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Annotated by
Andrea Phillips

Cornelius Cardew: A Life Unfinished

Author

John Tilbury

Publisher

Copula

Year

2008

Musician, organiser and writer John Tilbury is a pianist and multi-instrumentalist, whose work has been core to the development of live prepared instrumentation techniques and, perhaps most importantly, the insistence of an ethic (or politic) of collective music-making. He played alongside Cornelius Cardew until the latter’s death in 1981 and was involved in the development of AMM, the ‘cryptic acronym under which the group still performs’ (p. 283) and the Scratch Orchestra. This book is the most intimate and detailed analysis of Cardew’s life and works. But also, within, Tilbury’s own ethics of listening and responding shines through, alongside his uneasy relationship with Cardew’s fame on the European contemporary music circuit in the 1970s and 80s. Tilbury writes as an historian, a friend and, most importantly as a musician. Describing Treatise, the 193-page graphic music score Cardew wrote between 1963 and 1967 he says: (see the quote below).
For me, this is like a political manifesto. AP

"To 'sight-read' through Treatise is an exhilarating experience … for there is no time to think, to imagine – or rather action and imagination coalesce to defy notational control, however subtle and persuasive. Thus, and here reservations surface, sight-reading through Treatise the sound is created less on the basis of notation, more on the basis of the player’s previous (playing) experience, the performance is thereby closer to improvisation. But as source material the past is always treacherous; it can turn the tables on the indulgent performer, hold him hostage; the bedrock of past experience is too easily accessible, too comforting, dissuades the performer from leaving the ground, from flying and discovering."