Gawp at This: Improv Double-Bill!

Two videos worthy of a gawp today. First up, a brief lecture introducing some fascinating new research (still in its early phases) on the neurological aspects of musical and lyrical improvisation. Fascinating stuff!

Now, with all those questions bobbing around in your brain like dumplings in a stew, here’s the legendary Henry Cow kicking off a concert with some group improvisation:

The compositions “March” and “Erk Gah” are also featured in this clip. This video is taken from the Vevey concert DVD, available in the utterly essential Henry Cow box set.

3 Responses to “Gawp at This: Improv Double-Bill!”
  1. Snardbafulator says:

    Fascinating! I didn’t listen to the Cow yet, but just wanted to blab out my impressions on that neuroscience of improv video. It’s all very tentative, hasn’t been controlled or cross-tested yet (and I don’t know a thing about the neuroscience) but it’s very, very suggestive. One of my favorite non-fiction books as an adolescent was English jazz musician and psychologist John Booth Davies’s The Psychology of Music, which wasn’t at all dry or non-musical. It had some really amusing things about the way various instruments in an orchestra see themselves compared to other instruments (brass players find strings hopelessly prissy; string players find brass oafish egotists. Violists are seen as “failed violinists” and thus professional misfits, oboe players as the most “neurotic” because their instrument actions are so persnickety, etc.) It also stated a theory of musical perception: in the tiniest nutshell that music that we like lowers our expectations about it in a meaningful way, that I think is quite valid.

    The thing that’s interesting here is how improvisation involves shutting down centers of self-consciousness as much as it does opening up others. The real trick to me is how you can lose yourself like this while still hanging onto a spine of structure; it’s one thing to improvise totally freely, but how do you improvise over a chord progression without losing reference to it (or how do you know how abstract you can make your allusions to it yet still communicate its essence), or how do you improvise along with other musicans and lose yourself yet remain totally conscious of what’s happening around you so you can respond at a millisecond’s notice in real time?

    There’s a lotta lotta doctoral dissertations available in this brand-new field of study, seems to me.

    Now it’s onto some fun with an unpredictable cow …


  2. Snardbafulator says:

    I didn’t know you could upload stuff on YouTube over ten minutes length, let alone 34! I thought I had seen all the Vevey stuff on YT but apparently not. I loved every last second of that, not least the camera work. Dagmar … it’s almost too much watching her free improvise … gods, what a crush I had on her in the early 80s. They were all so intense, so serious, so intent on listening to each other. I had no idea until I saw the Vevey credits that Georgie Born was Max Born’s granddaughter. What an impetus to get one into doing politically uncompromising “youth” music (you can’t call it rock). And it’s funny because Tim Hodgkinson had no idea how to play keys until they made him buy a cheesy organ and teach himself to play, and here he is doing transistor-fuzz lines that defined a whole genre of experimental music. I loved the improv and when they coalesced into a melody towards the end (I guess that was March). I always love the wordless-vocal-in-unison-with-instruments thing; Magma, Koenji or here.

    I loved the first part; Erk Gah, though, blew me completely away. I’m going to have to come back here and listen to that more; another piece of Cow from the In Praise of Learning era. I have no clue how they all managed to keep together; I didn’t see one music stand or piece of sheet music anywhere. Yet they were, Fred picking up the violin just in time to do a few glissandi and plucked notes in time with Georgie and Chris, then immediately onto his xylophone. Their multi-instrumentalism, especially through long composed pieces like this, is completely astounding in its own right. Lindsay looked a little frustrated at several moments, though — or maybe it’s only because she was the most hidden behind all her reeds and mic stands and you never really got a good look. There was a shot of her just before the very end in a part she sat out, and it looked like she was looking daggers at the camera. Heh, I can’t imagine there wouldn’t be a little frustration at even a crew of art videographers (and those mid-70s cameras are gigantic beasts) peering voyeuristically into their quasi-private realms of creativity …

    Incredible incredible incredible. Henry Cow puts me completely in another world. All kudos to Hemulism.


  3. Snardbafulator says:

    Oh BTW, have you heard/seen the “new” Cow, looks like a stand-alone release, of demos and sundries they recorded before Leg End? It’s got some great Frith vocalizing, very early Soft Machine-ish, bluesy and wry in that Canterbury way, also some great progrock jamming. I’m sure you must’ve, but if not, it rates a feature!


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