AMM have never been well-known to the general public, but have been, in their own way, hugely influential on several generations of adventurous musicians. AMM have been called "legendary and "groundbreaking., and are notable as perhaps the first musical group deliberately to try to make music not related to any established musical genre: as Michael Nyman wrote, "AMM seem to have worked without the benefit or hindrance of any kind of prepared external discipline."
The seeds of AMM were planted in 1965. They initially had no name, and were not really a group in the conventional sense, simply a weekend experimental workshop session at the Royal College of Art in London, centered on Gare, Rowe, and Prevost. Members of the group have come and gone over the years, but Rowe and Prévost have been present for most recordings and performances; the latter has been the only constant in the nearly four decades of AMM music.
Musicians were free to join in, but such collaborations were often short-lived if the contributions were lacking the proper spirit: notable jazz saxophonist Steve Lacy sat in with the group but was quickly asked to stop playing. Observers were welcome, provided they were silent and didn't disturb the proceedings. American saxophonist Ornette Coleman was asked to leave after he continually talked during one performance; Beatles member Paul McCartney once sat quietly through an early AMM session: he enjoyed the music, but thought the performance was too lengthy.
Eventually, the group settled on a Prevost-Rowe-Sheaff-Cardew-Gare lineup, and, in early 1966, were calling themselves AMM. However, some early performances were billed as the "Cornelius Cardew Quintet, a mistake which both irked and amused the musicians. After a few paying performances, Cardew bought two amplifiers so the other instruments could compete with the volume of Rowe's guitar. In addition to amplifying their instruments, Cardew and Gare would apply contact microphones to various common objects to amplify the sounds made by, for example, rubbing a glass jar or striking a coffee tin.
No AMM performance is ever planned; each is unique and spontaneous. The musicians vowed never to rehearse and never to discuss what they had played. The musicians tend to avoid any conventional melody, harmony or rhythm, and seek out an ensemble sound that often obscures any individual's role. It is often difficult to discern which musical instrument is making which specific sound on an AMM recording, due in part to liberal use of various extended techniques on their instruments.
AMM released their first recording, AMMusic 1966, on Electra Records UK in 1966. It had some initial similarities to free jazz, due in part to Gare's saxophone. One critic has written, however, that the resemblance was rather slight: "the overall sound of the group, even in 1966, was so different, so idiosyncratic, that it's not at all surprising that both new jazz and contemporary classical audiences were baffled, if not horrified." Lawrence Sheaff (born in 1940) played with the early AMM; he had been a jazz bassist, but on AMMMusic, he played cello, accordion and other instruments. Percussionist Christopher Hobbs (born in 1950) (a student of Cornelius Cardew) also played with AMM in the late 1960s.
The next AMM material to see release were the important The Crypt sessions from June 12, 1968. Though the debut is regarded as a landmark recording, The Crypt was arguably even more important in establishing the droning, long-form music that would come to characterize AMM. Further "out" and even less conventional than earlier material, one critic has written of it that "an eerie sensation inevitably accompanies each listen to the raw streams of electric noise channeled on AMM's second album and early masterpiece, The Crypt. To ears informed by the twenty-first century, it's the uncanny feeling of listening to three-and-a-half decades of experimental music history as delivered in a chillingly prescient sort of reverse premonition... It's a little unnerving that the only records that seem to accurately describe the brave new soundworld harnessed on The Crypt came into being well after its creation."
The Crypt sessions have been issued many times, twice in the 1980s as a double LP, and it is still available (with extra material, billed as "The Complete Sessions") on a double CD from Matchless Recordings. The Crypt continues to inspire adventurous listeners; in the liner notes to the 1992 double CD, Prévost writes, "Despite being (arguably) the most 'difficult' material on Matchless, The Crypt has been a mainstay for the label. It obviously pays not to underestimate the audience. Its continued success has enabled us to release other works. So we felt committed, obliged almost, to keep it available... this music has proved itself not to be ephemeral."
Composer Cornelius Cardew joined AMM in 1966, performing on piano and cello. He worked with AMM intermittently until he abandoned his earlier experimental music in the late 1970s (Cardew died in an unsolved auto accident in 1981). Composer Christian Wolff performed with AMM in 1968. Cardew and Rowe became committed to socialism and to Maoism, and thought that AMM's music should reflect their sociopolitical outlook. Prévost accuses the pair of "cultural bullying", and there was tension in the group, resulting in some AMM performances being made by alternating duos: Rowe and Cardew, Prévost and Gare.
Later collaborators have included saxophonist Evan Parker, cellist Rohan de Saram, and clarinetist Ian Mitchell. Christian Wolff also returned as a collaborator for a concert at the Conway Hall in London in 2001. Prévost has reported that of all their collaborators, Parker and Wolff best grasped the AMM aesthetic.
But since about 2000, Rowe's increasing involvement with what has become known as "electroacoustic improvisation" ("eai" for short), especially under the aegis of Jon Abbey's Erstwhile Records, meant that more of his musical activities began to take place outside AMM. Rowe has reported that he felt somewhat limited having been almost exclusively a Matchless Records artist, and that he wanted to explore music outside of AMM. Tension between Rowe and Prévost was exacerbated by the appearance of Prévost's second book of essays, Minute Particulars, which contained some disparaging comments about Rowe, who then left the group. In his review of Prévost's book, Walter Horn notes that while Prévost offers often scathing opinions of many people, Rowe is singled out for multiple barbs, and "one can hardly fail to wonder whether there's something of a personal nature lurking behind the barrage of what are superficially theoretical complaints.
