SPONTANEOUS MUSIC ORCHESTRA

FOR YOU TO SHARE

EMANEM 4023

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JOHN STEVENS percussion, voice
TREVOR WATTS soprano saxophone, voice
plus numerous young musicians and audience members
on saxophones, guitar, double bass, percussion, voices
 

1 - FOR YOU TO SHARE - 37:06
- CLICK PIECE
- SUSTAINED PIECE 1
- SUSTAINED PIECE 2
- IF YOU WANT TO SEE A VISION
2 - PEACE MUSIC - 27:46

Analogue recordings made in London
1 in concert at The Crypt by BOB BROWN - 1970 MAY 20
2 in a studio by GEOFF GREEN - 1970 JANUARY 23
Total time 65:11

1 originally issued in 1973 on A LP 001
2 previously unissued

 

Excerpts from sleeve notes:

ORIGINAL NOTES by MARTIN DAVIDSON (1973)
All quotes taken from an interview with JOHN STEVENS:

As John Stevens so rightly says: "I think if you just heard the sound and you didn't know it was audience people, you wouldn't think in terms of, 'Oh, that's just people who aren't musicians', because it just has a beautiful sound. It has the sound of people joining together, and it is based on people working together within what they are capable of doing."

Certainly a well-known pop group who happened to be around when the tape was being re-mastered were eagerly enquiring as to how on earth one could achieve such a sound. For this is the first recorded example of a large group improvisation by the Spontaneous Music Ensemble to be released.

John Stevens' first attempts at large group improvisation were made in 1967 at a time when the SME was basically a duo of himself and Evan Parker. A piece called FAMILIE became the means of incorporating several other musicians into an extended improvising group. By the time it had been recorded in 1968 - a beautiful recording that has still not been released - FAMILIE had evolved into a slow-moving, sustained-note piece with a strong influence from Japanese Gagaku music. Stevens sees that this ancient music "has a very slow-moving line not played in a normal unison fashion. It has the feeling of things overlapping with each other and therefore keeps a very sustained quality about it. It absolutely knocks me out from the point of view of sound, and the point of view that these people are playing in such a natural way which has all the untogetherness and beauties of that way plus a real togetherness. It has a combination of things that really require the structure of what they are playing to be free, and the people playing together to be well together. In fact, it has all of the elements that would make up a good large group playing together."

This successful fusion of the recent discoveries of the small SME with some of the oldest living music in the world continued until some of the musicians felt that "it didn't allow them to get into their own thing sufficiently, or they didn't feel the need to get involved with such group music." Stevens then realised that: "If I wanted to get involved with large groups of people towards large group improvisations, I should look for the real enthusiasm to do it, which I later found in young musicians who would come and hear the SME play, and with people who didn't play but who could get involved in vocal things with the group." Actually these vocal things also go back to FAMILIE which had always incorporated voices.

Thus by 1970, when this record was made, the SME would range in size from ten to thirty participants, with John Stevens and Trevor Watts as the nucleus. "We'd include people who started out as the audience, both young musicians and other people who would sing sustained and play gongs or shake bells. The idea was to have at the centre a fairly developed group improvisation between say, Trevor and I (because we'd been associated together for such a long time). Then there were young musicians who had just joined in and who were interested. They were playing on instruments, but playing sustained long melody lines or sustained notes that would be moving on in a natural sympathy with the improvisation that was going on in the middle. The next rank out would be people who weren't playing but just wanted to take part - audience type people who would be singing and playing gongs. Then there would be the audience. It was intended that as people became more and more involved and stayed with it, they would gradually join the centre to expand the group improvisation. Also, on gigs we always tried to get audience participation to attract another layer of people to the outside, and we succeeded in doing it. The idea was to make the whole environment into an environment of active relationships."

FOR YOU TO SHARE on this record is a superb example of this. Fortunately, it was preserved on tape, and although the acoustic quality is not brilliant, the actual music more than makes up for that. It was always intended to put out a record of this music and donate all the profits to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament - the band often took part in peace demonstrations.

