AMM: Tunes Without Measure or End

Free improvisation draws up a pact between performer and listener. Refusing the comforting pillars of notation and songform, the art insists that inspiration and interaction are key to the production of meaning. The performer creates music that is unique and unrepeatable; the audience must listen actively, their hearing intent on capturing each successive moment. The improvising ensemble AMM, a 2000 concert of whose is documented on Tunes Without Measure or End, provide a particularly fine example of this singular form of communication. Their live shows are compelling spectacles of rapturous intensity, where the players’ concentration on the dynamics of their sound is matched by a deep and focused listening among the audience.

It is salutary to recall that in the years 1966-7, AMM were kindred spirits of Pink Floyd and other participants in the London psychedelic scene. Tunes Without Measure or End makes the connection clear: like the early Floyd, AMM were and are about exploring the furthest recesses of inner space. Their soundworld is like a constantly threatened earthquake, with the prepared guitar and electronics of Keith Rowe, the piano of John Tilbury and the drums of Eddie Prévost shifting and hovering like tectonic plates as they conduct a conversation that is as challenging as it is eloquent. Alive to the unfolding complexities of the music, the players deploy their instruments with the utmost grace and sensitivity.

Another parallel that comes to mind is with Jackson Pollock’s ‘drip’ paintings, some of the founding texts of abstract expressionism. At first sight, these huge canvases seem like the random or careless work of a rank amateur; it is only on closer inspection that they are revealed as the layered, pulsating creations that they are. Similarly close attention to the music of AMM enables one to discern the sublime way in which the dark rumble of Prévost’s bowed cymbals explodes into ferocious percussive attack, all the while weaving in and out of Rowe’s arsenal of effects and Tilbury’s unnervingly placid lyricism. When Rowe tunes in his radio it sounds like a transmission from a lost planet, the crackling broadcast adding to the overwhelming sense of mystery and drama that emanates from this exquisite music.

(Originally published in The Sound Projector 11, 2003)

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