Photo: Photo by Michael Galinsky / courtesy of AUM Fidelity

Daniel Carter, Fred Moten, Matt Heyner, Sabir Mateen & Tom Bruno

TEST featuring Fred Moten

TEST is a collective creative improvising quartet based out of the NYC Underground (figuratively and literally).  Their street-hardened, spatial Jazz is riotous and intense: is also makes us think about collective organization, and different ideas of responsibility and liberty.

Listening to those TEST CD’s again, there’s a striking tension between them being complex/ involved, and being complicated/ asymmetric 1.  Here’s an apt quote from Steve Lacy, who when asked by Frederic Rzewski to commit to tape a description, in fifteen seconds, of the difference between composition and improvisation, answered. “in fifteen seconds: in composition you have all the time in the world to decide what you want to say in fifteen seconds, in improvisation you have fifteen seconds”. 2  It’s apt about TEST because they’re understanding of their own group dynamics is super sophisticated, so their constant real-time negotiation of what they want to say is likewise super rich: at times the results sound complex and even composed and at others more knotty – it’s being worked out, it’s complicated and irregular. Maybe that’s a nice analogy for the difference between composition and improvisation and what that difference says about determination and spontaneity, between our plans for the future and how real life actually plays out.


And: here’s a hypothesis about ‘listening’ and TEST.


We think there is something to be said about an important strand of conceptualism in Jazz, which has been taken a great deal less seriously than a visual art notion of conceptualism.  That’s for a whole bunch of reasons that we could probably all guess, but which at the very least might be something to do with the ways in which Jazz embodies extra-musical ideas 3 rather than explicitly state them. Which is to say, for example in TEST, we think you can hear complimentary but also slightly different notions of liberty at play in the way the collective is organised: a) as a group of people and, b) in the music they produce.  Any idea of a hierarchical is eschewed.  Every player shares the burden of composition.  Everybody is responsible for their actions, and how those actions relate to and affect others.  Is that responsibility a form of listening?  We think it takes nothing away from, and indeed only adds to the force of their music (as it extends that force beyond the purely aural) to ask: is this kind of collective music an embodied but not explicitly stated practice of liberty, (individual, social, musical)?


Kinds of Listening Involved

Anarchism - to listen as a practice of liberty, (first individual and then social).

Freedom - to ask: what is the sound of freedom?

Spontaneity Vs. Determination - to listen at the border between lived (improvised) time and planned (composed) time.


At the event Fred Moten read a specially written poem as part of his introduction to TEST and the event.

  • 1. Definition: something complex may be well-organized and logically constructed as well as subtle and intricate, while a thing that is complicated will have something irregular, perverse, asymmetrical in addition to fundamental intricacy; complex is more formal and technical (a problem in mathematics is complex, obviously composition can be too) while something like personal life can be complicated.
  • 2. When Rzewski listened to the tape back, he found that Lacy had taken exactly fifteen seconds to make his statement.
  • 3. For e.g.: would you agree that the vocal and public display of appreciation for a specific part of an improvisation that you get from audiences at Jazz gigs is a kind of embodied listening, and a functional part of a social experience, of being part of a group of people, listening together, (i.e.: codified right into the way we experience listening as social in Jazz)?
  • Intro - Fred Moten

  • Audio

  • Video