The trio's last performance with Rowe is documented on the 2005 double-CD Apogee. The set is shared with another of the electronic improvisational ensembles that emerged during the 1960s: Musica Elettronica Viva (MEV). The first CD is a studio recording in a joint session in England on April 30th 2004 featuring MEV's Alvin Curran, Richard Teitelbaum and Frederic Rzewski with Prévost-Rowe-Tilbury. This is the first occasion that the two ensembles have performed together, but not the first time they have shared a split release: each outfit filled a side of the LP Live Electronic Music Improvised, released on a US label in 1968 (AMM's side features excerpts from The Crypt sessions; MEV's side is an excerpt from their magnum opus "Spacecraft."). The second CD consists of the performances that each group gave at a festival held in London on May 1, 2004.
Prévost and Tilbury continue to record and perform as AMM. They performed in London during December, 2004, with Sachiko M joining as a guest, at the 2005 LMC Festival of Experimental Music, with David Jackman as a guest, and at a festival of experimental music in Belgium in February 2006. They also released a duo CD as AMM, Norwich, during 2005.
1966 AMMMUSIC -1966 Cardew/Gare/Prévost/Rowe/Sheaff - LP Elektra UK 256 re-released as a CD together with additional material in 1990 - ReRMegacorp
1967 AMM Commonwealth Institute - 20th April 1967 compilation including: AMM Cardew/Gare/Prévost/Rowe/Sheaff United Dairies UD12
1969 LIVE ELECTRONIC MUSIC IMPROVISED Cardew/Gare/Hobbs/Prévost/Rowe one side AMM/one side MEV - LP Mainstream MS 5002 THE CRYPT - 12TH JUNE 1968 Cardew/Gare/Hobbs/Prévost/Rowe double LP boxed set - Matchless Recordings MRLP05 re-released as a double CD The Complete Session with extra material in 1994 MRDCD05
1973 AT THE ROUNDHOUSE Gare/Prévost Incus EP1 complete session remastered and released as a CD - Anomalous Records ICES 001 TO HEAR AND BACK AGAIN Gare/Prévost Matchless Recordings LP MRLP03 re-released as a CD with additional material in 1994 MRCD03
1979 IT HAD BEEN AN ORDINARY ENOUGH DAY IN PUEBLO, COLORADO Prévost/Rowe ECM/JAPO 60031 Re-released as a CD in 1991
1983 GENERATIVE THEMES Prévost/Rowe/Tilbury Matchless Recordings MRLP06 re-released as a CD with additional material in 1994 MRCD06
1984 COMBINE + LAMINATES Prévost/Rowe/Tilbury Pogus Productions LP P201-4 re-released as a CD in 01995 together with a version of TREATISE’82 from the same concert in Chicago Matchless Recordings MRCD26
1987 THE INEXHAUSTIBLE DOCUMENT de Saram/Prévost/Rowe/Tilbury Matchless Recordings MRLP13 re-released as a CD with additional material in 1994 MRCD05
1988 IRMA -an opera by Tom Phillips Prévost/Rowe/Tilbury plus Mitchell/Coxhill/Lorraine/Pederson/Phillips Matchless Recordings MRCD16
1990 THE NAMELESS UNCARVED BLOCK Gare/Prévost/Rowe/Tilbury Matchless Recordings MRCD20
1992 NEWFOUNDLAND Prévost/Rowe/Tilbury Matchless Recordings MRCD23
1993 Vandoevre AMBIENT ISOLATIONISM de Saram/Prévost/Rowe/Tilbury Virgin Records ABMT 4 (UK) one track on a double CD compilation
1994 LIVE IN ALLENTOWN USA Prévost/Rowe/Tilbury Matchless Recordings MRCD30
1995 FROM A STRANGE PLACE Prévost/Rowe/Tilbury Modern Music (P.S.F. Records) Japan. PSFD-80
1969/1982/1994 LAMINAL a retrospective three CD set 1. The Aarhus Sequences recorded in Denmark, 1969 Cardew/Gare/Hobbs/Prévost/Rowe 2. The Great Hall recorded at Goldsmiths’ College, London 1982 Prévost/Rowe/Tilbury 3. Contextual recorded in New York, 1994 Prévost/Rowe/Tilbury. Matchless Recordings MRCD31 (pub. 1996)
BEFORE DRIVING TO THE CHAPEL WE TOOK COFFEE WITH RICK AND JENNIFER REED Prévost/Rowe/Tilbury recording of concert in Houston Texas 1996 Matchless Recordings MRCD35
2000 TUNES WITHOUT MEASURE OR END Prévost/Rowe/Tilbury recorded at free radICCals Festival, Glasgow 4th May 2000 Matchless Recordings MRCD44
2001 FINE Prévost/Rowe/Tilbury recorded at Musique Action festival, Vendouvre-lesNancy, France on 24th May 2001 Matchless recordings MRCD46
2002 AMM & Formanex Eddie Prévost, Keith Rowe, John White, John Tilbury, Laurent Dailleau, Anthony Taillard, Christophe Havard, Julien Ottavi, Emmanuel Leduc. A version of Cornelius Cardew’s Treatise recorded at Musique Action Festival, Nancy, France June 2002 fibrr records 006
2004 APOGEE MEV (Alvin Curran, Frederic Rzewski , Richard Teitelbaum) ,and AMM (Prévost/Rowe/Tilbury double CD. First CD contains sextet recordings made on 30th April 2004. Second CD contain separate performance by MEV and AMM made at Freedom of the City Festival on 1st May 2004
2005 NORWICH Prévost and Tilbury recorded at a concert given at The School of Music, University of East Anglia on 14th February 2005