Photo Yuko Zama
Keith Rowe (born 16 March 1940 in Plymouth, England) is an English free improvisation tabletop guitarist and painter. Rowe is a founding member of both the hugely influential AMM in the mid-1960s (though in 2004 he quit that group for the second time) and M.I.M.E.O. Having trained as a visual artist, Rowe's paintings have been featured on most of his own albums. He is seen as a godfather of EAI (electroacoustic improvisation), with many of his recent recordings having been released by Erstwhile Records.
Rowe began his career playing jazz in the early 1960s with Mike Westbrook and Lou Gare. His early influences were guitarists like Wes Montgomery, Charlie Christian and Barney Kessel. Eventually, however, Rowe grew tired of what he considered the form's limitations; he was increasingly at odds with the surroundings in which he found himself. At college Rowe had begun to translate the drawings of Paul Klee into guitar tablature and as his further explorations led him towards the perception of the instrument as predominantly a sound source, he found that his contributions 'became too radical for the jazz context'. Rowe began experimenting, slowly and gradually. An important step was a New Year's resolution to stop tuning his guitar—much to Westbrook's displeasure. Rowe gradually expanded into free jazz and free improvisation, eventually abandoning conventional guitar technique.
This change in his approach to guitar, Rowe reports, was partly inspired by a teacher in one of his painting courses who told him, "Rowe, you cannot paint a Caravaggio. Only Caravaggio can paint Caravaggio." Rowe reports that after considering this idea from a musical perspective, "trying to play guitar like Jim Hall seemed quite wrong." For several years Rowe contemplated how to reinvent his approach to the guitar, again finding inspiration in visual art, namely, American painter Jackson Pollock, who abandoned traditional painting methods to forge his own style. "How could I abandon the technique? Lay the guitar flat!"
Rowe developed various idiosyncratic prepared guitar techniques: placing the guitar flat on a table and manipulating the strings, body and pickups in unorthodox ways to produce sounds described as dark, brooding, compelling, expansive and alien. He has been known to employ objects such as a library card, rubber eraser, springs, hand-held electric fans, alligator clips, radio, contact microphones, pedals, bows, springs, electronic fans, metal scrapsand and common office supplies in playing the guitar. A January 1997 feature in Guitar Player magazine described a Rowe performance as "resemble a surgeon operating on a patient." Rowe sometimes incorporates live radio broadcasts into his performances, including shortwave radio and number stations (the guitar's pickups will also pick up radio signals, and broadcast them through the amplifier).
AMM was established in 1965 by Rowe, percussionist Eddie Prévost and saxophonist Lou Gare, also a member of the Westbrook Orchesra at the same time. The following year they were joined by bassist Lawrence Sheaff and, at Rowe's suggestion, Cornelius Cardew. Ansell quotes Rowe: 'AMM was able to provide the conditions in which I could supercede what I saw as the oppressive legacy that the 1960s guitar imposed on me as a player. AMM were involved in what we referred to as a "communal search for sound" and that enabled me to develop various preparations for the guitar and a fresh approach to the instrument'.
Photo Ekaterina Ritskaya
Eddie Prévost reports that Rowe has "an uncanny touch on the wireless switch", able to find radio broadcasts which seem to blend ideally with, or offer startling commentary on, the music. On AMMMusic, towards the end of the cacophonous "Ailantus Glandolusa", a speaker announces via radio that "We cannot preserve the normal music." In reviewing World Turned Upside Down, critic Dan Hill writes, "Rowe has tuned his shortwave radio to some dramatically exotic gameshow and human voices spatter the mix, though at such low volume, they're unintelligible and abstracted. Rowe never overplays this device, a clear temptation with such a seductive technology - the awesome possibility of sonically reaching out across a world of voices requires experienced hands to avoid simple but ultimately short-term pleasure. This he does masterfully, mixing in random operatics and chance encounters with talkshow hosts to anchor the sound in humanity, amidst the abstraction."
Photo Bogdan Pedovic
With a core of Prévost, Rowe, Gare and Cardew, and varying contributions from John Tilbury, Christopher Hobbs and Christian Wolff, AMM continued until a split in 1973, at which point Rowe continued his association with Cardew in the Scratch Orchestra and People's Liberation Music. Somewhat later he joined Trevor Watts in a version of Amalgam that produced two recordings, the previously mentioned Wipe out and Over the rainbow.
