Si les ombres des Duos for Doris planent sur cette rencontre enregistrée en 2010 aux Instants Chavirés, c’est que deux camarades de longue date ne peuvent compter seulement sur leur complicité pour donner une tournure agréable à leur conversation. Parfois, les mots manquent, ou alors ce sont les mêmes que ceux qui furent utilisés la fois précédente qui vous montent à la gorge.
Comme pour parer la redite, les débuts d’EE Tension and Circumstance sont de précaution, voire de timidité : la radio y crépite encore, les notes de piano sont passées au tamis, un membre du public tousse. Après quoi : un aigu de guitare percera les cercles nébuleux mais les cordes pincées n’y porteront la moindre attention, sûr qu’une partie de l’assistance cherchera alors du regard – scrutant visages et instruments – ce que cherchent à l’oreille et Keith Rowe et John Tilbury.
Toujours la cohésion est évidente ; jamais son maintien n’est garanti – l’intensité de l’exercice faiblit en conséquence. Alors, Tilbury décide d’un repli que l’on dira feldmanien : faite motif, une poignée de notes progressera face au souffle d’un petit moteur actionné par son partenaire ; devenue accord frêle, sa répétition fragilisera de plus en plus ce frêle accord qu’elle est. De son côté, Rowe nourrit des parasites arrangés en société d’agitateurs de circonstance. Ici, le dialogue fait effet.
De temps à autre, le dialogue fait effet. C’est qu’EE Tension and Circumstance est un disque sur lequel John Tilbury et Keith Rowe se cherchent longtemps avant de se reconnaître, de renouer au son d’un langage commun, puis de se perdre et d’évoluer l’un sans l’autre. Mais ces temps différents ne se succèdent pas si confortablement : ils ont été mis en pièces et leurs fractions s’imbriquent les unes aux autres. Voici l’improvisation réfléchie par un labyrinthe de miroirs – angles morts et éclats sont en conséquence de la composition.
Guillaume Belhomme l Le son du grisli l Mai 2012
Retour sur l'une des figures de l'improvisation radicale, le guitariste Keith Rowe. Co-fondateur dans le milieu des années 60 du groupe britannique AMM dont l'influence s'étend de la free music anglais à la noise music en passant par l'ambient, il est pionnier de la guitare préparée, appelée table top guitar, car elle est souvent posée à plat sur une table afin de laisser les mains du guitariste disponibles pour ses préparations, à l'encontre de toute virtuosité académqiue mais au profit de toutes les ressources sonores possibles. Keith Rowe ayant quitté AMM en 2004 suite à de vifs désaccords avec son percussionniste Eddie Prévost, il en retrouve six ans plus tard le pianiste régulier depuis 1980, John Tilbury, pour une seule plage (58'42) de musique de l'infime et du presque rien. La répartition des rôles se précise entre une guitare génératrice d'un paysage sonore de bourdons, frottements et autres crissements, et le piano minimal de Tilbury, chaque fois que ce dernier se laisse ramener à la classique dynamique consonance-dissonance lorsqu'il réveille (par mégarde?) le monde harmonique de son instrument, se distanciant très ponctuellement du radicalisme de son compère en tirant du clavier ce qui s'apparente, même de façon miniature, à du discours mélodico-harmonique. Il laisse alors entendre brièvement sa familiarité avec la littérature pour piano de Morton Feldman et du premier John Cage.
l Jazz Magazine Jazzman l Avril 2012
Le contenu de ce disque n’est pas une surprise pour moi. J’ai déjà parlé ici du concert où il a été enregistré.
La réécoute du Duo for Doris (Erstwhile – 2003) et de E.E. Tension and Circumstance montre que rien n’a vraiment bougé dans la musique de Keith Rowe et John Tilbury, même s'ils n’ont plus joué ensemble durant de longues années. On entre ici sur la pointe des pieds, et on en ressort la tête pleine de ce silence magnifique qui a clos le concert. Entre temps, Keith Rowe aura une fois de plus exploré l’univers des possibles micros incidents inhérents au dispositif électroacoustique de la guitare. John Tilbury aura égrené subtilement les notes de piano les plus justes ou encore fait résonner les cordes de l’instrument.
Minimalisme, réductionnisme… ces adjectifs ne sont-ils pas justement réducteurs pour qualifier cette musique ? Deux extrêmes sont ici en tension créative. D’un côté, le dispositif abrasif de Keith Rowe crée un terrain accidenté où seul un grand équilibriste saura trace sa route. Et c’est là la force du jeu de John Tilbury qui parvient à rester en apesanteur avec ces notes de piano qui reviennent régulièrement comme un leitmotiv ou bien épousent parfaitement le terrain en jouant à l’intérieur de son instrument. La tension va monter et descendre tout au long de ces 58 minutes pour culminer dans ces 4 minutes (et 33 secondes?) de silence, rendues sur le disque telles qu’elles ont eu lieu ce soir là, où l’on a qu’une crainte, c’est que le CD arrive en bout de course et que nous revenions finalement à la réalité… ce qui arrive malheureusement à chaque écoute.
Prenez garde… cette musique est quasiment addictive!
Freesilence's blog l Février 2012
Depuis quelques semaines, j'écoute E. E. Tension and Circumstance assez régulièrement mais je ne sais pas trop quoi dire sur ce disque tant attendu, car j'y ai placé beaucoup trop d'attentes, et beaucoup de choses intelligentes ont déjà été écrites sur cette pièce (lire notamment les chroniques de Richard et Brian sur Just outside et The Watchful Ear). Indifférence, scepticisme, admiration et émerveillement se sont succédés selon les jours, mes humeurs, ma disponibilité, mon habitude et ma proximité vis-à-vis de cette pièce. Brièvement, résumons les circonstances de cet enregistrement, capitales dans ce disque, mais je conseillerais plutôt pour cela de lire la chronique de Brian sur Just outside. De la même manière que le magnifique Duos for Doris - publié en 2003 par Erstwhile - fut enregistré en France quelques jours après la mort de la mère de JT, Doris Tilbury, E. E. Tension and Circumstance a été enregistré en live aux Instants Chavirés un an après la mort d'Eileen Elizabeth Rowe, la mère de KR. Quant aux dessins qui illustrent ce disque, ils sont du frère de KR, Milford, également décédé il y a quelques années. Tout ceci pour expliquer le titre de cette improvisation d'une heure qui peut, au premier abord, paraître assez énigmatique.
