Monday, August 6, 2012

Improvised Music Before 1970: An Incomplete Discography [UPDATED 5/17]

Here is the beginning of a checklist for people interested in checking out early examples of recorded improvised music. You'll notice a distinct lack of "free jazz" (Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, etc.); There are literally hundreds of such recordings, I don't have time to compile them all. A study of the ESP-Disk discography should get you started.

Note also the presence of a recording by Roy Eldridge. He once said in an interview: "[Pianist] Clyde Hart and I made a [free improvisation recording] once. We decided in front that there'd be no regular chords, we'd announce no keys, stick to no progressions. Only once I fell into a minor key; the rest was free, just blowing. And, man, it felt good." (Ulanov, A History of Jazz in America, p. 239)

I have checked many jazz history books and discographies since first reading this in 2012 and I have found absolutely no leads. Clyde Hart died in 1945, and the only documented collaborations between the two happened between 1938 and 1940 or so. (They played together in Chu Berry's band, and possibly others.) So I'm assuming it had to be around that time. This would be incredibly early, predating Lennie Tristano's, and even Stuff Smith's experiments with free improvisation.

The first possibility is that it was recorded and released. But given that three major jazz discographies do not have any such entry, this seems very unlikely. If it was in fact recorded, there's the possibility that it was never released. If that's the case, the master was either discarded or it was put into storage. Eldridge and Hart recorded together with Chu Berry on Commodore records, so that may be a good starting point.

If I had the money I would offer $1,000,000 for the location of this recording. Post a comment if you have any information!!

Anyway, here's the list:

Recent additions for the following artists:

Charlie Nothing
Malachi
Gruppo Romano Free Jazz
Mario Schiano
Chico Hamilton Quintet
Paul Horn

NEW as of May 2017

Clare Fischer

 Improvised Music Before 1970 - An Incomplete Discography

AMM, “AMMMusic”, Elektra, 1966
AMM / Musica Elettronica Viva, “Live Electronic Music Improvised”. Mainstream Records, 1970
AMM, “The Crypt – 12th, June, 1968”. Matchless Recordings, 1978
Amon Düül, "Psychedelic Underground"
Amon Düül, "Collapsing"
Amon Düül, "Disaster"
Charles Ives, “Ives Plays Ives – The Complete Recordings of Charles Ives at the Piano, 1933-1943”. Composers Recordings, Inc. [Two, maybe three tracks improvised.]
Charlie Nothing, "The Psychedelic Saxophone of Charlie Nothing". Takoma Records, 1967.
Charlie Nothing, "Outside/Inside". De Stijl Records, 2011 [recorded in 1969]. 
Chico Hamilton Quintet, "s/t". Pacific Jazz, 1955. One track ('Free Form') fully improvised.
Columbia Symphony Orchestra, “Lukas Foss: Time Cycle”. Columbia, 1962 [Featuring improvised interludes by Foss' Improvisation Chamber Ensemble.]
Clare Fischer, "First Time Out". Pacific Jazz, 1962. One track ('Free Too Long') apparently fully improvised.
Django Reinhardt, "In Solitaire". Definitive, 2005 [recorded between 1937-1950]
Erroll Garner, “Overture to Dawn, vol. 1”. Blue Note, 195? [recorded in 1944]
Erroll Garner, “Overture to Dawn, vol. 2”. Blue Note, 195? [recorded in 1944]
Erroll Garner, “Afternoon of an Elf”, Mercury, 1955. [One track improvised.]
Free Form Improvisation Ensemble, “The Free Form Improvisation Ensemble”. Cadence, 1998 [recorded in 1964]
Georges I. Gurdjieff, “Harmonic Development”. Basta, 2005 [recorded in 1948-49]
Group Ongaku, “Music by Group Ongaku” Seer Sound Archive, released in 1996/2011, recorded in 1960.
Gruppo Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, “The Private Sea of Dreams” [US title]. RCA Victor, 1967.
Gruppo Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, “Improvisationen”. Deutsche Grammophon, 1968.
Gruppo Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, “The Feed-back”. RCA Italiana, 1970.
Gruppo Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, “1967-1975”. Edition RZ, 1992.
Gruppo Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, “Azioni”. Die Schachtel, 2006.
Gruppo Romano Free Jazz, "1966-67". Vedette, 1977. [recorded in 1967]
Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, "Featuring the Human Host and the Heavy Metal Kids". Liberty, 1967.
Jean Dubuffet & Asger Jorn, “Musique Phénoménale”. 4 10''-record set, 50 copies, Edizione del Cavallino, 1961.
Jean Dubuffet, “Experiences Musicales”. Finnadar, 1973.
Lennie Tristano, “Crosscurrents”. Capitol Records, 1972. [recorded in 1949]
Malachi, "Holy Music". Verve Records, 1966.
Mario Schiano, "Original Sins 1967/70 Unreleased". Splasc(h), 1992. [recorded between 1967 and 1970]
Musica Elettronica Viva, “Friday”. Polydor, 1969.
Musica Elettronica Viva, “The Sound Pool”. Actuel, 1970.
Musica Elettronica Viva, “The Original”. IRML, 1996.
Musica Elettronica Viva, “Rome Cansrt”. IRML, 1999.
Musica Elettronica Viva, “Spacecraft / Unified Patchwork Theory”. Alga Marghen, 2001. [disc 1 recorded in 1967.]
Musica Elettronica Viva, “Pieces”. IRML, 2004. [recorded in 1966/67]
Musica Elettronica Viva, “MEV 40”. New World Records, 2008. [disc 1 recorded in 1967]
New Music Ensemble, “Improvisations”. New Music Ensemble, 1963.
New Music Ensemble, “New Music Ensemble II”. New Music Ensemble, 1964.
Nihilist Spasm Band, “The Sweetest Country This Side of Heaven”. Arts Canada, 1967.
Nihilist Spasm Band, “No Record”. Allied Record Corporation, 1968.
Paul Horn, "House of Horn". Dot Records, 1957. Several solo flute tracks are apparently improvised.
The Red Crayola & the Familiar Ugly, “Parable of Arable Land”. International Artists, 1967. Free-form Freak-out tracks are improvised, also the title track.
The Red Krayola, “God Bless the Red Krayola and All Who Sail With It”. International Artists, 1968. (2, maybe 3 tracks improvised)
The Red Crayola, “Live 1967”. Drag City, 1998. [recorded in 1967]
The Red Krayola, “Coconut Hotel”. Drag City, 2005. [recorded in 1967]
Roy Eldridge & Clyde Hart, unknown title, unissued? 1939?
Stuff Smith & Robert Crum, “The 1944 Rosenkrantz Apartment Transcriptions”. AB Fable, 2002.
Stuff Smith, “1944–1946 Studio, Broadcast, Concert & Apartment Performances”. AB Fable, 2002.
Tangerine Dream, "Electronic Meditation"

Last updated August 13th, 2014

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Notes on Freeform Radio

This short essay was written in 2011 when I started my blog for my show on WCBN called Doomsday Radio. It's a concise summary of my theoretical approach to freeform radio. As such, the issues it raises need expansion, which I will provide sometime. For the time being, this suffices.

Notes on Freeform Radio

Record albums foster content- and object-based community, through the distribution and sale of plastic objects with sound encoded into them. When you listen to the radio, there are likely (at least) dozens of other people who are listening to the exact same thing, at the same time. In other words, radio fosters content- and time-based community (i.e. when you and your friend listened to the same radio show at the same time of the day). Another way of saying this is that a sound recording preserves neither space nor time of the event that it documents; radio preserves time but does not preserve the space of the event.

Despite the common joke that radio is a "dying medium", radios are ubiquitous: far cheaper than a CD player or an iPod, included in all cars, and many alarm clocks. This implies wide and easy access in our society, lending to its ability to foster a time- and content-based community. Indeed, a recent Nielsen poll has found that 56% of teenagers listen to music on the radio, and 48% of the new music people hear is first heard over the radio.