The music begins with a short CLICK PIECE - another concept that was first explored two years earlier during the FAMILIE period. "You make as small a sound as possible - either tap it or click it with your mouth or on your instrument." (In this case only voices are used.) "You repeat your own sound in your own pace as perfectly as you can - not particularly in relationship to anyone else and what they are doing, as they will be in their own paces. You just click and try to repeat your click, and if it grows together at all, you'll find that the empathy that there is will attract people to form the clicks together. The clicks falling together naturally are like a magnet, and as soon as that magnetism happens it seems to create a thought in your mind that wasn't there previously, like: 'Oh! We're together!'. The next click will then almost certainly fall apart, as that thought distracts you from your pace. You are, however, trying to be unconscious of this and allow the clicks to be a natural manifestation of your deepest feelings and deepest consciousness."

This soon evolves into a SUSTAINED PIECE in which: "You inhale as deeply as possible, then play or sing sustained on the exhale. You then inhale deeply again and repeat the process, not necessarily with the same note, but allowing yourself to adjust for comfort of pace. The sustained quality comes out of some people having longer or shorter breath lengths - a naturalness of pace which people get into as individuals. It's like a drone and we are together in that drone in another type of togetherness which is not only a turn on musically for initiated musicians - it can incorporate anybody. Anybody can join in and have that same experience that we are getting within the small groups. You can think of a sustained sound as being made up of many little tiny involvements, yet its production by this method is virtually unconscious."

This recorded SUSTAINED PIECE begins with just sustained voices over which Trevor Watts and John Stevens play an improvised duet on soprano saxophone and percussion respectively. When this duet finishes, all the other instruments gradually merge into the sustaining to perform a vast body of slowly evolving sound which leads the ensemble into the majestic, slow moving theme IF YOU WANT TO SEE A VISION - slow moving because Stevens wrote it with such a group of musicians in mind. It is here that the influence of Gagaku music is most noticeable as the theme floats over the gongs and bells. The whole piece ends with all the participants chanting in their own paces.

This large semi-official ensemble eventually became very impractical to work with regularly. "So it fizzled out because it had the usual human conflicts in it. But it was beautiful while it lasted." Now [1973] once again Stevens is involved in music closely related to this in the various workshops that he conducts. One of his ambitions is to perform such music using a symphony orchestra. And why not? There have not been many symphonies as beautiful as this one.

ADDITIONAL NOTES by MARTIN DAVIDSON (1998):

Much has happened in the twenty-five years since the above notes were written, and yet much has remained the same. John Stevens continued to find different methods to organise music for large ensembles (but not a symphony orchestra) up until his untimely death in 1994. The concepts were usually highly original and somewhat outrageous, but often more interesting than the end results. FOR YOU TO SHARE is one of those original and outrageous concepts that did work magnificently.

The name Spontaneous Music Orchestra was not actually used until his 1973 projects with workshops. However, I consider it appropriate to use it here to describe a precursor, in order to emphasise the differences from the series of small group Spontaneous Music Ensemble recordings.

FOR YOU TO SHARE was originally on the first LP issued by A Records - a label set up by John Stevens and Trevor Watts that went on to issue two further LPs (by Amalgam and a 1975 version of the SMO). The balance of that first LP was taken up with PARK PIECE - a recording made by the enlarged SME in a London square around the same time. This was built around recurring African-like rhythmical figures, and the end result is about as interesting and entertaining as the repetition of the official Minimalist school. I have therefore decided to replace it with PEACE MUSIC - a studio recording from a few months earlier. This is similar to FOR YOU TO SHARE, but only includes the sustained sections, with instruments rather than voices for the most part. The recording may be better, but the balance is not - the improvisation by Watts and Stevens in the first half should have been more dominant.

It is sad that some things have not changed. Both FAMILIE and the trio session with Steve Swallow remain unissued - being owned by record producers who are not interested in issuing them themselves, and who want unrealistic amounts of money to let anyone else do something. Also, the superlative records OLIV and BIRDS OF A FEATHER have long been languishing respectively in the Polygram and Affinity vaults. On the positive side, several SME recordings - both reissues and previously unpublished items - have been made available on CD, mostly on Emanem.

As for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament - it is needed as much as ever. How can a government claim that it cannot afford to maintain decent standards in the arts, education, health and public transport, when it can afford to squander billions on pointless weapons of mass destruction?

 

Excerpts from reviews:

"What an incredible sound."

