FMP/FREE MUSIC PRODUCTION - An Edition of Improvised Music 1992-2004

OWN 90011

Felix Klopotek


"Freedom of Speech" - the name alludes to the fundamental principles of free jazz.

What was supposed to distinguish it from defined forms of Improvised Music was the emancipation of the instruments from their traditional roles as rhythm, harmony or melody-instruments. Motivation and objective of this emancipation was not making the term "free" as an isolated absolute into a fetish. "Free" was supposed to be related to a form of communication, aware of its own set up. Freedom of speech, from this perspective, has very little to do with the petit bourgeois attitude to be finally allowed to say what has been on one's mind for a long time. It was and is about revealing the rules of making music as constructs. Once this loosening of canonised musical policies had taken place, there was the possibility of arriving at other terms for melody and rhythm. If, to name but one example, Han Bennink plays over-exaggerated time, he doesn't do it because it is the thing for a drummer to do but because it represents his freedom of choice. The liberated communication in ensembles which have dedicated themselves to free Jazz and its consequences, obviously requires reflection, a kind of knowledge familiar with the dynamics of equality, of "Play the Music – Not the Background". The fact that equality is a dynamic state, again, requires a productive way of dealing with the differences between the instruments and the musicians playing them. Only when it is clear that, for example, saxophone, guitar and drums are three completely different instruments which sound their best when played in such a way not described in any school, the togetherness can be created in a reasonable way, ie following the rules of freedom of speech.

It is surely pretentious to break down the vaguely formulated principles of free music of the current practice of a free improvising group, because these principles are inseparably connected to the practice and only articulate themselves within and through this practice. Free improvisation would simply be absurd if there was a book of rules for carrying it out. An attempt at distilling the principles of free jazz from its enactment would mean degrading it to a Punch and Judy show. (One is reminded of that worthy, technically perfect mainstream piano player who used to transcribe examples of jazz piano for his piano school and play them to his pupils as demonstrations – amongst them was an improvisation of Cecil Taylor.)

What freedom of speech means within the context of free jazz can only be determined during the playing and thus, again, already requires freedom of speech. This circular position is the fascinating and disturbing element of this music. Any attempts to declare it to be the NEW, THE OTHER and the UNPREDICTABLE per se, fail as much as assuming it to be peevish, perfidiously conventional and cliché-ridden. Both positions fail to notice the interlocking of (knowledge of) the tradition and (dedication to) the moment, of sticking to the rules and making them deconstructively recognisable as a fragile balance.

Obviously, the question inevitably suggests itself as to what all this has to do with "Freedom of Speech", the young Berlin group around John Schröder, Henrik Walsdorff and Uli Jenneßen. Everything and nothing (a placatory reply, I admit). Everything, because this group commits itself to free improvisation without any ifs and buts and goes into the ambivalence, paradox and circularity of this music with verve. This is the reason why this music is characterised by a transparent consciousness of structure – you can hear how the musicians take over motifs, structural elements from each other and how they spin them out, fan out, re-codify etc – which brings to the fore also, at the same time, its opposite, the energetic dense powerplay and an almost laconic disintegration of these structures.

Nothing, because this group has its own practice, because the musicians bring in their stories (amongst which the stories about stories), and their own way of dealing with the history of more than 40-years of "Living Music" practice. "Freedom of Speech" are neither epigones nor saviours. They demonstrate how (younger) musicians, authoritatively aware of tradition and techniques and then, again, sublimating themselves, create free improvisation, completely focussed on playing for the moment, by simply playing it. Understanding it as a matter of course, something so out of the ordinary.

In this respect they resemble others of their age group like Rudi Mahall, Axel Dörner, Olaf Rupp, Frank Gratkowski etc – most of them living in Berlin, as well, all of them actually born within the same period of time (1963-1965); still, they are fundamentally different in their specific practice, the very own practice of "Freedom of Speech": they have to be seen within the context of young improvisers living in Germany. But they still have all the rights in the (Improv) world to demand unconditional attention the minute they get on stage.

Freedom of speech does not only start with the differences between the speakers, it also allows them an undisguised voice without their just 'standing there', disconnected and nervously babbling. Allow me to make an analogy here: via the medium of the open, direct exchange Jenneßen, Schröder and Walsdorff sound out the parameters of their mutual interchanges, combining the detailed, motif with the trance-like pulse and thus implying the hallmark of this band (sic!). The work on the transmission of the internal differences, at the same time, expresses the successful coupling with the tradition of free music which cannot be reduced to the imitative: completely aware of itself but impossible without this tradition. It figures that the name "Freedom of Speech" obviously hints to fundamental principles of free jazz but, (to my knowledge), so far, there has not been a group which has chosen this as their name.

Translation: Isabel Seeberg & Paul Lytton

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