Photo Michael Steven Shiflet
The late 1990s up to the present day has seen an extraordinary burst of creative activity from Rowe, maintaining the previous associations but expanding these considerably with, among others: MIMEO (Music in Movement Electronic Orchestra) and associations with Evan Parker; Jeffrey Morgan; Günter Müller and Taku Sugimoto; Burkhard Beins; and Toshimaru Nakamura. The full list of collaborations that have been recorded can be seen below. Rowe has worked together with numerous composers and musicians, including Cornelius Cardew, Christian Wolff, Howard Skempton, Jeffrey Morgan, John Tilbury, Evan Parker, Taku Sugimoto, Otomo Yoshihide, Sachiko M, Oren Ambarchi, Christian Fennesz, Burkhard Beins, Toshimaru Nakamura, David Sylvian, Peter Rehberg...
Keith Rowe's "Guitar Hanging" Fragment. 2006 mixed media 80 x 120 x 28 cm
Keith Rowe has maintained his early interest in utilising painting as a stimulus, generation of ideas, and as score material for musical performance. In discussing composition with Trevor Taylor (1997), he said, 'the only time I compose is in response to projects and then mostly in a graphical format. This weekend (in Nickelsdorf with MIMEO) I performed some compositions based on Paul Klee paintings. My pieces involve a lot of rehearsal time and include a lot of discussion, guiding the performances, sorting out why they should be doing this and why not etc.... In the painting series such as the Pollock I would take individual drips out of the painting and isolate them, lay them on the page. Then I select and indicate the instrument and talk to the musicians about how they may approach that. A lot of talking and rehearsal, nearly 30 hours.' An example of a response to one of Rowe's Pollock series can be found by Zeitkratzer on the CD Sonx. He lives in Nantes.
What do you remember about your first guitar?
Well… the first guitar I encountered was my younger brothers. An “Egmont” brought from an mail order store, the Braque Picasso images immediately resonated I fell in love with the curve, dots, lines, and the concept of the plectrum.
Why do you need music?
Is it Turner? “ Painting is another word for feeling” for me music like so.
What's your relationship with the prepared guitar?
Preparations … Allowed Duchamp to enter the frame, gave ambiguity, obliqueness, hard edge abstraction, referenced synthetic cubism,
Sound 323, Highgate, London in October 2001 by David Reid
Which work of your own is more stimulating for you, and why?
AMM The Crypt
What quality do you admire most in a musician?
Modesty self-effacement and Musical intelligence, for me a good example would be Clifford Curzon playing Mozart, (468 491-2 Decca)
Where are your secret roots? What are your influences?
Abandonment, Cardew Cage Tudor Wolff through to Mahler Wagner to Purcell To Rothko Ben Hartley Lorenzo Lotto Rauschenberg Braque Picasso Caravaggio
Oh! The list is endless, probably influenced by everyone.
What's the relationship between sound and painting?
Nothing I would want to prove, (or impose) but the way I’m going to see it, and play it is that they are interchangeable, I will not trouble to divide them. Painting is not merely optical ... music is not acoustic. (Chapman Bros ? + J Bell ?)
How would you define the present time in musical terms?
Again the way I’m going to see it is that the present is an accumulation of the past, in that for me the past and the present and the future are rolled all up into the present, little changes, if Sturgeons law is correct then 90% of everything is rubbish. Ha! I’d go for 98.5%!!
Define the sound you're still looking for or you want to hear.
Linked to the above, a sound that Occupies the Moment, possibly the most vital aspect of Music (anything?) is each note sound event should seek to occupy the moment,
Signal me one musical work which has provoked a change in your music.
David Tudor recording of Cage variations II, 1961. (now on ed. RZ 1018-19 2CD David Tudor: Music for Piano )
A valuable advice that someone has gifted to you in the past?
Ben Hartley advice we students “Success is to become middle aged and obscure”
What is the relationship between memory and sound in your music work?