Commercial radio expresses the desires and interests of advertisers and the rather unadventurous producers who are responsible for assembling the songs we hear. Advertising dollars run commercial radio; the songs are filler in between the content: advertisements.

Freeform radio expresses the desires and interests of the individual DJ, him/herself a member of the community. The DJ's interests are filtered (though very slightly) through the interests of institutions like the FCC, and in my case, the University of Michigan.

Freeform Radio is a performance art for an unidentifiable, uncountable audience.

The radio DJ has a responsibility to his immediate community, and also to whoever may be listening via an online stream. This responsibility differs depending on the DJ's style. The freeform DJ is not free of responsibility responsibility is not to dull the senses; not to entertain; not to provoke; not to agitate; not to teach. The responsibility of the freeform DJ is to learn. If his/her audience also learns something, so much the better.

The freeform DJ plays songs like a jazz musician improvises, or like a classical pianist plays a Bach Invention: with deliberation, curiosity, humor, honesty, and taste (however tasteless). Songs are selected by direct choice, through association with another recording, or completely at random. Continuity between songs is interesting, but may not be consciously pursued. Continuity emergent from deliberate contrast is a powerful experience. Serendipity is the lifeblood of freeform. A good freeform radio show will teach everyone who hears it: the DJ and the listener alike.

Last updated: August 27th, 2012

Friday, July 20, 2012

Free Improvisation Series: Erroll Garner

(Blogger is having some formatting issues. This post looks much worse when it's published than it looks while I'm editing it. My apologies for the "wall of text" look. I will try to improve it.)



Pianist Erroll Garner (June 15, 1921 – Jan. 2, 1977) is well-known for his dexterous piano playing and creative interpretations of standards. He is the author of the jazz standards “Gaslight” and “Misty”, and is also the first jazz pianist known to have recorded free-form improvisations.

Garner grew up in Pittsburgh, PA where he played solo piano on riverboats, silent movie theaters, and organ at churches. From 1938-1941 he played with the Leroy Brown Orchestra. In 1944, when Garner was 23 years old, he moved from Pittsburgh to New York City and found steady work on 52nd Street.1 While working as the intermission pianist at Tondaleyo's, he attracted the notice of Timme Rosenkrantz, a Danish baron who had been living in New York City since 1936. Rosenkrantz founded the Danish journal Jazzrevy (Jazz Review), becoming the first European journalist to write about Harlem jazz. Rosenkrantz also made forays into radio, hosting Rhythm is my Business on WNEW in 1944. He also operated the Mel-O-Dee Music Shop from 1940-1941. His involvement in the jazz community gained him respect from Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and other major figures.

Rosenkrantz with Louis Armstrong. Photo credit unknown.
In his memoirs, Rosenkrantz wrote that “quite often, after the clubs closed, musicians would come to my place and jam until sunrise. A lot of wonderful music was played and recorded in that old brownstone...”2 Trumpeter Bobby Pratt remembers these afternoon sessions:

[Rosenkrantz] used to invite musicians over to his house [an apartment at 7 West 46th Street in New York]3 … He had a lot of very good musicians. And at the same time he would be recording these sessions that we had. And Stuff Smith always used to be there. And Bill Coleman, Al Hall, Erroll Garner was there quite a bit, Lucky Thompson, and George Wettling, and Barney Bigard … we used to do those things every Saturday for quite a while … I made quite a few sessions. And it was a lot of fun.”4

Rosenkrantz made dozens of recordings of these jam sessions with his home record cutter, in the mid-1940's. In addition to the musicians mentioned by Pratt, Stuff Smith, Don Byas, Billy Taylor, Thelonious Monk, Willie “The Lion” Smith, and Duke Ellington can also be heard on these recordings. Between October and December 1944, Garner recorded many pieces, mostly solo, including jazz standards like “I Hear A Rhapsody”, “I Got Rhythm” and “Yesterdays”.5 Not limited to three-and-a-half minutes, and not needing to “play the room” (a colloquial phrase for crowd-pleasing), Garner completely reconstructs these pieces in elaborate (and occassionally experimental) fantasias. Take for instance the musical passage beginning around 4:10 on “I Got Rhythm”: Garner leaves the form behind to develop a whole-tone motive over an altered F7 chord, returning to the form at 4:40. The section does not fit neatly into 4- or 8- bar phrases, and seems briefly to take on a life of its own.

During these sessions, Garner also recorded several pieces which were completely improvised. These pieces are generally quite long, and use many of the same formal techniques which Garner used when interpreting the standards and original tunes, except that there are no prefabricated themes to which Garner is bound; he makes them up on the spot, and is free to leave them when he wishes. Because of Garner's penchant for coming up with strong melodies, the free improvisations are at times not easily distinguishable from his original compositions. Indeed, at least one of the themes from the improvisations would later be “solidified” into the tune “Gaslight”. Because he did not read music, Garner used these recordings as a way of documenting his ideas, and played many of them as fully-formed jazz tunes at an important concert at Times Hall on December 20th, 1944.6 There will be much more about this concert in my next post.

The fact remains that Garner improvised many of the pieces on the Rosenkrantz recordings, nearly from scratch. And while Garner's improvisations do not ever really embrace the new tonal explorations of 20th century composers like Leo Ornstein, Anton Webern, or Igor Stravinsky,7 but this does not mean that Garner was using improvisation as a parlor trick to entertain the audience. It is just as likely that Garner simply did not like that kind of music, and so saw no reason to incorporate it into his playing style. Many of the recordings from the Rosenkrantz sessions were released by Blue Note in the early 1950’s as the five-volume Overture to Dawn. They featured liner notes by Leonard Feather, who described the improvised pieces:
The cover to Volume 1 of Overture to Dawn, Blue Note LP 500
Night after night [Garner] came back [to the Rosenkrantz apartment], playing long, rambling ad lib concertos. On these discs they have titles […] but in fact they were being composed while they were played, and the next morning Erroll could not have repeated any of them. They had no titles, no set form, yet they have a greater variety and continuity of mood, a truer ring of artistry, than almost any of the commercially recorded sides of later years … Here is a man sitting down at a piano and, to all intents and purposes, playing to and for himself; quietly, contemplatively and with a serene beauty.”8

Within a year, Garner was featured on a radio program called the Twelve Eighty Club, where he was asked by the host to improvise a piece on the spot, called the “Twelve Eighty Club Blues”. Garner then plays a 32-bar piece which appears to have been completely improvised. Although the radio host is clearly putting him to the test, Garner is doing more than just a parlor trick. Putting a free improvisation into the container of a 32-bar popular song form poses a very different mental/musical challenge than interpreting a pre-composed tune, even as liberally as Garner does.

There is one interesting exception to either the pre-composed and the free improvised piece. Later on in the Twelve Eighty Club show, Garner states that he will play an excerpt of a “kind of a concerto” which he had written. The program's host suggests the Garner play the whole thing later in the show, and Garner responds that he “can't recollect the whole thing”, but that he calls it “The Mood”. The host suggests that Garner call it the “Forgotten Concerto”, and this is the title given to the piece on the 2002 CD release.9 The Rosenkrantz recordings contain a piece called “Erroll's Concerto” which begins in essentially the same way, (dissonant and angular melodic intervals over a brooding Db/C# minor tonic) but mostly follows a different course.

Without more recordings of or statements about “The Mood”, it's difficult to draw more precise conclusions. But given the uncanny similarities in how they start, I think it's appropriate to view these two tracks as different versions of the same “piece”, even if the piece was just an general idea based in C# minor tonality. Based on the two examples that we have, it makes sense to suppose that once this general idea was established, Garner allowed himself to be open to the influence of whatever “mood” he was in at the time.