WRCT-FM 1998

"Reissue of a pretty major improvisational drone work, with an additional unreleased track (both recorded in 1970). A unique piece in the SME discography which will appeal to those interested in spacious minimalist drones, etc."

FORCED EXPOSURE - 1998

"An essential document from the early years of London's free music scene by one of its most significant creative partnerships. Recommended."

DAVID LEWIS - CADENCE 1998

"Unusual is the reissue of a 1970 recording by the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, FOR YOU TO SHARE. Unusual because the two long pieces are, in effect, drones: audience-participation events cooked up by the SME's founder and ringleader, drummer John Stevens. Peace Music is a delicious, ecstatic kind of slow jazz-drone ritual - yeah, kinda reminiscent of Terry Riley - with saxes wailing along slow up-and-down arcs in semi-unison, chopped up by Stevens' frenzied arrhythmic percussion, while the common folks tinkle bells. A must hear."

TONY MOSTROM - EPULSE - 1998

"By the time this recording was made, the SME had begun to attract a following. There were a few dozen people who knew about the music and maybe half of them were regular attendees at what gigs there were. It was John Stevens' idea that, given their close involvement as listeners, it made sense to include them in the group for some performances. This CD is the result: it contains a track reissued from vinyl and one which has never been issued before. The first thing to say is that you need not fear an SME performance compromised or ruined by amateurs. Stevens' instinct was right. Though the audience is used as a drone for some of the time, this is by no means all that they are there for. The music makes use of the opportunity presented in a number of ways. For You to Share is a single 37-minute performance in several sections. It starts with a Click Piece in which all the players make short sounds. Gradually, these sounds begin to coincide, and the music moves to the next phase, Sustained Piece, where the sounds are longer (breath-length) and begin to overlap. Amidst all this, Trevor Watts on soprano saxophone and John Stevens play a duet, which eventually gives way to a huge, slow-moving ensemble and thence to the final part, If You Want to See a Vision - the theme slowly introduced by Watts, taken up by the whole group, then everyone speaking the words until the piece comes to a close.

The second performance consists just of Sustained Piece and was recorded on a different occasion. The recording is clearer, but not very well balanced, so that Stevens and Watts are absorbed into the ensemble sound even when it's clear that they should be up front. The performance ends with quiet chanting and with a rather abrupt fade. Listeners might be tempted to assume that with so many CDs of various John Stevens enterprises available, this one could be missed. But in fact he experimented in so many different ways, and made so many recordings which were not issued at the time, that the task of documentation has barely begun. This CD represents a unique part of his work and is like nothing else I know."

RICHARD LEIGH - RESONANCE 1998

"The music couldn't contrast more radically with the taut, honed and intentionally 'ego-less' conversational style of the "small" SME group, with For You to Share especially a rambling, structured yet shambolic group all-in, which moves through a number of detectable phases: Stevens and Watts crashing through a freedom jazz soprano/drums duet on top of massed chorus moaning, before all instruments and voices merge into a singularly universal drone theme which is massive in every conceivable way. Rather astonishing stuff, it can practically be seen as a kind of rabble-mass reinvention of ivory tower minimalism, working political intent and improvisational spontaneity into and against the asocial and regimented drone. The link to minimalism is made explicit with Peace Music, a 26-minute and almost (but unfortunately really not) raga-less Theatre of Eternal Music drone hymnal, and mind-meltingly brilliant with it.

FOR YOU TO SHARE is another essential reissue document of this crucial and pioneering entity, and one which reveals fascinating cross-genre cultural links, in whose reverberative tremors we can once more, 25 years on, quietly delight."

NICK CAIN - OPPROBRIUM 1998

"At one time or another most professional musicians have either lead or participated in workshops, but on very few occasions have they actually been released as recordings. This is a shame considering that workshop approaches vary as much as the personalities of those conducting them. What is most remarkable about this spin-off of the John Stevens / Trevor Watts edition of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble is that until you read the liners, it is not entirely obvious that you are listening to a "workshop" ensemble. The two exercises juxtapose the regularly working duo against the droning and sustained long-tones of the workshop musicians. These hovering shapes create an eerie backdrop for the dialogue between Stevens and Watts, recalling at times that Master Musicians of Joujouka at half-speed. Watts' serpentine soprano lines work their way across the ebbing and flowing drones or insight an erupting duo with Stevens, who thunders about one moment or contributes delicate shades and subtle support the next. Large group improvisation has always been a hard row to hoe: How do you keep things from sounding muddy, yet not add so many controls that what transpires is actually composition? That Stevens and Watts obscure the fact that the other participants are so-called "students" is testament to their own improvisational talents."