On l'imagine facilement, l'écoute de ce disque peut facilement nous plonger dans un état solennel et mélancolique, même si la musique en elle-même ne fait a priori rien pour susciter de telles émotions. C'est ici que ça devient intéressant d'ailleurs, voir comment le contexte et les circonstances peuvent produire des émotions totalement extérieures à la musique. Bien sûr, la subtilité, la délicatesse, et la précision parcimonieuse des accords plaqués ou arpégés de JT ont toujours eu quelque chose de très émouvant et d'intense, notamment grâce aux longues résonances fantomatiques qu'il laisse volontairement flotter. Mais lorsque ce même Tilbury en vient à frotter le cadre du piano, ou à plaquer des accords dissonants espacés par des intervalles de plus en plus longs, une tension rugueuse et insoutenable surgit, tension qui peut paraître décalée vis-à-vis de la volonté initiale de ce duo, qui est de rendre avant tout hommage à Eileen Elizabeth Rowe.
Pour moi, c'est tout de même JT qui fait toute la beauté et la puissance de ce duo, et même si j'admire énormément KR, je suis souvent un sceptique ou dubitatif face à sa musique. Du moins aux premières écoutes. Car en fait, il semblerait plutôt que l'intensité et la tension de cette pièce proviennent surtout et principalement de l'opposition entre les univers apparemment inconciliables (bien que KR et JT jouent ensemble depuis une quarantaine d'années...) des bribes mélodiques pointillistes de JT et des nappes rugueuses et électriques de KR. Ce dernier n'a jamais vraiment changer de techniques instrumentales et utilise le même matériel réduit depuis de nombreuses années: guitare sur table, sur laquelle il insère quelques objets motorisés, électronique rudimentaire et une radio. En ce sens, je pense que Keith est le père du réductionnisme, car avec le même dispositif assez simple, il a su produire au fil des années des musiques variées, notamment dans leurs intentions, dans leurs structures et leurs dynamiques. Ici, KR déploie des textures plutôt linéaires mais avec des ruptures d'intentions assez régulières, des textures franchement abrasives, comme une sorte de rouille sonore, assez industrielle encore une fois. Ça gratte, ça grésille, ça monte, ça hésite, ça submerge, ça disparaît: toutes sortes d'intentions musicales se succèdent avec discrétion et avec subtilité, sans fracture mais tout en sachant rompre la linéarité des nappes produites.
Et toutes ces intentions produisent des émotions vraiment variées et intenses, à chaque écoute différentes, selon notre niveau de réceptivité, de perceptibilité et de disponibilité. Les intentions sont multiples, et le réseau ainsi tissé est d'autant plus complexe que les deux musiciens paraissent jouer chacun de leur côté. Guitare et piano s'opposent et se confrontent, et c'est entre chacun qu'un territoire émotionnel inouï surgit. Pour une fois, la musique ne surgit pas de la symbiose entre deux individualités, mais du vide produit par l'opposition de deux mondes sonores la plupart du temps inconciliables.
E. E. Tension and Circumstance ne ressemble à rien, si ce n'est aux Duos for Doris, mais en moins minimaliste et étendu. Une pièce vraiment complexe et compliquée où les intentions se croisent et se confrontent pour produire des émotions véritablement interindividuelles, au sens où elles sont belles et bien le fruit de deux consciences distinctes et séparées. Je suis toujours surpris d'être étonné par KR en fait, comment un dispositif si simple peut-il produire et générer autant de musiques apparemment similaires, mais en réalité toujours nouvelles, créatives et étonnantes? Il me semble tout de même que le duo KR/JT soit allé encore plus loin dans la recherche d'un nouveau langage musical et d'une nouvelle approche de l'interaction entre les musiciens pour cet hommage exceptionnellement intense et puissant à la mère de Keith. Même si les circonstances qui ont fait naître cet enregistrement sont tristes, je suis vraiment heureux d'entendre une telle musique, et rassuré de savoir que l'inventivité est encore possible dans les musiques improvisées. Un disque hors du commun très hautement recommandé!
l Improv Sphere l Janvier 2012
Got a fine hour-long performance here by the mighty English duo of Keith Rowe and John Tilbury, two men who can in all fairness be designated as architects supreme of the genre of what we have come to understand as “free improvisation”. Followers of their music will of course know how they have evolved, transformed and refined their playing across the course of many years. AMM were capable of being incredibly noisy in the 1960s. Rowe and Tilbury, either singly or together, have been getting quieter and quieter over the last 10-15 years. One notable instance of their intense simplicity (one might almost say bleakness) was the 2003 double-disc set Duos For Doris, a release that’s come to be regarded by many as something of a benchmark. The recording session coincided with the passing of Tilbury’s mother and the music was suitably darkened, melancholic, and forlorn as an old letter stained with teardrops, or a room with the faded lace curtains drawn. Sadly this present release is another maternal elegy, dedicated to Rowe’s mother Eileen Elizabeth who was born in 1914 and died in 2009. Like Duos For Doris the music on E.E. Tension And Circumstance is stark, slow, minimal, and evokes a stern and sober mood which commands respect, a funereal atmosphere which is so intense and private that the listener feels almost like an intruder, as though our presence here were quite inappropriate. For the first third at least, the music is that brittle and delicate – a sheet of ice that barely supports us above the cold torrents of grief and sadness that lie beneath. At various points thereafter the musicians do allow a slight increase in warmth, occasion and event – resulting in a few more musical notes per square inch, the droning intensity of a strummed / fanned guitar string, or a second or so of short-wave radio humming. But it’s like the ghosts of AMM past. After we have driven through a tunnel of cavernous half-noise for about ten minutes, we arrive at the skeletal ending, where what little music there is left is gradually picked away from the bones, and there’s an intense bleaching process that carefully removes all presence of sound from the arena. This is done so slowly and deliberately it’s as if in accordance with the precepts of a Catholic rite, or an unnamed theatrical ceremony by Samuel Beckett. A remarkably poignant statement: I would like to think it empowers us all to face death or old age with dignity and courage. It was recorded in late 2010 by Jean-Marc Foussat, himself a fine musician and veteran of recording free improvised music (he taped Company events in the 1980s), and the felt-tip pen drawings are by another Rowe relative, Milford Charters-Rowe who died in 2008. They add colour to the otherwise all-black sleeve.
Ed Pinsent l The Sound Projector l July 2012
In 2004, after a disagreement with collaborator Eddie Prévost, Keith Rowe left the core AMM trio, whose other member, John Tilbury, remained with Prévost in AMM. Before then, Tilbury and Rowe had been playing together in various lineups for almost forty years. This duo recording, made live on December 17, 2010, at Les Instants Chavirés in Montreuil, was their first meeting since Rowe left AMM, and it is as if there were never a pause. The performance finds them extremely aware of each other’s presence and the placement of every sonic decision is perfectly in touch.
The occasion of this recording—a remembrance of the life of Keith Rowe’s mother—pairs it with their only other duo recording, the magnificent Duos for Doris (2002), which honoured John Tilbury’s mother after her death. That their mothers’ remembrances could occasion the alliance of these two artists is a gift to us as listeners. This is as equally remarkable a recording as the first.
While tension and circumstance may speak well of the context of this performance, it also underlines the draw this music has. Rowe’s tabletop guitar and the serrated sound-makers he employs create a strong and beautiful counterpoint to Tilbury’s diamond-like piano playing. Each of Tilbury’s notes feels deeply considered and the brusk but strangely compelling cloud of textures that Rowe brings forth feels like the purest place for Tilbury’s notes to sound. If circumstances never bring the two together again, at least we have this.
Chris Kennedy l Musicworks l July 2012
“E.E.” stands for Eileen Elizabeth, the name of Keith Rowe’s mother who passed away in 2009 and the involuntary origin of this reunion, materially taking place December 17, 2010 at Les Instants Chavirés. The previous work by the duo – 2003’s masterpiece Duos for Doris
, on Erstwhile – had been created right after Doris Tilbury’s passing. Basically, this CD is a prolongation of the subtle yet ever-present line that connects Rowe and Tilbury’s advancement in their life at large.
We must immediately mention how stunning the recording quality is. Everything – the smallest gesture, the faintest exhalation – appears so close to the listener’s perception that, more than once, I thought myself as an element of the stage setting. As Rowe picks various objects on the table, you can measure the indecision about manipulating one part or the other of the guitar’s neck and visualize some sort of emotional restraint, imagining slightly wavering hands applying cautious touches with the habitual respect for silence. When Tilbury rubs the piano strings with something, not only you hear the whispered pitch emitted, but also the soft, irregularly rounded noise that accompanies the motion. This sort of vibrant detail constitutes the reason for which listening to a record like this should be approached with the same self-disciplined commitment that needs to be applied to the serious practicing of a martial art.
In terms of individual response, no doubts here. We’re in presence of one of the finest ever records coming from members of the AMM circle, definitely at the altitudes of the aforementioned Duos For Doris
. The initial pressure is palpable, similar to the interminable seconds preceding a uneasy yet heartfelt hug between reunited friends. The rupture of the silent spell that had divided the players following Rowe’s departure from the group unfolds gradually but without reservations. There seems to be a will of opening the respective personal diaries for the first time after many years, both men aware that only a person that they know so deeply might be able to understand the scribbling on those pages. During the set, at least three moments exist in which the joint textural escalation generates the kind of awe exclusively transmitted by influential improvisers, which – not by chance – coincide with the use of battery-powered appliances and bows. The conclusion returns to an excruciating stillness, in which we mentally pictured the audience collectively holding their breath. Even the four or five coughs previously captured by the live taping seem to fit the general sense of uncomfortable concentration rather than annoy.
Control of emotions, accurate channeling of a somewhat fluctuating creative inspiration. A precious lesson by two masters.
Massimo Ricci l Touching Extremes l
Guitarist Keith Rowe and pianist John Tilbury played together in the group AMM from 1980 until 2004 when Rowe had a falling-out with the group. Tilbury and Rowe had previously recorded as a duo in 2002, on Duos for Doris, a title commemorating the death of Tilbury’s mother. When Rowe’s own mother passed away in 2009, Tilbury called to express condolences, renewing the connection between the two musicians. The E.E. in the title is Rowe’s mother, Eileen Elizabeth, and the CD is illustrated by felt-pen drawings by Rowe’s brother Milford, who died in 2008.
That might suggest a certain mournful drift to the Rowe-Tilbury partnership, a mood that dovetails conveniently with the hour-long sonic meditation that characterizes their performances both in and outside AMM, whether together or in different company. The approach is as much one of co-existence as an immediate interaction of particles, but over time, a work of great subtlety and power emerges, from the spacious particulars of Tilbury’s isolate tones and sparse lines and Rowe’s elaboration of drones and hisses, his table-top guitar disappearing sonically into its electronics. It would be as beautiful and profound as consciousness without the precise associations it gives us.
The work is both private and mass-like; that is, it resists any easy imitation of emotion while assuming the scale of meaning of Requiems by Mozart and, oddly, Rossini, with this caveat: surely even those Requiems should include some element of improvisation, some nod to both authenticity and the press of time. Strap this music to the political economy of loss or whatever post-world view(s) you maintain (from the Bardo planes and the transmigration of souls; to the ceaseless and transformative ecology of insects and bacteria; to apocryphal trains fuelled by a shocking surplus of available mummies), and it grows richer: wise, companionable, moving and still.
Stuart Broomer l Signal To Noise l April 2012
Of course, you know this may be it. Not the "it" as in long-awaited follow-up to 2003's Duos for Doris, though it certainly is that it. And not the "it" as in one of the finest electroacoustic recordings of the last year, though it's that it too. No, for all we know this may well be the final recording between Rowe and Tilbury, who performed together in AMM for over 20 years until Rowe departed in 2003. This 2010 Paris performance was dedicated to Rowe's late mother, as its predecessor was to Tilbury's. And there's a similarly intense, if abstracted emotionalism to the music. Here, it's felt in the power of the restraint, the unspoken word, the held gesture. This isn't to say that the music is necessarily spare. Indeed, there are moments here where the exchange of information is comparably dense, given the aesthetic of these two musicians as they've developed in the last two decades. But even in the most unexpected moments – as when Rowe's low slurring sounds galvanize some quite antic and intervallic figures from Tilbury – there's a control and pared down quality that maximizes the effect of each detail. The music over the course of this hour moves through several discrete phases, like a concerto. There is a period of sizzling contrast, where the small buzz of a live wire is set against the distant circling of some avian, vibratory object. There is a long spacious period of rustle, clatter, scrape and distant signals (with occasionally the briefest flash of instrumentalism). And then amid the swirl we have the first moment, limpid three-note figures building slowly into a Feldmanian recital, with Rowe making slight noises like tears in your speaker cone. It's followed by a glorious passage where a sculpted low tone is buffeted by a chorus of steam-heat whines and contained shrieks, like a Ligeti choir filtered through analogue purgatory. It tumbles forward into a sheer roil of sound, not loud or showy but suffusing, and then ends with a flinty, bitty spell, like two prisoners rapping out code from behind their cell walls. Incandescent throughout, this marvellous performance really does sound like a distillation of Rowe and Tilbury's history, with musical tension and difference here as a kind of third instrument, one that does nothing to undermine but is in fact a vehicle of discovery.
Jason Bivins l Paris Transatlantic l April 2012
For those familiar with the inside baseball of improvised music, that E.E. Tension and Circumstance exists should seem like a minor miracle.
In 2003, Keith Rowe (“guitar”) and John Tilbury (piano), who had been playing music together since 1980 in improv group AMM, released Duos for Doris (Erstwhile), an album considered by some to be one of eai’s strongest releases. The acclaim is due in part to the fact that, shortly before the session (which was arranged by Jon Abbey for his Erstwhile label in Nancy, France), Tilbury’s mother Doris died of a stroke, a traumatic event that provided a sad emotional current throughout the session. However, shortly after the events of Duos, Rowe left AMM, supposedly because of remarks that fellow AMM member Eddie Prévost made in his then recently published book (Minute Particulars). At this juncture, it seemed unlikely that Rowe would ever play again with either Prévost or Tilbury, and until 2008, Rowe was in little to no contact with either.
It wasn’t until Rowe’s mother Eileen Elizabeth Charters-Rowe passed in 2008 that Tilbury reacquainted himself with Rowe. Tilbury suggested that the two perform again, in honor of Eileen Elizabeth, like what the Duos session morphed into. Fortunately for us, what once seemed unlikely if not impossible occurred in 2010. That December, Rowe and Tilbury performed in Paris, a performance that’s beautifully documented on E.E. Tension and Circumstance.
What separates E.E. Tension and Circumstance from its predecessor is a moment about 20 minutes through the former, when the two build to the session’s tense peak, as Rowe’s drones coalesce out of their vacuum into a piercing jab. As Richard Pinnell points out in his live review (of the set from which E.E. originates), we expect Tilbury’s hands to crash onto his keys, producing the terrifying wake heard on Duos; instead, Tilbury whips out a bird whistle that, despite its sonic similarities to Rowe’s whatever-you-wanna-call-what-he-does, undoubtedly lightens the mood.
In this moment, with this choice by Tilbury, we can date E.E. Tension and Circumstance in the context of Rowe and Tilbury’s lengthy history with each other and their respective families. While E.E. Tension and Circumstance certainly conveys an assortment of thoughts and feelings on its own, it’s near impossible to listen without reflecting on its relationship to its backstory. In this context, the session truly sounds like a renewed dialogue, both expressing remorse for Rowe’s loss; Tilbury attempting to cheer Rowe up; bilateral apologies for years of silence; catching up on old times; cough jokes; Rowe asking Tilbury about how the weather has been.
It’s not that the music on E.E. doesn’t sound grave; for much of the recording, the two evoke a chilly landscape of a wintry Paris, with Tilbury channeling some seriously triadic memories. However, this affair just doesn’t feel as morbid as the set six years prior. Instead of a snapshot of one man and a close friend reeling from a death in the former’s family, E.E. exhibits the tension between reflection and re-acquaintance. Each album is both clearly founded on and evocative of strong emotions, but with differing compositions. E.E. Tension and Circumstance, like Duos for Doris, is as accomplished as its performers and a fine example of the humanity that can be found in electro-acoustic music.
Matthew Horne l Tiny Mix Tapes l February 2012
There is quite backstory to the 58 minutes of E.E. Tension and Circumstance that I was initially completely oblivious to. To summarise: Rowe and Tilbury were regular collaborative colleagues from 1980 right the way through until 2004, as part of the group AMM. At this point, Rowe left following a fall out with percussionist Eddie Prévost, and the two have been out of touch ever since. This piece, recorded live at Les Instants Chavirés in December 2010, was their first re-acquaintance after six years apart.
