The philosophy behind AMM’s music is usually somewhat controversial. Many people seem to be quite opposed to it, whether they object to the paradigm itself or to the fact that there is a paradigm at all. While I agree that music requires no intellectual backing or explanation, it is compelling that these musicians are so devoted to truly making their own unique form of music, and that they can justify it so thoroughly. This is what drove me to read AMM percussionist Eddie Prévost’s 1995 book No Sound Is Innocent, which collects several of the artist’s essays, articles, and musings about the group’s singular style of improvisation and the ideas behind it.
A main point of discussion across these various selections is Prévost’s concept of “meta-music,” a phrase that is often brought up when talking about AMM but is never really explicitly defined. As I see it, he essentially views every sound within a given performance to be important, even vital, to the overall impact of the performance. It follows from this that musicians who are participating in a collective improvisation should always be thinking about their sonic contribution, even if that contribution is extremely subtle or even just silence. In this way, the interactions between the musicians almost takes the form of a conversation of sorts, where no sound, including the absence of sound, is truly innocent. Also fascinating is the recognition of the audience’s impact on a performance, a view Prévost shares with guitarist Derek Bailey (whose book Musical Improvisation is also great). The people viewing an improvisation are just as crucial to its identity as the musicians or the sounds they produce. This identity is only partially maintained by making recordings of the event.
While Prévost’s prose is a bit arcane at times and he does tend to repeat himself, No Sound Is Innocent was incredibly interesting and provided very comprehensive insight regarding “AMMMusic.” He also comes across as much less arrogant than Rowe from what I’ve read (though they all have somewhat of a mystical attitude about them that occasionally elicits an eyeroll or two), and it was funny to hear him talk about their ideological clashes throughout the group’s career. A great book for sure, and I would recommend it to anyone who’s even slightly interested in the music of AMM or improvisational music in general.