The Wire

The world's greatest print and online music magazine. Independent since 1982


Alterations Festival explores the work of the influential 1980s UK improv group

Alterations’ Steve Beresford, Peter Cusack, Terry Day and David Toop reunite for a festival celebrating their legacy

The 1980s UK improvising supergroup Alterations will reunite this summer for a festival dedicated to their work and legacy. The quartet, formed by Steve Beresford, Peter Cusack, Terry Day and David Toop, existed between 1977–86. They reformed last year for a London performance; and they’ll be back together again for the series of performances, workshops, talks and an exhibition making up the Alterations Festival happening between 13–19 June. Alterations will perform both as a quartet and in various combinations with outside players including Elaine Mitchener, Max Eastley, John Butcher, Evan Parker, Thurston Moore, Rhodri Davies, and many more.

Alterations released three albums in their lifetime. They were at once notable and notorious for adopting a seemingly irreverent attitude designed to shake up the UK improv scene of the time, adding toys, sirens, balloons, laughter, etc to their more conventional instrumentation. "Until I saw Alterations play," wrote Richard Cook back in The Wire 10, "most improvised music had seemed to me to be an inflexibily serious enterprise."

The festival will explore connections and overlaps between free improvisation and sound art generated by Alterations’ use of conventional instruments and non-musical objects. It also includes a series of talks on the subject of “Alterations And Free Improvisation”, plus workshops about field recording conducted by Peter Cusack, and how to make bamboo flutes conducted by Terry Day. The festival will also mark the launch of Ecstatic Peace Library’s republication of the complete run of Musics magazine, an improvising journal partly founded by Beresford and Toop in 1975 which ran to 23 issues in the latter part of the 1970s.

After Alterations broke up, the four members went on to form or collaborate with countless UK groups in the spheres of improvisation and beyond, from Flying Lizards, People Band, General Strike and The 49 Americans to London Improvisers Orchestra. Beresford and Toop have also written extensively about music and sound, most notably for Collusion and The Wire. And in recent decades, Beresford, Toop and Cusack have pursued their individual, unorthodox paths through education and academia.

The festival will take place at various venues around London, including Portland Hall, Cafe Oto and Oto Projects Space, between 13–19 June. More information can be found here. Subscribers to The Wire can read Richard Cook’s 1984 article on Alterations here.