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

OWN 90013

Felix Klopotek


It is quite absurd: you talk your head off about improvisation and improvised music although actually there isn't really anything to talk about. If one was to take seriously the claim which is constantly attached to improvised music and which is also constantly confirmed and renewed by the improvisers, that this music is about researching the moment, to wit a possibility and all this without first having determined the line of enquiry - everything would be said and done. Then there would be a vast non-linear continuum, without a history, without a development. The music would always be new and different because it would be bound only to the here and now, the instant and the current fellow musician.
We know that the opposite is true, that all the spontaneity, the obsession with the here and now, the one big gesture and the one decisive instant are fixed and, in the worst case, are fetishist parts of progressions which describe other developments: history of music, history of Jazz, biography and the inevitably accompanying traditional forms, habits and concepts for dealing with every-day life.
This dichotomy of spontaneity/immediacy and history/mediation already appears if you have listened to more than one recording of improvised music (and especially more than one of the same artist) because you already start to compare and construct connections. The more one hears and, definitely! the more one plays it, the less is Improvised music improvised (in the above sense) but constitutes itself in an area limited by listening and playing habits, and the power of history.
The question is: Does anybody therefore feel restricted in his listening pleasure?
Thus if one deconstructs the continuum of improvised music and brings it back to where it belongs, that is among normal human beings, there is absolutely no problem in dealing with a trio like the one of Oliver Augst, Rüdiger Carl and Christoph Korn. On the one hand there is Rüdiger Carl who most people will jump on when it is about describing their music. Carl is the most experienced since he has been putting out records when his co-musicians Oliver Augst and Christoph Korn were still going to school. He is one of the best examples of how improvised music can surprise itself, and us, again and again (and in an emphatic kind of way), if it just kicks itself in the backside from time to time. Carl starts at the end of the sixties as co-founder of Free Music Production and is, as tenor player, naturally a power player. From the middle of the seventies the accordion is added (or rather: instruments an amateur would identify as an accordion and which are correctly called concertina or bandoneon) and by this point the power playing is passé. In his duets with Irène Schweizer, Hans Reichel and Sven-Åke Johansson a conscious use of form appears more and more, for clearly, well-worked out sequences and processes which give support and direction even to the misplaced and overstretched. It becomes apparent – also the ecstasy is controlled, the kitsch, as well, is not to be reduced to emotional substrates but is socially constituted. In his later projects, Night & Day, September Band, COWWS, Jailhouse (to name but the best known) he distilled even further this consciousness of form: quotes from popular music, Jazz standards, night-club music. Musics which live entirely from form and imitation (=cliché) become the medium. At the beginning of the nineties Carl puts the tenor aside, concentrates on the clarinet. At the end of the nineties toys are added to clarinet and accordion, a cheap keyboard and the claviola, whose sound resembles the melodica.
As is fitting for a good improviser in the tradition (sic!) of the FMP he does not dominate the group. The trio's organisation is based on egalitarian principles.
The musical activities of Oliver Augst and Christoph Korn also include the non-musical: performances, dramatic elements, organisation of events, work with text. Oliver Augst and Christoph Korn, for example, play chess, only the chess board is exchanged for a mixing board and they do not move chess pieces but faders and the "check mate" is experienced as cacophony. Both are working together with Marcel Daemgen and Michaela Ehinger on contemporary Hanns Eisler adaptations ("Arbeit") in the production collective TextXTND and in this connection met Rüdiger Carl.
Oliver Augst works with live electronics, nothing complicated or myth-ridden (à la Korg MS 20), the internal feedback of the mixer, amplified, distorted and looped is completely sufficient. Here and there Augst recites texts or text elements, Christoph Korn plays guitar (also in collaboration with Alfred Harth or the post-punk trio AQTRZ) and is active as a composer. He is a lecturer in aesthetics.
The musicians come from Frankfurt.
When you look at these determinants it is pretty obvious what kind of music Augst, Carl and Korn play, what their origins almost condemn them to do: a sound full of references which helps itself here and there, lively, at times 'smart-alec' ironic. Caught up in the domination of its references.
At first sight, you can call the work of this Frankfurt School the re-entry of form (as tradition, quote, intertextuality, concept, etc) into improvisation. Re-entry insofar as the classical understanding of music thought of improvisation as an escape from form, thus resulting in the characterisation as "off the cuff playing" and "free fantasy".
The group gives a practical answer to the reproach that exactly because of the highly reflective musical practice which re-couples the clichés (=imitations) to a concrete process of discussion with form, the music lacks authentic expression (=bloodlessness) (a reproach which, strictly speaking, confirms the clichés and therefore agrees with this kind of 'music practice'). First of all: they do without gestures of distance, they do not demonstrate the openness and ambiguity of their musical design through failure (an entirely overdone term!). They transform their refusal to adapt typical improv-dynamics directly into an independent form of expression which has overcome the relationship between "given structure/denial". Or, to put it another way: the music is direct, dynamic, expressive without perpetuating once again the dead history inherent in these terms. They not only bring form into their music, they also liquidize it again, they do not see a quote as a quote but also as material. This calls to mind Thelonious Monk for example, of whom it was said that he valued incorrect transcriptions of his pieces and that he even included them in his repertoire. It is about discovering the 'alien' in your own material and to, well, adopt it as something of your own – form becomes content or, to be more precise: it is about saying good riddance to the contents/form dichotomy.
This is why the popular music echoes which wander through their music, hefty techno attacks, expressive guitar playing, melodies of nursery rhymes are not attitude. It would be impossible to separate them from the core of the interactions – they are this core. And this core mutates, provokes harsh contrasts and abrupt breaks and a simultaneity of different actions which constantly trips over itself and therefore moves out of phase with itself. You never know if the short pieces could have gone on endlessly or if in the three, four minutes (by the way: the characteristic length of a good pop song) everything has in fact been said.
The musicians escape from the dominance of the reference. By exactly these means.

Translation: Isabel Seeberg & Paul Lytton

zurück / back