To be honest, this is the hardest review I’ve ever written in my entire life. I have no idea how to start it, how to describe it, and how to end it. You could say I’m stumped, but there’s a definite reason why I brought up this band. This week, I’m challenging you readers. These guys aren’t new, and they’ve never been highly discussed, but the London free-improvisation group, AMM, have really connected with me lately. Founded way back in 1965, and never receiving any popularity, AMM are considered influential among the community of improvised music.
It’s a difficult topic to write about, because the music itself stretches the boundaries of sound. Ornette Coleman, the famous American jazz saxophonist once was asked to leave for talking after watching these men perform, and Paul McCartney once said the group’s set was too long, but sat through it all. AMM considers themselves as free improvisers, which practically means they follow no structure, no melodies, and no rhythm. The music is based on texture and mood, putting off a large percentage of listeners. What separates free improvisation from free jazz is the idea of a set rhythm. In AMM’s case, there is none. I’m taking zero. no rhythm what so ever, and sound comes from everywhere. It’s never chaotic oddly enough, but the most popular and debut release from this adventurous group, AMMMusic, set the group in stone as one that will be remembered.
Keith Rowe is a founding member of the group and their guitarist and icon. He takes influence from jazz musicians like Wes Montgomery, Charlie Christian, and Barney Kessel. His sound is unlike anything I’ve heard, and the first notes of guitar on their debut release really showcases how different and unique this group is. Rowe plays a prepared tabletop guitar, and without any traditional technique, he scraps, plucks, scratches, taps, and wedges anything he can find into the guitars strings. He began this idea slowly after deciding never to tune his guitar again to stand out among a crowd of talented guitar players. The idea and thought of watching this alone intrigues me to listen.
The debut of AMMMusic is an hour and fifteen minute epidemic of radical noise. No, not Merzbow noise, but it’s more of a collage of dynamic sound. There’s a sense of tension between every random strike of sound, and it flares like fresh wood in a fire. The boundaries are definitely pushed, and I cannot get enough of it. There’s unraveling drum hits, contrasting saxophone notes, and even radio signals that flare through the guitars pickups to add a worldly and unique touch to an already competent cluster. I’d like to remind readers that this is not jazz. It’s not even free jazz. There’s no resemblance to free jazz besides a few instruments the two have in common that are played. This is what happens when somebody decides free jazz is too generic and wants to push the envelope of music.
There’s a famous quote by the famous French composer, Pierre Schaeffer that says, “Sound is the vocabulary of nature.” It’s this sort of view that influenced AMM’s take on music. The forward thinking masterminds went on to influence musicians like Syd Barrett of early Pink Floyd, Robert Fripp of King Crimson, and even Thom Yorke admitted to listening to AMMMusic when recording their 2001 album, Amnesiac. Now I admit, there’s truly nothing appealing from a musical perspective about this. What draws me to this group is the experimental side to it. When we’re surrounded pop charts and R&B bangers, it’s a breath of fresh air to take a step back and wonder, “What the fuck does the opposite of top 40 sound like?” Now there’s a terrible reason to listen to AMM, but I have a different perspective. To me, they’re a group that takes the simple idea texture and mood and completely separates it from everything tonal in music. There’s a sense of brutality and emotion to AMM that’s just not there in anything else. AMM is AMM. That’s final.
Here’s a shorter track from the magnum opus, AMMMusic: