sleeve note to Community disc (Zyzzle 10)

Community is conceived neither just as a piece of music, nor as a band, but as a special way of making music. Having been involved in avant-garde jazz and free improvisation for about ten years I had developed a desire to make some music with a large group that would retain the freedom and spontaneity of free improvisation, but would also be able to incorporate many of the sounds used in traditional big band music. I wanted to preserve the freedom of the individual musicians to play what and when they wanted to, but also provide ways of producing very unified sounds if required. One thing I definitely wanted to avoid was the feeling you often get with large scale structured improvisations of musicians not being sure if they're in the right place or not.

To achieve this, I organised all the written material in short bits for different combinations of instruments, which the musicians are free to play whenever they like. The bits (there are about seventy altogether) work in different ways. Some are simple unison lines, some are harmonised riffs, some have contrapuntal elements, some use hocketing techniques by which groups of instruments produce a single line by their interlocking rhythms. A few of them actually work as short self-contained pieces in themselves. So as well as being a reservoir of musical ideas which can be drawn on and developed, the bits also represent a variety of group relationships - different ways in which the musicians can play together. The musicians are also free to improvise when they like. Although I wrote the music and directed it in rehearsal, each performance is created collectively and spontaneously by all the musicians, without a director. The only preset formal constraint is that the first part of the piece is based mainly on music with a rhythmic pulse and the second part is based mainly on long sustained sounds.

Sometimes the musicians take purely aural cues from each other, for example by hearing someone else play a bit which they also have and joining in with it or playing something that complements it. At other times groups of musicians get together, decide to play a particular bit and cue each other in, either immediately, cutting across whatever is already happening, or waiting for a strategic point. (Which may never arrive, in which case the idea has to be abandoned!) The typical situation is for there to be several things going on at once, and only occasionally does the band unify around one idea. You can hear the musicians making plans. "Shall we do number 28 now?" someone says near the end of side one. You can also hear people moving around. Instruments changing positions. Distant sounds from the gallery or foyer. On side two listen to the brass quartet fading away as they leave the room in a self-absorbed shuffle. Back inside the strings take over and then the saxes swing in. When they stop the brass group is heard waltzing clumsily back into the room, after being only temporarily subverted by a rogue alto in another backstage corridor . . . The music seems to work best when there is room for the musicians to spread out like this.

There is a strong social and political belief behind the concept of Community. Free improvisation in general is probably the art form that comes nearest to the normal social intercourse of everyday life. The musicians have to deal with each other in a very direct way, which although it has many conventions to follow is ultimately unpredictable and depends on spontaneous responses. The structure of Community highlights this aspect of the music, and suggests by analogy ways in which a libertarian community might function. The music is not utopian because there is no false resolution of the contradictions involved, and no requirement to follow a plan. Each individual must decide independently how much to follow the group and how much to follow a personal direction. This is an aspect of the music that is bound to change as Community develops, but I certainly don't know which way, and I look forward to finding out.

In this sense, Community really is a community that constructs itself through music. But how does it relate specifically to other communities such as the ones depicted on the sleeve? The totally harmonious image of community conveyed by the Chinese poster (which itself has a complicated relationship to the reality of socialist society in China). The delicate balance between community being completely crushed under the alienation of industrial capitalism and being kept alive by the spirit of the workers that is conveyed by Hazel Gower's pictures of the tobacco factory. I hope the music itself answers this question, and the final judgement must be left to the listener. I merely want to point out that these relationships do exist, and that they are important. The Chinese harvest and the tobacco factory are part of the context of almost any music that is made in the world today, but I have chosen images of these because they raise questions that are specially relevant to Community. How useful is it to develop libertarian forms of social relationship through artistic practice in the context of a society that is fundamentally hierarchical and exploitative? Does it contribute to perceptions of the possibilities for change or is it merely coy escapism? I certainly believe it is useful, but in the end this could only be fully answered politically and in retrospect. Part of the answer could be found by considering the exact balance in the music between representing society as it is, representing society as we would like it to be, and representing society as it really could be. The music can't help including elements of all three but it will be most valuable if it combines them in a way that is realistic and convincing. Whether it does this will depend on the way it is listened to as much as the way it is made and can thus only be assessed in a particular social and political context.

Will Menter, September 1981

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writing by will

community in belgium by will guy