mimeo / john tilbury the hands of caravaggio
erstwhile cd 021
the hands of caravaggio
keith rowe guitar, electronics
kevin drumm guitar, analogue synthesizer
phil durrant software granular samplers and treatments
thomas lehn analogue synthesizer
kaffe matthews live sampling, computer
jérôme noetinger electroacoustic devices
gert-jan prins electronics, fm modulations, radio
peter rehberg computer
marcus schmickler digital synthesizer, computer
rafael toral guitar with analogue modular system
markus wettstein amplified metal garbage
cor fuhler inside piano
john tilbury piano
recorded live at angelica, festival internazionale di musica, bologna, may 20, 2001
this cd is currently sold-out
MIMEO, the Music In Movement Electronic Orchestra, is a band composed of twelve of Europe's premier
electronics improvisers. Due both to logistical and financial constraints, they have only performed together a
handful of times since the establishment of the current lineup in 1998.
After the remarkable success of their epic, 24-hour long performance in Vandoeuvre in May of 2000,
the band did not assemble again until almost a year later in Bologna, for the Angelica festival
(thanks to festival organizer Massimo Simonini). The concert was a singular one, as MIMEO was joined by the
noted pianist John Tilbury, nonpareil Feldman interpreter and longstanding member of AMM. The performance
was built around a concerto for piano and electronic orchestra, titled The Hands Of Caravaggio and loosely
inspired by the Caravaggio painting The Taking Of Christ, as interpreted by Keith Rowe.
The piece begins with a low test-tone drone from Cor Fuhler, working inside the piano, followed by
Tilbury's entrance a few minutes later. Next, Jérôme Noetinger sets off a flare, signaling the introduction of the
electronics. The accumulation of electronics gradually reaches critical mass, at times obscuring the piano
altogether. But Tilbury is never completely hidden for long; space opens, and the piano emerges.
As the piece evolves, the musicians discover a more delicate counterbalance to work within, which ultimately
dissipates into silence. Liner notes for this release can be found on the 021 catalog page on the Erstwhile web
site. These include an essay by Michael Graubart on the history of the concerto and The Hands of Caravaggio's
place within the tradition, as well as notes from some of the musicians involved, including Rowe and Tilbury.
The stylistic range of the music is echoed in the artwork, which intertwines the original Caravaggio, a painting
and a graphic score by Rowe, and original work from Erstwhile designer Friederike Paetzold.
A staggering achievement, one is tempted to call The Hands of Caravaggio the first great piano concerto of the
21st century. The work is the brainchild of Keith Rowe, eminence grise of MIMEO and co-founder of AMM who,
inspired by the recently discovered painting The Taking of Christ by Caravaggio, imagined a piece combining
the mighty forces of MIMEO's electronics with the pure, gorgeous sound of John Tilbury's piano. Technically,
therefore, the work is not really freely improvised, as the musicians were asked to consider the painting
(particularly the array of hands within it) and to employ various strategies during its performance.
When arriving at the venue of this live recording and surveying MIMEO's set-up, Tilbury remarked, "In one
second you guys can eliminate me once and for all." Electronics manipulator Jerome Noetinger deadpanned,
"Less than a second." And this is part of the dynamic at work: the pitched battle and occasional
accommodations between the 'orchestra' and the piano. It begins with a low hum to which, after a few minutes,
Tilbury introduces the spare yet crystalline chords heíd perfected with AMM, very much out of Morton Feldman
in one sense, but also very much his own. As MIMEO gathers strength, it changes form from a comfortable
ìnestî for the piano to an enveloping storm, flooding the sound-space with a nearly infinite range of sonorities,
as chaotic and disciplined as a hurricane. The playing field would have been difficult enough as is, but Rowe
threw yet another wrench into the proceedings by having pianist Cor Fuhler play inside the same piano as
Tilbury with the motive of not allowing the latter to get into anything resembling a comfort zone. Fuhler tries to
anticipate Tilbury's every move and acts to hinder it by damping the piano strings involved, clamping them
down, etc. This forces Tilbury into areas that would otherwise have remained unvisited and adds yet another
layer of conceptual complexity onto an already deeply rich endeavor. In this context, his playing takes on an
almost Romantic quality, not just in the relatively melodic aspect of his approach but also in the heroic striving
to achieve a balance against impossible odds. The multi-dimensional, thick conception and execution of the
work allows for many repeated listenings that guarantee fresh discoveries each time, both in the actual
sounds heard and, perhaps more importantly, in the relationships between musicians and, analogously,
between past and present as represented by the two main factions here. The question has been asked:
Where does improvised music go after AMM? This is one amazing answer.
