Arrow right
Pnca 26a08397 34d5 402e 8324 c9760623efe5 medium


Oct 6 3:00 PM - 4:30 PM


511 Building - Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Center for Art and Design

Shipley Collins Mediatheque

CCA&C Lectures

511 NW Broadway
Portland, Oregon, 97209   [map]

IMPROVISATION: HANS COPER, AMM & CORNELIUS CARDEW Sunday, 3pm, October 6, 2019 (n.b. post-exhibition) PNCA Shipley Collins Mediatheque

As one of the most influential teachers at London’s Royal Academy of Art (RCA) from 1966 to 1976, Hans Coper’s impact was described as “gentle, yet shattering.” He more often than not took his students to a teashop and talked about jazz, noting that “improvisation” around a theme was part of his own practice. It was the 1960s and students were reacting to the cultural shifts in Britain towards radicalism and individuality. None made work like Coper. Around the beginning of Coper’s time at the RCA, guitarist and painter Keith Rowe and saxophonist Lou Gare had begun holding weekly open music sessions at the RCA, which gradually led to the formation of the group AMM with drummer Eddie Prevost and bassist Lawrence Sheaff. They were soon joined by experimental composer, musician, and graphic artist Cornelius Cardew, who was just completing work on his monumental graphic score Treatise. Cardew’s addition cemented AMM’s position at the nexus of new experimental music, jazz, and conceptual art. The music of AMM and Cardew in the ‘60s balanced control and freedom, silence and noise, tangential jazz influences and the sounds of everyday life. It could be difficult to listen to. It could also be bracingly beautiful, dauntingly intellectual, spare and minimal—adjectives that could as easily describe the work of Hans Coper.


In the mid-1960s, no AMM performance was ever planned; each was unique and spontaneous, with musicians following their own individual paths toward an unknown end. At the same time, Cornelius Cardew was creating purely graphic musical scores, with the intention that musicians should articulate their own understanding of the pieces rather than try to discern the composer’s intentions. These two different yet related performance tactics will be explored in a performance by:

Matt Carlson (piano, electronics), Lee Elderton (saxophone), Matt Hannafin (percussion), and Caspar Sonnet (lap steel dobro).

Using theories, strategies, and aesthetics that had their beginnings with AMM and contemporaneous 1960s composers and musicians, the group will perform two extended improvisations: one using Hans Coper’s work as inspiration, one using select pages from Cardew’s graphic score Treatise.


Matt Hannafin will be joined by moderator Whitney Lowe and the performing musicians for a conversation and speculation on “improvisation.” How do we see and listen to the music of Cardew and AMM in relationship to the forms of Coper’s work? Could Coper’s shapes and textures be read as a score? Could their individual resonances be read as music? How does Coper’s focus on improvisation around a theme relate to jazz, and to AMM/Cardew’s extension into a more abstract improvisational sound world?

Matt Hannafin (percussion) is a New York–born, Portland-based percussionist active in experimental music, improvisation, and Iranian classical and traditional music. He is the curator and director of Portland’s Extradition Series (

Whitney Lowe is a renowned graphic designer, architect, and ceramic artist. He currently has an exhibition of ceramics, “Turbidity and the Peristaltic” on view at Froelick Gallery, September 3-October 12, 2019.

Cornelius Cardew (1933–1981) was an English experimental music composer and performer who was an assistant to Karlheinz Stockhausen from 1958 to 1960 and, in 1966, joined the free improvisation group AMM as cellist and pianist. He introduced the works of American experimental composers Morton Feldman, La Monte Young, Earle Brown, Christian Wolf, and John Cage to English audiences during the mid-sixties and came to have a considerable impact on the development of English music from the late sixties onward. Cardew’s most important score from his experimental period was Treatise (1963–67), a 193-page graphic score which allows near-absolute freedom of interpretation. Cornelius Cardew’s father was Michael Cardew (1901–1983), a British studio potter and protégé of Bernard Leach who described him as “one of the finest potters of the century.”

Organized and produced by Sandra Percival, founding director and curator, Zena Zezza, and co-presented with Pacific Northwest College of Art and the OJMCHE.