This release raises a few interesting questions about improvisation and recordings thereof. Is a recording of an improvisation still an improvisation, or has it become a composition, frozen in time, put out on vinyl or CD (or in fact any other sound carrier)? Or is it simply a documentation of an event? The booklet comes with some interesting notions about it, which I won't spoil here. The concept behind the music is interesting. Michel Henritzi invited four improvisers to send him a recording of improvised music which is placed on the right channel and on the left channel we hear improvisations by Henritzi. None of this was made with hearing what the 'other' was doing. "It's an arbitrary collage between two distinct digital channels". Divided into four strict tracks of ten minutes, each deals with a certain aspect of sound. 'Feedback' explains itself through the guitars of Henritzi and Bruce Russell,
'Independance' has Mattin on guitar and Henritzi on hammer, electric saw and acoustic guitar and is indeed two very distinct channels of Fluxus like happening sound, mixed with noise. A jack is played on 'Action Directe' while Taku Unami plays computer in a slightly rhythmic fashion, with electric disturbance on the other speaker. The most pure improvisation piece comes from Shin'ichi Isohata on an acoustical playing on an electric guitar, while Henritzi plays a turntable. Pure improvisation, perhaps, because it sounds like
it to those who are only slightly familiar with the genre. Throughout I thought all four tracks were great, and wether they are composed or improvised is something I don't care about that much. The result, the artifact, the residue or the conservation in time is what matters. And that is great.
Franz de Ward (Vital)
KEITH ROWE SERVES IMPERIALISM
Released 4th of January of 2007
CDr with a 8 pages booklet
Edition of 240
French ORIGINAL TEXT
Reviews & Criticism
" Keith Rowe Serves Imperialism "
Feat. Shin'ichi Isohata - Mattin - Bruce Russell - Taku Unami
right channel : Michel Henritzi - turntable
left channel : Shin'ichi Isohata - Gibson Johnny Smith 1965, playing acoustical
right channel : Michel Henritzi - guitar
left channel : Bruce Russell - guitar
right channel : Michel Henritzi - hammer, electric saw & acoustic guitar
left channel : Mattin - guitar
right channel : Michel Henritzi - jack
left channel : Taku Unami - computer
Taku Unami's track had been recorded at hibari studio in Tokyo (November 2006)
Mattin's track had been recorded at the Burger of Christ in Berlin (October 2006)
Bruce Russell's track had been recorded at the Temple of Music, Lyttelton, NZ
Shin'ichi Isohata's track had been recorded by md at Isohata's house in Kobe
Michel Henritzi's tracks had been recorded at the Black Room, Theatre du Saulcy, Metz (October 2006)
Dedicated to the memory of Derek Bailey and Masayuki " Jojo " Takayanagi
Contact : firstname.lastname@example.org
Keith ROWE serves imperialism
" Nowadays musicians are really protecting something that is far more than a
tradition, which is really cool but also is in total contradiction with the
form, that pagan bawling, which gave it birth. " Lester Bangs Main Lines,
Blood Feasts and Bad Taste
" I have always known that some musicians used to work on some material a
whole day long and dealed it as an improvisation on the same night concert.
" Gavin Bryars from Derek Bailey's book Improvisations
Improvisation, as it is played since Joseph Holbrooke *, this face to face
between two or several musicians as stuck inside the nakedness of acoustics
as they are inside their own histories and strategies of playing, this all
about asking and answering kind of playing which stays the basis of most of
the improvisational music meetings, is still nowadays keeping on doing and
undoing itself through that usual kind of horizontal relationship. Since its
origin, free improvisation - if we cannot pretend to lock it in a fixed
terminology - is forced to reject everything that had been constituting
itself in order to make it really happen. Listener's hear has very quickly
identified this practice as a style as sure as he was able to recognize a
flamenco or a blues tune. Linear relationships had to be broken as spatial
relationships had to be torn to pieces so that each musician must become a
middle central point. Members of AMM, since the 60's, will have been the
craftsmen of this epistemologic rupture.
The improviser steps into a relationship with what he already knows about
the other one, anticipating over his playing strategies. Improvised music
identity is deeply identified as the musician's own identity. Each musician
is culturally determined throughout the influence of his hands' memory and
throughout the restraint of his own instrumental limits. If speaking of
idioms about free improvisation is debatable, it is not yet possible to deny
the fact that it is marked by the improvisor's idiosyncrasy. As an
instrumentalist the improviser is progressively building his own language
and own vocabulary all along his whole trip ; improvising is nothing but the
stating of his own selfbuilt vocabulary, an in a real time construction or,
to say it differently, it is a reflex determined by a renewed context. Deep
inside him there is like a temptation for drawing his own trace, for fixing
himself, for letting us hear his own language. This is why the question will
be never more the generic one : is it improvisation ? But it will be the
acting one : when does appear improvisation ?
" If the main reason why we are listening to music stands in the fact that
we can hear in it the expression of passion - as i believed it all through
my whole life - how far then will this music be considered as good enough ?
What this whole thing is really telling about us ? What kind of thing are we
ratifying within ourselves through that worship of a so neutral kind of art
? And in the same time what are we destroying or at least are we belittling
within ourselves ? " Lester Bangs Main Lines, Blood Feasts and Bad Taste.
Keith Rowe used to say about Derek Bailey that he was still stuck in an old
language, in a stammering language. That he deeply was the gate keeper of
tradition just because Bailey was still making phrases. Perhaps Bailey has
always tried to get in touch with the other one and has been trying to tell
about himself so that he could be able to tell about the other one. But if
Bailey is kept prisoner by history then Rowe poses as a post-modernist.
History is then no more inhabited by men but is just an hazy matter thrown
onto the screen of art. Rowe's big find will not have been in putting the
guitar on the table, a gesture that was just a following one to the Cage's
prepared piano or to the Joseph Kekuku's hula slide, but is to have
introduced the radio in his own set : a ready made by which politics stepped
inside the closed field of cultural avant-gardes. If the radio receptor
opens up the very closed area of art to the social area, it is also very
significant that this reality would become its spectacular mediation. This
summoned reality is nothing but its negative, its faked performance. We do
not stand within a relationship between an indoor and an outdoor to the
musical area but within the representation of this relationship. What is
then given through its listening is nothing but the gloomy songs of the
SociÃ©tÃ© du Spectacle. We have not yet stepped out of the world of art as
radio waves are doing nothing else but just widening the concert hall.
Bailey, stucked to his vertically held old technology, stands up with a more
primitively political gesture : he entirely is within a social relationship
between consumers who came there in order to listen to a piece of music and
to him too as a musician solely paid for the price that was fixed before his
performance. But through this symbolic exchange there stands a political
gesture. That one that consists in telling a story or an idea throughout a
syntaxic acoustical construction. If music is borrowing to language or
painting in order to regenerate itself, that does not mean to cut off
anything from its own gesture. Both Bailey and Rowe deal with a gesture that
is producing some exchange value, the one which founds the whole economy
inside the cultural area.
