Luke Fowler

Pilgrimage from Scattered Points


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Not on display

Luke Fowler born 1978
Video, black and white and colour and sound (stereo)
Duration: 45min
Presented by Tate Members 2015


Pilgrimage from Scattered Points is a film with sound on DVD lasting forty-five minutes. Its subject is the experimental English composer Cornelius Cardew (1936–1981) and the activities of his improvisation project, the Scratch Orchestra (1969–74). Drawing from different archival sources – including amateur film recordings, interviews, press clippings and excerpts from the documentary film Journey to the North Pole 1971 by the German filmmaker Hanne Boesch – Fowler delivers an account of the development of Cardew’s ideas, from the early stages of the Scratch Orchestra until its disintegration in 1974. Adopting a philosophy of ‘anyone can play’, the Orchestra represented a radical spirit of change and challenged the accepted social order. It brought together experimental composers with ‘musical innocents’ to collaborate on seemingly random, fragmented performances that could be compared to happenings. It pioneered forms of mass improvisation and composition, and used new methods of notation including verbal, graphic or collaged musical scores. Central to its constitution was the idea that music could play a productive role in society. Cardew’s ‘Draft Constitution’ of 1969 described the Orchestra as a ‘truly social body’ intended to function in the social sphere.

Divided into eight parts, Fowler’s film focuses on the progressive politicisation of the Scratch Orchestra towards the adoption of a Marxist orthodoxy. Part I: The Great Unlearning, Part II: Scratch Music and Part III: Order and Cohesion explore the Orchestra’s initial anarchic tolerance, using footage recorded during its first performance in London’s Roundhouse theatre in 1969 where a number of music teachers and professional musicians such as John Tilbury, Bryan Harris, Michael Parsons and Christopher Hobbs were joined by their friends and family to fill up the stage. The first chapters of the film aim to decipher the particularities of Scratch Music – which was never defined fully by Cardew – and present some critical responses from members of the Orchestra, who found that the freedom and spontaneous nature of Cardew’s approach to the Orchestra’s organisation fettered their creativity and the development of their music rather than encouraging it.

Part IV: Village Tour, Part V: Sweet FA, Part VI: Stockhausen Serves Imperialism, Part VII: On Contradiction and Practice and Part VIII: Discontent Files follow the Orchestra on tour around some towns in the north of England and Wales. Initially intended to connect with the people, these tours often generated negative responses from the audience, who instead of feeling invited to take part in their performances, felt alienated by a lack of direction and structure. The tours responded to a desire to increase the political stance of the Orchestra, which was put under great scrutiny by its members to assess ways in which its music could be situated within a political context, organising open assemblies before and after each performance. This sense of discontent caused many of the Orchestra’s founder members to leave, and their avant-garde music was repudiated to make way for a new politically-engaged orchestra in which revolutionary songs were interpreted in a struggle to make music that served the people.

Pilgrimage from Scattered Points develops Fowler’s interest in artistic and social experiments that were part of the 1960s and 1970s vanguard and counter-culture. In 2001 he produced the film What You See Is Where You’re At (Tate T13298), a compelling portrait of the Scottish psychiatrist and psychoanalyst R.D. Laing (1927–1989), and in 2003 he worked on The Way Out, a portrait of the elusive rock musician Xentos Jones, founder of the post-punk band The Homosexuals in 1977. Fowler’s works often combine a subjective approach with the tools of documentary filmmaking to probe the nature of his subjects, focusing on the relationship between different people and what drives them together emotionally and creatively. Revisiting these chapters of recent counter-culture, Fowler assesses the faults, energy and impetus behind these social experiments, and foregrounds their radical and experimental ideas.

Pilgrimage from Scattered Points was exhibited at the Tate Triennial in 2006 and in Fowler’s solo exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery, London, in 2009. The work is shown as a projection and Tate’s copy is number five in an edition of five, plus two artist’s proofs.

Further reading
Sarah Lowndes, ‘Luke Fowler’, Frieze, no.99, May 2006, pp.170–1.
Tate Triennial 2006: New British Art, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2006, pp.58–9.

Carmen Juliá
May 2011

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