01 Christopher Hobbs ‘Aran’ (3:52)
02 John Adams ‘John Philip Sousa’ (4:24)
03 John Adams ‘Christian Zeal And Activity’ (11:38)
04 John Adams ‘Sentimentals’ (2:49)
05 Christopher Hobbs ‘McCrimmon Will Never Return’ (9:19)
06 Gavin Bryars ‘1, 2, 1-2-3-4’ (14:56)
Total time: 46:40
LP released on Island Records 1975
The possibility of an Island Records A&R manager asking the effeminate Roxy Music keyboard player to curate an experimental LP collection in 1975 somewhat belies our understanding today. Several points should be taken into account when considering Brian Eno‘s Obscure LP series:
- Eno left Roxy Music in 1973, when the band was about to split while still a top seller for Island – Island probably concerned with return on investment issues at this point;
- In 1974 and 75, Eno spent several months in hospital, hardly able to attend studio sessions and unable to tour or promote his ‘Here Comes The Warm Jets’ 1975 LP;
- There was understandably a need for an english take on american minimalism in music, a genre bringing pop-rock audiences to contemporary music since 1968 in the US;
- Eno’s strategy of blurring distinctions between high and popular art might have been considered as potentially dragging contemporary/classical music followers to pop, a promising perspective from an A&R point of view. On the other hand, the whole Minimalist music school’s project seems to re-instill tonality in contemporary music (as opposed to un-marketable Darmstadt abstract experiments);
- From 1968 to 1975, UK saw the emergence of Indeterminate, Improvised and Systems Music inititiatives all over the country by the likes of Scratch Orchestra, Portsmouth Sinfonia, Promenade Theatre Orchestra, Foster’s Social Orchestra, etc (cf Timeline bellow). This is a unique, specifically british phenomenon based on the UK’s long tradition of concert bands. Some of these orchestras even had chart hits at the time – there was indeed a popular demand for this music. Systems Music best describes the kind of (mostly) british music that incorporates elements from Fluxus action pieces, european improvised music of the ’70s, classical influences via Purcell and John Adams, self-build instruments and a british take on upper-class avant jazz.
This ‘Ensemble Pieces’ LP gathers 3 veterans of systems music and reads like a manifesto for things to come on Obscure. Christopher Hobbs was a member of AMM circa The Crypt and Laminal LPs. His 2 contributions are cheerful repetitve carolls on organ, bells and toy piano, closer to what he did with Promenade Theatre Orchestra than AMM. According to Wikipedia Aran is based on ‘a knitting pattern for an Aran sweater, with its different stitches, [determining] the pitches chosen and the instruments to play them’. John Adams contributes 3 austere and slowly evolving instrumental pieces from a live recording with his New Music Ensemble, San Francisco. Gavin Bryars‘ ‘1,2, 1-2-3-4’ is an extraordinary set up for ensemble where each interpret listens to a cassette on headphones and mimick the sounds he hears on his own instrument. All players hear the same music but play their specific part only, at the specific speed of their own cassette player and at the pace their skills and ability allows them. The basic composition is lounge/jazz music. Shifitng occurs early in the recording and soon the music sounds aleatoric. Musicians for this session are top notch players, like Derek Bailey, Cornelius Cardew or Bryars himself on bass. The wind parts are gorgeous, especially the trombone. A real treat.
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SYSTEMS MUSIC’S TIMELINE
- Improvisation trio Joseph Holbrooke with Derek Bailey (guitar), Gavin Bryars (double bass) and Tony Oxley (drums).
- Hugh Davies (1943-2005) assitant to Karlheinz Stockhausen in Cologne from 1964 to 1966. A member of the latter’s Live Ensemble as well, he took part to the recording of Mikrophonie I in 1965.
- Lou Gare and Keith Rowe members of the Mike Westbrook Band.
- Creation of AMM improvised music ensemble.