This is certainly in keeping with the following characterization of Garner by his contemporary George Shearing:

"Erroll was so spontaneous in his playing that sometimes it would hamper him to have an orchestra behind him, because he may not necessarily remember what chord he'd been playing when the orchestrations were made or may not care to remember even. If we were describing it verbally he probably would be saying, 'What I'm saying today has no bearing on what I said last week.' Sometimes an orchestration behind him would be like fetters around his neck, because this would potentially limit the full degree of spontaneity that Erroll may have … He preferred to remain his good old free self, and as I say, it's not a critical comment. It is a comment of a different approach in that any time any orchestration is put behind somebody who craves that degree of freedom relentlessly, sometimes it's better that orchestration not be employed then, and keep the fetters away from him."10
Garner's Afternoon of an Elf. Mercury Records, 1955

After these early recordings, most of Garner's discography consists of performances of standards and original compositions. One exception is on 1955's Afternoon of an Elf, which features a free improvisation among many standards. The anonymous liner note author writes that “[The track 'All My Loves Are You'] is 'composed' only in the strict etymological sense of that word, i.e. put together; in the conventional sense of the word it was not composed at all, for Erroll improvised it casually in the course of the session, just as he ad libs most of his original work.”11 Garner takes a simple melodic theme, and interprets it in a number of different keys, beginning in C, tonicizing E and Ab and others, eventually ending in Eb.

These recordings indicate that Erroll Garner was an improviser of unusual stature. These, along with the recordings of Stuff Smith and Robert Crum (which I will write about next) are among the earliest recorded examples of freely improvised music from the jazz idiom. As more and more recordings appear, I'm starting to think that this kind of completely improvised musicmaking was altogether common, not at the clubs, but in afterhours jam sessions like those at the Rosenkrantz apartment. The differences between these recordings and the early music of Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor are many, and the next essay I'll write will shine some more light on the 1940's, a forgotten part of free jazz history.

Footnotes

1 Feather, Leonard and Ira Gitler. "The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz", pp. 245-246
2 Rosenkrantz, Timme and Fradley Garner. "Harlem Jazz Adventures: A European Baron's Memoir, 1934-1969", p. 170
3 Barnett, Anthony. "Desert Sands: the Recordings & Performances of Stuff Smith", p. 121
4 Barnett, 127
5 Rosenkrantz, 177
6 Ibid.
7 As noted by a review of the Dec. 20th, 1944 concert, Mercure wrote that “The New Jazz had apparently only caught up with Debussy, for that was as far as … Errol [sic] Garner, new piano “find”, went.” Modern Music,vol. 22 no. 2, Jan-Feb 1945, p. 139
8 Feather, Blue Note 5007-5008
9 Erroll Garner, Solo in New York 1944-45, Acrobat ACRCD 134
10 Shearing, interviewed by Clausen. Available online at http://errollgarner.com/testimonial_shearing.html Accessed July 7, 2012
11 Uncredited author, Mercury MG20090

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Conversation with Mayo Thompson: Part Two

Continued from part one. Please do not distribute without first receiving permission from me

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Conversation with Mayo Thompson
Part Two
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What happened after Coconut Hotel was recorded?

We were invited to the Berkeley Folk Festival, on the power of it. A writer for some art catalog heard it and said “If I could get you all invited to Berkeley Folk Festival, would you play that?” “Well, yeah. Yeah we would,” thinking to ourselves, “No, but we'll do something.” Is it gonna be usual rock and roll? No, it won't be. This is rock and roll. And sure enough, we did. We played feedback. We opened … we played five minutes of feedback and drove everybody in the building out, practically. And then, Lost and Found, another band on IA came along and got everybody back inside, and got 'em all in a good mood by playing them some good time rock and roll.

A listing of artists at the 1967 Berkeley Folk Music Festival.
Image courtesy of Berkeley in the Sixties.
So when we got to California, we played. We set things up on the stage; the first thing I did was I walked out, leaned my guitar against [the amp], turned it on as loud as I could and walked off and left it there, then started doing some other stuff. That was in the 1960's, that was like “Woah! Look out!” That was our attitude. So when Hendrix freaked out at Monterey and set his guitar on fire with some Bunson cigarette lighter fluid [laughs]. We tried to get in there, we thought to ourselves, “Yeah, go ahead Jimi, set fire to your guitar. Now listen to this.” You're gonna hear apocalypse right now, the end of the whole fuckin' game. Ok? We're ready, and we got the soundtrack. Here it is.

We were feeling rather … I think the English call it “Bolshy”.

What does that mean?

You get into a crowd of hippies, it was easy to feel like “My goodness, come on. What's going on here?” It wasn't far from there to wanting to think in terms of being a revolutionary, politically. It belonged to that kind of attitude to the world. Eventually, you quote Marx: “Philosophy is meant to interpret the world, the point is to change it.”

Speaking of Marx, can you elaborate on the phrase you used earlier to describe Cage & Tudor's work, as working with the “means of production”?

If you wanna make music, you have to have a point of production. And there, you're liable to have struggle, if you want to put it in those kinds of terms. I met David Tudor and proposed various things to him; there was some piece where he was working on an island, and I suggested miking the island, and having some central headquarters. He looked at me like I had left something ugly on the table. So there's a politics of production, that inasmuch as there are ideas, and there is conflict among the ideas. And there's only so much money and interest to go around: production is a battle for inductive space; elbowing out inductive space: “This, here, now. Not that, this.” Or, “In lieu of that, this.” Or, “Against that, this.” “Instead of that, this.” Or, “To hell with that, let's kill that.” So there's a conflict of ideas.

So one is trying to get a hold of the means of production, which had been formed around the successful enterprises in that field, like Cage/Tudor, where you have programming prejudice: you come forward and your material's got to be relevant to the coin of the realm, and if it's not... “Next.” If we introduced anything successfully into it, it was a notion of extremism, as such. It is possible that you're gonna meet people who are playing the game exactly as it sits, but they're playing with different materials or or different attitudes to the same materials – that the other thing that one finds out: there is only one, there's no alternative material. You can turn a steam hammer into an instrument, sure enough. Luigi Russollo and George Antheil proved this: that this has all been done.

Musical Heritage Society's recording of George Antheil's
Ballet Mécanique (1924), recorded in 1927.
And that was the other thing for us. We looked at the world as a set of ideas, ideas which were exhausted. We weren't gonna work for them, we were gonna look for something else, that hadn't been done. That would have been another criteria: looking around, “Hmm, can't find anybody [who's done this], let's do it.” “I don't see anyone behaving like this. Hmm, maybe there's a reasonable way of going about it.” It's Machiavellian opposition politics, which is underwritten by a principle of commitment to truth: that something is the truth, and that it is reached in a mysterious way, perhaps. In a way that looks on the face of it contradictory. It may in fact not be; it may be contradictory through and through, because it represents some change in the way that this stuff is going to be dealt with. And those kinds of leaps are possible, and those are the kinds of things we were gearing ourselves for. Of course, maybe they don't even exist. They only exist in the eye of people who make them and those who hear them; you can get those people to appreciate the terms in which you made it. And that's, what I fear, is all there is.

When you think of these things in some detailed, analytical way, outside of “These are the conditions I'm operating my usual game in, and everything comes down to my usual game of survival”, it's awkward to find terms in which to operate where you're not just blowing smoke. And the quest is to find some. And this thing against blowing smoke also has to do with not wanting to be a part of the great celebration of human spirit, that music and art gets the job of: encouraging human beings, “Yes, we're special. We're the reasonable animal. Not mere animals, we're above the animals.” This feeds the illusory aspect.

Do you think this use of art as a celebration of humanity is naïve?

