Parker Burwell Toop credit Jak Kilby


Eddie Prevost Part Two

Eddie goes on to describe a performance by one Alexander Strickland, who performed as Syncopating Sandy, at the New Cross Empire sometime in the late 50s, a solo piano performance that lasted from 9AM Monday through to 11PM on Saturday, “without stopping, without sleep, fed at the keyboard”. This gives one pause to consider LaMonte Young’s 1960 instruction to “feed hay to the piano”, and thus to consider the boundaries between Fluxus-informed and music hall-informed performance art. Sandy’s ‘act’ may have been more of a very impressive circus turn than an artistic performance, but it makes one think that the LMC ‘Circadian Rhythm’ improvisers managed just 14 out of their proposed 24-hour continuous performance in 1978, as part of David Toop’s week-long Camden Town-based festival, ‘Music/Context’. Perhaps there is something to comparisons that have been made between the soi-disant ‘Second Generation’ of British free improvisers and pantomime/music hall performance? The late great Lol Coxhill would certainly have accepted this allusion.

Whatever, this is all great stuff, historically-informed material that gets one thinking about the “barbaric days of marathon dancing and other bizarre feats of endurance”. I will touch on this in my new LMC book, but long-form works by the like of Young, Autechre and ex-Pogue-turned-conceptual-artist Jem Finer demonstrate continuingly unfolding ideas of extended performance.  Prevost then moves on to another interesting arena Indeterminacy versus Improvisation, or, more particularly, the co-determinacy of the two. Prevost uses the ideas of trombonist/composer George E. Lewis, to postulate that “the spirit of jazz spontaneity was somehow displaced and maybe culturally expropriated?” by ‘contemporary composers’, both American and European (page 86). Or, whether ‘the likes of Cage and the graphic composers’ (such as Cardew, with ‘Treatise’?) used so-called ‘open scores’ as ‘capitalist enclosures’ of ‘possessive individualism”, using improvisers as ‘cannon fodder’ for the primary and secondary gains involved in the notion of the ‘composer’. This is indeed explosive stuff, and worthy of considerable thought. Several reputations may be at risk here. In particular, the expropriation of African-American experimental musicians and improvisers’ work, in the name of white Americo-European ‘composers’. Not a good look at this point in time.

The idea of Graphic Scores as ‘enclosed improvisations’, in which the ‘composer’ gets the financial and reputational rewards, “commanding property status” (page 88) is a seductive one, as is Prevost’s suggestion that Post Modernism is the handmaid of neo-liberalism, with” “there is no other way” as its totemic signifier”.  Overall, the book is an anti-neo-liberal, pro-communitarian and anti-commodification tract, with “the market imperative” as the bogey man, with the avoidance of plagiarism of other or self held forth as an imperative. It does at time sail close to pompous self-importance and wind-baggery, not helped by Prevost’s language (or ‘meta-language’?), which is occasionally ‘preachy’ and academically alienating for the average reader. But would such an ‘average’ reader be approaching such a book? This will be a book for the already-converted. I certainly couldn’t order it from my local Waterstones, so I got it from the author himself (and jolly quick to deliver, he was too! )

All minor stylistic reservations aside, there are enough ideas in this book to make its more recondite sections more than worthwhile getting through. There is much important stuff contained herein, especially in these times of No Live Music. “Keep music live” has never been more important.

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