FMP/FREE MUSIC PRODUCTION - An Edition of Improvised Music 1989-2004


Hans Rempel


There is one line of opinion which ties the acceptance of music to the reality of improvisation alone, or which at least rates the existence of improvisation higher than its result. Others say that the final result is all important, no matter whether the music concerned was produced by improvisation or by composition. Both of these seem to apply to Wolfgang Fuchs' "king übü örchestrü". This is free improvisation without any external influences (without written notes, without any interpretable graphic specifications, without prior arrangement etc.). At the same time however, meticulous attention is paid to achieving a positive outcome, that is to say to producing a result which is strong enough to stand on its own. To accomplish this a few consciously planned, or one could say "quasi-composed" prerequisites are required even if at first sight these don't seem to have anything to do with "composition" in the narrow sense of the word. This more general, but imperative compositional element is to be found in two respects in "übü".

What is actually meant by improvisation, what is composition, and what is interpretation? How do they relate to one another? If we inquire into the essential nature of these three phenomena and into the relationship between the improviser, composition and interpretation, between the composer, improvisation and interpretation, and between the interpreter, improvisation and composition, then we come across all manner of seemingly irresolvable contradictions and entanglements, and in some cases these different spheres seem to overlap each other rather than to each have their own distinctive characteristics. In the end we are probably left with more questions about this intricate subject than we had at the beginning. Anyone who tries to get to the heart of this maze of confusion is in danger of going completely under in a kind of musical "Bermuda Triangle" between improvisation, composition and interpretation.

For, it's not as easy as one may think - the composer thinks something up and puts it to paper; the interpreter plays the composition; and the improviser also thinks something up, but he plays it himself, and he plays it at once. From the listener's point of view it is by no means always completely clear whether the musician is improvising or whether he is interpreting a composition (maybe a so-called improviser is playing something he has secretly learned by heart!). Compositional elements can very cleverly be "hidden" in the improvisation process, just the same as improvised music - which as far as style and form are concerned may seem to have some things in common with classical music - can "disguise" itself as composition.

Therefore not everything which appears from the outside to be an improvisation, is really improvised, is born at that moment of time. Composition requires this contradictory element as well - the spontaneous idea, the inspiration which can be compared to a moment of improvisation. It becomes apparent here that the improviser and the composer have a lot in common: both are equally dependent on this seemingly spontaneous inspirational-improvisational element. This is the real innovation, the creative essence which both the improviser and the composer are "committed" to if their works are to attain a deeper meaning than the mere transportation of acoustic material.

This creativity however, never appears completely on its own, "unadulterated", but is always closely linked to a feeling of "déjà vu" combined with a reservoir of stylistic means and methods of processing acquired along the way which every musician uses individually to create his own musical image. No matter how open, variable and flexible this stylistic fundus may be, it is an element of constancy which to a certain extent predefines the music-making procedure, almost as if it had been limited by the bounds of composition. And - paradox though it may seem - it is this constant element in improvised music which helps to create its unmistakable, independent character, its style and image against which the real innovation, the inspiration (in the narrow sense of the word) stands out as being untypical (or as not yet having become typical and established).

On a certain level all this can be applied to the "übü"-orchestra, but a second "quasi-compositional" level overlies this - a level which, like the first, is not out to restrict improvisation, but to steer it in a direction in which it becomes compatible with the ensemble. Wolfgang Fuchs, the group's founder, works on this second level. He selects - like a composer does. He does not actually choose between concrete tones, sounds, gestures and forms; he choose between different "stylistic packages" of individually distinguished musical personalities who fit in with his plans - who have to fit in. Despite all this he never knows in advance who is going to play what and when, but he is familiar with every musician's basic style, he knows the way in which his partners act and react, and this "quasi-compositional" element to a certain extent guarantees the positive results mentioned.

True to his own personal concept, Fuchs always looks for those musicians who show a tendency towards a music which is removed from, or even alien to, Free Jazz and who introduce new elements (which sometimes verge on the classical) into the "übü" conception as a whole. This is completely sealed off from external influences, obviously from convention and fashion, but also from that eclectic approach which has by and large dominated jazz for the past twenty years, and which is seldom original or even successful. Thus nothing is pieced together and no use is made of collage, no references are made to different pieces or styles, no foreign or "borrowed" material is used. This means: dissociation, limitation, denial... but: no dissociation, no style; no limitation, no image; no denial, no character! Within these self-enforced boundaries a sheer diversity of approach and structure emerges which is both variable and flexible. Search, find and develop - "übü" needs no musical stimulus from without to do this, it expands from within an extraordinarily complicated musical structure.

Improvisation is (despite its inherent pre-existent and supportive elements) always an adventure. "Übü" is a particularly daring venture. Firstly there are ten musicians who have to be "brought into line", who have to get on with each other. The innumerable ways in which these individual partners in music could become entangled in a web of complexity, call above all for a strong awareness for "collectivity" which cannot develop out a mere agglomeration of individual ability. This is based on an awareness of improvisation which has developed and involved over a period of time and which (if we consider traditional jazz and free jazz as being the forerunners and initiators of European Improvised Music) has its own musical history. This new capacity for improvisation presented here by the members of the "übü" orchestra, stands out clearly against the more continuous, uniform, improvisational movement in Free Jazz, which, to put it simply, usually follows one single state of emotion and mood common to all participating musicians. Here however we have an accumulation of different, inwardly contrasting characters and elements of characters who are presented, confronted one with the other, and developed. This takes place both within the ensemble as a whole and also within the individual voice. In this way "übü" creates a horizontal and vertical structure which stands out clearly from that of North American Free Jazz, and which has its roots in the Mid-European New Music tradition, rather than in foreign parts.

This is achieved by conscious, deliberate reflection throughout the process of improvisation, and by the use of intellect - whereby reason is not meant to suppress or even supersede emotion, but rather to be used to arrange it and give it direction. It seems as though "übü"s music succeeds in this. There is no uncontrolled emotionalism, the mind "feels" and lays down to what extent and in which direction emotions are "allowed" to be released. This gives the impression of relaxed tension, of detached involvement, of unrushed expression, of activity without stress. "Übü" is casual but not careless, eloquent but not gossipy.

In order to achieve this, the members of the orchestra have to have certain "non-musical" capabilities when dealing with each other. They need to be able to contradict, but also to be sensitive to the partner's needs, to be able to exercise self-restraint to the point of total silence, which in this case does not mean dumbfounded dismay, it means giving their undivided attention and showing a caring interest.

Translation: Margaret Neuendorf

zurück / back