- Cornelius Cardew joins AMM along Eddie Prévost and Christopher Hobbs.
- AMM playing at opening of Yoko Ono‘s exhibition ‘Unfinished Objects’ in November, Indica Gallery, London. Ono was a close friend of Cardew.
- AMM‘s first LP ‘AMMUSIC‘ published by DNA.
- John Cage performs the Saddle Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, London.
- Cornelius Cardew writes Treatise (1963-67). Works as a graphic designer for Aldus Books, London.
- AMM opening for Pink Floyd at London’s UFO Club (Jan. 27)
- Cardew (teaching at London’s Morley College) launches the Scratch Orchestra with Howard Skempton and Michael Parsons, performing The Great Learning until 1972.
- Spontaneous Music Ensemble ‘Karyobin’ LP.
- Michael Nyman publishes an article on Cardew in The Spectator magazine, the first occurence of the term ‘minimalism’ applied to music.
- John White‘s Drinking and Hooting Machine, system piece where each player alternatively blows over the top of a bottle and drink from it.
- Brian Eno studies contemporary art and sound sculpture at the Winchester School of Arts. He’s then a member of Merchant Taylor’s Simultaneous Cabinet, as well as bands Maxwell’s Demon and joins the Scratch Orchestra.
- Gavin Bryars composes ‘The Sinking of the Titanic’ (indeterminate music).
- Christopher Hobbs joins The Scratch Orchestra.
- Launch of Promenade Theatre Orchestra quartet with John White, Christopher Hobbs, Alec Hill, and Hugh Shrapnel, playing toy pianos and reed organs, a.o. instruments.
- White Noise (David Vorhaus) ‘An Electric Storm’, Island Records. w/ Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson (as ‘Unit Delta Plus’).
- Launch of the extremely popular Portsmouth Sinfonia orchestra incl. Bryars and Nyman as well as Eno on clarinet.
- Music Improvisation Company LP, ECM, with Derek Bailey, Evan Parker and Hugh Davies on keyboards, the latter appearing on Obscure #4 by Toop and Eastley.
- Cardew ‘The Great Learning Paragraphs 2 and 7’ LP, Deutsche Grammophon.
- Gavin Bryars ‘Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet’, released on Obscure series in 1975 w/ a.o. Derek Bailey.
- Cardew member of People’s Liberation Music along Keith Rowe.
- Henry Wolff and Nancy Hennings ‘Tibetan Bells’, on Island Records
- Basil Kirchin ‘Worlds Within Worlds’, Columbia Records, with Brian Eno sleevenotes. Kirchin: ‘There is no such thing as a long note’. Vol.2 on Island, 1973.
- Relocating in Berlin, Cardew composed marxists songs and published his ‘Stockhausen Serves Imperialism’ book (Cardew had been assistant to Stockhausen from 1958 to 1960).
- Eno part with Roxy Music.
- Eno ‘No Pussyfooting’ w/ Robert Fripp.
- Eno ‘Here Come the Warm Jets’ LP.
- Ovary Lodge s/t LP, RCA-Victor (w/ Frank Perry, Keith Tippett and Roy Babbington, produced by Robert Fripp). Frank Perry will be featured on Obscure #4.
- Eno in hospital for lung problems.
- Portsmouth Sinfonia ‘Portsmouth Sinfonia Plays the Popular Classics’ LP.
- Eno ‘Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)’ LP.
- Lady June‘s ‘Linguistic Leprosy’ LP w/ Eno
- Michael Nyman publishes his influential book (written from 1970 to 72) on experimental music ‘Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond‘, dealing with aleatoric, fluxus-inspired and performance music in UK and the US.
- Eno in hospital after car injuries.
- Eno ‘Another Green World’ LP.
- Eno ‘Discreet Music’ LP.
- ‘Evening Star’ LP w/ Fripp (November).
- Eno ‘Oblique Strategies’ set of decision making cards for artists inspired by chinese cards discovered in the US.