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In 1975 Derek Bailey, Steve Beresford, Max Boucher. Paul Burwell, Jack Cooke, Peter Cusack, Hugh Davies, Madelaine and Martin Davidson, Richard Leigh, Evan Parker, John Russell, David Toop, Philipp Wachsmann and Colin Wood came together and agreed to produce a magazine.
It would be independent and dedicated mainly to the coverage of free improvised music. Its need was originally suggested in a conversation between Evan Parker and Madelaine and Martin Davidson. The title was proposed by Paul Burwell at the first meeting in the Davidsons' house and unanimously adopted. In itself the title represented a paradigm shift.
Musics, headquartered in London, has not been published since 1979.
History and profile
Musics was launched with Issue No. 1 April/May 1975 with the banner 'MUSICS an impromental experivisation arts magazine'.
Mandy Davidson edited the first issue. Soon afterwards she moved to the USA and it was decided that there would be no permanent editor. Max Boucher was appointed as Production Editor. The original 'editorial board' moved quickly towards becoming a collective.
The journal was distributed within the UK and worldwide. For example this author[who?] purchased his copies in Black Swan records in Vancouver BC, Canada.
Each collective member contributed £4 to cover the costs of issue no.1, which was run off on an A3 Gestetner duplicator. Issue no.2 was pasted up and printed by offset-litho. Over time the print run was increased and all income was ploughed back. Eventually it was possible to pay the printers (Islington Community Press) to make the plates and run off the copies. However collective members continued to do all the unpaid work of editing and preparing the camera ready artwork. No editors, writers, designers or photographers were ever paid.
Limiting expenditure was only part of the financial model. From the beginning the Musics collective took the principled position that they would not accept paid advertising or grant aid and the only income came from subscriptions and sales through (mostly alternative) bookshops.
In addition there were associates in cities such as Bristol and Glasgow who sold copies through local outlets and at performances. In the final months there was an imminent financial crisis, but this was resolved through a successful jumble sale.
The policy of financial independence was copied from Libération, the French daily paper which had no paid ads. The two publications shared a vibrant pluralism, directly due to their freedom from the influence of advertisers or funding bodies. Musics and Libe were informally affiliated, as can be seen from occasional mutual references in archived copies. Both have a dynamic energy which radiates from the pages - in Musics perhaps almost reaching perfection. (Liberation later reverted to the standard model and it continues in name only.)
Musics came out six times a year, with occasional exceptions. With full respect to 'Bells' and 'The Grackle' (sold in the same shops), the content of its 23 issues made it arguably the most significant music publication of the 1970s.
MUSICS proposed the destruction of artificial boundaries and linked jazz, the music of composers such as John Cage, and indigenous and non-European musics. It was significant in the discussion of traditional Asian instruments (Clive Bell) as paths of equal value for the performance of musics, a term that discarded the use of the word jazz.
Early issues covered audio soundscape work reviewing performance events ranging from a cliff-top piano hurling festival or burning pianos, trap set improvisation against a rising sea tide that drowned cymbals and floated and retuned toms, or drummer Han Bennink's inclusion of saws and power tools into his percussion set. Electronics were explored as micro-environments at a level of equality with acoustic instruments in the precursors of glitch, such as the STEIM experiments with the cracklebox or the circuit board work of Hugh Davies (1943–2005), and a furious attack on the supposed limits to what was possible with brass instruments, notably by Steve Lacy and Evan Parker.
Co-conspirators in this cultural discovery of new world MUSICS and improvisation included saxophonist Anthony Braxton, the Chicago school of jazz collectives, the revolutionary German trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff (1928–2005), both American and European Free jazz, Michel Waisvisz of STEIM in the Netherherlands, and connections to the ECM record label.
The real contribution of the journal was to promote self-organisation, to tentatively challenge Eurocentric assumptions and re-connect music-making with other social activity. As an example there was an announcement of a discussion titled "Does an improvised society require an absence of imposed order?"
Reviews and discussions of techniques, such as circular breathing, were secondary. Of more importance were the deeply rooted discussions of philosophical questions and positions on the basic nature of music, improvisation, and filters of race, gender, traditional approaches, or audience expectations.
For instance analyses Lindsay Cooper in her legendary essay Women, Music, Feminism – notes in Musics #14 (October 1977) in a differentiated way the specific difficulties in music to overcome societal defined gender roles. Musics was remarkably successful in empowering women and tackling sexism but as an organisation failed to understand racism. (Ironic given that it fed on Black music and other non-white traditions, and as musicians the collective members showed these influences in their playing.)
It could be argued that Musics was a major influence on the development of new ideas about world music, though never totally able to transcend the white imperialist mentality typical of victims of the education system and artists.
The positive and dynamic pluralism was possible because there was little internal hierarchy, and an absence of direct, or indirect, influence from advertisers or bodies such as the Arts Council.
Throughout the existence of the magazine the synergy was under continuous threat from rampant individualism, attention seeking, mutual back-slapping and absurd traditional attempts to create a 'scene' and the myth of "a second generation of improvisers".
A key event which led to collapse was an underlying dispute triggered by association with the separate and short-lived Music for Socialism organisation. A review of Val Wilmer's book As Serious As Your Life, which reverberated through several subsequent issues, was also significant. The latter dispute, often tense, reveals a failure to put constraints on freedom of expression by editing out racist content.
Tensions and unresolved contradictions accumulated and eventually a small faction formed within the collective and soon undemocratically added to the artwork for the front cover of issue no.23 the words FINAL ISSUE.
In 1975 the magazine collective had convened and organised the inaugural meeting of the London Musicians Collective, but this too succumbed to the same tensions.