“Tension and circumstance” indeed. Rowe takes on guitar and electronics while Tilbury plays piano, but the most striking sonic presence is the deafening quiet that clogs the in-betweens; the air is thick enough to chew during that first ten minutes, with only the most intermittent releases of actual piano note punctuating what is mostly comprised of clunks and scrapes (many of which may even be accidental, or the work of the audience). Even these slight indicators of activity evoke gigantic exhales of relief on part of the listener, as the silences feel possessive of the weight of six awkward years away from one another, and a potential uncertainty as to where Tilbury and Rowe stand in eachother’s perception. The louder the collaboration gets, the closer the pair seem to get to reconnection.
That said, the piece’s more active moments never release the tension entirely. Tilbury’s piano work consists of stumbling, off-kilter chords and meanderings, while Rowe’s gushes of muffled interference and stuttering coughs of guitar noise either feel like abrasive defensive mechanisms or split-second accidents. For the last three minutes, the listener is sucked back into an overhanging quiet. This time, there are no bursts of instrument to reassure the listener that the musicians are still open to collaborative communication; just the hiss of the microphone, and the tiniest of chair creaks. No audience applause swoops in to shatter the illusion of performance, and E.E. Tension and Circumstance cuts cruelly into silence with the ice between Tilbury and Rowe still very much unbroken. Compelling listening throughout.
Jack Chuter l ATTN:Magazine l February 2012
The circumstances surrounding the making of this record were certainly fraught with tension. Guitarist Keith Rowe and pianist John Tilbury have been acquainted since the 1960s, and shared membership in the improv ensemble AMM from 1980 to 2004, when Rowe left over a rupture of trust instigated by percussionist Eddie Prévost’s critiques of his playing in the book Minute Particulars. In 2002, Rowe and Tilbury made their first record as a unit, Duos For Doris. It is named for Tilbury’s mother, who died the same week as the session, and the sublime attunement of their playing on that day makes it a pinnacle in an already lofty body of work. It would also have represented that corpus’s terminus if the two men hadn’t started talking again after Tilbury placed a call of sympathy upon the passing of Rowe’s mother, Eileen Elizabeth Charters-Rowe, in 2009. They played together again in Paris on Dec. 17 of the following year; the elegiac circumstances of that set are reinforced on E.E. Tension and Circumstance by the cover art: an image made by Rowe’s late brother, Milford.
Back when Rowe was still in AMM, I sent him a text of an interview I had done with the trio, asking for corrections. He did not respond until after the article was complete. When he did, he explained that he liked the idea of Chinese Whispers, where you say something into someone else’s ear, they pass it misremembered to someone else, and so on; apparently what you do with what you hear can be as valid as what was originally said. This is born out by the sui generis music that Rowe has created by applying his readings of painters’ works (including Cy Twombly, Jackson Pollock, and Carravaggio) to the instrument of Charlie Christian and Chuck Berry. He’s put it on the table, played a radio through its pick-ups, manipulated it with a workbench full of tools and toys, and routed its signals through a myriad of electronics. Each choice of implement and each action he takes has an aesthetic reason behind it; he may improvise, but his improvisation comes from deep consideration about what sounds might mean, either on their own or in juxtaposition with others. But he’s not prone to lengthy explication of his work prior to the fact or in concert; he whispers it to you, and then it’s your job to figure out what to make of it.
At this point it’s fair to say that Rowe is not really a guitarist, but a philosopher-painter-musician who happens to use a guitar. Certainly you won’t hear much that sounds remotely guitarlike, even in the post-Sonic Youth/My Bloody Valentine era, on E.E. Tension And Circumstance. There are two notes of identifiable guitar sound a quarter-hour in, perhaps included just to remind us that there is one on the table; the effect is like the brush-stroke that reminds you that you’re looking at a painting, not a picture. Otherwise Rowe contributes a lot of continuous sound, but don’t call it drone; rather, he offers a fluctuating stream of subliminal whistles, grainy hisses, and crackling static. It’s never merely backdrop. He also provides discrete sounds, some quite harsh, which sometimes fit right into whatever Tilbury is playing and sometimes contradict it like a rusty piece of machinery dropped into an award-winning rose garden.
Which isn’t to suggest that Tilbury’s playing is the sonic equivalent of a bunch of lovely flowers. He came to improv from classical music, and he has an exquisite touch on the keys; a life-long engagement with the work of Morton Feldman has refined his awareness of what one note means within the context of a grand whole to a degree of reality-puncturing sharpness. But he makes full use of the piano’s resources, working inside and outside the instrument, and some of this performance’s most spellbinding moments come when he brushes his fingers over the keys so lightly that they don’t sound notes.
While there is nothing tentative about this music, it is full of patient waiting and uncluttered space. Tilbury and Rowe enter into a zone of time and sound where different elements appear, develop and disappear in ways that seem unfailingly right. At points, these sounds impart a sense of stillness like a Zen garden, or of contrasting motions like the flow of a slow river under fast-flying clouds. Elsewhere one hears a few lonely notes and some rough electrical distortion, each sound crumbling in the other’s presence. It’s tempting to read tragedy and loss into this music, especially when the play of Tilbury’s austere phrases across Rowe’s elongated sounds so brokenly beautiful. But that could also be this listener’s projection, based on either my knowledge of the players’ personal history or what I associate with lonely piano notes. There go those whispers.
Bill Meyer l Dusted Magazine l February 2012
It's inevitable perhaps that this second duo outing from improvising grandmasters Tilbury (piano) and Rowe (guitar), their first encounter since Rowe departed AMM to leave it as a duo of Tilbury and Eddie Prévost back in 2004, shoulde be compared to 2003's acclaimed Erstwhile double CD Duos for Doris, and it's a parallel that the musicians seem keen for listeners to draw: while the earlier album was dedicated to the memory of Tilbury's mother, who died just days before it was recorded, Rowe chose his mother's initials as the title here, with Tension and Circumstance referring as much to his long-standing relationship with the pianist and his own performance praxis as it does, obliquely, to both Jane Austen and John Cage. And in the same way that the Rowe painting that adorned the Erstwhile album was a homage to Doris's beloved L.S. Lowry, the artwork for this latest release is by Rowe's mother's own favourite artist, Keith's late brother Milford.