I don't think it's naïve, I think it's sinister. I think it's a form of manipulation used by people who want more than anything for music to be an instrument to their own ends. Lenin didn't like music. He'd hear Beethoven and say "Bah, that stuff makes me want to go out and pat people on the head. Get that away from me, that puts me in a good mood." The good mood that I need to be in right now is the one that goes along with doing the thing that I'm doing, not some generic equilibrium state which humans strive for in the evening when they put on their slippers and sit in front of the TV. Music is not a comfortable shoe, in my book. Music is a pain in the ass. I walk down the street, and I hear something somebody else [is playing]. It's got me by the shoulders and the bass is pounding on my chest and my pantsleg. I didn't ask for that. It's pervasive. Music pollution. Not that I care. I'm not going to go around trying to clean up the world; I'm not a reformer. I don't mind a little chaos, I've gotten used to it by now.

If you don't approach music in the way you described as “sinister”, how do you approach music in your life?

I do it professionally; she is a cruel mistress, but she's been good to me. We've had a lot of fun together, the ol' gal and I. I love her sometimes, hate her other times. I start sounding like an Italian movie: “She's my whore, priest, saint, goddess, blah blah blah...” I don't know how to talk about it in any sensible fashion that doesn't sound like cultural nonsense. All I can tell you is that it does play a role in my life, I like to hear a little bit. I don't put any on unless I have a reason. There was a time in my life when I processed music; I'd put it on and process the information, or because I enjoyed it, or because it had a strange working on me, and I wanted to feel that again and again. Why? Etc. etc. Music has had various roles; if I was throwing a barbeque, I'd know what to put on, to create a nice atmosphere. But unlike my artist friends who go into their studios, put on records and paint, it doesn't play that kind of role in my life. I'm fascinated by, interested in, overwhelmed by the amount of it that's being made; you can only hear a fraction of what's being made. And people ask me to make a top ten list; I will not. And don't ask me what record I'd have to have with me on a desert island, because I cannot make that list. There's no way.

This Frenchman wrote me wrote to me and he just had to know. So I wrote back to him, and said luckily I have a friend with some quantum sound accumulator, or something like that, and it is capable of capturing sound which has been transmitted as long as it hasn't been interrupted by a solid surface, or deflected or diffused in any way. This thing can catch 'em, so I can hear all the music that's ever been made. I like it all. All of it's relevant, or none of it's relevant. And that would be my philosophy, if you like. It's all okay, or forget it.

And that's a Cageian principle: you don't like something, so you listen to it twice, four times, eight times, and eventually you'll hear what's good about it. You can ruefully shake your head and say “I give up.” There must be something good about it. Point taken, professor, there's something good about everything. And it's certainly the case that if I'm drunk enough, “Mary Had A Little Lamb” may be just the right some for the night.

Was Coconut Hotel originally going to be released by International Artists?

The Red Krayola, Coconut Hotel. Drag City DC62, 1995
That's all vexed. My lawyer would tell me, “don't discuss anything about this stuff,” because it's still up in the air. In 2014 a lot of this stuff will fall out of contract. A lot of stuff that happened with IA is very dubious, meaning there's a considerable amount of doubt as to who owns rights to what, and why, and when, and where, and so on. That boxed set that you refer to, which was put out by Charly Records, or some arm of Charly Records, that's a bone of contention. But let's put it this way. When we made that record, Parable of Arable Land, Leland was sitting in the control booth. When we made Coconut Hotel, Leland sat out on the grass with Billy Joe Dillard, one of the owners of IA, and they picked grass like a couple of boys and talked about the business. There was nothing for them to do. And they didn't know what to do with [the recordings]. So it was just pushed to one side.

We fell out with them after the Berkeley Folk Festival because we recorded with John Fahey, and they were worried sick about us getting a management offer while we were in California. A record lawyer would have gotten us free in a New York minute. But we didn't know where we were, or what was happening, and we weren't paying any attention to the law part of it. All we were interested in was making that stuff. If somebody showed us a piece of paper and said “Sign this and we'll worry about everything; you're good to do what you want to do,” and down in the contract it said, like, “Your mother will have to work her fingers to the bone for us for the rest of her life,” we wouldn't have even thought about it. We would still have signed it and gone right ahead. Which is pretty much what happened.

So the thing was pushed to one side, and then we fell out with them. Nothing happened. They called me and asked me to make what they called a “second record”, which is where God Bless came from; the “climb-down”, shall we say, from the heights of extremism, by inching back along the limb toward the trunk. We'd gotten ourselves out on this limb and practically sawed it off. But there was no mention whatsoever of Coconut Hotel, it just sat there on the shelf. They didn't even know they had it; it never occurred to them. Then the company got into such disarray, that in the end, I had the tapes. Nobody knew about them, nobody cared about them. I was the only one who cared about what had happened. And all the other IA stuff, that was actually commercial product, was part of the package deal that Leland eventually finagled, he got control of it, and sold it around to this label and that label. But he did not have possession of that particular piece. I kept possession of that. As I now know, if we had been intelligent enough, we could have kept possession of all of our stuff. But it's alright; it never made a huge amount of money. It's not the money question. Not like the Elevators. Elevators made money. But even the Elevators didn't make money; you know what made money out of that catalogue, was the Maceo Parker track, where he's rehearsing the James Brown band. That's a stone groove; I'm down with that. That thing sounds like a loop. That band is so tight; that is as close as you can get to genuine repetition in music, as far as I'm concerned.

The One-Second Pieces present a formal problem. You can only play one of them, and then you have to dismiss the audience and the orchestra. Why is that? Because if you play two, they're related, immediately. And they're so related, if they're close enough together, they sound like they're part of the same piece. And if you play one, and you want to distinguish it in character from another piece, so you play a longer piece after, it still sounds like the introduction to that piece. If you play a longer piece in front of it, then play one afterwards, it sounds like a conclusion, or a joke. There's potential for that mishearing. So the only way reasonably to do it, is to play one of them, to give it a name, go through all the rigamaroll, set it all up, and on the downbeat... “Bop.” And then we all go home. And so on God Bless the Red Krayola, the only way to we could solve it was, “Listen to this.” Okay: the sound of the piano. And then the little ledger that comes between the tracks has a different acoustic quality to it than the rest of the “silence” on the record. Like, a silence within a tune has a different quality than a silence between two tracks. So you can create an acoustic space but even there, it's not really 100% satisfactory. It's really impossible.

So you can write a piece of music that's very difficult to realize, and it's the most compressed amount of music that there is.

Silence is the most compressed?

I think “silence plus one sound”. I think you have to animate the space somehow. I don't know how you could do that with just silence. [Pause] If you were in a situation where you could create two levels of absence, or two qualities of presence: one where there is nothing, and then one where an emptiness opens; a void opens, and you perceive a void. You gotta be able to wrap your brain around what you're hearing though.

God Bless The Red Krayola included some ideas from Coconut Hotel.

The Red Krayola, God Bless the Red Krayola and All Who
Sail With It,
International Artists IALP7
Yeah, we tried to take some of those ideas forward. In God Bless it would be our embrace of song form, and also the genre; this is where our (by now) fairly “robust” sense of genre starts to come from; this is where it takes shape. We did not think of ourselves as playing this and that genre, but we made some genres there. That's the way I hear it. “Sherlock Holmes” – it's got a detective atmosphere, “Tina's Gone To Have a Baby”, each one of them is a little world. It was made as a record that you were to hear as a piece. You're not meant to be able to be pulling songs out, listening to this song, that song; you put it on and listen to the whole damn record, and part of the phenomenon is getting up in the middle and turning it over, and hearing the little girl at the end; there, you're in the recording studio, in the room with the little girl. The lights went off in there, trying to soothe the little child, making the little child feel comfortable, 'cause she was doing something so funny, “Gosh, turn on the tape recorder quick!” The urgency of human life is there, and it's got some community aspect to it too. There the Familiar Ugly play some formal roles, like we got some of them singing back-up.

