Chris Mann, 1949–2018


Very sad to learn this morning (via Michael Schell @cribbageforum) of the death of the Australian-American composer, poet and performer Chris Mann.

I first came across Mann’s compositional performance poetry, and his unique voice, through the old NMA tapes, back when they were available via Rainer Linz’s website. (They can now be accessed as free downloads or paid-for CD-Rs via Shame File music.) Those tapes also included music by Amanda Stewart, and both are/were extraordinarily dexterous vocalists – and not singers, but speakers. Mann’s voice in particular had this quality that made you feel as though you had been unwillingly sucked into a conversation with a slightly mad neighbour: amongst the Beckett and the Pinter streams of stuttering consciousness was the gabble of gossip. I loved the soprano swoops he would introduce, for example: injections of an alter ego, an alternative possibility. He was influenced by Fluxus, Cage and, especially, the ‘compositional linguistics’ of Kenneth Gaburo; but it’s hard not to hear him also as one of new music’s few stand-ups – his work was genuinely funny, and utilised comedy’s forms and timing as much as music’s.

There are too few videos of his work to share; searching for Machine for Making Sense, the group he formed with Stewart and others in the 1990s, yields a little more. Here are two I particularly enjoy. Watching them back this morning, I’m struck once again what an extraordinary virtuoso he was, in thought and articulation. RIP.