Its conclusion is lying in its recording, that reproductible merchandise
that is endlessly repeating the very moment of its production and
contradiction. The manufactured record is deifying the living moment of the
performance into a finished work, into an object which is just feeding the
market of Art.
" I could say that if recordings seem to be by themselves a problem, it is
because they generally produce some records. " Derek Bailey, Improvisations.
" A commodity appears, at first sight, a very trivial thing, and easily
understood. (...) The form of wood, for instance, is altered, by making a
table out of it. Yet, for all that, the table continues to be that common,
everyday thing, wood. But, as soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it is
changed into something transcendent. It not only stands with its feet on the
ground, but, in relation to all commodities, it stands on its head, and
evolves out of his wooden brain grotesque ideas, far more wonderful than "
table turning " ever was" Karl Marx, the Fetishism of the Commodities and
the Secret Therof.
What really is a record of improvisation ? Does improvisation happen each
time ? These questions have from the very beginning of free improvisation
always been the center of the reflexions from its authors, bringing back so
many contradictory and passionate answers. But nowadays the question is
keener because of the overproduction of improvisational records which is
essentially due to the drop of production costs. The records that were
closed followings to the Company Weeks were considered as documents that
were keeping a close relationship to History. These famous records were like
phonographies, like sound snapshots taken from artistic and cultural events
which were radically modifying the musical history. But today things have
changed as if records had even been recorded a long time ago before the
meeting just took place. Just as if music did happen in order to be sold as
a consumable good. Many musicians are obliged to put out recordings in order
to promote their music which is really what promoters are needing so that
these musicians could be able to estimate their weight only through their
recordings where prestigious encounters would be able to be credited. Those
publications barely are a genuine artistical project outcome but have just
been thought as an advertising medium and for home listening. Those
publications are standing without any kind of quality recordings and have
only been chosen among several other similar live recordings. Nowadays
everybody's talking about improv music and this shift in meaning is very
clearly announcing the codification of every kind of practice. Recorded
improvisation has just been ending in looking like wall paper where the only
difference between one or another is marked throughout more or less skillful
shades of colour. A drastic change had been operated within our relationship
to improvisation : music is no longer regarded as an experience through dual
listening but had just become an area to occupy. This is why it has to be
comfortable, roughnessless and safely.
" The whole history of recorded sound is waiting for we could murder it. "
Here are four duos of improvisation (of improv music) separately recorded in
terms of time and of areas. Each one of us has improvised his part in his
home studio, unconnected to the other one. Did he then really improvise ?
Listener will never know anything about it. I reassembled these 8 solo
recordings so that i could edit them by pair. Each recording is affected to
a channel, left/right, in order to mime one more time the stage area but
strictly through editing studio works. Neither one or the other channel here
has been recorded as improv meetings use to do it with this reactive act of
playing to the other one's. We were all ignorant of the other one's music.
But this is precisely where improvisation is taking place, just through this
arbitrary collage between two distinct digital channels. Each part has been
interrupted as soon as it reached 10 minutes, a kind of temporal restraint
aiming at being a proper answer to the restraints of live acting, just like
a score used to do. We are the book-keepers of improv economy. We are not
free with our choices. The record as an object gives us a restraint with
which we must deal. The market is selling us its norms and we need the
market to sell our cultural production.
This record has been conceived as an hommage to Derek Bailey and Masayuki
Takayanagi, both of them were great erratics into the musical language. Here
are these 4 duos as 4 covers of the most symbolic improvisations belonging
to that improvised music history. As an attempt to play one more time
Bailey and Takayanagi. What would really be the fact of improvising while
doing a cover of an improvisation ? Maybe it would be as we had been playing
within the memory of what led us to love a music and its own oblivion. The
project contained throughout this present record will not be able to escape
to political illusion.
" A record is something really magic, it makes enter into your room a person
as he or she exactly was in 1957, then you find that nothing has changed
with this person, that even the tinier trace of usually happening corruption
did not affect this person... When we hear Charlie Feathers or Elvis, they
really are in the same room as we stand as sure as i am now talking to you.
" The Cramps
When listening to a sound, there is no difference between a composition and
Michel Henritzi, july 2006
* Joseph Holbrooke was, between 1963 and 1965, a free improvisation band
with Derek Bailey, Gavin Bryars and Tony Oxley.
FRENCH ORIGINAL TEXT
Keith Rowe serves imperialism
" En fait, c'est aujourd'hui davantage une tradition que les musiciens protègent, ce qui est cool mais tout à fait contradictoire avec le braillement païen sous la forme duquel il naquit. " Lester Bangs, Fêtes sanglantes & mauvais goût.
" J'ai toujours su que certains musiciens travaillaient certains trucs dans la journée et faisait passer çà pour de l'improvisation lors du concert. " Gavin Bryars cité dans Derek Bailey, Improvisations
L'improvisation telle qu'elle s'est jouée depuis Joseph Holbrooke*, deux ou plusieurs musiciens dans un face à face, dans le dépouillement de l'acoustique, avec leurs histoires et leurs stratégies de jeu, ce jeu de questions/réponses qui fonde une grande part des rencontres de musique improvisée continue à se faire et se défaire, aujourd'hui encore, dans cette relation horizontale. Dès son origine l'improvisation libre - si on ne peut prétendre l'enfermer dans une nomenclature fixée - s'est trouvé dans l'obligation de rejeter ce qui la constituait pour qu'elle puisse avoir lieu. L'oreille de l'auditeur a très rapidement identifié cette pratique comme genre aussi sûrement qu'il reconnaissait un morceau de flamenco ou un blues. Il a fallu briser les relations linéaires, disloquer les relations spatiales, faire en sorte que chaque musicien devienne un centre. Les membres du groupe AMM, dès les années 60, auront été les artisans de cette rupture épistémologique.
L'improvisateur entre en relation avec ce qu'il sait déjà de l'autre, il anticipe ses stratégies de jeu. L'identité de la musique improvisée est fortement identifiée à celle des musiciens. Chaque musicien est déterminé culturellement, sous l'emprise da la mémoire de ses mains et contraint par ses limitations instrumentales. Si il est contestable de parler d'idiomes à l'endroit de l'improvisation libre, on ne peut nier qu'elle est marquée par l'idiosyncrasie de l'improvisateur. L'improvisateur comme instrumentiste se constitue au fur et à mesure de son parcours, un vocabulaire, un langage propre ; improviser est l'énonciation de son vocabulaire constitué, une construction en temps réel, pour le dire autrement un réflexe déterminé par un contexte renouvelé. Il y a chez lui une tentation à se tracer, se fixer, à donner à entendre sa langue. La question n'est donc plus générique : Est-ce de l'improvisation ? Mais factuelle : Quand y a-t-il improvisation ?
