“We planned to plan but it didn’t happen.” Martin Greenwood
It is common practice when discussing adventurous music to refer to a musical “landscape” in a constant state of change. The terrain of this frontier is more extreme than that of ours, here on Earth, and the rates of change of both geology and weather are more extreme and dramatic in effect. Musical explorers armed with new tools and approaches sally forth into this musical frontier and may return with artifacts such as recordings, scores (maps), new musical instruments, or wholly new approaches to thinking about the organization of sound and the practice of soundmaking. Some adventurers might decide they prefer the auslands to the warm hearth of the available western musical styles, instruments, trends, and traditions. These pioneers may opt to remain on their newly discovered terrain, starting a colony, a sound farm, or establishing a lone outpost marking a bit of border just this side of what is known, what can or has been experienced.
One such outpost, located just this side of valley of Moonstruck, attached by telegraph to Surrealism, and within earshot, though not to close, to the town of Free Improv, is called Silver Dick. In Silver Dick, time works strangely, in fact at a recent concert it seemed like the band strode quickly back in time, towards childhood, and soon were reduced to bantlings if not moppets.
The concert began with a complete lack of coordination. Kate Armitage, vocalist/guitarist/kazooist was making vocal, and then guitar sounds, seemingly unrelated to one another. At the same time, Martin Greenwood played guitar. He played notes and some simultaneous sounds, but not “chords”, at least not in the conventional sense of chords. In fact, Greenwood seemed to avoid the slightest linkage or patterning in his sounds, despite the fact that they remained largely consistent in terms of timbre. Neither was Greenwood’s guitar work linked to Armitage’s voice or guitar. Armitage’s guitar was now beginning to be “bowed” with a large bolt or a piece of drum hardware, producing random percussive pops rich in harmonics with long decay envelopes – a sound that would continue throughout the set. Something else seemed to be happening over on stage right, and sure enough, something was soon heard – the idyllic cooing of a wooden pan pipe. How tranquil, amidst all of Armitage’s clatter and cawing, and the now strangley melancholic chaos seeping from Greenwood’s amplifier. The third member of Silver Dick, Joincey, soon emerged pan pipe in hand, and made his way to the absurdly small child’s drumset center stage.
I illustrate the beginning of this concert because something strange happened soon after. At some point, likely a different moment for each listener, and in any case impossible for me to define, all this musical independence aggregated into a gestalt of such power as to rival the sense of “ensemble” achieved by a seasoned improvising unit. There was order out of what had been before a complex mess of energy, yet the material played by all group members had remained largely consistent, with perhaps just slightly more energy from the tiny drumset. Yet, as soon as it was there it vanished again. Silver Dick stopped playing, together, and became three people again, to begin the next song. So, how did they do this? Was this improvisation?
After the concert I took the opportunity to ask the band, and the answers were revealing:
“Caught up” is the thing. I haven’t got a method for getting into a “caught upness” but it happens when we play and things are sounding good.” Greenwood
“I think we sometimes plan to do certain things live but never do as we get “caught up” playing. I guess i personally like getting “caught up”. Armitage
Armitage, in particular, here suggests that the mental states they channel in their musical practice (which, as I mentioned seems to involve a regression to a natal-state as a sort of booster chair for musical form) result in improvisation, necessarily, as part of the process. If there was a plan, it can no longer be followed because the landscape has changed. They find themselves “caught up,” and react spontaneously and intuitively.
This being said, the band is careful to avoid labels and evade claims of demonic possession as well as the practice of free improvisation, in any dogmatic sense of the term. I meant to ask them about Zen Buddhism, and the concept of the Beginner’s Mind, but I forgot.
“I don’t know about “possession” but we are locked in heavily. kinda…sometimes we do get kinda nuts. I’m always stopping playing and wandering around, looking for something, “lost” in it …. ha. I became heavily entranced in a spinning cymbal that had a bag full of bottle tops in it recently, it produced hardly any sound but, I was into it. I like the micro-sounds we get and how they are probably fairly indiscernible and how that is irrelevant…I hope we can get some records out soon.” Joincey
It is understandable to avoid accusations of demonic possession, but Silver Dick also vocally reject categorization as Free Improvisation or Free Rock. Yet they remain freer in fact than most examples of either.
“I suppose Silver Dick doesn’t feel like Free Improvisation. “Free Improv” sounds like a style of music, a genre, what I like about what we do is that it feels .. lumpy, jarring and not easily discernible. I can’t even tell if it is “difficult” music – it feels like a lot of joyous fun to me, but I often think, people arent going to like this, get this. it doesn’t feel like a private joke between the three of us but it does kiiiinda feel like we’re talking to each other in a shared language. or some such clap-trap
I used to do more Free Rock stuff but I got bored of it, it became relatively funless, almost a chore. I’ve always been rather of the opinion that the end result, the effect, is what is important in music – it doesn’t really matter if you ” enjoy ” the creation of it. I don’t feel that way so much any more, so Silver Dick is a handy revelation.” Joincey
and, from Armitage:
“It’s the most unlaboured music I’ve ever made. I guess I’ve played free improv before but always felt restrained in some way until this band. How dramatic.”
Musical liberation, or personal liberation through music. Spiritual possession, or the regression to the pre-conscious states and attendant language and behaviors we shared in the first couple of years after birth. Improvisation. These are the elements, where did they come from and what is with the name? Silver Dick is based in the Leeds-Manchester metroplex. The band began as Greenwood and Armitage under the name Firm Friends. For Armitage, the name recalls a band she used to play in with her sister alongside Glaswegian Stuart Arnot, who runs the amazing tape label Total Vermin records. They opened up for the punk band Polythene, and she recalls that they played their guitars with silver vibrators. Greenwood adds “Silver is much more flattering dickwise.”
Yet these musicians are hardly new to the scene around here, having played in a variety of punk, noise, rock, psych, and improvisation groups. A small selection of their collective band-biography includes luminaries such as Twilight Club, Monica, Fruit Fruit Farm, Tin Snips, Burst Banjo, Target Shppers, Dancing Test Tubes, El Streetfound Aerial, Coits, Kytch Wife, Braincel, Tea Culture, Oskrin S Cassot-Bout, Photocopied Innards, Irish Filth Ulcers, Wagstaff, Jauncide, Hock, Parade Commemorating Music Ensemble, Stuckometer, Puff, Wheel of Eyes, Head Effort, Fallen Brothers, Desmadrados, Sculptress, Saboteuse, The Karen Novotny Experience, Beaut, Warm Widow (Greenwood’s continuing rock band), Inca Eyeball (who have a new 12″LP called Barry White Comes coming out soon on the sPleenCoffin label(US)), and an an ongoing duo collaboration between Armitage and artist Rosanne Robertson.
The direction of this group, and any of their concerts is unpredictable, but expect to hear from them as they would love to come play in Central Europe soon. Joincey has recently been booking a tour for some of the acts mentioned above, so a careful eye to the DIY concert calendars could provide you with an easy if temporary ticket back to a time before language, or to the beginning of a new musical language, or tower of Babel, be that as it may. As Silver Dick puts it:
“its as if the three of us are straining to get away from each other, or running headlong into a collision … maybe its not that at all, anything like that. I really don’t know what it is. it feels fun and magical and exciting !” Joincey