those not fortunate enough to have experienced the ensemble live.
With The Hands of Caravaggio, project director Keith Rowe approached familiar obstacles from a fresh perspective. Recognizing that a conventional recording would never suffice in approximating the total MIMEO experience, Rowe instead altered the actual performance parameters. For this very special concert presented in Bologna, Italy at the May 2000 Angelica festival, the ensemble was joined by pianist John Tilbury. In addition to introducing an acoustic focal point in Tilbury's instrument, Hands also adopted a thematic focus - the brilliant chiaroscuro and drama of Caravaggio's "The Taking of Christ." Furthermore, MIMEO member Cor Fuhler bypassed electronics for inside-piano play that provided percussive shoring for Tilbury. Rowe instructed the MIMEO musicians to direct their electronics to emphasize either Tilbury or Fuhler at all times. The dominant instrumental voice is therefore that of the paired pianos, lending unprecedented clarity and perspective to the tempest of massed electronics.
Years of playing alongside Rowe in AMM have tuned Tilbury to the inexhaustible grainy subtleties of Rowe's tabletop guitar technique and electro-acoustic shadings, and so MIMEO's surging, seething conflation of extemporized electronic sound is less a cacophonous challenge than an even grander sonic setting for his singular pianistic prowess. He's comfortably within his element here, though perhaps even more to the forefront than he has ever been before. Tilbury tackles this star turn with consummate skill, drawing from the most desirable details of two centuries of study of jazz piano, Morton Feldman, and Erik Satie. His responsive shifts in tone - from airy to adamant, from truculent to tender - match MIMEO's occasionally abrasive tactics gesture for white-knuckled gesture, unfailingly attaining euphonious accord through turbulence and tranquility alike.
MIMEO is in equally fine form throughout the concert. Rowe, Kevin Drumm (the Chicagoan sat in for absent ensemble regular Christian Fennesz), Phil Durrant, Thomas Lehn, Kaffe Matthews, Jérôme Noetinger, Gert-Jan Prins, Peter Rehberg, Marcus Schmickler, Rafael Toral, and Markus Wettstein improvise as a single entity, their variegated electronic and electro-acoustic sonorities entirely egoless yet glowing with unmistakable identity even in such complete convergence. Inspired by the richness of emotion suffusing Caravaggio's colors, MIMEO summons a palette as sensuous as that of any conventional symphony, yet heightened even beyond the shimmering orchestral clusters of Penderecki or Ligeti by the thorough commingling of all digital, analog, electro-acoustic, and acoustic voices. Such robustness befits the multiple classical forms evoked by Rowe's revisionary staging of the orchestra/soloist archetype amid a phalanx of laptop computers and electronic devices, and sets The Hands of Caravaggio far apart from the staid and monochromatic tenor of so many comparable electro-acoustic encounters. Meticulous recording and presentation have thankfully preserved the vibrance of the performance. Consensus among MIMEO members and attendees has it that the CD actually surpasses the live experience, making Hands the most successful attempt to date at capturing the marvel that is MIMEO for private enjoyment.
The following is reprinted from the Angelica festival program, where the Hands of Caravaggio was presented in May 2001.
q) Tell me about MIMEO, and Caravaggio.
a) MIMEO marks a departure and a distinction from the "end point aesthetics" of "power drummer" based groups, and a move towards the orchestra as a collection of "objets trouvés", reflecting recent developments both in technology, synthesizers, computers and the contemporary aesthetics of ambient, plunderphonics and improvisation.
q) What's at the centre of this shift?
a) I guess it's about the doubt laden transition from the world of scarcity (analogue spectrum) to the one of plenty (digital spectrum). Within the orchestra these spectrums are reflected by the group primitive and the computers. MIMEO takes two features from the twentieth century into the twenty-first, improvisation and electronics. MIMEO's music is worked around choice and juxtaposition of materials, a kind of "post techno Duchampianism".
q) Is the organization and running of MIMEO reflected in the technology?
a) Yes. MIMEO consults/runs/operates through a kind of e-mail democracy, it employs a collaborative method of working, decentralized, emphasizing discussion, in fact very much like many classical orchestras. And of course e-mail allows a day to day dialogue between all the members equally, despite being spread across Europe. Without this technology MIMEO could not function in the way that it does, which would certainly impact on the music -- you could say that e-mail has a direct effect on the actual music performed.