Brian Olewnick, for the All Music Guide, an online database (www.allmusic.com).
The Hands of Caravaggio was recorded last year at Angelica, Festival Internazionale Di Musica in Bologna.
The performance marked a unique collaboration between new music pianist John Tilbury (of AMM) with the
now legendary MIMEO ensemble. MIMEO (Music In Movement Electronic Orchestra) is something of a who's
who of experimental improv. Its current members are known as much for their solo works and various
collaborative efforts as their work as a single unit. They are: Keith Rowe, Kevin Drumm, Phil Durrant,
Thomas Lehn, Kaffe Matthews, Jérôme Noetinger, Gert-Jan Prins, Peter Rehberg, Marcus Schmickler,
Rafael Toral, Markus Wettstein and Cor Fuhler. They perform on a variety of instruments and electronics,
including Cor Fuhler's inside piano (a central figure in the piece), guitars, computers, electroacoustic devices,
samplers and metallic objects. Added to their ranks is a sharp, piercing performance by John Tilbury on piano.
The performance is a tempestuous fluctuation of moods and textures, from quiet and tranquil sections to
dizzying and intense crescendos. The piece seems guided by a collective vision, yet composed of such
dissident elements (acoustic/electronic, tranquil/explosive). It's an intoxicating and challenging set, one that
defies easy description and presents a new context for the term "concerto." If you visit the Erstwhile Records
website, you'll find four short but insightful commentaries on a number of ideas related to this project; on the
history of the concerto, the dichotomy of conflict versus cooperation, on Caravaggio (providing a loose theme
for the work as well as the basis for the cover artwork), on collective versus individual direction in large
ensemble pieces. Be sure to check it out.
[Richard di Santo] Incursion Music Review webzine www.incursion.org/imr
Keith Rowe's choice of album title and cover art referencing the great Italian painter Caravaggio (1573 - 1610),
his stated intention that this concert (recorded in Bologna on May 20th 2001) could be considered as
a concerto for piano and electronic orchestra with John Tilbury", and the inclusion on the Erstwhile website of
articles by Tilbury himself and Michael Graubart on the history of the concerto all invite us to come at these 49
minutes of music more from the direction of (contemporary) classical music than with any predetermined
assumptions relating to the culture of improvised music. Pianist Tilbury is, after all, one of the world's finest
performers of new music, having released benchmark recordings of major works by Cage, Cardew and
Feldman, and the sensibility he brings to his improvised work with AMM has more in common with British and
American Experimental music than it does with a "tradition" of free improv piano playing deriving essentially
from free jazz.At the heart of the concept of the classical and Romantic concerto is the idea of creative friction
between soloist and orchestra, on a macro (formal) or micro (motivic) level, in conjunction with the idea that the
work should be a showcase of sorts for the soloist's virtuosity (hence the tradition of incorporating a cadenza).