Memory, aspects of memory are important, I use a constant stream of re-visiting (re-occupying) fragments in my work, a constant returning, on my table the right hand layout includes memory.
Is it Freud? ”What we do not remember, we are compelled to repeat” Hmm.. What we are unable to repeat, we are haunted with and are compelled to memorize.(?)
What's your next project about?
The Room extended. The premise is that the Room contains everything that has ever existed (by inference).
The trick is being able to perceive it!
- 1966, Not necessarily "English music", Electronic Music Foundation EMF CD 036. One AMM track on compilation CD.
- 1966, AMMMusic, ReR Megacorp/Matchless.
- 1967, Afflicted Man's Musica Box, United Dairies UD12 (UK). One track on a compilation featuring Cardew/Gare/Prévost/Rowe/Sheaff.
- 1968, Live Electronic Music Improvised, Mainstream MS 5002 (USA). Cardew/Gare/Hobbs/Prévost/Rowe; record shared with MeV.
- 1968, The Crypt , Matchless MRCD05. AMM.
- 1969, Laminal , Matchless MRCD31.1. One CD of 3CD AMM set recorded in Denmark.
- 1969, Eddie Prévost's Silver Pyramid, Matchless MRCD40. Music Now Ensemble.
- 1969, Gracility, Musicnow MNCD012. Laurie Scott Baker.
- mid-1970s, Guitar solos 3, Rift 1. Track on compilation LP.
- 1973/78, We only want the earth, Musicnow MNCD 004. Cornelius Cardew/Peoples' Liberation Music.
- 1976/77?, Consciously, Musicnow MNCD 004. Cornelius Cardew/Peoples' Liberation Music, etc.
- 1979, It had been an ordinary enough day in Pueblo, Colorado, ECM/JAPO 60031. AMM III.
- 1979, Over the rainbow, Arc 01. Amalgam.
- 1979, Wipe out, Impetus 47901. Amalgam.
- 1982, Cornelius Cardew memorial concert, Impetus 28204.
- 1982, Laminal , Matchless MRCD31.2. One CD of 3CD AMM set recorded in London.
- 1982, Generative themes, Matchless MRCD06. AMM.
- 1984, Combine + Laminates + Treatise '84, Matchless MRCD26. AMM.
- 1984, Supersession, Matchless MRCD17. Parker/Rowe/Guy/Prévost.
- 1987, The inexhaustible document, Matchless MRCD13. AMM.
- 1988, IRMA - an opera by Tom Phillips, Matchless MR16. AMM.
- 1989, A dimension of perfectly ordinary reality, Matchless MR19. Solo.
- 1990, The nameless uncarved block, Matchless MRCD20. AMM.
- 1991?, (Y)earbook volume 2, Rastascan BRD 009. One solo piece on compilation CD.
- 1992, Newfoundland, Matchless MRCD23. AMM.
- 1992, ReR quarterly vol. 4, no. 2, ReR Megacorp. One duo track with Alain de Fillips.
- 1993, Vandoevre, Virgin Records ABMT4. One AMM track on Ambient isolationism, a double CD compilation.
- 1993, City music for electric guitar, Table of the elements Boron. Solo.
- 1994, Live in Allentown USA, Matchless MRCD30. AMM.
- 1994, Laminal , Matchless MRCD31.3. One CD of 3CD AMM set recorded in New York.
- 1995, From a strange place, PSFD-80. AMM.
- 1996, Before driving to the chapel we took coffee with Rick and Jennifer Reed, Matchless MRCD35. AMM.
- 1997, Improvisation 210797, Avant Magazine (Issue 3 Autumn 1997) BGS Sampler.
- 1997, MIMEO/Queue, Perdition plastics Per 009/GROB 005.
- 1997, Dial: log-rhythm, Matchless MRCD36. Rowe/Morgan.
- 1998, For Ute, Fat Cat Records 7/8. AMM.
- 1998, Electric chair and table, GROB 206/7. MIMEO.
- 1999, Sonx, Zeitkratzer Records 99z2. Features performance of Rowe's Traces 51 (Pollock); he does not play.
- 1999, Ajar, Alcohol ALORS1CD. Otomo/Rowe/Sugimoto.