q) And not like a jazz orchestra which is normally the preserve of one person, one idea, one concept, one name.
q) So what about Caravaggio?
a) The Hands of Caravaggio draws together many strands found in MIMEO, the Caravaggio painting itself (from 1602-3, thought to be lost, but rediscovered in Dublin in 1990). The work is surprising because of its animation of the hands and heads, almost to the point of being a cross between a series of stills from a film, and a 'caught in the act' tabloid photo taken with a flash gun.
q) How is this reflected in the orchestra?
a) The first part of the performance features the 'inside piano' modified 'E' bow technique of Cor Fuhler, then he is joined by John Tilbury. Tilbury's playing reflecting history -- "every time a note, a chord, is played, the history of the piano comes back at you. There is no escape!". His playing emulates the positions of the hands in the painting, the open hand of the fleeing disciple, the hands of Christ closed/clinched/internal, the hands of Judas contradictory/holding and pushing/betraying. The hand of Caravaggio holding a lamp (flickering light/image). The orchestra moving and shifting around the piano, relates to the faces, for the most part profiles, perhaps suggesting obliqueness. The filmic and flash reference in the painting leads us to Jéréme Noetinger, his association with the group Cellule d'Intervention Metamkine and his work within MIMEO. His use of the 'flash gun and radio' technique, somehow reminds of the chiaroscuro (the use of light and shade) and reflection in the painting, the glint of light refelected from the temple guard's armour, the flash frozen image of a modern press photo. For the orchestra, this is translated into the use of the 'flash gun and radio' technique within the performance, by most or all of the players. General darkness is also a feature of the performance, again reminding us of the dramatic contrast between light and dark found in the painting.
Program notes by Keith Rowe, May 2001, Nantes, France
What does the word suggest to us today? A pianist or violinist fighting against the might of a symphony orchestra? Or a friendly dialogue? The origin of the word is still debated, but most likely it derives from 'concertare'. The trouble is that in Latin that meant 'to contend, to dispute', but in Italian it soon came to mean 'to arrange, to agree'. (We, too, speak of 'concerted action'.) So from the start there was conflict: conflict between conflict itself and cooperation.
From the start, too, therefore, a dramatic element was implied, and the proliferation of music that could be labelled 'concerto' coincided with the period in which opera emerged and became important: the Baroque, which in music lasted from about 1600 to about 1750. 'Baroque', in turn, means extravagant, ornate. And so all the elements of the concerto are now in place.
In the seventeenth century, the word was frequently applied to vocal works that contrasted the voices with instruments that did not merely double and reinforce the vocal lines but had independent accompaniments. By the eighteenth, it usually meant a purely instrumental piece; but even then contrast-rich vocal works like Bach's church cantatas, with sections for one or two voices and others for many, and with independent instrumental accompaniments, were sometimes called 'sacred concertos'.
The instrumental form that developed towards the end of the seventeenth century Ð Corelli was its master Ð was the concerto grosso, in which the principal players of the ensemble were given episodes of instrumental virtuosity between passages in which they merely led their sections of the full band. Thus there was a group of soloists, the concertino, and the episodes were more a matter of the less proficient players dropping out for a while than of the soloists' dramatic entries into the limelight. But in the early decades of the eighteenth century Vivaldi and his Italian contemporaries began to develop concertos in which there was only a single solo instrument, string or woodwind, and it seems to have been Bach, greatly influenced by Vivaldi, who extended the idea to the harpsichord (which, in ensemble pieces, had hitherto merely filled out the harmony) and later Handel, who wrote organ concertos.
A single keyboard instrument, unlike a string or wind soloist, can play extended episodes by itself without the need for any accompaniment from the rest of the ensemble. The relatively stable half-century that we call the Classical period, which separated the high Baroque of Vivaldi, Bach and Handel from the Romantic nineteenth century, saw the full development of the piano concerto into a form with complete contrast between the virtuosic and self-sufficient soloist and the orchestra Ð above all in that astonishing series of twenty-seven infinitely varied masterpieces by Mozart. The proliferation of public concerts in bigger and bigger halls, moreover, led to a leapfrogging competition between bigger and bigger orchestras and louder and louder pianos.
This period culminated in the great concertos of Beethoven, who in this field as in all others, brought Classical strength of structure and perfection of form to its highest point at the same time as he sowed the seeds of the Romantic revolution. From this point of view the crucial piece is the slow movement of his fourth piano concerto. As if conscious of its historical position, its orchestration looks back to the Baroque by being for the strings of the orchestra alone. But they are a brusque, aggressive force, against which the soloist stands out not by power or virtuosity, but by hushed, poetic expression. At a stroke, the soloist as lonely poet, Romantic hero, misunderstood and disregarded but ultimately subjugating the mindless mass, is born, paralleling the change of status of the artist or composer from employed servant of an aristocratic master to independent equal in an increasingly middle-class world formed by the French and the Industrial revolutions.
Throughout the nineteenth and much of the twentieth centuries, this has remained the model of the concerto, at least with the exception of neoclassical (or rather neo-Baroque) works by Stravinsky and some others, though the solo parts have become increasingly exhibitionistic in their virtuosity. Explicitly programmatic concertos that give musical expression to the emotions associated with an extra-musical idea, image or story, like that characteristically-Romantic form, the symphonic poem, have, however, been lacking since the early eighteenth century, when Vivaldi, for instance, exploited the new-found variety and contrasts of figuration and sonority made available by the concerto style for programmatic purposes (The Four Seasons being only the best-known examples). (It is precisely the lack of concerto-like display that Paganini complained of in Berlioz' Harold in Italy which allowed it to be an exception in this respect.) More recently, a few examples of programmatic concertos have appeared, and The Hands of Caravaggio is a complex, historically aware example. But the gradual changes in the relationship of the elite solo group and later the single soloist to the rest of the ensemble or orchestra, and the precarious balance between opposition and cooperation, have, implicitly but powerfully, embodied the social and aesthetic history of Western culture during the last four centuries.
© 2002 Michael Graubart
Notes by John Tilbury
As I enter the arena to take my place at an instrument, a much-vaunted example of nineteenth century technology, literally surrounded, incongruously and vulnerably, by electronic gadgetry of awesome creative and destructive power, Marcuse's thesis comes to my mind -- "the traditional notion of 'neutrality' of technology can no longer be maintained". I venture a quip: "In one second you guys can eliminate me once and for all." Jérôme Noetinger corrects me: "less than a second".
So the past (like the present) is constantly under threat; lives in a constant state of exposure and insecurity (instant obsolescence). The vulnerability and fragility of the piano is obvious. Consider the contemporary plight of the beautiful and famous 19th century piano piece Fur Elise: diminished in resonance and sensuality, stripped of content, forced to inhabit the meanest spectrum of electronic sound -- simply a trigger for the use of a mobile phone. The past (like the present) has to contend with the self-confidence, the arrogance of the new and powerful (the willful elimination of rogue cultures). Moreover, as the families of thousands of unfortunates will attest, even in the hands of the well-intentioned, the God-fearing, the newest and most sophisticated technology can malfunction, hitting the wrong target: the wrong people, the wrong building, or, less catastrophically, the wrong sound.
To be 'musical' at the piano demonstrates a profound paradox: on the one hand, extreme fingertip sensitivity and control -- embodying the notion of intention -- and on the other hand the recognition, through an awareness of the contingent, of the ultimate impossibility, indeed the undesirability, of control. Intimately, at close quarters, as it were, the performer experiences the vulnerability of intention and the inevitability, and acceptance, of failure. One is reminded of Samuel Beckett's famous dictum: "No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." To be 'musical at the piano', is to LISTEN. To enjoy the autonomy of sustained piano sounds (even they can be brutally eliminated by movement of the dampers; the piano can self-destruct); to be ignorant of the various trajectories of the sounds emanating from the instrument. In the Hands of Caravaggio, attempting to negotiate a musical path through the engulfing electronic sound, the piano exploits a rare hiatus, filters through tiny gaps, hairspaces; those sounds which succeed in flying the coop seek out, in and around the space , the nooks and crannies in which their unique resonances find subtle expression. The uncatchability of those sounds. Yet the drama, the -- at the time -- palpable tension, does not find expression in the end product (the recording), for all its virtues: a kind of technological revisionism neutralizes the profound contradictions which characterized the relationship between the starkly differentiated forces comprising the ensemble on that memorable occasion.
