The first ever survey of the seminal British experimental music collective, Gentle Fire, Explorations (1970 - 1973) offers a remarkable and previously unavailable glimpse of their activities during the early 1970s, spanning their crucial interpretations of scores by Stockhausen, Brown, Cage, Ichiyanagi, and Wolff, as well as an incredible deep dive into their own works and "Group Compositions". Unapparelled and historically important work, stretching across the length of 3 CDs, from Paradigm Discs, meticulously culled from Hugh Davies' archive, it's among the most important missing links within the history of British experimental music to have emerged in living memory, and not to be missed.
Of all the contexts of avant-garde and experimental music that emerged during the 1960s and 70s, few were more radical and actively forward thinking than Great Britain’s. Often principled, ideological, and politically minded in their relationship to improvisation and musical interaction and freedom, a vast number of its members, spanning numerous discrete practices., came together to work collectively in projects like AMM, The Scratch Orchestra, Company, Spontaneous Music Ensemble, London Jazz Composers Orchestra, The Music Improvisation Company, and a near countless number of jointly billed projects. Of these, among the most exciting and least discussed was Gentle Fire, a group comprised of Graham Hearn, Hugh Davies, Michael Robinson, Richard Bernas, Stuart Jones, and Richard Orton, that ran from 1968 to 1975. Having only produced one LP, 4 Systems, Music For Amplified Toy Piano, Music For Carillon, Edges, for EMI Electrola in 1974, the oversight can be understood. Thankfully, Paradigm Discs now endeavours to change the tide, bringing this seminal outfit long overdue attention with an absolutely astound 3 CD survey, Explorations (1970 - 1973), almost entirely comprised of never before issued recordings produced during the early '70s. Creatively thrilling and as historically important as they come, it’s almost impossible to believe this one hasn’t been with us all along.
Formed in 1968 by Graham Hearn, Hugh Davies, Michael Robinson, Richard Bernas, Richard Orton, and Stuart Jones, Gentle Fire have largely been regarded over the years for their renderings of the works of Christian Wolff, John Cage, Earle Brown and Karlheinz Stockhausen, largely because this is all the has been publicly available to date. While realizing the works of others was central component to ensemble’s practice and the attention there is justified, a substantial amount of their endeavours centred around the works of its members and the collective, now delivered to our ears for the first time by Explorations (1970 - 1973), culled meticulously from material held in Hugh Davies’ archives since first laid to tape. As a totality, they represent what is arguably the greatest missing link in the history of the evolution of British experimental music to have emerged in living memory.
Explorations (1970 - 1973) is divided into 3 sections, one per CD. The first, recorded between 1970 and 1971, logically begins within the realm that the ensemble is most well know. Containing 4 studio and 2 concert recordings of graphic and text scores, its presents astounding renderings of 2 parts of Stockhausen’s Aus den sieben Tagen, and one piece each by Earle Brown, John Cage, Toshi Ichiyanagi and Christian Wolff. All, as thrilling as the next, illuminate the groups lasting disposition for text and graphic scores that have large elements of interpretive freedom to them, and thus where the composer provides a skeleton and steps back allowing the players to take the reins. Perhaps most importantly, Gentle Fire holds distinction for having been one of the few ensembles of their moment to have been in regular communication with the composers of each piece, making these recordings of their interpretations especially precious, and arguably among the closest to their initial conception of those available.
The 2nd and 3rd CDs of Explorations (1970 - 1973) take us deep into previously unavailable realms, focussing on Gentle Fire’s own absolutely singular and astounding works. CD2 dates from 1973 and was recorded during a 2 day residency at Radio Bremen. Containing 5 pieces that cover a wide variety of styles, especially notable of which is a 23 minute version of Group Composition VI which is their only text based piece and uses processed and filtered speech, as well as 4 key works that utilized graphics, and symbols, tape-loops and other physical apparatus devised to shape the unfolding of the musical material, and defined the ensembles astounding approach and sound.
CD3 is comprised of a recording of their appearance at ICES 72, a legendary festival that took place at the Roundhouse in London - which involved AMM, John Cage, Cornelius Cardew, Annea Lockwood, Steve Beresford, Lol Coxhill, David Bedford, Charlotte Moorman, Penny Rimbaud and many more - miraculously capturing its entirety. It consists of a performance of their Group Composition IV, centered around a large metal sculpture that all members of the group played simultaneously, each moment sounding fresh and undated, as though it had been recorded in the present day.
An absolutely overwhelming accomplishment on the part of Paradigm Discs, Gentle Fire’s Explorations (1970 - 1973) is a incomparable revaluation, offering the first ever available glimpse of the breadth of this seminal ensemble’s activities, spanning their own work and their interpretations of scores by some of the 20th century’s most important composers, and with it offering the opportunity of deliver them into their proper place in the history of live experimental / electronic music as well as indeterminate and intuitive composition. Truly remarkable on historical and creative terms, and a thrilling listen from start to finish, we couldn’t possible recommend it enough. An absolute must, issued in a limited edition with a 48 page booklet.