" Si la première raison pour laquelle nous écoutons de la musique est d'y entendre l'expression de la passion - comme je l'ai cru toute ma vie - alors jusqu'à quel point cette musique se révélera t-elle bonne ? Qu'est ce que ça dit de nous ? Que confirmons nous en nous-mêmes en adorant un art aussi neutre ? Et simultanément que sommes-nous en train de détruire, ou du moins de rabaisser, en nous ? " Lester Bangs, Fêtes sanglantes & mauvais goût.
Keith Rowe disait de Derek Bailey qu'il était encore dans un vieux langage modal, dans un bégaiement de la langue. Qu'au fond il était gardien de la tradition, parce que Bailey faisait encore des phrases. Peut-être que Bailey a toujours tenté de rejoindre l'autre, de se dire, pour dire l'autre. Si Bailey est prisonnier de l'Histoire, Rowe est dans une posture postmoderne. L'Histoire n'est plus ici habitée par les hommes, mais n'est qu'une matière indifférenciée qu'on projette sur l'écran de l'art. La grande trouvaille de Rowe n'aura pas été de mettre la guitare à plat, ce geste fait suite au piano préparé de Cage et à la slide hula de Joseph Kekuku, mais d'avoir introduit la radio dans son set : ready-made par lequel le politique entrait dans le champ clos des avant-gardes culturelles. Si le poste de radio ouvre l'espace forclos de l'art sur l'espace social, il est significatif que ce réel soit sa médiation spectaculaire. Ce réel convoqué n'est en fait que son négatif, sa représentation truquée. Nous ne sommes pas dans un rapport entre un intérieur et un extérieur au champ musical, mais dans la représentation de ce rapport. Ce qui est donné à entendre ce sont les chants mélancoliques de la Société du Spectacle. Nous ne sommes pas sorti du monde de l'art, les ondes radio ne font qu'élargir l'espace du concert.
Bailey, accroché à sa vieille technologie, tenue dans sa verticalité, est dans un geste plus primitivement politique : il est dans un rapport social entre des consommateurs, venus là pour entendre un moment de musique, et lui, musicien salarié par le prix fixé pour sa représentation. Dans cet échange symbolique il y a bien un geste politique. Celui de raconter une histoire ou une idée à travers une construction syntaxique sonore. Que la musique emprunte au langage ou à la peinture pour se renouveler ne retranche rien au geste. Bailey comme Rowe sont dans un geste de production de valeur d'échange, celui qui fonde toute l'économie de la chose culturelle.
Sa conclusion en est le disque, marchandise reproductible répétant infiniment le moment de sa production et sa contradiction. Le disque réifie le moment vivant de la représentation en œuvre finie ; objet alimentant le marché de l'Art.
" Je pourrais dire que si les enregistrements posent un problème en soi, c'est que généralement ils produisent des disques. " Derek Bailey, Improvisations
" Une marchandise paraît au premier coup d'œil quelque chose de trivial et qui se comprend de soi-même. La forme du bois, par exemple, est changée, si l'on en fait une table. Néanmoins la table reste bois, une chose ordinaire qui tombe sous le sens. Mais dès qu'elle se présente comme marchandise, c'est une toute autre affaire. A la fois saisissable et insaisissable, il ne lui suffit pas de poser ses pieds sur le sol ; elle se dresse, pour ainsi dire, sur sa tête de bois en face des autres marchandises et se livre à des caprices plus bizarres que si elle se mettait à danser. " Karl Marx, Le Caractère Fétiche de la Marchandise et son Secret.
Qu'est-ce qu'un disque d'improvisation ? L'improvisation a-t-elle toujours lieu ? Ces questions ont depuis les origines de l'improvisation libre été au centre des réflexions de ses acteurs, apportant autant de réponses contradictoires et passionnelles. La question se pose de façon plus aigue aujourd'hui, du fait de la surproduction de disques d'improvisation, liée pour l'essentiel à la baisse des coûts de production. Les disques qui faisaient suite aux Company Weeks étaient considérés comme des documents, on était dans un rapport à l'histoire. On pourrait parler à propos de ces disques : de phonographies, d'instantanés sonores d'évènements artistiques et culturels, qui transformaient l'histoire de la musique. Aujourd'hui les choses ont changé, c'est comme si les disques avaient été enregistrés avant que la rencontre ait eu lieu. Que la musique n'avait lieu que pour être vendue sous forme d'un bien consommable. Beaucoup de musiciens sont dans l'obligation de sortir des disques pour promouvoir leur musique, objet promotionnel que leur réclament les promoteurs, pour les évaluer en fonction de leur poids en disques et rencontres prestigieuses créditées. Ces publications sont assez peu souvent l'aboutissement d'un véritable projet artistique, pensées en fonction d'un support et d'une écoute particulière, de " salon ". Enregistrements live " sans qualité ", choisi entre différents enregistrements live semblables. On parle aujourd'hui de musique improvisée, ce glissement sémantique annonce très clairement la codification d'une pratique. L'improvisation enregistrée a fini par ressembler à un papier peint, où la seule différence consiste dans des nuances de tonalités plus ou moins savantes. Un changement radical s'est opéré dans notre rapport à l'improvisation : la musique ne s'écoute plus comme expérience partagée, elle est devenue un espace à habiter. Aussi il se doit d'être confortable, sans aspérité, sans danger.
" Toute l'histoire du son enregistré attend que nous l'assassinions " Coldcut
Quatre duos d'improvisation (de musique improvisée) enregistrés séparément dans un temps différé, des espaces séparés. Chacun d'entre nous a improvisé sa partie dans son home studio, coupé de l'autre. A-t-il réellement improvisé ? L'auditeur n'en saura rien. J'ai rassemblé ces 8 enregistrements solo pour les éditer par couple. Chaque enregistrement sur un canal, gauche / droite, rejouant l'espace de la scène dans le montage studio. Aucune des pistes n'a été enregistré à la façon dont se jouent les rencontres d'improvisation, dans le jeu réactif à l'autre. Nous étions ignorants de la musique de l'autre. L'improvisation se joue là, dans ce collage arbitraire entre 2 pistes numériques séparées. Chaque partie a été strictement arrêtée à 10 minutes, contrainte temporelle visant à répondre aux contraintes du live, comme sa partition. Nous sommes comptables de l'économie de l'improvisation. Nous ne sommes pas libre de nos choix. L'objet disque nous donne une contrainte avec laquelle nous nous arrangeons. Le marché nous vend ses normes et nous avons besoin du marché pour vendre notre production culturelle.
