INTUITIVE RECORDS - IRCD 001
A L T E R A T I O N S L I V E INTUITIVE records IRCD 001
1. London Jan. 1, 1980 2:19
2. Copenhagen May 10, 1981 37:03
First half of the concert. Recorded by the Danish Radio at the Royal Danish Conservatory of Music. Sound technician: Jens Krøyer Poulsen. Sound producer: Erik Christensen.
3. Frankfurt May 2, 1983 30:40
Recorded by Heiner Goebbels
Steve Beresford, piano
Peter Cusack, guitars
Terry Day, percussion
David Toop, flutes
All music freely improvised. No overdubs.
(P) and © 2000.
Also a lot more instruments and toys are played.To give an idea about this, here follows a list of Terry Day's main instruments: drums, percussion, alto sax, mandolin, voice (lyrics/poems), balloons, cello, piano, toys (random synthesizer), pocket plastic trumpet, bamboo pipes (home-made crumhorn).
On the cover of Up Your Sleeve, !Quatrz 006, 1980, this list appeared concerning the other group members: PC: nylon string guitar, accessories, wah wah guitar, electric guitar, prepared nylon string guitar, bowed guitar. SB: upright piano, euphonium, toy piano, percussion, toy electric piano, toy synthesizer, melodica, euphonium, whirlers, electronic bird, snapits, voice, bass guitar, whistles, music box, microphone, lo-grade electronics, foot clickers, trumpet, bass, whirled trumpet, swizzle stick, speech, violin, ratchet, whirled reeds, toy electric guitar, whirled microphone, harmonica, squeakers, toothbrush, DT: toy synthesizer, electric guitar, concert flute, toy synthesizer, bass guitar, squeaker, whistles, reeds, animal horn, flutes, whistles, bottleneck fiddle, plastic bamboo flutes, animal decoys, bird decoys, water flute, one string fiddle, vibrato guitar, panpipes, music box, water whistles, Chinese reeds, feedback, ratchet.
This recording is made in cooperation with the Danish Broadcasting Corporation.
Alterations existed as a group 1977-1986. They published 3 LP's (Alterations, bead 9,1978; Up Your Sleeve, !Quartz 006, 1980; My favourite Animals, nato 280, 1984) - the first two with live recordings. This is the first CD devoted to their music. All tracks are previously unreleased. Selections of excerpts were done by Peter Cusack for the first and third track, and for the first, this writer made the further selection and the compilation. As to the Copenhagen recording, the second half of the concert was not preserved due to technical problems.
The great discovery of Alterations was that musical styles and idioms are there to be played with, not taken dead serious - whether while cultivating them or while striving to avoid them. Notice, for instance, the coming and going of something similar to a classical idiom and of a certain well-known tune in the beginning of the Copenhagen track. Or the reggae appearing like a Fata Morgana or like soap bubbles in the Frankfurt track. Such an approach opens up new semantic perspectives: musical travelling takes place not just within one universe of sound, but between several ones. Speaking of historical context, Alterations was formed at a time when the London improvised music scene was widening out, mixing musicians of all ages and stylistic backgrounds.
Dealing with music as a pluralistic and inclusive process involves tolerance and the acceptance of conflict. Steve Beresford's statement seems to hit the point: "The improvised music performances which don't work for me are those which are exactly trying to project an image of pure music which doesn't have the same problems that most music has and that most life has".
(Steve Beresford quoted from a seminar transcribed in Musics 20, Dec. 1978. On Alterations, see also Bailey: Improvisation, its nature and practise in music (1992) p. 125-27. A 6:43 Alterations track from 1980 is included in the RES8.2CD accompanying Resonance Vol. 8 No.2/vol.9 No.1, 2000).
One aspect of Alterations that was so interesting was its 'cooperative confrontation'. Almost any musical statement was possible at any given time, no matter what else was happening at that time. Aggression, destructiveness, stupidity, wilfulness and perversity were as much a part of the organisational process of the music as the more treasured improvisation virtues of listening, reflection, intelligence and cooperation.
FLAVOUR OF THE MONTH THAT YEAR*
Alterations on record (CD/Vinyl) is a bit like listening to the soundtrack to a movie without the picture show. Essential to their 'performance' was the aspect that making music can be both visually & musically entertaining; which hints at the notion of entertainment as a valid musical form - and suggests that 'High Art' can be born from "playing for laughs" - (which the Alterations perfected to such a fine art as to become 'flavour of the month' for a year or two).