But the idea of a 'piano concerto' is a felicitous one; the tables are turned; the soloist as 'anti-hero'. Or victim. In this performance whole areas of the instrument, including traditional keyboard techniques, are rendered inaccessible to the 'soloist' by a creative hijacking of the inside of the instrument by a member of the 'orchestra' who, for example, randomly mutes pitches which the soloist has selected. A frustrating but challenging situation for the degraded soloist. Imagine, analagously, a violinist's bowing technique being physically disrupted, the guitarist's preaprations suddenly disappearing, the power supply cut off. It reminds me of the Scratch Orchestra's Houdini Rite where, bound hand and foot, we would then attempt to play our instruments.
The idea of a personal musical agenda whose demands in (collective) performance are met regardless, is a contentious issue, for to the richness and diversity of the sound material must be added an even more potent source to draw upon: one's fellow musicians. This moral dimension is encapsulated in Iris Murdoch's words: "Moral change comes from an attention to the world whose natural result is a decrease in egoism through an increased sense of the reality of, primarily, of course, other people." At the end of a brilliant essay entitled Towards An Ethic of Improvisation, Cornelius Cardew listed 'virtues' (a quaint word for a nowadays quaint notion) that a musician might develop; there are seven, of which the fourth reads: "Forbearance: Improvising in a group you have to accept not only the frailties of your fellow musicians, but also your own. Overcoming your instinctual revulsion against whatever is out of tune (in the broadest sense.)"
To return to the beginning of this text, and to Marcuse: "[We can speak of] democratic unfreedom ... in the sense of man's subjection to his production apparatus." I assume that Marcuse is referring here to both victims and 'perpetrators'. -- John Tilbury, Deal, England, January 2002
Herbert Marcuse, "One Dimensional Man," Beacon Press
Cornelius Cardew, "Treatise Handbook," Edition Peters
Iris Murdoch, "Metaphysics as a Guide To Morals," Penguin Books
Notes by Cor Fuhler
Being in the fortunate situation of having the best seat in the house, residing right in the middle of the circle made by MIMEO and the speakers ("the Orchestra") and with my head hanging right in the piano (the "soloist") next to the microphone, I caught much of what this cd eventually sounds like.
Keith's idea to have a contemporary version of the piano concerto was an interesting one and it forced MIMEO to take a stand in this long and particular tradition, with the start perfectly symbolizing the connection beween electronics and acoustics, with an electric machine (an E-bow) vibrating the piano strings, resulting in a sinewave-like but 100% acoustic sound.
The idea also seems a logical and long overdue one. Electronic musicians and their powerful tools nowadays can form/imitate whole sections of instruments or even complete bands instantly, and the members of MIMEO have a diverse enough background to think along comparable orchestral groupings like strings, percussion, horns and in functions like melodic lines, harmonic guestures or rhythmical patterns.
Personally, having to play the piano in this situation, much of what you can do depends on the density, colour, volume and register of the orchestra and playing inside the piano doesn't make it any easier since all volume levels drop. Also, playing the piano with 4 hands makes it even more layered; John's choices depending on where I put objects, mine depending on his foot pressing the pedals and on the register within he chooses to play the keys. Actually, I consider this to be a contemporary version of the piano duet; a genre of its own with a rich history in which we had to take a stand as well. This, according to my perception, added another group to the "inner workings" of MIMEO (well established since our 24-hour concert in France a year before), simplistically consisting of the so-called "primitives", the "powerbooks" and now also "the piano" with its own musical and multiple psychological layers. The size, state and quality of the piano is another issue, making the piano group even more handicapped as it was already volumewise. But as always, a handicap has to be used to its full capacity: one of the nicest moments for me was when somebody played a loud clear pitched note and the piano string corresponding in pitch started resonating ferociously: I then placed a metal object on that string. So now that string was played by three people: the Orchestra member, me and John (by holding the sustain-pedal) without any one of us actually touching the piano! Very surreal and magical. Another favorite moment is when the Orchestra becomes quiet and the piano being played with spacy chords (on the keys and inside with a wine bottle as giant bottleneck) that I vote to be used as a soundtrack for "forbidden planet 2" if it ever will be made. The piano being out of tune at first made me have second thoughts to this whole cd-project. Now I love these out of tune moments especially.
So, in the end, was it a piano concerto? Well, it was per definition because we called it that beforehand, but listening to the cd, I think the result is accordingly. The result isn't about being the loudest or anything, it still was about the usual musical things: timing your ideas, finding solutions and using the instruments at your disposal, with the good and the bad decisions, confronting, supporting, pushing, challenging each other. Almost a definition of normal life anyway. -- Cor Fuhler, Amsterdam, March 2002