Tilbury's mastery of the piano may be evidence, but there are several lengthy passages where his
contributions are subsumed into the surrounding sonic plasma rather than engaging the other musicians in
contrapuntal dialogue. As such, "The Hands of Caravaggio" has less to do with the piano concerto as we know
it from Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms and Chopin and more in common with the baroque concerto
grosso. A second pianist, Cor Fuhler, plays a kind of continuo (on inside piano), while the remaining eleven
members of the Music In Movement Electronic Orchestra (a veritable Who's Who of electroacoustic
improvisation: Keith Rowe, Thomas Lehn, Phil Durrant, Kaffe Mathews, Peter Rehberg, Kevin Drumm, Markus
Wettstein, Marcus Schmickler, Gert-Jan Prins, Rafael Toral and Jérôme Noetinger) cocoon the pianists in a
dense weave of electronic sound. Despite theconsiderable thickness of texture (Tilbury joked with the other
musicians before the performance: "In one second you guys can eliminate me once and for all," to which
Jérôme Noetinger responded: "Less than a second.."), the 49-minute span of music is eminently listenable
and, from a formal point of view, surprisingly traditional: a slow crescendo and accumulation of material leads
to climactic passages starting at about 13' and gently subsiding (after around 27') into an elegiac coda (about
40'30") and slow fadeout. Of course, apart from Tilbury's florid virtuosity and crystalline arpeggios, it's almost
impossible to tell who's doing what: the concert itself was apparently fraught with technical problems (with the
sound system and Tilbury's piano), and several of the participants expressed reservations about the
performance at the time. However, as Erstwhile had already slated the project for release even before the
concert ever took place (a rather risky strategy in my opinion, but one perfectly in accord with Jon Abbey's daring
vision of his own label), it fell to Marcus Schmickler to go through the tapes and mix and master the final
product The fact that "The Hands of Caravaggio" is MIMEO's most coherent and impressive album to date is
due in no small part to his ten days of painstaking work.
Dan Warburton, on his web site paristransatlantic.com.
A lone Powerbook, sampler, analog synthesizer, or prepared guitar/FX rig can drum up one heck of a racket,
as solo sets by Gert-Jan Prins, Pita, and Thomas Lehn will attest. The Music in Movement Electronic Orchestra
(Mimeo), a collective comprising a dozen of Europe's electronic-improv luminaries, has struggled with the
challenge of bringing together many performers without devolving into formless, murky clamor. While unique
Quadrophonic stage setups and extended durations (Mimeo staged a 24-hour performance in Vand'ouevre,
France in May of 2000) have addressed this problem in the live arena, Mimeo has been less successful in
reproducing its essence on record. Queue, the initial CD-R offering, was at best a crude, unsatisfying
memento compiled from concert excerpts. Though much more listenable, Electric Chair + Table (Grob, 2000)
lost too much of Mimeo's definition and power in postproduction tinkering by ensemble members Rafael Toral
and Marcus Schmickler, each of whom constructed one disc of concentrated Mimeo from in-concert
recordings. Such tactics have failed to capture Mimeo for those not fortunate enough to have experienced the
ensemble live. With The Hands of Caravaggio, project director Keith Rowe approached familiar obstacles from
a fresh perspective. Recognizing that a conventional recording would never suffice in approximating the total
Mimeo experience, Rowe instead altered the actual performance parameters. For this very special concert
presented in Bologna, Italy at the May 2000 Angelica festival, the ensemble was joined by pianist John Tilbury.
In addition to introducing an acoustic focal point in Tilbury's instrument, Hands also adopted a thematic focus -
the brilliant chiaroscuro and drama of Caravaggio's "The Taking of Christ." Furthermore, Mimeo member Cor
Fuhler bypassed electronics for inside-piano play that provided percussive shoring for Tilbury. Rowe instructed
the Mimeo musicians to direct their electronics to emphasize either Tilbury or Fuhler at all times. The dominant
instrumental voice is therefore that of the paired pianos, lending unprecedented clarity and perspective to the
tempest of massed electronics.Years of playing alongside Rowe in AMM have tuned Tilbury to the
inexhaustible grainy subtleties of Rowe's tabletop guitar technique and electro-acoustic shadings, and so
Mimeo's surging, seething conflation of extemporized electronic sound is less a cacophonous challenge than
an even grander sonic setting for his singular pianistic prowess. He's comfortably within his element here,
though perhaps even more to the forefront than he has ever been before. Tilbury tackles this star turn with
consummate skill, drawing from the most desirable details of two centuries of study of jazz piano, Morton
Feldman, and Erik Satie. His responsive shifts in tone - from airy to adamant, from truculent to tender - match
Mimeo's occasionally abrasive tactics gesture for white-knuckled gesture, unfailingly attaining euphonious
accord through turbulence and tranquility alike.Mimeo is in equally fine form throughout the concert. Rowe,
Kevin Drumm (the Chicagoan sat in for absent ensemble regular Christian Fennesz), Phil Durrant, Thomas
Lehn, Kaffe Matthews, Jérôme Noetinger, Gert-Jan Prins, Peter Rehberg, Marcus Schmickler, Rafael Toral,
and Markus Wettstein improvise as a single entity, their variegated electronic and electro-acoustic sonorities
entirely egoless yet glowing with unmistakable identity even in such complete convergence. Inspired by the
richness of emotion suffusing Caravaggio's colors, Mimeo summons a palette as sensuous as that of any
conventional symphony, yet heightened even beyond the shimmering orchestral clusters of Penderecki or
Ligeti by the thorough commingling of all digital, analog, electro-acoustic, and acoustic voices.
