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Chapter 6
– African and other ‘world’ musics (Mike Majkowski, 30-year-old Belgian
vibraphonist Els Vandeweyer)57
– Popular music (many electronic musicians also DJ-ed, as did 36-year-old Australian
bassist Clayton Thomas, who had aspirations to make a hiphop record).
To conclude this section, however, and representing one of the largest and most varied
aesthetic and social networks, and possibly the scene’s most poly-musical performer,
a short portrait of Australian drummer and percussionist Steve Heather serves to
exemplify not only the diversity of styles and approaches that surrounded and influenced
the Improvised Music scene, but also the number of musics and voices that it was
possible for one musician to practice, and have.
In his mid-40s, Heather’s activities ranged from jazz/post-free-jazz improvising (Booklet,
who would readily throw in a Duke Ellington number or Jimi Hendrix song during
their improvisations, or Mrs Conception, which began life as a jazz standards project,
but, more recently, came to include abstract and sound/noise-based materials), to
dance and theatre projects,58 and pop/rock-related bands such as The Still and
TUB (who played Improvised Music using the materials of 1970s stadium rock).59
Formerly living in Amsterdam, Heather was one of the founders of Kraakgeluiden
(an electroacoustic/improvised/noise series that took place every Monday night for
around 6 years in an Amsterdam squat),60 and had played a considerable amount
of part-composed/part-improvised Neue Musik in composer Alison Isadora’s group,
The Wandelweiser group was an international collective of composers (incorporating a record label
and publishing house) including Michael Pisaro, Antoine Beugher, Manfred Werder, Radu Malfatti
and Peter Ablinger. The group was concerned with creating composed works which left many aspects
to be realised by their performers in real-time, and the group had many interests in common with
Reductionist and Post-Reductionist improvisers (silences, subtle gradations of extremely quiet dynamics,
working with an extremely limited set of musical materials, the influence of John Cage), as well as a
considerable social overlap [Pisaro, 2009]. Wandelweiser performers also arranged concerts in venues
used for Improvised Music, such as Ausland and O Tannenbaum.
Majkowski drew an interesting comparison between playing Durational Improvised Music and
African music, “I can relate to it... because a lot of this music that I have been playing recently with the
bass guitar, is like repeating a groove, and somehow there’s no start or no end to it... from the beginning
it’s already happening... like a monumental path. And I also like doing that with my solo stuff, like
tremolo for 15 minutes, just this monumental kind of strip” (see p. 216 for more on Majkowski’s solo
Heather also had a performance group with his wife Siegmar Zacharias (they have created rock
operas and musicals together), as well as directing his own performance pieces, including (on different
occasions) snare drums with confetti and indoor fireworks. In such cases, Heather often operated under
the guise of his alter ego, Stiff Leather.
Heather described how in TUB (The Understated Brown), “Generally we play [song] structures. But
the material we’ve chosen is basically 70s kind-of stadium rock material. But in the end the methods of
improvising are the same, just that the materials are different. [...] There’s a whole kind of gestural
thing that’s really different, but there’s the same idea of counterpoint and developing things, creating
the sound. It’s all very, for me, similar to playing in other musics, but the material is very different. So
we’ve worked on all these songs, doing covers of Supertramp and Boston [etc.], but then we take all
that material and then go, ‘OK, let’s just play it, improvise with it’.”
Kraakgeluiden was co-founded with flautist/composer Anne LeBerge and pianist/composer Cor