AMM are an extremely literate and art-conscious sound ensemble from England who have been doing what they do for nearly 30 years now; for more on what i think of 'em, see the review of their live show in the previous issue of DEAD ANGEL. For a more thorough discussion of their history and musical politics, check out N D # 19. What follows is an off-the-cuff conversation i had with their guitarist, Keith Rowe, following the show last month. It may or may not shed more light on what they are and what they do, but it certainly should be intriguing... especially since the tape recorder's inherent cheesiness and obnoxious background noises of the post-show crowd rendered the tape almost totally unlistenable, hence the many [garbled] passages to follow, heh....
DA: First off, as I was saying earlier before the show, this is the first time I've ever seen AMM, and I was very impressed. It's very texture- oriented kind of music. Is that how you really approach it rather than linear composition?
KR: I think maybe the three of us approach it in slightly different ways. Certainly, for me, it involves the idea of organizing in front of an audience. You can see me organizing and re-organizing, hesitating, and [drowned out by motor hum]... and I think the idea of deconstructing the guitar, and reconstructing and deconstructing and reconstructing is an important part, and to incorporate a mulitiplicity of images and ideas. Basically though, it's timbral, textural, volume... certain changes in the tone and sound, moving back and forth in the dynamic... all of that.
And another thing is -- if you notice, the guitar player normally plays the melody with the left hand, and I operate the radio [Rowe incoporates sound from a radio that has been miked during the performance] with my left hand. The radio becomes my form of melody. There the speech is the melody, if that's the part that was notated, that would be [laughing woman drowns out portion of explanation] above the guitar. And you're the fans and the brains that are activated by my left hand -- they're the activating part of the [garbled]... so for me, yes, it's entirely bound up in abstraction, with found objects, and all of that is powered by and influenced by and inspired by Marcel Duchamp.
DA: I was going to say, listening to it made me think less in terms of melody and [something] as much as painting, in texture.
KR: Yes, that's right. In a sense, a good painting... [obscured by noises in the background] like industrial noise music, as a landscape. So it's... actually laying the guitar flat changes the color, and moving the top of the guitar relates to gravity. The combining of Marcel Duchamp and [Rachambau ???] while I've got the radio going and things happening, that's the key to Rach., in painterly terms. [Several sentences totally drowned out by cheesy recorder problems and background noise] ... the preparations themselves relate more to Duchamp than to Cage. [More stuff gets drowned out, alas]
DA: And there's an element of chance involved in using the radio, because you never really know...
KR: Right, right....
DA: ... what's going to come up, like tonight.
KR: That's right. Yes, I thought the dialogue was very nice. [laughs] It adds a kind of atmosphere, almost as if one's listening in on a private conversation. It also reminds you of how if you live in a house with thin walls, sometimes you hear the people next door talking -- you can't quite tell what they're saying [laughs], but it has that sort of feel to it.
DA: Now, if the radio had picked up something else entirely, would the direction of what you were doing taken off in a different direction?
KR: Yeah, it could have. It can actually be like a score in that sense, or [too much talking in background, argh!] ... if I found, if it was something I didn't like, I might actually quickly turn away or try to transform it in some way, change the frequency.... Tonight it was okay in [garbled], I didn't have to do anything to it, I didn't have to change it.
DA: When you're playing, do you have even a basic idea of where you're going? If someone starts playing, then does everyone else follow?
KB: I think it's like a conversation in a sense, like a relationship. I can honestly say [garbled again] that in 30 years we have not discussed the details pre-performance, and have rarely discussed them after the performance. The discussion happens in the music. And it's a shock to see that -- like tonight, at 9:00 we started to play, we spent nine hours on the plane coming over, spent the day today kicking around, [what the hell are they DOING in the background? eek! drowned out again] come here, set up the gear, and then suddenly at 9:00, no rehearsals, no discussion, we're up there, it's in the air, and you're going to sit down and you get on with it. And it concentrates the mind in a way that... maybe we have to let it go, and anyway, we do.
DA: Has it always been that way, or --
KR: Yes! We won't discuss tonight. I mean, I'll discuss it with you, but we won't discuss it... and tomorrow, we'll go out and do it again. Obviously, one has one's own language, one's own style, [more garbling] but the big question is, do we all have some piece of music inside of us? Is there some painting inside of us? You know, when Picasso did the [???] in different styles [garbled] in Cubism, it was all basically the same thing explored in different ways. Maybe what I play is the same piece... fragments of the same piece that will come out as a whole by the time I die, or it might be the same piece that comes out differently every night.
DA: I've been trying to think in terms of the pieces and smaller pieces, so you can't really know where you're going or where you've been....
KR: Yes, yes, I'm sure you're probably right. Now, I'd like to keep that open, I'd like to check the [garbled]. Maybe... maybe... I suspect you're probably right. I'd like to take the opportunities to escape to another route that there is other than that.
DA: What do you think about the fact that now, the kind of guitar style you've had for 30 years is starting to become more widespread? With bands like Skullflower and Total, Main....
KR: Yes, yes....
DA: ... all exploring different, alternative ways of using a guitar.
KR: Well, I enjoy that -- I find that it's been a great pleasure for me in my life too see that [garbled] exists, as an Englishman with a completely different guitar style, totally different. I took the independent route of approaching guitar, and I'm glad that it's actually crossed over into other territories, so the idea of expanding out on the work that I've done is fulfilling to me. It inspires me, then I get things in my own writing, then I... [rest is horribly drowned out by John Tilbury holding a conversation right next to the piano]
[enter Dan "yes the issue's coming out shortly just be PATIENT" Plunkett]
DP: Hey, you'll have to move outside, we're closing up....
[The conversation moves out into the street]
KR: About what the younger musicians are doing -- I think that the art of juxtaposition, juxtaposing found objects, is an extension of what Duchamp was talking about, in a way. The incorporation of found materials into the work... it seems to me that in this day and age, the world that we live in.... I'm not a normal person, but I identify with the normal person. I don't want to be famous, I'm happy owning one pair of shoes, one pair of jeans, I have one jacket, I have a very old car... and I don't need any more than that. And I think that the music I make reflects my feelings about the world. You can probably hear there's a lot of anger in it -- I'm not happy with that, I do not like it, but there's beauty to be found in the things that are normally thought of as the ugly. Sometimes we have to grab onto that and express that, and express our emotional feelings about the state of humanity through that vehicle, through the vehicle of sound. So for me, that's the task -- to explain... I try to convince you with the sounds I make. I guess that's the long and short of it.
DA: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
KR: I think that's about it.
[Interview ends as a shambling drunk approaches to bum a cigarette from Rowe, who doesn't smoke... and then DEAD ANGEL, who for once is unable to lay his hands on his pack o' cigs....]