And that record gets to be called a “minimal” record. It was not like a punk record, like “we're gonna get back to basics, good clean rock n' roll, we're gonna run the river Styx through here and start over again.” It wasn't that kind of thing at all. It was not driven by an impulse to basicness. It was just schematic because we were used to working with the stuff we had in our hands, instrument-wise. I had a Fender and Steve had a fretless bass, and Tommy Smith had a regular set of drums. Part of our game has always been to make unusual sounding stuff with conventional instruments; to make electronic music with not-electronic instruments in the purest sense of the word. The logic is informed by the possibility of what amount to category mistakes. That brings the Man into the music, which is not always so nice. You know what I mean by “the Man” right? You're up there in Michigan.

"The Man”?

Yeah, the Man. “You're workin for the Man.” The Man is implicit – the dead hand of capitalism is implicit to all rock n' roll. The Man is implicit to all music which is African-American … by definition. It defines itself that way.

Can you talk about improvisation, and Corky's Debt to His Father?

Mayo Thompson's first solo album, Corky's Debt
to his Father
, released by Texas Revolution CFS 2270
Improvisation plays a role there. I would claim a palpable commitment to improvisation, which is characteristic of the whole thing. And it came out of the sessions, but it also has to do with … Corky for example, those are really heavy-duty players, and they're bitching at me 'cause I don't have an arrangement. And I don't tell them the secret: I know what I can do by myself. What I want to hear is what happens when I do it with somebody else. So, I say x and they do y. So, I make them play it, and I've got the machine running, and they want to take the music home and work on the arrangement, get their part together just so, and I won't let them do it. They've had to think, while listening, and that's what I want the sound of. So that's what you get on that record. And in the one case where there is an arrangement, Joe Dugan was allowed to think about the horns on “Dear Betty” and went home with them and came back with them the next day.

So that improvisational thing – I have worked with people like Rüdiger Carl and his COWWS Quintet. The piano player from there, what's her name... [Irene Schweizer], she learned a lot from Cecil Taylor. You wouldn't say she's a student, but she's certainly a follower; she has to be seen as someone who appreciated a great deal what Cecil Taylor does, and in fact hammers the piano and fights the Man. We played in front of Cecil Taylor one night with that band. I was doing some vocal stuff like that, and whenever I wasn't playing, I'd leave the stage. Then, after the show, Cecil said “Hey man, you're the guy who kept leaving the stage.” That's what he noticed. [laughs] Also, when we were in Berlin, somebody said to him, “Oh Cecil, it's so great that you've come to town.” And Cecil said, “Man, I'm just trying to play a gig. Take it easy.”

So, that's what I think of as improvisation: that's Cecil Taylor improvising against expectations. And that's what improvisation consists in: you've got a set of expectations and you're a realist about what it's possible to realize, and what you play manifests your awareness of the limit. As usual, at the limit, one is operating at an extreme; either extremely lot, or extremely little, or extremely middle, you know what I mean? One time Rüdiger Carl said to me, … I've talked to Keith Rowe from AMM, “What is improvisation?” “What isn't improvisation in life?” This is improvised, I don't care about the given forms, it's still an improvisation on themes. Sometimes it's a lot of stuff made up for relations that don't exist anywhere else. So, this is my personal quest against people congratulating themselves for doing the obvious. And I've got a one-man campaign to de-mystify these relations. That is a motivating force in my thinking. Whether they can be de-mystified or not, maybe I'm making it worse. [laughs] It's possible.

Thompson in 2010.
(interviewed by Matt Endahl on December 26th, 2011)

Friday, June 29, 2012

Conversation with Mayo Thompson: Part One

On December 26th, 2011 I had a conversation with Mayo Thompson about the origins and early work of the Red Krayola. I was particularly interested in the musical "logic" used to record the album Coconut Hotel. I suspected that the Red Krayola was essentially exploring "free improvisation", contemporaneous with groups like AMM and Musica Elettronica Viva. I discussed the album in a presentation at the 2012 International Society for Improvised Music conference in Wayne, NJ, using information from this interview.

45 years ago today, the Red Crayola (Mayo Thompson, Fred Barthelme and Steve Cunningham) played at the Angry Arts Festival near Los Angeles, CA. On July 2nd, 3rd and 4th 1967 they played sets at the Berkeley Folk Music Festival in Berkeley, CA. (These performances were documented on the Drag City release Live 1967.) This seemed like an appropriate time of year to publish the interview. Mr. Thompson has agreed to this publication only; please do not distribute this interview without specific permission.

Special thanks to WCBN-FM Ann Arbor whose facilities I used. Thanks also to Alex Belhaj who
engineered the recording of the telephone interview.

Conversation with Mayo Thompson
Part One

What were some of the musical influences for the Red Crayola? The liner notes in the recent reissue of The Parable of Arable Land mentions the influence of modern art and philosophy.

Modern art and philosophy are large subjects. I'd like to know who isn't influenced by modern art in that sense. These guys – they write fluff, and it misleads people and there's nothing you can really do about it. There is no such thing as a straight-up story about what happened, because memory plays tricks on you; it's just not possible. All I can tell you is that, as far as influences, we listened to everything that was going on. If we got a whiff that they were ahead of us we ran to it to find out if it was true or not.

Can you give an example?

Albert Ayler, Bells, ESP-Disk 1010, 1965
Grateful Dead – the psychedelic band. We ran out and bought their album the minute it came out. Boy, were we disappointed. That was a trip to nowhere. We'd been there. We left there. Then, when we heard Hendrix on the other hand, that put [an end] to any question of our pursuing virtuosity as something we had to have in place in order to be able to exchange ideas with people. It was never an aim. One worked in relation to influences in various ways, that's the point I'm trying to get at. Albert Ayler was an influential figure. If you wanted to do something that had some intensity to it, you had to rise to the level of Bells. Or you had to rise to the level of [John Coltrane's] Ascension, where it starts out with like 9 of the heaviest tenor players in the whole wide world goin' [imitates Ascension]. So there were those kinds of influences.

If you're talking about music that one loved as a child, that's a different question; what shaped one in those kinds of ways. Can you narrow it down?

If someone listened to the first or second Red Crayola record, they may not immediately think of Albert Ayler or John Coltrane as an influence on it. They may however think of the 13th Floor Elevators, for example.

The Elevators certainly would have come in for a look. We compared ourselves to the Elevators as far as innovation; we thought they were trying to innovate. We had no idea what they were really doing. We thought that everybody was innovating, and we were sadly mistaken. It turned out that very few people were innovating at all; that most people were interested in spilling their guts in terms that they were capable of, and that was the end of it.

So you saw yourselves as separate from most of what was going on?

We found that the concerns that we began with had little to do with the concerns that other people began with sometimes; in greater respect when it came to the form and stuff like that. We were certainly shaped by the “zeitgeist” or some crap like that, but we felt our difference, and we insisted on it in those days. I don't anymore, I'm looking for inclusion these days. [But] that was also going on at the time. That's how we “found each other”, shall we say. But we didn't run it like an elite, like make fun of other people and act like they were stupid or something. We were rather in pursuit of some stuff that it turned out not too many other people were in pursuit of. If any. We met those who understood. John Fahey understood that we were pushing it around and trying to find out what novelty there was left in the form, if any. He had gone back and gotten the very beginnings – he represented “American music”; we called him “the Master of the American rolls”. When we met him, there was agreement that the tradition played a role, and we saw ourselves as coming out of something, and on our way, taking material as we found it and trying to do something with it. The classic confrontation.

In a 1996 interview with Richie Unterberger, you describe Coconut Hotel as "the most extreme version of the logic that we could conceive of at that time". Could you say more about the "logic" of the Red Krayola?

