Paris Transatlantic: Selected Letters to the Editor

Jean-Michel van Schouwburg writes:

Dear Dan,

Kudos for your nice work (the Tristan Murail text is a great read) as a critic. Just a "little" commentary about your aside in Nate Dorward's review of The Topography Of The Lungs ("For some reason the CD is now credited as an Evan Parker album [not on this site it isn't – DW] rather than a collaborative trio"): I think that Topography is more an Evan Parker recording session than a working group, or even a collaborative project. Evan thought about it. He organised the session and booked the studio, conceived and commissioned the cover art, and even glued the first edition cardboard sleeve himself (as he did with Paul Lytton for Collective Calls). He wrote the notes for the LP that were included inside the sleeve on a separate sheet of paper. And he repressed it in 1977 himself when they issued the MIC album. As a former biology student well versed in anatomy, it was also Evan who came up with the name of the label, Incus, which is one of the three internal ear bones.

If you'd followed Incus closely from its inception or even the middle vinyl period, you would have known that a big part of the business of promoting the label, sending LPs to buyers, making agreements with other companies (such as ICP, FMP, Center of the World) and distributors and sending them the packages, was done by Evan from his home(s) in Twickenham (both addresses were featured on the LP covers). I ordered and received all my Incus LPs over the years directly from Evan, with his handwriting on the packages and his personal comments inside. He sent me Derek's albums and the Company LPs as well as his own stuff, and even recommended I buy one or two of Derek's albums instead of his when I couldn't afford everything! Even some of the Company LPs were actually made by Evan, and I often saw him selling Company 1 and Company 2 after concerts around 1977. If you add up the Dereks and Evans in the Incus vinyl catalogue you'll see that there were fewer EP recordings issued with his own projects. And although Parker plays on seven Company albums, these were first and foremost Derek's projects and reflected his musical philosophy. Five other Company albums without Parker were issued and many Derek duos, but there were only two "collective" projects of Evan's (Pisa 80 and Circadian Rhythms), in addition to his four solos, three duos with Lytton and Lewis and two groups with Lytton and Guy in the 80s. Many of the other artists who recorded for Incus – John Russell, the SME, Barry Guy, Roger Turner and Gary Todd and the young Coombes/ Russell/ Beresford/Solomon on Teatime – were invited to do so by Evan (Derek of course agreed, but he did refuse to release one recording of the Toop / Burwell duo, which Evan Parker actively supported – cf. his 1977 interview in Impetus, the "Company Issue"). Today, on his PSI label Evan continues to release recordings of other artists in the way he did with Incus (Rudi Mahall, Furt, Paul Rutherford, Adam Linson, Agusti Fernandez, Peter Evans..).

So I think it's perfectly legitimate that Evan Parker put his name on this reissue. Topography is a recording of individuals working together at the request of Evan Parker, not a working outfit. Derek and Evan shared Music Improvisation Company and had their duo, and Derek and Bennink had their duo. I believe that if it had been a question of Bennink and Bailey wanting to have Evan in their duo as a guest, the music would have sounded quite different, and the cover art would have looked different. I have listened so many times to Incus 9, the Bennink / Bailey material recorded at Verity's Place (and glared at the Mal Dean cover), and well remember hearing that duo twice in the 70s and once in the 80s. It seems clear to me that on Topography the B's are definitely following the mood and spirit of Evan who was (at that time) and still is a more "collective group" player and a "constructive" improviser. (Even in 1970 the B's were more contrarian spirits – which produced fine music too – and the way they interacted was well expressed by the Mal Dean drawing, which is happily reproduced on the Organ of Corti re-issue: two people fighting in very bizarre way linked by the feet to each other with the ground opening up beneath them.)

Talking of other regular working groups, I'm sure anyone who's played with Han and Misha in an ICP outfit in Holland at their invitation will confirm that it's no collective thing either. If you play in ICP you have to work in a certain way – theirs – which would not be the same thing as if you met Han and Misha in a neutral environment or invited them yourself. The same was true of John Stevens: the SME was his thing and reflected his ideas, so much so that Derek said that John devised/conceived the style Evan invented playing with him in the SME duo around 67/68. You could say also that Derek's ECM album with David Holland, Improvisations for Cello and Guitar, was a SME recording without John Stevens (I think Martin Davidson, who is perhaps the greatest authority on the SME, would agree with me there). If David and Derek had recorded this duo outside the Little Theatre club – John Stevens's place – in another country or town than London, it would have been slightly different. By the way, we should make a distinction between two kinds of of SME recordings: those by regular working groups and those originating in special meetings for the purpose of recording.

Derek Bailey didn't like to be part of regular groups; he wanted to be free from the "pressure" of his colleagues' ideas and feelings (and wasn't too keen on sharing life on the road, waiting in restaurants, bars, backstage, people's homes and cars etc.) in order to bring what he wanted inside the music. Evan Parker has always had a totally different approach: he values the permanence of fixed, regular working groups over the years. But both men put the same invaluable amount of love and dedication into the music and in their relationships with their musical partners. Both attitudes are equally valid, I think; it's up to you to enjoy the music.

