At the beginning of my final year—quarter, actually: fall 1979—enrolled at UCSB, there appeared a green, hyper, talkative violist and composer, an odd mix of self-confidence and neurotic insecurity named Gregory Michael Amov. For reasons never became clear, Greg apparently decided I was someone to know and began to affect certain aspects of my manner: growing something vaguely beardlike, smoking black cigarettes (I smoked Shermans MCDs at the time), shadowing me. Friends would badger me about it in a good-natured way—“Like father like son, eh, Jon?”—and I did not really know how to respond to them, except that there was something indefinable that prevented me from saying something crushing to him in the heartless way I might otherwise have done. The only time I went volcanic on him was when he proudly showed me a pendant he’d bought at a head shop—a Jewish star with a coke spoon on it. That was the last time he misjudged me that radically.
And we went our separate ways when I left Santa Barbara at the end of that year. We spoke on the phone every few years, though; he called my parents, discovered my whereabouts, and we were able to reconnect. I pursued the academic-music route, and he went virtual, becoming proficient in an operating system called Pick, which led to jobs and consulting and so on. My father even asked him, at one point, if he could help me “get started in computers”! (I was suffering on the job market then, and Greg gallantly assured Dad that he could.) He was gleeful about the amount of bulletin boarding he was doing, in the days of bulletin boarding, and positively exultant in telling me about his first conversation with Diane, an author who was to become his wife, everything they had in common, how they had already decided on the names for their three children, and so on.
I began to hear about different kinds of musical activities; ambient soundscape music, how being a rock star was now completely democritized and non-mass media dependent since one could post one’s own music on the internet and have people on the other side of the world respond with riotous approval, and so on. “And I’ll tell you this, Jon: being a rock star feels GREAT.” Greg sent me a couple of CDs of his work (though he promised several more I never got): a CD of his own music called The Dark Within The Dark, and a collection of demos by his “band” Systems Theory, a collaboration between (primarily) himself and his longtime friend Steven Davies-Morris. I twitted him about never having kids—why name them if you end up not having them??—and I remember a lot of laughter on that subject. And a year or two ago, he shared his “successful” battle against esophageal cancer with me. All the medical drama, the recovery, the gradual venturing back to work. My God, I thought. What did he do to deserve this? I don’t think his smoking went beyond the occasional Russian Sobranie at UCSB; his music is making him happy, professionally things are hitting a kind of stability… Then we friended each other on Facebook, and could bounce wisecracks off each other on a regular basis, and all was right with the world.
Recent months, however, saw a diabolically vicious recurrence of the cancer—now in the brain, and other places—and an agonizing but fast tailspin. Last night, Greg Amov (1959–2009) took his last breath and went on to the Big Soundscape, three says short of his fiftieth birthday. I have not actually seen Greg since UCSB, and was (unsurprisingly) unable to get back to California during his last days, so—I ask myself—what can I do?
I am listening to the Systems Theory demos and The Dark Within the Dark. I have never been into ambient music, particularly, so when I first heard it I thought it was nice, and reflected on how far Greg had evolved from playing string quartets…and that was that. Today it sounds very different. Now these pieces are rather like distillations of everthing in the air back then, including wisps of Celtic, world musics, drum patterns etc. all interwoven on long sonic canvasses: “The Dark Within The Dark,” “The Cathedral At Ys,” The New Worship Of Old Gods,” “Nightfall On Io.” Of course, I have no computer chops at all, and so cannot begin to imagine how music like this is produced, realized, and so on. What is hard to describe is the odd familiarity this music has, as if I can hear the real Greg in these tapestries. I’d love to discuss these with him
In some inconceivable dimension, maybe. Until then—
Forn gezunt, my friend; soar high and far. Gregory Michael Amov: may his memory be for a blessing.