We found that logic played a role in our thinking and in nobody else's. It was very simple to operate within parameters; to set up formal problems and work the logical parameters as they appear. Say you want to put some scrutiny on the idea of instruments. You find that on that record. So we start with, “This is a guitar. It has six strings. They are usually not tuned like this. They're played like this, but they usually don't sound like this.” [“Free Guitar”] is an exploration of the guitar as a set piece, as a trap, as an instrument: a thing that produces a certain kind of sound. There is no generic commitment to anything on that record. Idiom is deployed … not at all. There's no quotation in it, as such, there's merely instantiation. And so, expectation and anticipation become quite abstract. You don't sit there and wait for a chorus. If you're waiting for the chorus, you'll find out after so many minutes, "Doesn't look like there's gonna be a chorus here." That kind of stuff; that's what I mean by logic: creating a logical environment in which you set up a number of operators, you specify relations between them, and the results are what you might call facts. Where logic itself is turned into a kind of score.

I'm not claiming we were doing something no one else on Earth was doing. People were being more perspicuous about it. There was a bunch of stuff that came up called “process art”, where people focused on the art of blah blah blah. But we were not proceduralists in any strict sense. What we were interested in was the sounds that came out of those situations; the physical sensations that they generated. This stuff was played as music, it was not played as a technical notebook.

So these were not just manifestations of some concept or idea; you were consciously making music?

To me, those are one. I don't have to be holistic about my content part of it to recognize that that's just how that thing works. Even if I set out to be the most technical, dry-boned person in the whole wide world, someone's gonna say “Oh, a Beckett play.” Or something like that. Let's say I set out with some kind of concept in mind, that the work is an illustration; I might try to do that, [but] it's not illustration in the purest sense of the word. I'm not sure that that's even possible, because it's been my experience in music that the materials are resistant. You don't always find what you're listening for. What you find is what you hear. And then what you do about what you hear … is where it happens for me.

How does form play into that?

Say I've got a song in E. I know that the fifth is a B, and I know that every blues song in the whole wide world has been played this way, and I know that there's been a blues man who said “We don't flat our fifths, we drink them,” and that the Bb is “the Devil's chord”. I am fascinated by this effect, because it's against the grain. Precisely because everyone says “That's a cheap trick man, don't do that.” Me, I love a cheap trick. So I want to find it there's anything in a cheap trick. Because it sure as hell jazzes me. So I've got a problem: I've got something that jazzes me that everyone else says is against the rules. So that kind of stuff comes into it too. It's personal.

I don't have Mozart's problem; nobody's gonna sign off on my score. I don't have to modify it because I've got a temperamental soprano who wants some extra stuff in her Don Giovani aria. That's fun; I've clawed my way into that world where I've worked with that kind of stuff. But I don't have something that is a “sonata”. I don't have something that is an “etude” or a “prelude”. I'm not really familiar with the terms and where they come from. I know the music, I've been listening to it for a long time, but I don't really recognize forms as definite things. I could maybe say … hang on a second. [pause]

I don't really know how to answer your question. Form plays a role, I've seen that it makes a difference. But I've approached it rather by “structure”, let's put it that way. Where other people have form, I have structure. And in that structure might be something that's linked, acoustically, historically, with something that is formal; something that sounds like a blues. I've built my own structures.

Would you consider Coconut Hotel to be “free form” music?

It is formed, but it is free of historical form. It is not driven by an organized will to express something definite; something pre-existent; something scored; something notated; something that can be done again and again and again provided you have the means and the people. Free form means “this ain't never gonna happen again. We're about to have an experience that will not be [had] ever again. I'm not making any claims about form. It's an oxymoron at best. We didn't coin it, it was coined by Leland Rogers, [the producer for The Parable of Arable Land]. The guy was looking for an advertising slogan. That was his form; that was his description of what we did. I just clung to it because I'm a nominalist; kinda like Hobbes says to Aristotle, “That's very good professor, we can work on that when we come to the induction effect, but what I wanna know is, what are we gonna call it today?” So I'm just going on what we're calling it historically. What it winds up being called, I leave to posterity.

What is the relation of the Familiar Ugly to the Red Crayola?

The Familiar Ugly was an organization that accompanied, or enveloped, or just happened while we played. It was part of the phenomenon then. They were undirected. Open-numbered; any number above one. If you had the Red Crayola plus one person on stage, that person was the Familiar Ugly. If there were five, or fifty, up to an indefinitely large number. When we started the band, Barthelme and I and we looked around to see if we could put together a “band”, to take it to the level where we could actually see if it worked. Both of us could see that it had assonance – people liked it, liked the “noise” we made. When we met Cunningham, we also met Bonnie Emerson and Danny Schacht, and we played as a five-piece. It was alright, it could have gone on, but we were becoming a regular band: doing covers, the things driving the formal expressions were idiomatic, and genre-ridden. That was getting problematic. We were trying to write material, and felt that the only forward was to generate fresh material, which had some sort of novelty to it so that we would be satisfied and remain interested in the problem, in the hopes that there would be some popular assonance there and see what would happen. And eventually this conversation led to somebody else joining the band, and then somebody else joining the band on one night, and we looked at each other and thought, “Hm.” So when you start a conversation, people who can participate will.

And here they were, my goodness, what are we gonna do? this band could get to be … if you pursue a notion of culture along the lines of family resemblance, pretty soon everybody in the world will be in this band. That's … okay, but we want to be able to direct the thing to some extent. So we withdrew to a trio: Cunningham, Barthelme and I, and told the rest that it was over as a band. That we were gonna pursue this other line, which was that we were not gonna be bound by conventions. We didn't actively say this, but it turned out that we were not gonna be bound by conventions. We weren't gonna make the same record twice. With the first record, we felt that we had proven what point we felt there was to prove about chaos, organization within it, and its relation to chaos; how it demonstrates chaos, and at the same time can be counted at an interval as some … later we discovered the notion of “data”, and some data take the form of information, which is a better, easier way of explaining it.

So with the first record, we generated musical data; we made data under the premise of music, and asked the question, “Is it?” Then we put some stuff in there by convention, and traditionally we'd say “Yes, this is at least a try at music.”

Can you clarify the difference between “data” and “information”?

The Red Crayola, The Parable of Arable Land
International Artists, IA LP-2, 1967
“Data” is input, and what happens in the black box turns data into information. And that's the output. You process the world as it occurs to you, including unconsciously, and every other way, all the way up to the point of processing information like, “President Obama is on his way to Chicago.” At the same time you're also processing: “The sky is blue,” “I love you dear, I'm gonna be at lunch tomorrow”, millions of things are going on at the same time. Little differences make all the difference in the world, and those are the kinds of things that we would treat as forms. The tiny differences, the nuances between this and that. So the first album demonstrates that there is something that is song, and there is something that is organized “chaos”, and Free Form Freakout is put into the realm of “Freakout”, so that the people who are performing will know what it is that people will be listening to it under the rubric of; that it belongs to a cultural sort of thing so it gets a free pass, to some extent. You don't have to organize everything from the ground up, like they do in abstract art. There's a lot of money in that, and it's all a lot of fun, but we didn't really care to pursue that way of doing it. We liked the colloquial and the vulgar.

So the Parable takes care of that business. And then it was like, “Okay, what next?” And then we took what logical point had been made: sound as music, sounds of musical instruments, played not in musical ways; treated as instruments for expression. The only organizational principle is that people see what's happening and hear what's happening around them. It's always music minus r plus 1; you're listening to some phenomenon and you think “Listen to that. I wonder what I contributed to it.” Well there's one way to find out for sure: stop playing. That's the only way I know to find out. Stop playing. And that's demonstrated also in Parable: you make one sound, that's fine. You can isolate one sound, but you can't do like you can on a painting. On a painting, you put one mark here, and leave a little bit of space and you put another mark. In an acoustic space, if you put two sounds, those sounds are already interfering with each other if they're simultaneous. You can play one and turn it off; you play another one and then turn it off. Then you add those two sounds differentiated, then you play one and then you play the other one at the same time; then you have a different kind of relation. All of that stuff comes into play.