- 1999, The world turned upside down, Erstwhile Records 005. Rowe/Müller/Sugimoto.
- 1999, Harsh, GROB 209. Solo.
- 1999, Mottomo Otomo: Unlimited XII, Trost TR 076. One trio track with Sugimoto and Otomo.
- 1999/2000, Dark rags, Potlatch P200. Parker/Rowe.
- 2000, Afternoon tea, Ritornel RIT 14. Ambarchi/Fennesz/Pimmon/Rehberg/Rowe.
- 2000, [N:Q], FIBRR001.
- 2000, Tunes without measure or end, Matchless MRCD44. AMM.
- 2000, With hidden noise, Anechoic a002. Keith Rowe processed by Kim Cascone.
- 2000, Grain, Zarek 06. Rowe/Beins.
- 2001, Weather sky, Erstwhile Records 018. Rowe/Nakamura.
- 2001, Fine, Matchless MRCD46. AMM.
- 2001, The hands of Caravaggio, Erstwhile 021. MIMEO/John Tilbury.
- 2001, Flypaper, Staubgold 32. Duo with Oren Ambarchi.
- 2001, 29 October 2001, Sound 323 . Solo.
- 2001, Thumb, GROB 432. Rowe/Ambarchi/Sachiko M/Otomo/Avenaim.
- 2001, Honey pie, GROB 648. Rowe/Ambarchi/Avenaim.
- 2001/2002, The difference between a fish, Potlatch P 302. Doneda/Leimgruber
- 2002, Rabbit run, Erstwhile Records 027. Rowe/Lehn/Schmickler.
- 2002, Squire, For 4 Ears CD 1762. Ambarchi/Rowe.
- 2002, Live at the LU, Erstwhile Records 043. Rowe/Fennesz.
- 2002, Compositions for guitars, A Bruit Secret 103. Taku Sugimoto.
- 2002, AMPLIFY02: balance, Erstwhile Records 033-040. Box set of 7CDs + 1DVD of Erstwhile-curated event in Tokyo.
- 2003, Duos for Doris, Erstwhile Records 030. Rowe/Tilbury.
- 2003, Responses, reproduction & reality: freedom of the city 2003-4, Emanem 4110. London Improvisers Orchestra.
- 2003, A view from the window, Erstwhile Records 041. Rowe/Dörner/Hautzinger.
- 2004, Keith Rowe/Burkhard Beins, Erstwhile Records Erstlive 001.
- 2004, Keith Rowe/Toshimaru Nakamura/Thomas Lehn/Marcus Schmickler, Erstwhile Records Erstlive 002.
- 2004, Keith Rowe/Sachiko M/Toshimaru Nakamura/Otomo Yoshihide, Erstwhile Records Erstlive 005-3.
- 2004, Cloud, Erstwhile Records Erstlive 046-2. Four Gentlemen of the Guitar: Keith Rowe/Oren Ambarchi/Christian Fennesz/Toshimaru Nakamura.
- 2004, Apogee, Matchless MRCD61. MEV/AMM.
- 2004, Fibre, For 4 Ears CD 1657. Korber/Rowe/Müller.
- 2005, between, Erstwhile Records 050-2. Keith Rowe/Toshimaru Nakamura.
- 2007, The room, Erstwhile Records ErstSolo 001.
- 2008, Keith Rowe/Taku Unami, Erstwhile Records Erstlive 006.
- 2008, Keith Rowe, Erstwhile Records Erstlive 007.
- 2008, Keith Rowe/Toshimaru Nakamura, Erstwhile Records Erstlive 008.
- 2008, contact, Erstwhile Records 054-2. Duo with Sachiko M.
- 2009, Küchen_Rowe_Wright, Another Timbre at29.
- 2010, Φ, Erstwhile 060-3. Radu Malfatti/Keith Rowe.
- 2010, E.E. Tension and circumstance, Potlatch P311. Keith Rowe/John Tilbury.
- 2011, Christian Wolff/Keith Rowe, Erstwhile Records ErstLive 010.
- 2011, September, Erstwhile Records ErstLive 011. Solo.
- 2013, Making A, Erstwhile Records 067. Duo with Graham Lambkin.
Photo Yuko Zama