Duos for Doris was a dedicated recording session, but E.E. was recorded in concert at Les Instants Chavirés outside Paris in December 2010, invoking comparisons with another album Rowe recorded live in the same venue in 1999, The World Turned Upside Down, with Taku Sugimoto and Günter Müller. Eleven years down the line, that trio sounds remarkably limpid, serene and untroubled, but the music here is fraught with doubt and set in black, like Milford Rowe's artwork, whose accompanying handwritten notes are intended, as Rowe puts it, "to recall a trace of old age and a increasing lack of facility: I wanted it to look shoddy, with errors, away from those slick images of conceit."
But there's nothing shoddy about the music, fragile and dark though it may be, from the isolated notes Tilbury flicks into Rowe's static drizzle to the agonizing coffin creaks of the never-can-say-goodbye Mahler adagio ending nearly an hour later. Along the way Tilbury pursues semitones with Webernian rigour and probes the outer limits of the Bösendörfer, searching in vain for notes above and below the range of the instrument, while Rowe does his best to suffocate his delicate arpeggios in a binbag of oppressive hum, his self-styled "asymmetric astringency" imparting a gravitas to the music few improvisers are able to match.
l The Wire l February 2012
It happens every year. Just as the old year is drawing to a close, after the best-of-the-year lists have been compiled and published, a release arrives just too late to make those lists but deserving to feature in their upper echelons. For 2011, E.E. Tension and Circumstance was the one.
Pairing Keith Rowe on guitar and John Tilbury on piano for the first time since Rowe's departure from AMM in 2004, E.E. Tension and Circumstance has to be seen as a companion piece to the pair's first (and only previous) recording as a duo, the double CD Duos for Doris (Erstwhile, 2003). Where that album was titled in memory of Tilbury's mother, who had died, aged 95, two days prior to its recording, E.E. Tension and Circumstance is titled in memory of Rowe's late mother, with the inside sleeve bearing the legend, "E. E. Eileen Elizabeth Charters-Rowe 1914-2008" written by Rowe in an imitation of his mother's handwriting. Continuing the family theme, rather than the sleeve featuring one of Keith Rowe's own art works, as has been customary, this album's sleeve has "coloured felt-tip drawings by Milford Charters-Rowe 1950-2008," Rowe's late brother. And rather fine they are.
Whereas Duos for Doris was studio-recorded, E.E. Tension and Circumstance was recorded live at Les Instants Chavirés in Montreuil, Paris, on December 17, 2010. The album consists of one unbroken 58 minute track which probably represents the duo's entire set. The live setting gives the album a different feel to Duos for Doris, with both players here sounding in a less contemplative mood and more prepared to push things forward; during the opening exchanges, Tilbury sounds positively garrulous compared to his normally restrained self. Is this the same man who famously observed that most improvising musicians play too much? Yes, it is and thankfully he is in no danger of playing too much; soon he is allowing plenty of space for his contributions to breathe and be fully appreciated.
In that, Tilbury is assisted by Rowe who, much of the time, lays down a backdrop including drones, white noise and scrapings over which Tilbury's piano is highlighted. The effect calls to mind Rowe's notes for Duos for Doris in which he wrote of "a music that might be nothing in itself but juxtaposed to another: together transformed...transformation by something which was almost nothing in itself." Rowe likened that to the effect a zero has when placed behind a number, making it ten times greater.
The most immediately obvious thing about the music here is the extent to which the two are compatible with and tuned into each other, despite not having shared a stage or studio since they last played together in AMM on May 1, 2004. Their shared experiences prior to that date continue to bear fruit. There is no "getting reacquainted" preamble, no tussling for supremacy and no awkward "after you" moments. Instead, they each do what they do best, instinctively seeming to accommodate the other's playing and to frame it, showing it to best advantage. For instance, towards the middle of the piece, the music fades away to virtual silence for a short period, before gradually building up again with slight rustlings and crackle from Rowe offset against repeated arpeggios from Tilbury, the two contrasting but in perfect balance. Over several minutes, they conduct a restrained dialogue, circling each other, building, until eventually Rowe introduces an insistent thrumming bass tone which moves the pair on to fresh explorations.
If E. E. Tension and Circumstance was by another pair of musicians who had come together and recorded a duo such as this, it would be obvious to suggest that they should gig and record together again soon. Sadly, given the situation following Rowe's departure from AMM, that seems unlikely to happen any time soon. On the positive side, we know from Duos for Doris that their music stands the test of time and improves with age. The same will be true of this album, until such time as its sequel is recorded. We can but hope.
John Eyles l All About Jazz l January 2012
If it weren't for the sound of one hand clapping, we would have no resonance at all.
That snarky summation might best describe this hour-long duo performance by former AMM ensemble band mates Keith Rowe and John Tilbury. Like the zen koan "one hand clapping," this music evokes an almost instantaneous meditation.
Recorded just outside of Paris in December 2010 at Les Instants Chavirés, this duo brings together two legends of British improvisation not heard together on record since Duos for Doris (Erstwhile, 2003).
Rowe's, while purposefully non-musical does summon a sort of mechanical euphonic. Playing on a tabletop, he can kindle feedback, distortion, and a tsunami of energy to build both dense walls and paper-thin constructions of meditative prayer. In duo with Tilbury, Rowe appears to be the instigator or captain of this two-man ship.
The piece begins tentatively: a jabbed key, some string scrapings and we're off. Well, not so much off as the musicians delivering an invitation to settle quietly into themselves. This journey is more about silence than noise. Thought over actions. The pair's exercised civil restraint is not so much call-and-response as it is conversation, one that has developed over decades. Neither Rowe nor Tilbury is in a hurry to finish the other's sentence, but both are familiar with each other's views. They a add pieces of a tuned radio and a bird whistle, all fitting unpretentiously into the colloquy.
