clockwise from left: Richard Teitelbaum, Alan Bryant, Barbara Mayfield, Frederic and Nicole
Rzewski, Ivan Vandor, Jon Phetteplace, Edith Schloss, Alvin Curran, Alexis and Iko Rzewski,
Carole Plantamura, Caspar. Collage by Edith Schloss
In 1971, when Frederic Rzweski moved into an apartment in NYC, a box containing the MEV files was mistaken for refuse and thrown into the incinerator chute. That is the history of Musica Elettronica Viva.
From memory: MEV was begun one evening in the spring of 1966 by Alan Bryant, Alvin Curran, Jon Phetteplace, Carol Plantamura, Frederic Rzweski, Richard Teitelbaum and Ivan Vandor in a room in Rome overlooking the Pantheon. Though the group would never be able to play in this remarkable domed temple with a hole in its top, MEV's music right from the start was also totally open allowing all and everything to come in and seeking in every way to get out beyond the heartless conventions of contemporary music. Taking cue from Tudor and Cage, MEV began sticking contact mics to anything that sounded and amplified their raw sounds: bed springs, sheets of glass, tin cans, rubber bands, toy pianos, sex vibrators, and assorted metal junk; a crushed old trumpet, cello and tenor sax kept us within musical credibility, while a home-made synthesizer of some 48 oscillators along with the first Moog synthesizer in Europe gave our otherwise neoprimitive sound an inimitable edge.
Frederic, Richard, Alvin
In the name of the collectivity, the group abandoned both written scores and leadership and replaced them with improvisation and critical listening. Rehearsals and concerts were begun at the appropriate time by a kind of spontaneous combustion and continued until total exhaustion set in. It mattered little who played what when or how, but what the fragile bond of human trust that linked us all in every moment remained unbroken. The music could go anywhere, gliding into self regenerating unity or lurching into irrevocable chaos - both were valuable goals. In the general euphoria of the times, MEV thought it had re-invented music; in any case it had certainly rediscovered it. Aside from the brilliant and inspiring developments in Free Jazz - especially those of Albert Ayler, Coltrane, Mingus, Shepp, and Cecil Taylor, there was probably no other music at that time, mid-late '60s, which equalled the subversiveness and willingness to experiment with its own birth and destruction as that of MEV's.
By 1969, MEV was known everywhere in the world's undergrounds and above ground, too. We had played hundreds of concerts in Europe, made two LPs and had collaborated with Jean-Jacques Lebel, The Living Theater, Pierre Clementi, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Gianni Kounnelis, Simone Forti, members of the Chicago Art Ensemble, Cornelius Cardew's AMM group, the Scratch Orchestra, Nuova Consonanza, Vittorio Gelmetti, Giuseppe Chiari, Kosugi, Ashley, Behrman, Mumma and Lucier.
Allan Bryant, Ivan Vandor, Richard Teitelbaum, Frederic Rzewski, Alvin Curran
At the same time Steve Lacy became a regular member of the group along with two "non-schooled" European musicians. And from the early tight-knit improvisations called "Spacecraft", the music began to evolve toward a conclusive work called "Sound Pool" -- an act of collective musical "suicide" through which the entire public was asked to participate -- and they did often with the interventions of local police and fire departments.
In 1970, MEV visited the USA for the first time, making a memorable tour with Maryanne Amacher, Serge Tcherepnin and Anthony Braxton. Later Garrett List, Gregory Reeve, Jon Gibson and Karl Berger became frequent performers in the group.
New York Times, February 21, 1970, p. 21
Part myth, part reality, part dream, Musica Elettronica Viva in its 23rd year continues to resist retirement and greatly enjoys its one gig a year. Its founding members have each gone on to develop very different but compatible musics which in the anarchic MEV tradition stand in strong opposition to the aggressive demands of today's media and marketing moguls. And just when we thought that our last concert at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam in '88 would really be the last, NMA tricked us into coming "back from the dead".
A propos of opposition -- now that MEV is back -- we urgently call for an open revolt against the encroachment of governmental ignorance and corporate speculation in the arts and call in the stead for a program of massive proportions to regenerate dignity and real work places for American artists where unfettered experimentation may take place. Let the artists make aircraft invisible and let them raise their poetry, music, and dance on the flag poles.
for MEV Alvin Curran and Richard Teitelbaum,
Bearsville, NY, August 1989
Program notes for the New Music America Festival, the Knitting Factory, New York City.