Then we go to a recording studio. Recording studios are kinds of museums in a way, technological museums. They have sound making devices and recording devices that go back to the beginnings of our ability to do these kinds of things. If they're a good recording studio. And we happened to be at a really good one, run by a first-class guy Walt Andrus. And he knew right away what was up with the acoustics of it, and put up 8 microphones. We only had mono capacity in those days, there was no possibility of multi-tracking. That's live, the sound of all that stuff on Parable.

The Red Krayola, Coconut Hotel. Drag City DC62, 1995
So when it came to Coconut, we had the idea, “Well, let's stop the drums. Let's get rid of the pulse, the beat, as such,” acknowledging all the while of course that there is a beat implicit to music, no matter whether somebody's pounding on it or not. Because the stuff happens in time, and duration naturally plays a role. Morton Feldman: you can sit there and put the stopwatch on and if you could figure out how he was counting the seconds, you could predict that piece eventually. Any one of those minimalist pieces you could work it out.

We were also constrained by what we saw had gone on. We saw Cage and Tudor and those people as having exhausted the potential of smartypants farting around with means of production. And we thought, “This is the end of it, there's nothing after this music-wise.”

Were you frustrated about this?

No, happy.

Why was that?

To us, we relished midnight because it meant the day was over; you never had to live that motherfuckin' day again.

So what came next?

There's also no singing. There's only two uses of the human voice on [Coconut Hotel]. I sing in there some nonsense metaphysical line about “There is no reason why not”, you know, pretentious stuff, and Frank Davis moans into the headphone, [imitates moaning], he's got on a pair of headphones, not over his ears – one of them it over his mouth, and as you know a headphone is a microphone. The speaker is a microphone. He was yelling down this headphone line, sending it to a tiny little Fender amp which he's got in his hand, and he's walking around between these to microphones, back and forth. And something is going on in his mind – I don't know, and it turned out to be some strange drama when you throw in the koto and the water pouring.

And then we confronted the issue of repetition. That piece [“Water Pour”] is just duplicated; it happens twice. That's Mozart: he writes you a section, and he plays it to you twice. Then he goes onto the next section and plays that one for you twice. So that the stuff is imprinted in some way, and the second time through, you have a different relation to the anticipations and expectations and so on, and what you have is very satisfying. That's at the level of … the brain's love of symmetry and pattern. He delivers it like nobody's business, synthesizing Bach and baroque with one hand, and with the other hand making himself a cheese sandwich or pouring himself a glass of champagne.

So all that stuff was done for us; all we had to do was just add to the sounds, which were built into the instruments; we didn't have to do much there either. There were a bunch of keyboards there, so we got going on them. There was a pump keyboard, an electric keyboard, an amplified keyboard, and so on, so all the permutation aspects were at work. The musical qualities of the sounds they produced are the overarching criteria of expression. Not monkey business. And where there is some figuration, it's not worked to thematic ends, merely [as] individual events. So you take the guitar going [sings steady quick rhythm], playing these 16th notes. Then there's another guitar which is free, to play something that simulates a melodic relationship of something over a rhythmic ground. So it sounds like “guitar music”. Lo and behold, it is guitar music! It's as mundane as that.

So we thought that “Everybody's thinking about these kinds of problems. Everybody's thinking about the fact that everything has been done. Everybody's thinking about how the material that Schoenberg founded was handed off to Cage and Stockhausen and they handed it off to us, and here we are, and this is about all that's left.”

Do you feel like music is still at that state?

No, I don't think anybody cares about that kind of thinking. That's what I found. Endgame is an end in itself, and it only counts to the people who are prepared to play it. Otherwise, nobody gives a damn. We all know that life goes on. Ob-la-di oh-blah-blah. Bloody hell.

I think that these are still interesting structural facts. One can mediate one's production in more and less thoughtful ways and come up with stuff that has novelty to it; the novelty doesn't depend on “I am unique and nobody else can do this but me, and I did this and that's new. And that's genius because nobody else could do this.” It's not a dependency on the primitive. And that's the fly in the expressive ointment for me: the boring fact is that I can't do anything other than what I do. I wish I could. If I could be somebody else, boy I would have been. It's only projective, that's all. There's no escape. The aim in the 60's from my side was, “Is there any way other than having to do this the way that it's usually been done up 'till now?” Gee, no. There's no way out.

(in conversation with Matt Endahl on December 26th, 2011)

Part Two coming soon.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Students for a Democratic Society Constitution

June 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the constitution of the Students for a Democratic Society, a very important organization in the 1960's. The text below is copied from AntiAuthoritarian.net, with some formatting changes to make it more readable. This particular version is interesting because it lists all the text, even that which was added or deleted later.

I claim no ownership over this work, I am reproducing it here for its historical significance.

"In social change or interchange, we find violence to be abhorrent because it requires generally the transformation of the target, be it a human being or a community of people, into a depersonalized object of hate. It is imperative that the means of violence be abolished and the institutions -- local, national, international -- that encourage nonviolence as a condition of conflict be developed."

-SDS, The Port Huron Statement

Update 6/20: Here's a scanned copy of the constitution, which I bought from a University of Michigan library sale. The document used to be in the possession of the Labadie Collection, a great collection of rare Marxist, anarchist, and general dissident literature. The collection has many documents related to the SDS. (Page 3 is cut off at the top on my copy. Maybe this is why it was withdrawn.)





Students for a Democratic Society: Constitution

(Adopted by the National Convention, June 1962, with major later additions and deletions noted.)

Preamble:
Students for a Democratic Society is an association of young people on the left. It seeks to create a sustained community of educational and political concern: one bringing together liberals and radicals, activists and scholars, students and faculty.

It maintains a vision of a democratic society, where at all levels the people have control of the decisions which affect them and the resources on which they are dependent. It seeks a relevance through the continual focus on realities and on the programs necessary to effect change at the most basic levels of economic, political, and social organization. It feels the urgency to put forth a radical, democratic program counterposed to authoritarian movements both of Communism and the domestic Right. [From 1965, "program whose methods embody the democratic vision."]

Article I: Name
The name of the organization shall be Students for a Democratic Society.

[Article II: Affiliation (Dropped, 1966)
The Students for a Democratic Society shall be affiliated with the League for Industrial Democracy, Inc., a tax-exempt educational foundation concerned with the extension of democracy into all areas of social, political, and economic life.]

Article III: Membership
Section 1. Membership is open to students, faculty and others who share the commitment of the organization to democracy as a means and as a social goal.

Section 2. SDS is an organization of democrats. It is civil libertarian in its treatment of those with whom it disagrees, but clear in its opposition to any totalitarian principle as a basis for government or social organization. Advocates or apologists for such a principle are not eligible for membership. [From 1965, "to any anti-democratic principle as a basis for governmental, social, or political organization."}

Section 3. Dues. There shall be a national initiation of one dollar, supplemented by periodic dues, the amount and period of which shall be determined by the National Council. [From 1965, amount not specified.]

Section 4. Associates. Individuals who do not wish to join the SDS, but who share the major concerns of the organization, may become associates with rights and responsibilities as denned by the National Council.
Article IV: Chapters and Affiliates
Section I. Any group of five or more members may apply to the National Executive Committee [from 1963, "National Office"} for a charter as a chapter.

Section 2. A chapter may be chartered at any meeting of the National Council on recommendation of the National Executive Committee. It must be considered for chartering at the first meeting of the National Council after it has submitted a membership list, a constitution or statement of principles, and notification of elected National Council representative to the National Executive Committee. In the period between submission of the required information to the national office and the next National Council meeting, the chapter may be given a provisional charter at the discretion of the President. [From 1966, "A chapter may be chartered by the regional council of the area in which it is organized, or by the National Council. The chapter shall submit a membership list, a constitution or statement of principles, and notification of officers or regional representatives. Chapters may be provisionally recognized by the President or appropriate regional officer pending the meeting of the National Council or regional council respectively."]