JON MORGAN - SIGNAL TO NOISE 1999

"The sound is a bit dodgy, especially the first track, with the soprano and drums sounding as if they've been recorded on a personal cassette recorder, but what comes through loud and clear is the (mostly) vocal drone provided by the audience members. It was 1970, after all, and the idea (Stevens' idea) was to involve everyone in the process of making spontaneous music by having them hold long tones, which would form the backdrop of what Stevens and Watts would come up with.

It comes off rather well, really. Watts is a tremendously underrated and markedly lyrical player. After awhile here he seems to run out of ideas and begins to harp on a couple of repetitive figures, although that may be part of the trance music aspect of the piece. He certainly begins with some wondrous melody-making. The audience's drone harks back to some of the earliest notated music, where drones by one voice set off a melody by another; the 'orchestra' here has numerous affecting moments.

The second track, Peace Music, was recorded in a studio four months before For You to Share. There's no telling who was in the studio, but here the drone is instrumental, and Watts' soprano is Oriental in a Coltrane-ish mode. You hear his playing a bit better here (although the drone threatens to overwhelm him on occasion) and it deserves to be. Stevens contributes some tabla-like drumming, and the whole thing could be going on in Bombay.

This is fine and fascinating music. The words on the front cover are arranged in a peace symbol, and perhaps the whole thing is a bit dated. But the marvellous playing by Watts and Stevens is timeless, making this a most welcome reissue."

ROBERT SPENCER - ALL ABOUT JAZZ 1998

"A re-release (with extra material), of a 1970 recording, this is a bit different for Messrs Stevens and Watts. These pieces were written in an attempt to include people who had long listened to SME performances and had an interest in improvising themselves. The instructions for the various sections are straight-forward and the ideas are easily implemented by anyone with or without 'musical ability'. I'll forego a detailed description of the compositions as, in the liner notes Stevens is quoted as saying he hopes people will listen first, and then learn about the way it's all constructed. The sound itself is amazing: a rich drone of voices first, then instruments, over which Watts and Stevens improvise in their quick manner. I love the idea AND the music, and the recording is analogue, giving it a warm 'you are there' sound. I doubt that a group this large could be adequately recorded in a studio anyway, (as the previously unheard piece Peace Music shows), so the method fits the occasion. Thanks to Martin Davidson for continuing to make music of this calibre available once again."

JEPH JERMAN - THE IMPROVISOR - 1998

"The Spontaneous Music Ensemble is one of Britain's, and the world's, first and best free improvisation groups. A new release bills the SME, appropriately, as the Spontaneous Music Orchestra. For You To Share begins with a segment labelled Click Piece, with the performers making clicking sounds, evolving into a chant, introducing Trevor Watts' soprano sax arabesques and John Steven's cymbal tattoo, accented with gongs and drum kit, playing off a beautiful drone of horns and voices. About twenty-five minutes in, Stevens and Watts drop out to a vocal drone, eventually joined by bittersweet sax improvisations. The sound carries the timelessness of a long gamelan or gagaku piece, and at about thirty minute in, indeed you hear gagaku sonorities. At the moment I thought to myself this drone of a slow march is just gorgeous, an audience member exhorts, "Yeah!". Vocally, like a tape loop, the performers call, "If you want to see a vision..." with variations on that theme.

To Davidson's credit, there seems to be no hiss reduction and no loss of the richness of the admittedly-erratic recorded sound, transferred by Eddie Offord, known for getting a rich sound from what he has available. The previously unreleased Peace Music, recorded four months earlier in the studio, is similar, beginning with a drone of saxes, with Watts and Stevens improvising over the background. Unlike many audience-participation pieces, this one is not only for those who participated. FOR YOU TO SHARE is a most welcome and satisfying reissue."

STEVE KOENIG - LA FOLIA MUSIC REVIEW - 1999

 

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