The playlist: experimental – Huddersfield highlights, AMM, George Lewis and Derek Bailey

This month, Philip Clark looks at some of the artists who will play this month’s Huddersfield contemporary music festival

Keith Rowe & John Tilbury: Enough Still Not To Know

Listen to Keith Rowe and John Tilbury’s collaboration

This year’s Huddersfield contemporary music festival climaxes on 29 November with a momentous reunion: the first performance by the classic trio incarnation of pioneering British improvisation group AMM in 10 years. A decade ago, tabletop guitarist Keith Rowe took umbrage at AMM percussionist Eddie Prévost’s published critique of his playing and headed for the door. Once an AMM member, though, always an AMMer. This new release sees Rowe reunite with AMM pianist John Tilbury in a four-and-a-half hour sequence of improvised music recorded last year in response to a film installation by Kjell Bjørgeengen. This digressive, structurally disorientating music tiptoes around conventional narrative, boisterous walls of silence surrounding subtone rustlings, pops and scamperings slamming into the occasional slipped-in tonal sequence. Listening to an isolated extract, you wonder if even the musicians themselves could identify its context. Which is an intriguing place to be, creatively.

Ute Kanngiesser: Geäder

Every Friday evening, in a basement near London Bridge station, Eddie Prévost leads an improvisation workshop (a version of which runs in Huddersfield on 26 November) in which emphasis is placed on the search for new sounds: forget approaches to your instrument that you know already work – try risking something new instead. German cellist Ute Kanngiesser is one of the workshop’s most distinguished graduates and her new solo release Geäder – available from Earshots Recordings – uses environmental sounds captured in Hackney as a spur for improvisation; nasal bowing sounds, percussive fanfares, unspooling loops of harmonics that crack upon impact – whole sides to the cello normally shut down by conventional technique.

George Lewis: Afterword via Fantasia

Watch the film installation of Afterword via Fantasia based on George Lewis’s opera

Improviser/composer/theorist George Lewis, mainstay and chronicler of the Chicago-based Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), brings his new opera, Afterword, to Huddersfield as part of a series of events exploring improvisers’ relationships to notation and composed music. The libretto builds from ideas presented in Lewis’s 2008 book AACM, A Power Stronger Than Itself – quotes from leading musicians are fashioned into an imagined dialogue about music. Afterword via Fantasia realises some of the same material as a film installation, a tightly organised mesh of sound and imagery that deals with myth and misremembered history.

George Lewis and Derek Bailey: live in 2002

Watch Derek Bailey and George Lewis perform

Militant improvising guitarist Derek Bailey’s formative forays into composed music – when he was immersing himself in Anton Webern, and began a realisation of Stockhausen’s open-ended score Plus Minus (to be presented in Huddersfield in a completion by bassist Simon H Fell, alongside solo guitar compositions performed by Alex Ward) – were designed to open his ears to patterns of sound removed from stock tonality. This brief duo with George Lewis for 2002 is a brilliant example of the improviser’s art, raw ideas finding a sophisticated form.

Jakob Ullmann: Disappearing Musics

Listen to Jakob Ullmann’s Disappearing Musics

German composer Jakob Ullmann’s new piece for solo double bass, solo IV, will be premiered at Huddersfield by Dominic Lash, a musician most closely associated with free improvisation. Ullmann’s ultra-quiet music feels almost reluctant to trouble you with its presence, and Disappearing Musics (1989-91) issues counterintuitive challenges – like asking two pianists to play crazily quickly, but tickling the keyboard quietly as possible – as wind instruments are blown through without any definite pitch emerging. Ever since the groundbreaking early days of the HCMF, under its founder Richard Steinitz, central European music has been a speciality – good to see that tradition being continued.


Philip Clark

The GuardianTramp

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