The name, TransMuseq, comes from an improvisatory combination of meanings derived from the intuitive combination of the adverb trans and the noun muse and the rarity of English words ending in q, which from a subconscious point of reference, would work perfectly at the end of the muse, as the consonance forms an allusion to the word music, the primary investigation medium of LaDonna Smith and Davey Williams as TRANS, a prefix used in combinations with models and meanings frequently denoting “ “across,” “beyond,”and “through”.. all which illustrate the course of psychological states of travel In the process of creating musical composition through the practice of “psychic automatism” or freely improvising music with another.

Because Breton, philosopher and leader in the movement of Surrealism, did not acknowledge music as a Surrealist form, there were questions left unresolved about this matter. Although there were pioneers in new electronic instruments (musique concrete’, onde martinot and theremin) and composers near to the Surrealist movement (Pierre Schaeffer, Eric Satie and Oliver Messian) who were creating dreamlike soundscapes, and exploration of electronics as a technique of composition, the idea of musical automatism’ as in the manner of surrealist writings and drawings had not been explored as such.

Davey Williams & LaDonna Smith

Davey Williams bowing metal construction rod on Steinberger electric guitar. Cleveland, OH, “The Cellar” 1985. Photograph by Johnny P. Williams

LaDonna Smith singing screams in harmonic confluence with viola strings. Birmingham Museum of Art, 1989.

The idea of “automatic music” and near “psychic method” was the driving force of the free improvisation musical explorations of the duets between Davey Williams and LaDonna Smith that began the long relationship and history of TransMuseq. On April 7, 1974, they presented their first concert which was entirely freely improvised on both musical instruments in which they were skilled, and also those that they had recently experimented with, and on which they had no musical training. Duets were performed piano and guitar, bass clarinet and viola. The idea was to be able to create a musical collaboration, with no preconceived forms, score, or discussion that would come directly from the subconscious, which would form its own structure in the moment of activity, or free playing so to speak, and which would exist as a standing work, with a coherence that would be equal to that of preconceived, or crafted composition.

Further, the primal state of original music, in which the one who performs is the sole creator, one and the same, with no composer intermediary, thereby a music directly derived from the real inner experience of the practitioner, without the interruption of the subconscious expression by means of the rational interpretation of a third party composer, or any notation, or nor score. There was a notion of inspiration and a correlation to the Surrealist methods of automatic writing and drawing from the state of the pure sub-conscious extraction.

Folk Music

Folk Music in Alabama. Photograph by Janice Hathaway

Folk Music

Folk Music in Alabama. Photograph by Janice Hathaway

Folk Music

Folk Music performance at McClung Gallery, Iron Tortoise, Alabama, 1978. Photograph by Janice Hathaway

In 1976, the TRANS studio became a hot bed of musical exploration, with members of our neighborhood community, seriously interested in improvising music on a regular basis. The groups varied from the duo to trios, quartets, quintets, and even performed as a septet on several occasions as Transcendprovisation, an unwieldy name uniting the terms transcend and improvisation. The first documented LP entitled TRANS was released in 1976. Closely following that, the trio with Theodore Bowen, “Folk Music” was released. A secondary notion or postulate was that free improvisation indeed, in the context of our community, was a type of folk music. It did not require training in a musical instrument to participate. In fact, the true improviser could well be a novice, exploring an instrument, and the collective activity of making music together, for the first time. As much as there was desire to elevate musical improvisation as an art form, there was also the recognition that the practice was easily a form of play, and cultural recreation, playful, but yet not unlike ritual forms of music found in primal cultures.

Andre Centazzo and Davey Williams. Birmingham Alabama. Photograph by Janice Hathaway

TransMuseq in Europe

TransMuseq Italian tour, 1979. (Trans catching train, after being pulled by Italian police from Centazzo’s small car, paid bribe, escaped machine gun execution during the Italian terrorist age of the 1970’s.)

The vocabulary of free improvisation begins in the subconscious. It eschews the necessity of known music in the traditional sense, but rather a free exploration into the use of extended techniques and primal noises, altercated or found sounds, through an act of expression from the subconscious manipulation of an object, or musical instrument, combining aural abstractions, colors & textures, sounding automatic movement, creating alternative models of what constitutes music.