Such robustness befits the multiple classical forms evoked by Rowe's revisionary staging of the
orchestra/soloist archetype amid a phalanx of laptop computers and electronic devices, and sets The Hands
of Caravaggio far apart from the staid and monochromatic tenor of so many comparable electro-acoustic
encounters. Meticulous recording and presentation have thankfully preserved the vibrance of the performance.
Consensus among Mimeo members and attendees has it that the CD actually surpasses the live experience,
making Hands the most successful attempt to date at capturing the marvel that is Mimeo for private enjoyment.
web site fakejazz.com, written by Gil Gershman.
First things first: this is neither simply a concerto for John Tilbury nor an expanded AMM without Eddie Prévost.
This is a document of very special collective music: a meeting between the Music in Movement Electronic
Orchestra and pianist Tilbury. The most enduring music, and the most memorable improvisation, is that which
radiates complexity beyond an initial impact. "The Hands of Caravaggio" is just such a piece. It has taken me a
very long time to digest this recording, even though its pleasures are immediate in some ways.
Keith Rowe was apparently inspired by a recently discovered Caravaggio painting of Christ being led
away by Roman military. Rowe was particularly captivated by Christ's hands, and developed this piece's ideas
on the basis of his fascination. This is obviously a music that is rooted in and raises questions.
Yes, we can describe its formal arc - from the subtle drone that begins the piece, to the steady accretion
of sound from MIMEO players, to the often quite architectural feel of the music - and yes, we can make
references to other styles or other musicians. But fundamentally this music is almost maddeningly supple in
its capacity to elude summary or encapsulation.To me, the overarching question this piece raises is
"how does communication occur?" If one is transfixed by Caravaggio's rendering of light on Christ's
hands, what language do we use to describe our reactions? If one seeks to render this impression musically,
how does one communicate this to other musicians (either verbally or otherwise, as Rowe did)?
And what is it that these musicians are doing in their communications with each other and with listeners?
The reason these questions, so suggestive in their own right, seem particularly relevant here is because
this piece (broken up into five separate tracks on the disc) foreground the kinds of tensions implicit in the
questions. In particular, there is the tension between the acoustic piano and the vast range of electronics that
swirl about like a data storm, threatening to close in or engulf the piano but never doing so.
There is also the tension between Tilbury and Cor Fuhler, who was instructed to work inside the same piano to
anticipate and block Tilbury's moves. The rest of MIMEO could decide independently which of the pianists they
would support. Towards the middle of the piece (about 10 or 12 minutes into the second segment) you can
hear each tension quite vividly - Tilbury has a free hand (literally and figuratively) in his lower range, while
Fuhler checks him successfully through the audibly damped strings. Each series of sounds struggles to
wind its way through the amazing, intricate maze of electronic scrapes, whines, zaps, and moans.
At the beginning of segment three, it sounds as if the group has reached some sort of plateau -a steady sound
level is achieved, hissing like water thrown on a hot motor, and the effect clears room for a shift towards more
guttural sounds. Later on, one hears the odd juxtaposition of Tilbury's Feldman-like chords set against what
sound like distant car engines and the thrashing of metallic birds.
What's so compelling about this music is not its beauty, its level of achievement, or its intelligence.
While it has all of those things in abundance, what makes this a memorable album is its generative quality:
each encounter with it reveals nuances or shades not heard before; each experience provokes questioning.