Ce disque a été réalisé en hommage à Derek Bailey et Masayuki Takayanagi, deux grands irréguliers de la langue musicale. 4 duos comme 4 reprises jouées des improvisations les plus emblématiques de cette histoire de la musique improvisée. Comme une tentative de rejouer Bailey et Takayanagi. Qu'est-ce que serait l'acte d'improviser lors d'une reprise d'une improvisation ? Peut-être jouer dans la mémoire de ce qui nous a amené à aimer une musique et son oubli. Le projet de ce disque n'échappera pas à l'illusion politique.
" Un disque, c'est magique, ça fait entrer dans la pièce une personne telle qu'elle était en 1957, on retrouve cette personne, intacte, sans qu'elle ait subi la moindre corruption du fait du passage du temps ... Quand nous les écoutons, Charlie Feathers ou Elvis sont dans la pièce avec nous, autant que je le suis en te parlant. " The Cramps.
A l'écoute d'un son, il n'y a pas de différence entre une composition et une improvisation.
* Groupe d'improvisation libre, réunissant : Derek Bailey, Gavin Bryars et Tony Oxley. 1963 - 1965.
Michel Henritzi. Juillet 2006.
Reviews & Criticism
This incendiary release could almost be the last chapter in Mattin’
series of critical polemic. But it’s Michel Henritzi’s show. Mattin
participates on one track here, and Henritzi enjoys the help of
collaborations from Bruce Russell, Taku Unami, and Shin’ichi Isohata.
Henritzi used to run the label A Bruit Secret in France, and he released
numerous excellent examples of improvised music, including documents of
radical Japanese improvised music (and not just the onkyo players) which
were always welcome in the TSP house. I am sure they will come to be
seen as very important slices of musical history. The inflammatory title
of this release, I need hardly tell you, refers to Cornelius Cardew’s
famous 1974 tract Stockhausen Serves Imperialism, written at a time when
the UK composer was informed by his new-found Maoist doctrine. At one
time Cardew was the UK’s foremost apologist for avant-garde music; few
were more active than he in promoting and exposing it to a wider
audience. This changed completely when he discovered his political
radicalism; his former mentor Stockhausen was his first target, whose
music was rejected wholesale as its 'mysticism' apparently distracted
listeners from the only important political issue of the day (ie the
Keith Rowe was of course a founder member of AMM along with Cardew; I
think at one time they may even have had political views they could
comfortably share, or at least find areas of overlap. He may be
surprised to find a younger generation turning on him this way and
apparently accusing him of being the same sort of suspect
‘establishment’ figure that, in Cardew’s eyes, the hated Stockhausen had
become. 'Keith was little angry by the title,' Henritzi tells me. 'I
could understand, but it was not a personal attack. I chose him just
because he's become a kind of Improv icon and for a joke with the Cardew
book.' In fact, Henritzi’s thoughtful 4-page essay which accompanies
this release probes many areas, in pursuit of an argument involving the
very nature of improvisation, social relationships, the commodification
of improvised records, and a process which Henritzi calls the
‘codification of practice’. (It seems this is something rather dreadful
which we all ought to resist). Along the way, his argument takes in the
work of AMM, Joseph Holbrooke, Derek Bailey, and Masayuki Takayanagi
(the last two named as ‘great erratics into the musical language’), and
is bolstered with telling quotes about rock music and the recording
process from Lester Bangs and The Cramps.
In conducting this line of enquiry, Henritzi asks many pointed
questions. His questing attitude extends into the actual recorded
improvisations on Keith Rowe Serves Imperialism, all of which are making
tentative forays into what constitutes improvisation. In fact, it seems
to have been the aim of all concerned to turn all the conventional ideas
upside down. In the end, each contributor made their recording at home,
completely ignorant of what their sparring partner might chose to do;
Henritzi made the final assemblage on his home computer, matching
unrelated performances. He limited the time to around ten minutes for
each piece, cutting everything off abruptly so that nothing proceeds
beyond that point. Stern discipline, and a technique possibly informed
more by the philosophy of Debord than by the recording techniques of Bob
Woolford or Martin Davidson. So much for the naked charm of music
You may be surprised to learn that the results are quite brilliant.
Henritzi appears on all four cuts, playing guitar, a turntable,
implements from a toolbox, and jack plugs; the other contributors named
above also play guitars apart from Taku Unami who plays his computer on
the last cut. Not only is it a very varied and exciting record, it’s
also a noisy one; the third cut ‘Independence’, named after the famous
LP by Takayanagi, is a metallic rumbling fest of detailed, grumbling
blackness that does full justice to the pioneering 1970s Japanese player
to which it is dedicated, and I venture to say he would have approved
this tribute. Bailey, to whom the release is also dedicated, is present
on track one to the extent that Henritzi is playing a Bailey LP on his
turntable, and in places appears to be scratching and sampling it quite
violently. I’m aware that both these actions must be regarded as sheer
heresy in some quarters, and Michel must know this too. 'Maybe you know
some guys shot me' he reveals, 'maybe they didn't have humour sense'.
Yet it’s a glorious piece of work, and somehow again seems closer to the
spirit of Bailey’s achievement than attempting some form of lame
imitation of his guitar ‘style’.
A record like this raises all kinds of questions, and it probably means
nothing to anyone outside a well-informed audience who would have to
know something about the history of the improvised music genre to
understand what Henritzi is talking about, and indeed appreciate the
boldness of his statements. Even so this record is well worth hearing,
and it’s well worth investigating this stimulating essay to open up
further avenues of discussion, thought and action.
ED PINSENT 21/08/2007
The Wire (London, April 2007) by Dan Warburton
A snappy title like Keith Rowe Serves Imperialism certainly boots brand awareness, but at a price:
most of the heated controversy generated by Henritzi's debut solo album was concentrated on the essay he penned to accompany it- a rambling an ineptly translated manifesto on improvisation as Henritzi sees it.
The album itself consist of four-ten-minute duos featuring the Frenchman with laptopper Taku Unami,
Shin'ichi Isohata, Bruce Russell and Mattin. Their contributions were recorded separately, and Henritzi addred his turntable, hammer, electric saw and jackplug without having heard them, a cadavre exquis approach he describes in somewhat hamfisted prose as “precisely where improvisation is taking place, just through this arbitrary collage between tow distinct digital channels”. (Henritzi's material is on the right stereo track throughout, that of this fellow musicians on the left). It's an splendid set of pieces, from the prismatic, colorful opening “improvisation” -Isohata's playing recalls both the album's dedicatees, Derek Bailey and Masayuki Takayanagi- to the tense crackles of the closing “Action Directe” with Unami.
