Electric cowboy cacophony /A performance and recording fusing mucical elements from the classical, rock country and free electronic traditions

  • Edwards, Michael (Principal Investigator)

Project Details

Layman's description

In making music, how is the methodology of classically-trained composers different from that of rock/pop/jazz/improvising
musicians? There is of course the classical approach of composing in advance of the performance, using manuscript
paper and traditional notation: the tension between slowly-wrought formal structure and improvised musical development
then. There is also the distinction between composer and performer, which in the case of the pop/rock musician is often
one and the same person but in the classical tradition more frequently is not.
Nevertheless, by no means is all rock/pop/jazz music improvised: some of it is composed with or performed from
traditional notation. Apart from this though, are the creative considerations really so at odds? Do musicians with radically
different musical backgrounds--so different apparently that the Germans refer to music by composers out of the classical
tradition as 'Serious Music' ('Ernste Musik') and that from the rock/pop/jazz tradition only, and quite pejoratively, as
'Entertainment Music' ('Unterhaltungs Musik')--do these musicians really think so differently about making music as we
might perhaps believe? Scores and notation aside on the one hand, the three-minute song with a three-chord trick aside
on the other, aren't many of us concerned with similar musical characteristics: texture, mood, musical voice exchange,
sonority... Or, when moving in the areas of avant-garde classical, jazz, rock, free improvised, and pop music, isn't there
perhaps more in common than not, in the intention of the music at least, if not always in the sound?
Electric Cowboy Cacophony is both a musical group and a concert performance. It comprises four musicians from very
different backgrounds: Myself (UK), classical composer and computer musician; Paul Elwood (USA), composer and
banjoist (country/folk/avant-garde); Jean-Marc Montera (France), electric guitarist and Chitarra player (rock, free
improvisation); and Karin Schistek (Austria/UK), classical pianist and improvisor.
We first came together in Marseille, France, in February 2006 at the Groupe de Recherche et d'Improvisation Musicales
(www.grim-marseille.com/) on the invitation of Jean-Marc Montera, GRIM's director. A day spent recording was followed
later by a concert, both of which opened up enormous opportunity for meaningful musical exchange.
Playing together raised many questions, several of which are posed above. Answering these questions in this group
context leads to broader steps towards bridging the gap between classical and pop/rock/jazz/improvised music, a gap
which in the current cultural and educational climate is no longer tenable; a gap which is probably more political than
musical; a gap which when bridged can enrich the musical experience of all.
A performance and recording project is proposed to explore these questions and find expressive modes of interaction
between the group's members and aesthetics. We aim to work for a week in Marseille and develop enough musical
material for a concert and DVD recording (c. one hour's music). The recording will be made at GRIM but mixed, edited,
and mastered in Edinburgh. The DVD will be pressed and released on the sumtone label. Two concerts will then be
presented, one in Marseille, the other in Edinburgh. A web-page detailing the work's progress and the results (in the form
of MP3 files) will be made available also.

Key findings

The power and creative potential of Western musical notation is undeniable and well documented.
On the other hand, the rich traditions of non-Western musical cultures—where form
and practice is passed down through various mechanisms both oral and otherwise—as well
as the more recent developments in jazz and free improvisation, make it clear that compelling
music can be made through less mediated forms of practice. Improvisation enables fruitful
musical exchanges between musicians of any provenance. This project would not have been
possible had it involved musical notation because Montera does not read music. But this is
perhaps the least significant of all reasons for employing improvisation here: The arguably
unnotatable rhythmic subtlety, the tempo and metric conflations, and perhaps above all, the
unplannable serendipities of instant musical exchange between live performers irrefutably
confirm the value of improvisation, free or otherwise. The use of the computer adds its own
complexities, as the various and virtually unlimited variables of its processes go well beyond
the usual notational parameters of pitch, duration, dynamic etc. To attempt notation and reproduction
of such would require a radically overhauled or extended notational system and
would probably result in losing more than is gained (attempts of course have been made,
but they are usually of a basic and incomplete nature and, more problematically, often dependent
on short-lived technology). Just as recording equipment has made bypassing traditional
notation the norm for most popular musicians, perhaps the developing use of the
computer as a musical instrument will further highlight the deficiencies of common notation
to the point where it massively decreases in significance, or at least radically changes. But
ultimately, notation is no more than a tool; let it be used as such and with the purpose of
creating music, not towards validating one group of musicians whilst disenfranchising another.
Effective start/end date1/04/0831/03/09


  • AHRC: £19,633.00


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