And if we can say about a piece of art that it provokes more questions than answers, that it problematizes our
own communication, then that is saying quite a bit. And that is also what makes it so beautiful.
Jason Bivins, for the e-zine. One Final Note (onefinalnote.com).
MIMEO / John Tilbury "The Hands of Caravaggio" CD Erstwhile (USA)
On the one hand, let's give a round of applause for CEO Jon Abbey and his ability to bring the left and right
together into a union, putting artists from around the world together in mutually interactive and more often than
not, astonishing handclaps of collaboration. The Erstwhile imprint snaps with the convention-like clarity of
goals and copacetic improv strategies. How to Make Sound Investments and Noise for the Future,
a pamphlet might read, noting past successes like Nakamura/Sachiko M's "Do" and Müller/Lê Quan Ninh's
"La Voyelle Liquide". Tonight's seminar focuses on two-thirds of the founders of such industry, AMM,
as they participated in an arm-wrestling match of sorts with some of the most finely-cut contenders on the
circuit today, including Kevin Drumm, Gert-Jan Prins, Rafael Toral, Pita Rehberg, and Kaffe Matthews, their
wrists strong from years of FM modulation, amplified metal garbage, and analogue-modular system isometric
exercises. As the hum of the gathered crowd grows out of the canvas, flares of flashbulb and "ding-dings"
ignite, round after round, burning outwards from the main ring. It's quite a gripping fight. You finally get a
handle on it all, seeing table on top of table of such trinkets and scrap in combat, even if you cannot
ascertain each competitor. The tables are stacked laminally though, each contender locked in kinetic
palm-staring. All hands at work are splayed open, their head and fate lines glowing bright, the non-physical
communion at full power. Add some garment-ripping, some handheld drilling of bony-finger keys, the filaments
of manual noises (digital as well) sparking airborne in the ring's center, where the piano is focused,
and we have quite a match on our hands. The very air burns with the struck keys of Tilbury, still with the touch,
visceral in his attack here, all open spaces (growing more rare as the match continues) stabbed with sharp
strikes. This barometric pressure is just not possible in AMM's atmosphere, so it is delightful to hear the
melee that builds and piles up here. It is no surprise that a Phalanges-Phlogiston theory might be posited,
the palms of time aflame, bourne together by the thirteen pairs of hands that converged on that night.
This large scale orchestra first came our way on their eponymous 1999 release Music In Movement Electronic
Orchestra - now here's another blockbuster of modernistic group-wise playing. Keith Rowe is credited as the
'artistic director' and he created a graphic score used as the blueprint for this Caravaggio work; but the
orchestra is definitely a group effort. Rowe: 'I guess it's about the doubt-laden transition from the world of
scarcity (analogue spectrum) to the one of plenty (digital spectrum). Within the orchestra these spectrums are
reflected by the group primitive and the computers. MIMEO takes two features from the twentieth century into the
twenty-first, improvisation and electronics.' Indeed, a formidable army of significant performers are here, many
skilled in their use of electronics - from mainland Europe we have Pita Rehberg, Marcus Schmickler,
Gert-JanPrins; from the UK, Kaffe Matthews and Phil Durrant; and three electric guitarists, Keith Rowe,
Kevin Drumm and Rafael Toral. Facing this gauntlet of electronic machinery is the acoustic piano player,
John Tilbury &endash; the 'quiet man' from AMM. How will he fare competing with so much potential digital noise?
He fears for his life. 'In one second you guys can eliminate me once and for all,' quoth he. Jérôme Noetinger
corrects him: 'less than a second'. In fact, the piano remains perfectly audible throughout this long, single work,
its Cagean dissonances and aura of quiet menace pitched perfectly against an ocean of gradually
accumulating electronic voices. Tilbury: 'In the Hands of Caravaggio, attempting to negotiate a musical path
through the engulfing electronic sound, the piano exploits a rare hiatus, filters through tiny gaps, hairspaces;
those sounds which succeed in flying the coopseek out, in and around the space , the nooks and crannies in
which their unique resonances find subtle expression.' All around the piano, the competing electronic
frequencies resolve themselves into distinct identities; buzzing, whirring, whooping, and smooching like a
kissing couple; some moan, some creak, some whistle and some whine like dentist drills. The clarity of the
recording (made by Dean Roberts, Renato Rinaldi and Marcus Schmickler who also mixed the finished work)
is to thank for this; the listener is able to separate out each part of the orchestra with pinpoint accuracy.