“Feedback”, with Russell, is just that, and Henritzi, after half a lifetime fronting the late lamented Dust Breeders, is a s good at handling feedback as the New Zealander. “Independance” (sic) is a bracing power thrash battle between Henritzi's toolbox and Mattin's guitar. It's a shame there isn't more guitar playing on the offer, as his spare, Setagaya-blues fringerpicking is well worth checking out, notably with Fabrice Eglin in The Howlin' Ghost Proletarians.
For the record, despite being one of France's most erudite and insightful New Music journalist, Henritzi admits he's never mad it through the book that inspired his album title, Cournelius Cardew's Stockhausen Serves Imperialism.
Michel Henritzi - Keith Rowe Serves Imperialism (w.m.o/recordings CD-R)
Michel Henritzi is a multi instrumentalist from France best known for his work in the Dustbreeders as well as running the (defunct?) A Bruit Secret label. Now in 2007, he seems to have devised at least a clever way to generate some additional publicty by releasing the "Keith Rowe Serves Imperialism" CD-R on Mattin's w.m.o/r label, also available for a free download via Mattin's website. The title is an implicit reference to Cornelius Cardew's 1974 book "Stockhausen Serves Imperialism", and is also the name of the 4-panel essay Henritzi penned to accompany the release. The essay has been subject to much criticism for a wide array of reasons, from quote attribution to flawed logic to lousy grammar (the text reads like it was written in English, translated to French, and finally back again to English using an online translating service). Are the criticisms valid? To a degree, yes. When you write something as flagrantly attention-seeking as Henritzi has, you've got to expect backlash in copious quantities. But on the other hand, do I really think Henritzi meant the essay to serve as the be-all end-all word on improvisation as we've come to know it? No. Maybe it's just me but I find it hard to look at "Imperialism" and not think it was written with tongue planted firmly in cheek and that maybe some of us are getting too hot and bothered over nothing. But I guess that's besides the point. Like I said, Henritzi's made some points of contention and allegations in the essay that people were obviously not going to agree with from the get-go, so let the battle commence I spose. I myself thought it was going downhill from the Gavin Bryars quote on, but check out the essay yourself here
and see what you think. I also encourage you to read the topic
on the I Hate Music board to garner some additional insight.
Aside from that, I understand "Keith Rowe Serves Imperialism" also comes with some music too. Four tracks, in fact, with Henritzi collaborating with a different artist on each one. "Improvisation" sees him working with Hibari Music's Shin'ichi Isohata, "Feedback" pairs him with the Dead C's Bruce Russell, "Independance" is with Mattin and "Action Directe" features Tokyo improvisor Taku Unami. The catch is that the collaborations all occur seperate from one another, with the artists recording their pieces and sending them off to Henritzi, who had already recorded four pieces of his own. Then he paired four of them together with each one playing in a different headphone/speaker channel, cut them off around the 10-minute mark, and that was that. I guess this has to do with Henritzi's search for a "true" improvised collaboration, being that it's pretty hard to get a feel for what the other guy's playing if he's playing it on another continent. That said though, the tracks manage to hang together pretty well. The rockiest of all is probably "Improvisation", with Isohata's acoustic Gibson Johnny Smith 1965 (!) scampering rounds across the song's terrain and only the occasional arm-bending static and sound snatch rising up from Henritzi's turntable. I'd actually pay good money to hear Isohata playing solo though. In terms of ear-burning intensity, "Feedback" with Bruce Russell takes the cake as both men turn to the guitar to sculpt a veritable tundra of eye-watering noise and, well, feedback. I have to believe that Russell was given some instruction as to what to record, or else there's some kind of mind-meld taking place the likes of which the World Weekly News should be notified. I believe it's Henritzi playing a very hypnotic, droning hum that would be quite pleasing on its own but Russell refuses to relinquish the stranglehold he's got on his amplifier and wrenches out shrill, wavering tones that are strong enough to pull the fluid offa your brain. The album's strongest track is definitely "Independance" with Mattin - Henritzi mans the hammer, electric saw and acoustic guitar on end his to diabolical means while Mattin roasts a guitar over on his end. The track is amazingly brutal, not in the ultra-harsh way that "Feedback" was but just in terms of aggressive panache. Sounds like Maurizio Bianchi jamming with Merzbow of all things. I can't figure out how the sounds produced came from the few instruments I named, but that's what the booklet says. Who am I to question? "Action Directe" with Taku Unami is most certainly an homage to Masayuki Takayanagi (well the entire album is dedicated to him and Derek Bailey) but plays out more like one of the Japanese guitarist's "gradually projection" pieces instead. Henritzi fiddles with the input jack to an amplifier (I assume) while Unami spits out the occasional digital droplet with his laptop until midway through when an ominous droning ripple joins the fray. Sounds to me more like something you'd hear at the ErstQuake festival, which isn't the first thing I think of when I hear "directe" but still an enjoyable listen nonetheless.
Similar to Mattin's "Proletarian of Noise", I'm sure "Keith Rowe Serves Imperialism" won't get its fair shake from listeners who feel like the title and essay alone have done enough damage, or who feel that it's just a desperate publicity stunt for an album that wouldn't have been worth listening to if it went by any other name. Personally I prefer to keep the two seperate, as I may not have cared much for the essay but the music within at least was interesting enough to me. I encourage you to hear the music first, read the essay second, and form your own conclusions last.
posted by Outer Space Gamelan at 11:25 PM 0 comments
Michel Henritzi KEITH ROWE SERVES IMPERIALISM wmo/r
I love liner notes. I think it's fair to say I learned more about music from reading liner notes than I ever did at university (I hope to goodness my ex-Cambridge professor Alexander Goehr isn't reading this, but if he is it'll probably only confirm what he always suspected anyway). Sure, sometimes they don't amount to much more than a set of potted bios, or a blow-by-blow description of what most semi-conscious listeners can figure out for themselves, but when they're good they can be both informative and fun. Personal favourites include Ralph Gleason's hip wacko notes to the late 60 Miles Davis LPs ("that's right" says Miles Davis), Byron Coley's "take the top off your head" liners to the BYG Actuel boxset a while back, and especially The Journal Of Vain Erudition essays that accompanied releases on Bruce Russell's Corpus Hermeticum imprint, particularly the exchange of letters with Alan Licht that accompanied the latter's The Evan Dando Of Noise? One wonders whether Russell hasn't also been something of a role model for Mattin in this regard too, as several releases, not only by Russell, on the Basque avant provocateur's wmo/r label (and Mattin's Going Fragile with Radu Malfatti on Formed) have come wrapped in some serious wordage. The Licht / Russell correspondence that accompanies the abovementioned album is indeed fascinating, but the music can and does survive perfectly well without it. Evan Dando of Noise? would be a cracking album even if it came in a plain white jewelbox with minimal track info. The same could be said of this latest offering from French guitarist / turntablist Michel Henritzi, but the fact that he's chosen a deliberately provocative title for it inevitably draws one's attention to the words accompanying the disc (1600 words of them, in the original) and away from the music on it, which is unfortunate, as the music is strong and coherent and the text isn't.
