[Marxism] Cardew and Marxist aesthetics of contemporary music

daniels xopher_daniels at yahoo.com
Sun Aug 7 13:58:24 MDT 2005

"Ian is a virtuosic performer of music that is extremely difficult for
anybody to play. He's also a composer. Despite all my studies I was
never either of those things, but an improviser."

"A skill that is every bit as accomplished and difficult as anything I 
do (I do actually believe most people could play notated music to a
very high level given good training and application)."

Ian, you'll get no disagreement from me on this! But there is a
difference between improvisation and the interpretation of a composed
piece of music. It's by no means a difference in value, though some
might wish to make it so (you obviously do not wish to make it so).

Recently, I heard a performance of a piece by Spahlinger, I believe it
was, a trio made up of more than a hundred fragments for cello,
clarinet and soprano. It sounded very much like something out of AMM,
or something Derek Bailey might do with Julie Tippets. It was
beautiful, really beautiful, and when at the end of the piece
everything came together in a series of loud quasi-unisons, and the
composer's intentions were made clear, I was thunderstruck! In a free
improv setting, moments like that do happen, but are rare, because
nobody wants to set constraints, and even musicians who have been
improvising together for years have a bad night, singly or

When I was a teenager, the jazz bassist Richard Davis (who also played
in one of the NYC symphony orchestras) led a short-lived quintet that
played jazz standards very freely, and blew everybody's mind. A friend
spoke to him once, and asked him how they went about putting together
their conception, and why Davis played an almost purely supportive role
in the Richard Davis Quintet. He said "When you have all the standards
and a big part of the symphonic repertoire under your fingers,
everything is free. Everybody knows what I can do already. My
simplicity allows the cats to dig deeper, and that's what we all want".

Another friend of mine, a guitarist, took a single lesson with Gary
Peacock, an extremely accomplished jazz bassist who played with both
Bill Evans and Albert Ayler. During the course of the lesson, Peacock
said, "When you know 2,000 tunes, playing outside comes naturally".

Speaking personally, when I transcribed and learned to play competently
the Bach Cello Suites on electric bass, and learned hundreds of
standards, I was inspired by those two statements. I never performed
the suites for anybody, and played standards only with friends at home,
but the process opened my instrument up for me in a very, very big way.

More soon. I'm in the middle of Cardew's book. Right or wrong or both
at once, I respect him for standing by his convictions.


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