And of course, the discipline in the performances ensures that Tilbury's piano is never once 'eliminated' as he
fears. I should add that he is aided by Cor Fuhler, playing the piano from the inside; 'having to play the piano in
this situation, much of what you can do depends on the density, colour, volume and register of the orchestra
and playing inside the piano doesn't make it any easier since all volume levels drop,' Fuhler reports.
'Also, playing the piano with 4 hands makes it even more layered; John's choices depending on where I put
objects, mine depending on his foot pressing the pedals and on the register within he chooses
to play the keys. Actually, I consider this to be a contemporary version of the piano duet.'
The sleeve art reproduces Caravaggio's The Taking Of Christ, a work which Rowe thinks is remarkable
'because of its animation of the hands and heads, almost to the point of being a cross between a series of
stills from a film, and a 'caught in the act' tabloid photo taken with a flash gun.'
These are qualities whichMIMEO deliberately try to imitate in the music; and the detail of the hands from the
painting (and other hands) reflect the contribution of Tilbury: 'His playing emulates the positions of the hands in
the painting'. The Hands of Caravaggio never loses sight of this sense of purpose, even when the performance
becomes more intense, crowded and detailed - which it does. Exciting...from the quiet stillness of the opening
to an agitated full-on roar.
The Sound Projector: Ed Pinsent 08/12/2002
MIMEO / JOHN TILBURY The Hands of Caravaggio (erstwhile 021): Das M(usic) I(n) M(ovement) E(lectronic)
O(rchestra), eine Allstarformation aus Rowe, Drumm, Durant, Lehn, Matthews, Noetinger, Prins, Rehberg,
Schmickler, Toral & Wettstein mit der dichtesten Anhäufen von Synthesizern, Gitarren, Samplern, Computern,
die je eine Bühne gefüllt haben, spielt hier unter Federführung von Keith Rowe ein Konzert für Piano und
elektronisches Orchester, mit dem AMM-Pianisten Tilbury und Cor Fuhler am Innenklavier als Gastsolisten.
Wir hören die erste und bisher einzige Aufführung des Werks live auf dem Angelica-Festival in Bologna am
20.05.2001. Das Cover, designt von Keith Rowe, zeigt den Ausschnitt des Caravaggiogemäldes, der dem
Stück zu Grunde liegt: Jesu gefaltete Hände während ihn Judas küsst. Seit Michael Mantlers
"Communication # 11" für Cecil Taylor und das Jazz Composer's Orchestra (1968) oder Barry Guys "Double
Trouble" (1989 / 1995) und "Theoria" (1991) mit dem LJCO und Howard Riley, Irene Schweizer &
Marilyn Crispell gab es kaum einen derartig ambitionierten Versuch, das Pianokonzert aus der akademischen
Tradition herauszulösen. Demnach also das Prinzip Third Stream jetzt angewandt auf die, wenn man so will,
avant-gardistische Elektronik? Wen das 'avant' stört, der kann sich gern quer- oder sub- oder contra- oder
a- oder Peripherie-Bewegungen vorstellen. Fakt bleibt, dass hier eine Innovation innerhalb der bürgerlichen
Musica Nova zelebriert wird und das ist auch gut so. In einem vorsichtig aufgebauten Spannungsbogen, mit
Momenten maximaler polyphoner Verdichtung, strebt die Musik zu einer Peripetie und entspannt sich wieder
zu einer sanften Landung. Neu, sehr neu und anders daran ist aber doch die Chromatik, die Klang- und
Geräuschfarben, die so infernalisch schillernd und die Sprache der Zeit sprechend bisher noch kein Orchester
malen konnte. Großartig auch, wie weit sich Tilbury mit seinen weitmaschigen Einzelnoten vom 'Pianistischen'
entfernt hält. (Bad Alchemy)
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