Michel Henritzi has long been one France's most important commentators on new music, having signed numerous perceptive articles and interviews in Revue & Corrigée, and one of its most ardent champions, organising several important European tours for major players on the scene, many of them Japanese, and releasing key documents on his excellent A Bruit Secret label (now sadly on ice, it seems). Since his seminal noise outfit Dust Breeders ceased operations (blew itself away might be a more appropriate description) a while back, Henritzi has signed a couple of fine releases himself on the Absurd label with Fabrice Eglin under the name Howlin' Ghost Proletarians. Keith Rowe Serves Imperialism marks his solo debut, and, not surprisingly with a title like that, it's already made a few waves.
Before we get into the polemical stuff, a few words about the music. The album contains four ten-minute tracks on which Henritzi is joined by, in order, Shin'ichi Isohata (guitar – Gibson Johnny Smith 1965, in fact), Bruce Russell (guitar – no make specified), Mattin (guitar – no make needed because he always manages to make it sound pretty terrifying) and Taku Unami (computer). The guests recorded their improvisations separately in various locations between September and November last year, and Henritzi his own four contributions – on turntable, guitar, hammer / electric saw / guitar and jack plug – in Metz in October 2006. Henritzi's material is on the right stereo track throughout, that of his fellow musicians on the left. (Oddly enough, this take-it-as-it-comes superimposition of music recorded at different times in different locations is also the basic working method behind the forthcoming MIMEO project, tentatively entitled "Cy Twombly", the latest brainchild of the arch-imperialist himself, Mr Rowe. But more of him later.) It's a terrific set of pieces, starting with a spiky, colourful guitar duet – not for nothing is the album dedicated to the memory of Derek Bailey and Masayuki Takayanagi – followed by an awesome Russell / Henritzi feedback battle (both musicians really understand feedback, and it shows: budding noiseniks take note), a rough'n'ready tussle with Mattin and a delightfully abstruse assemblage of beeps and crackles with Unami.
If Michel had left it at that and resisted the temptation to write at length on it all, it would have been just fine. Instead, what is one of the most varied and satisfying improv outings in recent months has become a talking point for the wrong reasons. I don't feel like dwelling on the text, to be honest (if I had ten free minutes I'd prefer to listen to one of the tracks on the disc instead of re-reading Henritzi's essay), but it's worth pointing out that the author freely admits he hasn't read much of Cornelius Cardew's book Stockhausen Serves Imperialism (available if you're interested for free download at www.ubu.com/historical/cardew/index.html) and has no Maoist sympathies. Just as well, because Mao is way out of fashion and Cardew's book, though better written than Henritzi's essay, is just as daft. Leaving aside the misrepresentation of Keith Rowe's remarks about Derek Bailey in an interview he gave me in January 2001, the oblique references to Guy Debord and Marx (double yawn), the only reason I can think of for accusing Rowe of serving imperialism as opposed to Otomo, Fred Frith, Eugene Chadbourne, Henry Kaiser or any other free improvising guitar hero is to get some kind of dig in at Erstwhile's Jon Abbey, as if he was head honcho top dog of the improv scene and making a packet of money out of it (he isn't, on both counts). Abbey's ferocious championship of Rowe is often the subject of conversation amongst musicians both on and off the record, and Mattin, master pisser offer if ever there was one, knows how to find a sensitive acupuncture node and drive a nine inch nail into it, but next time he feels like doing so he should engage the services of a professional translator, as there are numerous shoddy mistakes in the English version of Henritzi's essay which serve to make an already muddy text at times positively opaque. What's the point of it all? If it's just to draw attention to the disc by provoking inveterate hacks like me into devoting a separate review to the album instead of slipping it into the Jazz / Improv section with all the others, bravo – it worked! In fact, it's what I'd call aggressive marketing, and if aggressive marketing isn't a hallmark of 21st century capitalism – which as far as I'm concerned is the modern equivalent of imperialism – I don't know what is. I know I know I know, the albums are there for free download, anti copyright, creative commons, no more music at the service of capital, fuck this, fuck that, but from where I'm sitting it's not Keith Rowe that's serving imperialism here, but Mattin and Michel Henritzi.–DW
Bagatellen + Comments
Michel Henritzi - Keith Rowe Serves Imperialism
KEITH ROWE SERVES IMPERIALISM w.m.o/r
I take it for granted that my caveats on this matter are known well enough. It’s impossible not to deal with the disc’s title; I only wish that Henritzi had stated his case with more clarity so dealing with it, positively or negatively, could have been more easily accomplished. Only about an eighth of the accompanying text—one paragraph—deals explicitly with Rowe (he’s mentioned in one other) and within that paragraph one looks in vain for the term “imperialism”. Much of the remainder of the text appears to deal (the translation from the French is doubtless wanting so additional caveats may apply) with Henritzi’s, and Bailey’s as well, dissatisfaction with the idea of recordings of improvisatory music, its commodification and reduction in many cases to “wall paper”. I take it he holds Rowe at least partially responsible for this.
The portion dealing with Rowe takes him to task, implicitly, for impugning Bailey as a practitioner of the “old language”, a distortion of was actually said and meant in the interview in question. But even if so, does categorization in terms of aesthetic advances automatically connote imperialism? When punks derided the excesses of prog and other pop forms in early 70s, were they imperialists? Were boppers who found Dixieland to be old-fashioned imperialists as well? Henritzi also, if I’m understanding correctly, lowers in value Rowe’s horizontalization (to coin a phrase?) of the guitar, asserting that the action was merely an extension of Cage’s prepared piano, which is true to an extent, and Hawaiian flat guitar playing, a more questionable point. He disagrees that introducing the radio into improvised music brings the outside world into the performance space. Rather, a performer doing so is merely “widening the concert hall.”
All well and good, though what this has to do with imperialism I’m hard put to say. Reading into it, I suppose one could argue that Henritzi is charging Rowe with cultural imperialism by virtue of implying that his (AMM’s) approach to improvisation is more profound or at least “newer” than Bailey’s. One could argue that but, in my understanding of the term, there needs to be a certain amount of coercive power behind any desire to force other people to come around to your aesthetic view before you can be branded “culturally imperialistic”. It’s risible enough when one understands what tiny numbers of interested parties exist in the first place, more so to think that any of them are likely to be forcibly swayed simply because one generally admired practitioner states an opinion.