Section 3. Chapters are expected to operate within the broad terms of policy set by the National Convention and the National Council. Points of conflict should be referred to the National Council and a procedure established to make the issue public to the organization. In matters judged to be detrimental to the interests of the organization, the National Council shall have the power to cease whatever activity that has been brought into question. The matter shall be finally resolved by the National Council in meeting or referendum.

Section 4. Associated Groups. Independent groups can affiliate as associates of SDS by vote of their membership and designation of a liaison representative to sit on the National Council with consultative vote. The representative shall be a member of SDS. Such association is provisional until the approval of the National Council. The form of the relationship shall be worked out in each case between the group and the National Council.

Section 5. Fraternal Organizations. National or regional organizations whose programs and purposes are consistent with the broad aims and principles of SDS can be invited by the National Council to be fraternal with the SDS and have a fraternal vote on the National Council. Such organizations shall appoint a liaison representative who shall be a member of SDS.

Section 6. SDS welcomes the opportunity to cooperate with other individuals and organizations in jointly sponsoring specific action programs and joint stands on specific issues. The National Council shall be empowered to determine specific cooperative activity. (Cooperation does not imply endorsement.)

[From 1966, Regional Organization
Section 1: All or some of the chapters and/or members in a given geographical area may constitute themselves a region of SDS. New regions shall submit their constitutions and be recognized provisionally by the President pending the next regular National Council meeting. All disputes over regional boundaries shall be resolved by the National Council.

Section 2: Regions of SDS shall hold at least one membership convention each year and may establish regional officers as deemed necessary. Regional programs, staff, and offices shall be responsible to decisions arrived at by a democratically constituted regional council.

Section 3: While fundamentally responsible to their regional constituency, regions are expected to operate within the broad terms of policy set by the National Convention and National Council. Any points of conflict shall be finally resolved by the National Council.

Section 4: If one-third of the duly chartered chapters in the geographical area of a region so petition, the National Council shall immediately consider whether to declare the regional organization defunct and to prohibit it from speaking or acting on behalf of SDS.]
Article V: Convention
Section 1. The SDS shall meet in convention annually, at a time and a place fixed by the National Council, with at least three months prior notice being given to all members.

Section 2. The Convention shall serve to debate major issues and orientation of the organization, to set program mandates to the national staff, and to elect national officers. The Convention shall not be the policy-making body on specific resolutions.

Section 3. Representation. Chapters shall elect Convention delegates on the basis of one delegate for every five SDS members in the chapter, each delegate to have two [from 1966, "five"} votes at the Convention. Individual SDS members shall have the right to attend the Convention with one vote each. [Dropped, 1966.] Delegates from associated and fraternal groups shall be elected by a procedure determined by the National Council. The National Council shall draft Convention rules, accreditation procedures, and other requirements.
Article VI: National Council
Section 1. The National Council shall be composed of (1) one representative elected from each chapter with five to twenty-five members, and one additional representative for each additional twenty-five members [from 1968, "five members"} or fraction thereof, in that chapter; (2) the seventeen National Officers; (3) elected liaison representatives from associated groups (with consultative vote); (4) liaison representatives from fraternal organizations (with fraternal vote); and (5) national staff (without vote). In all cases, NC members and liaison representatives must be members of SDS. [From 1964, "No more than three members from one chapter or associated group may serve concurrently as National Officers."]

Section 2. The National Council shall be the major policy making and program body of the organization. It shall determine policy in the form of resolutions on specific issues within the broad orientation of the organization; determine program priorities and action undertaken by the organization consonant with the orientation and mandates set by the convention; advise the National Executive Committee on financial matters; confirm committee chairmen, staff representatives to the LID board; charter chapters, associated groups, and fraternal organizations. [From 1963, NEC dropped and additional budget responsibilities added.]

Section 3. The National Council shall meet at least two times [from 1963, "four"} a year. A quorum shall be 40 percent of the voting members. Chapter and liaison representatives may be represented by a designated alternate from that group.
[Article VII: The National Executive Committee (Dropped, 1963.)
Section 1. The National Executive Committee shall be composed of the seventeen officers elected by the convention with the chapter representatives on the National Council serving as alternates. No more than three members from one chapter or associated group can serve concurrently on the NEC . . . .]

[Article VIII: Administrative Committee (Dropped, 1963.)
Section 1. The Administrative Committee shall be located at the place of the national office and shall have as members all NEC members in the vicinity of the national office plus such other people as are approved by the NEC . . . .]
[From 1963, National Interim Committee
The President shall have the power to call a meeting of a temporary National Interim Committee, to be composed of the seventeen National Officers (from 1967, also "on a regular basis"), for emergencies only. Decisions of this body shall be subject to National Council approval.]
Article IX: National Officers and Staff
Section 1. The National Officers shall be the President, the Vice President, and fifteen other Officers, all to be elected at the Convention and to serve as members of the National Council. [From 1967, "National Secretary, Education Secretary, and Inter-organizational Secretary" and "eight other officers."] The Convention may on a year-to-year basis create other officers as seem necessary and shall designate their voting rights in the various bodies of SDS.

Section 2. The National Officers must have been members of the SDS at least two months prior to elections.

Section 3. The National President is the spokesman of SDS. He shall be responsible for carrying out organizational policy and shall convene the National Council. He shall be assisted by the Vice President, and in case of vacancy the Vice President shall assume his functions.

Section 4. The National Secretary shall be the chief administrative official of the organization, responsible to the President and the National Council. He shall be appointed by the NC for a stated period of time. The National Council may also create and fill additional positions of Assistant National Secretary to work under direction of the President and National Secretary. Other staff positions shall be created and filled by the National Secretary.

[From 1967, "Section 3: The eleven National Officers are the spokesmen of SDS. They shall be responsible/or seeing that organizational and political policies are carried out and shall convene the National Council. Political responsibility lies with the three Secretaries in consultation with the other officers. The three Secretaries shall work out of the national office. Important decisions in any one area which are made between meetings of the National Interim Council are to be made by the three national officers together. The officers shall be responsible to the Convention and the National Council.

Section 4: The National Secretary shall have primary responsibility for the implementation of national programs approved by the Convention or National Council.

Section 5: The Inter-organizational Secretary shall have primary responsibility for liaison with other organizations, both national and international, and for informing the membership about these groups. He/she shall not attend congresses, accept money, or establish formal relationships with organizations without the approval of the convention, the National Council, or, in emergency, the National Interim Council.

Section 6: The Education Secretary shall have the primary responsibility for the functioning of the internal education program."]
[Article X: Relationship With the League for Industrial Democracy (Dropped, 1966.)
Section 1. The SDS shall be autonomously constituted, though its policy and functioning shall be within the broad aims and principles of the LID . . . .]

Article XI: Parliamentary Authority
In all cases not covered by this Constitution, Robert's Rules of Order, Revised Edition shall be the authority governing SDS business.

Article XII: Policy and Discipline
Section 1. Any member of the organization, including the Officers, may be expelled or relieved of duties by a two-thirds vote of the National Council. Due process shall be followed in all cases.

Section 2. Any two chapters, or one-third of the National Council, can initiate a national referendum on any question.
Section 3. All material sent out in the name of the organization shall have the approval of a majority of the National Council and shall have been submitted to all of the NC members.
Article XIII: Amendments
This constitution may be amended by one of three procedures:
a. by a two-thirds vote of the Convention in session on amendments introduced at the Convention, in which case the amendment will take effect at the following Convention;
b. by a two-thirds vote of the Convention in session on amendments introduced by distribution to the membership at least a month before the Convention, in which case the amendment will take effect immediately upon adoption;
c. by a two-thirds vote of the membership in referendum in which case the amendment will take effect immediately upon adoption.