Many thanks for this thoughtful letter, which answers many more questions than Martin Davidson's brief explanation on Bagatellen did. That said, I still think the re-crediting required acknowledgement and explanation in the album notes: would that have been so hard to do? I'm not in doubt about Parker's role in putting together this session or in doing much of the gruntwork in running Incus; but this doesn't change the fact that the album was issued without hierarchical distinctions between the players in the ensemble, went through several repressings without the credits being altered, and has been known in discographies and biographies as a collective trio for three and a half decades. Not something to change without comment.-ND


Joe Morris writes:

Has Nate Dorward heard all of the recordings I've made on guitar? Going all the way back to 1983. Does he know what might have influenced my playing when it is fast or dense? Has he heard me play a ballad? Has he ever heard me live? I doubt it. Writing "his guitar work tends toward verbosity" (as he did in his review of Rob Brown's "Radiant Pools" Dec. 2005) suggests that he has decided that about all of my work, knows all about me, and knows why it is the way it is in every setting. Critics used to have an obligation to back up their claims before they expressed their opinions in print. After 30 years or performing and more than 20 years of recording, my work on guitar deserves to be fully investigated before it is all described with one phrase.

"Has Nate Dorward heard all of the recordings I've made on guitar?" No. Perhaps you thought the answer would be yes? I've seen you play twice: once with the Antennae trio, once with the Many Rings quartet. We talked after the quartet gig, or, rather, I asked a question or two and got a nonstop 40-minute verbal torrent in response. I remember it as containing a lot of discussion of the influence of Cecil Taylor and African music on your playing; you also expressed frustration at critics' linking your name with Derek Bailey, and much to my surprise pooh-poohed your (fine) records with Hession/Wilkinson/Fell and the Maneris. (Your recent testy exchanges on Bagatellen concerning the Maneris did not come as a surprise to me.) I admire your passion, articulacy and knowledge, and sometimes admire your music (though I found the Many Rings group and CD rather hard going), but also find that, both in your music and in your verbal/online exchanges, there is, yes, a certain verbosity.
I have not heard your early work (the 1980s LPs on Riti). Like most listeners, I suspect, I came to it via the Leo releases in the 1990s (Illuminate and No Vertigo). More recently I reviewed two Riti releases which feature you on guitar and banjouke, and gave a detailed account of my impression of your playing. Since your abilities as a mindreader seem poor, let me recommend Google as a more reliable alternative: typing in "joe morris nate dorward" will turn up the review in question: Having discussed your work at length there, I did not see the need to summarize it in the review of the Brown disc for the sake of a passing comment. If you seem to expect vast acquaintance with your recorded work is required before anyone's entitled to an opinion about it, I think I can expect you to pay more attention to your press cuttings before you start suggesting I'm talking through my hat. In my career as a book and music reviewer I can't recall receiving a letter in response to a review as thin-skinned as yours. "His guitar work...tends to verbosity": it's not exactly flattering, but as criticisms go it's pretty mild. Is this how you always respond to criticism?-ND


Josh Ronsen writes:

Sorry to be a bother, but I have spotted two errors in Nick Rice's essay on Murail. He writes: “Ligeti, a natural scientist by training, used microanalysis to layer the barely perceptible tissues of his ghostly masterpiece Atmosphères”.. I don’t think Ligeti had any advanced training in science beyond what in America is called high school. From a 1983 interview with Ligeti ( “Being Jewish I was not allowed to study physics at the university. But there were no such restrictions at the Conservatorium at Kolozsvar, and so my parents agreed to let me enroll there [to study music].” It would be correct to say that Ligeti had a lifelong interest in the natural sciences, but his “microanalysis” can be traced to his training as a teacher of traditional harmony.
There is also a mixup in the next part on Xenakis. Rice writes: "Xenakis, an architectural assistant of Le Corbusier’s who claimed responsibility for the design of the Philip’s Pavilion, converted some
of its audacious curves into the austere violin glides of Metastasis." Metastasis predates the Philip's Pavilion by a few years, so we can suppose the glissandi of Metastasis were converted into the Pavilion's graceful curves and not the other way around.
Thanks for an engaging read every month!

Unfortunately, I think I have a difference of opinion. According to Richard Steinitz's biography, authorized by the composer, Ligeti in fact began training in the natural sciences at university, but tried to study music in his spare time and eventually suffered a nervous breakdown, after which he decided to study music full time. Jews did indeed face academic difficulties in Hungary at the time, and Ligeti may have faced problems with studying physics in particular, but not with the entire scientific curriculum. The whole topic was a source of bitterness amongst the Ligetis as Gyorgy's father was unable to fulfil his dream of studying the natural sciences.
And Xenakis (inspired by Le Corbusier) was working on his ideas about architectural curves at the same time as his work on Metastasis. See not only his interviews with Balint Andras Varga, but also this academic article:
Capanna mentions the fact that Xenakis is cited in Modulor 2, published in 1955, the year Metastasis was premiered, as the source for the pans de verre ondulatoires, which were later used in Xenakis's work on Le Corbusier's sketches for the Philips Pavilion between 1956 and 1958.-NR


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