Monday, April 28, 2008

Melody Maker, 1989

by Simon Reynolds

Nowadays, we're familiar with the idea of "free music": music that abandons the shackles of training and technique, in an attempt to propel both player and listener outside history, beyond culture, and into a Zen no-where/no-when. We've heard this rhetoric reheated and this approach rehashed by all manner of marginal rock iniatives: the Pop Group, early Scritti, Rip Rig and Panic, Einsturzende, and currently God. So it's both chastening and valuable to go back to when the idea was more or less originated: 1966, a group called AMM who made (and still make) "music as though music was being made for the first time". This is their first album,
originally released by Elektra Records, in those heady days of the counter culture when people thought this kind of thing might just be marketable. Recommended have reissued it complete with segments from the original sessions which never
made it onto vinyl.

As AMM member Eddie Prevost puts it in his copious and illuminating sleevenotes, AMM music "gently but firmly resists analysis". Listening the mind's eye swarms with an
inferno of images: gales, tidal-waves, timber-processing plants gone mad, a monsoon of stalactites. But in the end, adjectives and metaphors sheer off the obtuse, elusive, jagged surfaces of the sound. AMM music may initially seem impenetrable, but it sure as hell penetrates you. Soon, the desired state is instilled in the listener: a rapt vacancy somewhere between supreme concentration and utter absent-mindedness. Prevost describes how AMM music was widely assumed to be "religious", and how in some senses this was true. Fully immersed, you can escape the inhibitions and repressions that hold you together as "one", and revert to a
primal state of manifold unbeing. In it, you can be everything and nothing.

There was a whole buncha theory behind this music--ideas like "all sound can be music", "silence can be music", elements of Buddhism (meditation without the mysticism). But ultimately words are neither needed nor enough. For a while
AMM used to discuss their music endlessly, but soon they stopped, just turned up, played and went home without a word. And it's not necessary to bone up in order to bliss out. Just come with an open mind, and leave, 74 minutes later, marvelling at just how opened a mind can get.

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