Zavod Sploh

Towards a Protean Tradition

Text by Edwin Prévost was originally published in the booklet of the Sound Disobedience compilation double cd, released by Zavod Spoh and L’innomable in December 2012

The music on this double CD album is either extremely modern or immensely old. The basis for the material is sound. It is not music mainstream opinion recognizes. However, if we think of music as sounds organized by human beings then this truly qualifies as music. What distinguishes this music from the more conventional forms of folk, classical and popular music? Why are the participants on this CD, making music this way? These, in my opinion, are interesting psychological and social questions. They lead to a possible cultural realignment.

When, in 1999, I first convened a workshop in London based upon the experimental principles which informed AMM¹ I had not reckoned on the growing thirst for a new ways of making music. Obviously, this desire for a different kind of music and social expression, goes beyond the reach of the London workshop. However, this Ljubljana workshop CD reflects, and has connections with, the originating impulse in 1999. This is Tomaž Grom, who while in London joined our weekly sessions. The connection was maintained through a visit to Ljubljana in 2010 by two long-serving members of the London workshop, Sebastian Lexer and Seymour Wright. And again later in 2011 when Guillaume Viltard and Paul Abbott also participated in the Ljubljana project.

So, there are connections and continuities. But, of course, there are important, necessary and essential differences. Whatever, this burgeoning movement for a new music is, it is not searching for a universal answer. Rather, its rationale is more likely to be a universal search for answers.

Maybe Homo sapiens has always made music. We need, however, to be careful how we define ‘music’. The songs of birds may be music to our ears. The birds, however, are not making music. Their sound-making attributes and purposes sing to their survival strategies. Human beings, through our cultural evolution, have found joyous sustenance in many of these avian calls. But our joy does not often include the often life-sustaining meaning these calls have for the birds. However, our appreciation of an avian chorus perhaps leads us towards a perception of what drives human kind to make sounds. For we are fellow biological beings. Might human music making have its roots in evolutionary survival strategies.

Cornelius Cardew, in describing how AMM made its music said:

We are searching for sounds and for the responses that attach to them, rather than thinking them up, preparing them and producing them.²

This, deceptively simple statement tears up the music manual. It is at the root of the London improvisation workshop practice. Of course, this philosophy must be fleshed out and developed — something which sadly Cardew never did. The ingredients for a comprehensive and radical programme for new music-making are, however, implicit. My own twin-analytical formulation of heurism and dialogue — perhaps a mite too reductionist for many — follows Cardew’s lead in teasing out more meaning and develops a route for investigation, consolidation and continuities: towards a new music. There are also powerful suggestions from cognitive biology: speculating the amalgam of social (dialogic) and technical (heuristic) domains within Homo sapiens leads to ‘cognitive fluidity’ and the general development of human consciousness.³

Searching for sounds: this is a major contrast to the way most music, in historic times, has been formulated. This new approach calls upon individual enquiry and development. However, Cardew’s playing imperative is an active and a social search within the process of making the music. It is also places the musician at the heart of the decision-making process. It will also reveal the musician’s relationship to the materials at hand.

Searching for responses: in performance the listening imperative is one of assessing the value — technical, social and psychological — of the incoming of aural material and responding further in a dialogical fashion. This is a context and a place for the musician to sense the social dynamics of the creative environment.

These, in brief, are the founding moments for a fundamentally new musical format and attendant co-defining musical relations. This explains why the music under discussion sounds the way it does. It also delineates its own critical environment. Music which is pre-formed and presentational will not accord to these principles. Music which is not social in its intent and delivery, resists these humanist imperatives.

Listening to the work on this double CD I sense some of the ideas mentioned above are being worked through to form a new, positive and processive kind of music. This approach is demanding and perilous. The support and prompting of a composition is not there to help. Gone is the reiterative comfort of the familiar. The musicians are working with the unique and thrilling compact of personal discovery and collective creativity that is the mark of a confident and self-sustaining cultural community.

¹ AMM was an experimental music improvisation ensemble founded in London 1965.
² First formulated by Cardew in the 1960s: ‘Towards and Ethic of Improvisation’ Cornelius Cardew A Reader, Copula, 2006 p 127.
³ Mithen, Steven, The Prehistory of the Mind, Phoenix, 1996.

Neposlušno_2012_Eddie Prévost_foto: Sploh
Neposlušno_2012_Eddie Prévost_foto: Sploh
AMM_Neposlušno_2012_foto: Sploh
AMM_Neposlušno_2012_foto: Sploh

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