Did I say “generally admired”? Ah, here’s something else that is perhaps hinted at in this text but has certainly come up in other group discussions over the years: that there exists a certain hierarchy in this music, Rowe positioned as eminence grise (or even “pope”!) with acolytes doing his evil bidding in the improvised world, allowing this but not that, garnering this recording here, nixing that one there. All artists refusing to kowtow before him are vanquished with a sneer. The very idea that some listeners can “rank” musicians and find themselves generally enjoying the work of one more than another on a fairly consistent basis smacks of imperialistic tendencies, of somehow enforcing a hegemony of taste onto the bovine masses. Throw in one pre-eminent label in the field and a producer who largely shares Rowe’s predilections and I guess for some people you have the eai equivalent of Blair and Bush, right? Stuff and nonsense, says me, but the issue surfaces surprisingly often.
Perhaps others can interpret the tract in a clearer manner. When Henritzi replied to a thread about the recording on I Hate Music, his response basically boiled down to an assertion that there’s a lot of uninteresting music being created and recorded these days in this field, not the most startling or provocative declaration. If he was simply taking the Tilbury-esque tack and criticizing Rowe for playing in the US, recording for US labels, etc., I assume he would have come out and said so. There’s also the unseemly aspect of knowingly wishing to cause some amount of personal pain for the individual under attack, someone who’s fought, implicitly and overtly, imperialist tendencies throughout his career. I get the sense that some Dadaist aesthetic was involved, of simply casting about to find an individual held in high regard and asserting that this regard itself is reason enough to pull him off of whatever pedestal he’s claimed to be perched upon. One might ask why append this to a recording and, if one is doing so, why not allow there to be some obvious connection to the music? If it’s there, I can’t hear it.
Oh yes, the music. It’s actually pretty good, at least in part. There are four tracks, duos placing Henritzi with, in order, Shin’ichi Isohata, Bruce Russell, Mattin and Taku Unami. “Duos” in the sense of two musicians occupying each track—in all cases the music was produced in separate locations, at different times. Henritzi himself, if I understand the notes correctly, did not “improvise along” with the others’ music. Instead, the improvisation takes place “just through this arbitrary collage”; i.e., he chose which layer(s) of his music to overlay and intermix with which ten minutes (he chose to cut matters off at the 10-minute mark) of his collaborators. Given that aside from its title and text, the disc is dedicated to the memory of Derek Bailey and Masayaki Takayanagi, it may not be totally surprising to hear the former channeled in track 1, but it does force one to ask, “I guess imitation is anti-imperialistic?” I was previously unfamiliar with Isohata’s work but see that he was a student of Takayanagi’s and is something of a devotee of Bailey. In fact, noticing that Henritzi is credited with turntable on the piece, I’m not at all sure he wasn’t simply spinning some Bailey. Either that or Isohata’s doing a pretty fair imitation. In either event, the music is solid enough, though unexceptional, more improvisatory competence, as it were, than inspiration. Had it issued forth from, say, Henry Kaiser and were it released on Tzadik, I would’ve thought, “Yeah, that sounds about right.”
The pairing with Russell works much better, twin strands of ear-reaming feedback with assorted clanks and bumps. Hard to believe the conjunction of the two approaches was coincidental but, if so, it’s nice serendipity. Some rich sonorities here; I could’ve listened longer. But the track with Mattin, “Independence”, is the real standout on this disc. From Henritzi’s initial hammering (literally) of the guitar (hmmm, could Rowe have been in mind?) to the fuzzed, gravelly noises emerging via Mattin, it’s strong, rough, consistently engaging. In short, a helluva piece. Unami’s cut, unsurprisingly, is a tougher go and not entirely unrewarding but strikes this listener as a bit too scattershot and flailing. Henritzi manipulates a jack, presumably jostling it into and out of its socket, with Unami bleeps away at his computer. I’ve tended to find Unami more absorbing in live performance where the tension he creates with regard to “success” versus extreme likelihood of “failure” can be very exciting, not to mention the sheer fun of his toys.
So, a mixed bag sonically, though well worth hearing. If it pains you to purchase something so carelessly titled, you’re in luck since, as always, you can hear—and read—for yourself for free at w.m.o/r
Posted by Brian Olewnick on January 27, 2007 7:58 AM
Tranzistor (Greece, February 2007 by Nicolas Absurd)
μιλώντας για κυκλοφορίες του mattin, όταν κυκλοφορούσε στη w.m.o/r πριν από 2-3 εβδομάδες το keith rowe serves imperialism του michel henritzi είτε ήδη ήξερε τη θύελλα που θα ξεσήκωνε ή το έκανε για πλάκα. προσωπικά το βλέπω τόσο τον τίτλο όσο και το κείμενο που ακολουθεί το βιβλιαράκι του cdr σα μια τρομερή παρωδία. βέβαια, αν αναλογιστεί κανείς ότι ο keith rowe από τα 60'ς μέχρι τις αρχές των 00'ς άντε να χε βγάλει 15 δίσκους το πολύ, και από τις αρχές της δεκαετίας ως σήμερα συναγωνίζεται το merzbow στις εκδόσεις μπορεί να είναι και σωστή η επιλογή του τίτλου. τέλος πάντων. παράφραση του τίτλου του stockhausen serves imperialism που κυκλοφόρησε ο (μακαρίτης) cornelius cardew όταν σιγά σιγά άρχισε να εγκαταλείπει τη μουσική και να στρέφεται όλο και περισσότερο στο μαοϊσμό και γενικότερα στον κομμουνισμό (όσοι ενδιαφέρεστε για το βιβλίο υπάρχει online στο www.ubu.com μόνο προσέξτε μη φάτε κάνα brainstorming από το απίστευτο υλικό που υπάρχει ανεβασμένο για κατέβασμα εκεί πάνω). στο cdrόμως... η ιδέα πανέμορφη. 4 ηχογραφήσεις του michel από το ένα ηχείο και από το άλλο 4 τυχαίες ηχογραφήσεις 4 καλλιτεχνών των bruce russel, taku unami, mattin και shin'ichi isohata. το αποτέλεσμα άκρως ενδιαφέρον!!! πολύ περισσότερο μια που κάθε κομμάτι έχει σχέση και με ένα είδος αυτοσχεδιασμού. 'αυτοσχεδιασμός', 'feedback', 'independance', 'action directe'. ένα γευστικότατο 45λεπτο λοιπόν. προσωπικά το γούσταρα τρελά ηχητικά και γέλασα με όλο το σκηνικό που παίχτηκε με τις κριτικές/πολεμικές εναντίον του. μπορείτε να το κατεβάσετε για ακρόαση αλλά και να δείτε το κείμενο καθώς και με σύνδεσμο να μπείτε σε φόρουμ με τη μάχη που έγινε για την κυκλοφορία αυτή στη διεύθυνση http://www.mattin.org/recordings/Keith_Rowe_Serves_Imperialism.html
The “Keith Rowe serves imperialism” CDr from Michel Henritzi (w.m.o/r 29) for instance comes with a sober booklet of four pages, containing a lengthy dissertation on improvisational music written by Michel Henritzi himself, who dedicates this CDr to the memory of Derek Bailey and Masayuki Takayanagi. He pretty much lost me before I reached the end of page 1, despite the fact that in my younger days I was an avid reader of the works of Cage and the Fluxus-manifestos. Reading diagonally through the text I learned that the 4 tracks contained on this CDr (lasting some 40 minutes in total) are all duos, and that the right and left channel of each track were seperatelly recorded in terms of time and area, the only constant being Michel Henritzi, who particpates on every track (Mattin himself appears on track 3). Strictly speaking what you hear in the right and left channel is completely unconnected, but I must say that this approach does work. The CD is quite varied, going from classic improv guitarpickings over more droney to rather minimal stuff, in these tracks Michel Henritzi uses practically everything from turntable over guitar and electric saw to such simple things like a jack.