Where Rowe slashes, Tilbury organizes. Often—and maybe for the benefit of the audience—the pianist will play a brief melody (a human element), counteracting the electro-acoustic noise. Rowe balances the indifferent with compassion, in an internal journey of inventiveness.
Mark Corroto l All About Jazz l January 2012
A year ago last December, I somehow managed to twist enough arms to get away from work close to Christmas and go to Paris for an evening, where, on a cold, wintry day I was one of not really all that many people that braved the ice and snow and went along to Instants Chavirés to witness the reunion of Keith Rowe and John Tilbury as a duo, the first time they had played together since the sad demise of the trio version of AMM. My connection the music of these two wonderful musicians goes back a long way. AMM were the first improvised group to really grab me and make me come back again and again for their concerts in London in the early to mid nineties. Then, when Rowe and Tilbury recorded as a duo their double album Duos for Doris I was so moved by the music that I named my CD label after one of its tracks. It took quite a lot of effort for me to be able to be there for the pair’s reunion concert, but I made it along. So now, when a recording of that performance has been released on Jacques Oger’s Potlatch label (Jacques was my very gracious host that weekend) it is inevitable that it has moved me a great deal.
Duos for Doris is named after Tilbury’s mother, who sadly passed away the day before that album was recorded. When Rowe’s own mother, Eileen Elizabeth Charters-Rowe passed away in 2009, this caused Tilbury to re-establish contact with Rowe, and a year later came the Paris concert. The new album of that concert recording is named E.E. Tension and Circumstance, with the initials present in memory of Rowe’s mother. The sleeve images are also illustrations drawn by Rowe’s brother Milford, who had also died back in 2008 while Rowe copied his late mother’s handwriting for the CD’s liner notes. Tension and Circumstance are two words then that can be applied in abundance to the whole situation, both through the memories that passed family members brought to the occasion, and also through the bitter events that had brought the two musician’s creative relationship to an abrupt end when AMM ruptured. When we sat down for the traditional pre-concert dinner at I.C. there seemed to be little tension in the air between Keith and John, but once sat onstage the atmosphere in the place became absolutely electric. This concert meant so much both to the musicians and to some of us in the audience.
Not everyone in the audience though, as on the evening there was an awful lot of audience noise, coughing, moving about, even some untoward conversation. All of this, plus the uncertainty I felt at being in an unusual venue in a foreign country meant I didn’t settle as much as I would normally at a concert, and I was very much aware of everything in the room. The occasion, and all that surrounded it and interrupted it was massive for me personally. The resultant recording though, having undergone some remarkable mastering work by Patrick Muller has cleaned up just about all of the audience intrusions from the original recordings. What I hear then, when I play this disc back, is something very very different in both content and atmosphere to I remember in the concert hall. I do remember the various parts of the recording, I can picture how they were made, but the way they sound here on disc seems to unfamiliar. Fortunately they also sound even better than I remember on the night.
Reading back over my review of the concert, I noted that the performance didn’t resemble the Doris sessions that much, and even thought that the musicians were trying hard to avoid that whole atmospheric sound world they achieved on the earlier release. Listening now to the new CD this seems to wide of the mark. Is this down to the mastering, which seems to have pulled the two sets of musicians’ sounds closer and tighter together? Is this music just something that is perceived differently as a recording than it would have been heard in the concert space? Certainly some of the things I noted about the concert remain - at around the half-hour mark as the music builds to a massively tense, brooding cloud of sound, and we half expect Tilbury to come crashing down on his keys, instead he pulled a small bird whistle from his pocket, and blowing into it while turning a little handle the key point of this crescendo included a stream of high pitched birdcalls. On the evening, in the hall, this seemed completely surprising and it felt like a John White styled response to the emotion of Doris, but, listening here it all seems completely different. Perhaps the mastering has boosted the sound of the whistle, as it seems to much louder here. On the night it felt a deliberate anti-climax, but here it tops the music’s arc off nicely. The album then does seem to fit closely into the mould of Doris, at least once the opening playful sections have been surpassed. Rowe’s sound seems much fuller, very intense, full of clouds of looming depression far more than I remember. He seems to play much more, with less silence, and when Tilbury turns his hand to the very familiar rising arpeggios and repeated seven note motifs that appear later in the album my response os close to ecstatic.
I have played this album every day since it arrived here just after Christmas. I don’t expect everyone to understand the depth of feeling it presents me with, and I won’t pretend that my response to it is either rational, or given my connection to the recording that I can be even close to objective, but this music touches me somewhere that very few music manages. It goes beyond pure sound and stirs up a lot of emotion for me, feelings that go back to my first discoveries of this music, my first lonely trips into London to hear AMM, those remarkable days exploring Duos for Doris and having it alter my thinking about music. Thoughts on health and mortality well up in me. Beyond the obvious connections to the musicians’ mothers, Tilbury suffered a stroke around the same time as my father did, and their subsequent recoveries seemed to me to go in tandem. I naturally connect the two. Julie, my girlfriend’s father then also had a stroke a couple of weeks before the Paris concert. This album then arrived here in the days following his sad death following another stroke almost exactly a year later. It is then, hard for me to listen to this music without feeling a personal, emotional attachment that I don’t expect others to understand. Tension and Circumstance indeed. That I project my own emotions onto the music however is testament to the depth of feeling and intensity that the musicians manage to inject into this fifty-five minutes of music. The danger of course is to fawn over anything these two musicians might do in light of all of this, or in response to the already almost godlike status the two of them hold in the improvised music sphere, but to hell with it, I have listened to this music one hell of a lot and it absolutely stands up to close scrutiny. Its a wonderful recording.