At the core of Alterations music lay an attitude of irreverence. Nothing was held sacred. The profane & banal flourished amongst the sublime. Everything was given equal status. Genre & style were there to be explored and deconstructed. The cerebral ruled - but always the music was open to the element of fun - "make 'em laugh, make 'em laugh, make 'em laugh".
It was not so much the convergence of disparate concepts, styles and genres that gave Alterations music its idiosyncratic sound. But rather; the foundation of the music was a language that evolved from the game of contemplating "irreverent musical collisions". Although the collision was premeditated the resultant conjunction pushed the music into new areas - into a new vocabulary - into another language (even to the surprise of the Alterations). It is of course theses same 'irreverent collisions' of concepts that gave the music its form and dictated the overall structure and composition.
If art imitates life (and leaves an imprint). Then Alterations mimic the throwaway society. Thus on a whim or with calculated coolness Alterations discard - abandon the rarest of themes, sounds and motifs. Thence Alterations take up another theme, only for it to be displaced by the next convergence of ideas. Thus anarchy, fissures, discontinuity, the soundbite, the fragment are all pieced together by collision. Unholy alliances take place - and like the market place it is the speed & frequency with which ideas are continously usurped that shocks and unsettles - and the music remains unresolved, unfinished, open-ended (and "tradition" is overthrown without trace).
*'Flavour of the month' is an English colloquialism meaning 'popular'.
Review from www. allmusic.com:
During their decade of activity, the free improv group Alterations released only three LPs, with mixed results. The quartet (Steve Beresford , piano; Peter Cusack , guitar; Terry Day, percussion; and David Toop, flutes) used to perform extended improvisations drawing on every possible genre, with each musician intentionally trying to destroy what the others were constructing - "irreverent musical collisions" in which "nothing was held sacred," to quote Day 's liner notes. The result is a roller coaster of musical ideas, clashes, stumbles, and moments of genuine beauty cut short by illuminated stupidity; the approach and result recall some of Eugene Chadbourne 's projects. None of the group's LPs managed to translate the essence of their live shows (the last, the 1984 My Favorite Animals, contains very short tracks, which defies the melting pot esthetics). So this Live CD fills a huge gap in the history of British free improv. After a short introduction from 1980, listeners are treated with a 37-minute piece recorded by the Danish radio in May 1981. Sparks fly as Alterations cover all grounds between "Happy Birthday" (insistently played on a penny whistle) and abstract free music. At one point someone plays a steady four/four bass pattern, sending everybody else into a frenzy. Beresford mimics a frustrated concert pianist to great humorous effect. The remainder of the disc comes from a concert in Frankfurt in May 1983, also a very good performance. There is no way to bring the visual aspects of an Alterations show to CD - the four musicians constantly shifting between so many instruments, toys, and objects. But this Live CD is the closest anyone will ever get to recreating the experience. A must-have. - François Couture
REVIEW: Anyone familiar with the music of Alterations's constituents will be expecting plenty of invention there, too. It's easy to be scathing about this kind of thing -- self-indulgent toy box music of the sort which involves household junk and a certain level of nihilism. Well, there's something in this, in fact -- "Alterations mimic the throwaway society", Day points out -- but don't expect the music to be entirely how you expect.
Indeed, it really is hard to know whether there are sophisticated levels of irony in this music, or they're just playing things they like. At times, this buffoonish collision of jazz, classicism, circus, trash and happening is reminiscent of a sort of bastardised Ganelin Trio, but these two long pieces from about the time that the trio was becoming a sensation in the West are far more posturing and far less poised.
That's no bad thing, of course, and over the course of these two half-hour jams (there's also a very brief piece from a year earlier) we are subjected to some funny, ridiculous and often very clever improvisations. There's something of the frightening clown about it, inevitably, as the music seems to be driven by a core of angry-at-nothing-particular ranting. But this never simply flounders around or resorts to gestures, and the improvisation is quick, inventive and responsive.
One is reminded of a comment made by Evan Parker to Beresford, to the effect that the pianist was perfectly capable of playing properly, but chose to sound like a child or a complete novice. There are two edges to this, and both are firmly in evidence here. Yes, there are the whistles and toy ray guns, the ham-fisted piano banging and twanging guitars. But there's a great deal of thought lying behind these strategies, which are deliberately chosen and contrasted with straighter playing (Beresford gets through plenty of tunes in these seventy minutes). Often forbiddingly bristly, but worth the effort.
Richard Cochrane, http://come.to/musings.com
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