Keith Rowe Serves Imperialism
CD, w.m.o/r, 2007
w.m.o/r is a record label of Basque improvised music anarchist Mattin. Frenchman Michel Henritzi is a comrade of Mattin, art curator and improviser musician. Neither the former, nor the latter likes the situation within contemporary improvisation. Admittedly, it’s not okay with many, and it’s clear that everybody tries to express his anger in the most striking way possible. As one can judge from the disc title, the manifesto included in the booklet, and the recording technique used, Henritzi decided to express its anger with the help of an art object, that is to say, within the genre of improvisation, but in such a way that would make it a critique of the very same genre of free improvisation.
This disc is tightly linked to a certain context, and in order to understand what Henritzi is trying to tell us, it’s absolutely necessary to know the history of formation of the context. It’s difficult to retell such a tract of the history in a nutshell, but if one dared to do it then it would read as follows.
British collective AMM, existent since 1960’s, was one of the first who practically defined the genre of free improv. One of AMM members, composer Cornelius Cardew, came to the avant-garde from the school of Karlheinz Stockhausen. Disappointed in nearly all aspects of serialism (dominant trend in academic avant-garde at the time), its excessive austerity, purposive complexity and will to mystification, he wrote a book titled “Stockhausen Serves Imperialism,” wherein he inter alia accused his former teacher of bolstering the establishment of classical orientation of western art towards a grand figure of “genius,” thus maintaining a distance between art and common people, the proletariat. In 1970’s, it was a brave and decisively new position in relation to the old system of cultural hierarchies of the western art, which seemingly encountered a fresh format of music, that of course put Cardew on the frontline of cultural battles of that time. It must be observed that Cardew was a convinced communist and Maoist. The artist died in a car accident, circumstances of the accident unclear, in 1981. Keith Rowe was another famous member of AMM. He improvises until this day though does not regard himself as a Maoist. On the one hand, he is an active musician and a living classic of advanced music with a long artistic biography and a number of followers; on the other hand, he is a perfect target for those critics and musicians who think that contemporary improvisation contains nothing progressive and that it has transformed into a tradition. Some of them are sure that it has happened primarily because of Rowe.
Michel Henritzi’s album is titled “Keith Rowe Serves Imperialism.” The title implies mockery intended to express dissatisfaction of the highest degree with idiomaticalness of the music which guitarist Derek Bailey called “non-idiomatic improvisation” before AMM. Henritzi thinks he is a follower of Derek Bailey and believes the guitarist was a musician who formulated a unique language of his own to create a true conflict in music, and that argues him being a true improviser. He calls Keith Rowe an ideologist of postmodernism apparently believing that he doesn’t prove an improviser but erects himself an intravital monument. To do justice to them, it must be said that Keith Rowe and Derek Bailey always were, though not quite hostile, but openly indifferent to each other that somehow makes Henritzi’s disc a continuation of the equally meaningless and ceaseless battle of modernism and postmodernism.
The disc raised a sea among people who one way or another are related to the contemporary improvisation scene, i.e. critics, curators, record label owners, artists. Henritzi was subjected to high waves of anger and accused of denunciation and unfair self-promotion. The disc became the subject-matter of numerous discussions in Internet forums. Henritzi must be happy – Madonna and Kirkorov can begrudge him efficiency of his PR action.
Henritzi himself says that we must tackle serious things directly; it seems that he makes us think about what improvisation has transformed into, as well as about what it has transformed us into – instead of taking his mocking spoonerism in good fun we let out our righteous anger. Look at it from outside: it’s one of the most powerful and open provocations of our time; it touches upon real thorny issues, Henritzi playing upon the sense of justice inherent in everyone of us, and he definitely is a superman in this playing. But there is one very important aspect, which, be it never so sad, cancels out all charm and relevance of the prank.
We know that art critique sometimes expresses itself directly in an object of art, and for effect it can assume extreme forms. In its essence, the disc “Keith Rowe Serves Imperialism” is an example of this kind of objects. Firstly, it’s been released by a label every disc of which is available for free download, while contemporary improvisation is based on brand labels(Erstwhile, Grob, Durian, Creative Sources) products of which are successfully sold. Secondly, one of the postulates of free improv, interplay of improvisers, gave up way to a reciprocal approach: Henritzi and his colleagues (Mattin, Bruse Russell, Taku Unami and Shin'ichi Isohata) recorded their parts perfectly unaware of what their partner was playing in any particular moment. Only the music itself, which should have apparently been at the head of the table, does not seem to connect with the general design well and thus fails to be critically rethought. Unfortunately, the music of this disc is quite professional high-quality improv, which sounds like products of the same brand labels and makes journalists produce remarks like, “if you listen to the music, it proves surprisingly good.” I think that when you get to work on the idea designed to shift the paradigm, its realization must be a changed world, not hype in an international charmed circle.
Of course, it’s hard to say what exactly the music should have sounded like to really pick a pimple. However there is one cautionary example. Away back in 1970’s, under the circumstances of another crisis of visual arts, a Swiss painter who lived in Paris then, Niele Toroni by name, produced paintings as follows: he made a dot with the help of a brush No. 50, measured out 30 cm from it and made another one with the help of the same brush, then measure out 30 cm… And he continued until he ran out of a canvas (or a wall). His works looked desert, no representation at all. Despite its repetitiveness, it’s no décor. One can hardly call it minimalism, too (minimalism means certain specificity in development of a theme, and Toroni’s paintings provided for no development at all). He had (and still has) them exhibited in the most famous galleries, although few understood why contemporary art might need such canvases and what was that all about. However, Toroni himself understood it very well: recanting any recognized or any least functional technique, he demonstrated us that the development vector of visual arts is defective and dead-end, since all they can offer us, is the use of visual representation. Toroni did a JOB, he made artists think over the poverty of the idea of representation of objects / events / feelings / anything, he suggested that it’s time to change the situation radically! And Henritzi simply did not stand the content test.