At the end of the disc there are a couple of minutes of virtual silence. Listening now to these I can picture events in the concert hall vividly. I can remember Rowe’s face as he stared into the distance. Tilbury on the other hand was frantically dancing his fingers almost silently up and down the keys of the piano, just brushing them lightly and creating the gentlest of percussive sounds. His fingers slipped at one point, a circumstantial moment that let a single truncated note in to the room. This silence, coupled with the stray accidental note is left in the album recording. I am so glad it is there, as I thought it might get edited away. These two minutes provided a chance to reflect in the hall, a chance to recover from everything we had been through, a last moment of stillness before we were left to file out into the falling snow outside. Listening now so many of those feelings come back to me, the reflection on the music feels just as profound, my thoughts wander again to personal matters, the tension slowly lifts as it did that evening. I don’t expect any of this to mean a thing to anyone else reading here, but I cannot recommend this album highly enough even without what I personally project onto the music. An essential part of these two musicians’ remarkable careers and a CD that belongs in any discerning improvised music follower’s collection.
Richard Pinnell l The Watchful Ear l January 2012
Obviously John Tilbury and Keith Rowe know each other from their time with AMM, of which Rowe was expelled in 2004, but apparently they didn't meet until the recording of this CD in 2010. Two giants from the world of improvised music - and while I have most of the AMM releases, I must say I don't play them as often as I should. My fault of course, not enough time to back and re-listen to all the music lying around. But perhaps also because the music of AMM is quite demanding. This new work by Rowe and Tilbury is no different. Its an excellent work (to spoil the end of the review) of whatever it is that these two men do best: examining the sound possibilities of their instruments through a journey that lasts almost an hour. Demanding music, obviously, but that is good thing I should think. Do nothing, sit back and listen. And you know: a CD is a poor excuse to the real thing - the concert - but this comes close. Vibrant recording, with Rowe playing the guitar in the usual table top mode, radio never far away, motors on the strings and Tilbury using prepared techniques to engage in something similar, but using more broken up sounds, as opposing the more sustained sounds of Rowe. An hour that leaves the listener probably exhausted, I was, but always quite rewarding. (makes note: pull out an AMM CD and repeat the experience). Great one.
Frans de Waard l Vital Weekly l January 2012
I only just got E.E. Tension and Circumstance and I have to say it is all I hoped for and more. I rate their duo on Erstwhile, Duos for Doris, as one of my all time favorite piece of music and felt that the likelihood that they wouldn’t be playing together again after the fallout of the AMM breakup was perhaps the greatest tragedy of that sad event. So the fact that they were playing together at all I thought a triumph and for it to be so strong miraculous. Keith has really moved a long way from where he was in 2003 and Tilbury I think rises to this challenge admirably. There are these dense parts in this that Tilbury seems to provide a floor for with muted keystrokes, or thumps on the piano body. Keith here seems to use the more spare language that he has been investigating of late as simply another tool in the kit as opposed to an end in itself and reaches deep into his bag to pull out continuous sounds that nod toward past work but seem light years away from it. Too me this release underscores what I felt was lacking in Keith’s duo with Malfatti – both musicians move and stand firm are uncompromising but toward the music not toward any sort of personal preference. I probably haven’t quite heard this enough yet but in the end I’d say this is my favorite improv of the year.
Robert Hatta l A Spiral Cage l January 2012
I'm not sure if all readers are aware of the circumstances surrounding the pair's first recording, Duos for Doris (Erstwhile, 2003). The session, set up by Jon Abbey to occur in Nancy and involving no small amount of logistical and personal difficulty was suddenly in danger of not happening at all due to the serious illness of Tilbury's mother. An uncertain day was spent at Rowe's home in Vallet, after which Tilbury called from England to relate that his mother had indeed passed away but that he'd still meet up in Paris and travel to Nancy, a day later than scheduled. The result was a recording that remains right at the very pinnacle of music for this listener.
Not long after came the dissolution of AMM, a bitter affair. It seemed utterly unlikely that Rowe would ever again play with either of his former companions. In 2008, Rowe's own mother, Eileen Elizabeth Charters-Rowe, died. Tilbury, upon learning of the event, re-established contact and eventually suggested that, just as their first duo ended up centering around the passing of his mother, so they perhaps could get together in honor of Rowe's. Happily, that event took place in December, 2010 at Instants Chavirés in Paris, in December of 2010.
When I first heard recordings of the concert, I thought of the almost hour-long set as one of searching and finding, the latter taking up most of the second half. I don't think this is really the case though and, on reflection, it's perhaps silly to think that a mere 6-7 year absence would in any way negate the empathy and sensitivity that had been established since the mid-60s and, especially since 1980. I now here it more as a gradual coalescing of elements, something like a pond in which randomly floating elements, via surface tension and other affinities, slowly accrete, soon forming a wonderfully complex and beautiful entity which lingers for a while, before gently dissipating.
The sheer sounds and, especially, their congruence, are amazing. There are several occasions throughout where the mix is simply unique, like nothing you hear anywhere else; such ears these fellows have. Since 2003, Rowe has gone through a couple of fairly substantial changes in his overall approach, from the maximalism one heard in, say, his 2004 dates with Fennesz to the Twombly-esque scratchy sparseness of his recording with Sachiko M to the hyper-dense obscurantism of some sole projects like The Room. In a sense, he seems to jettison much of that, though by no means all, for a more purely organic interaction, not fundamentally different from what was heard on the Doris sessions. I hear this set as very much an extension of that one, almost as though it could have been recorded the next day, like a conversation picked up after an unfortunately long interlude, returning to the thread but with implicit knowledge of what's intervened. Tilbury is as solid and extraordinary as ever--arguably more so later in the set; he play figures both recognizable and knew and I admit to no small amount of joy when hearing some of the more familiar emanations, like that four-note climbing arpeggio that appears at about the half-hour mark, like an old friend rounding the corner.
We're very fortunate to have this music.
Brian Olewnick l Just Outside l January 2012