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


Ulrich Kurth



It is 1993, a year in which numerous members of the popular press carried articles on various recurring anniversaries, and commented on the loss of great utopias: The 25th anniversary of "1968". These articles also mentioned the arts of course, and, of course free improvisation played an exceptional role as it, more than most other things, has become a symbol for the great revolution. Obviously times have become harder. Dreamers have been particularly hard hit by the recession, and the established craft seems to be more in demand than bold designs - as the saying goes: A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Immanent progress of the very material no longer seems possible in the world of music. At the moment we are experiencing all kinds of revivals and collages. Eclecticism seems to be a necessity in a juxtaposition of differing possibilities which have become almost impossible to grasp. The dictatorial avant-garde no longer exists. Individual answers to the demand for true music have appeared in their place. Suddenly music of all ages and from all regions is available - last but not least thanks to the digital sound processor. We keep coming across "music about music". But how can one deal with this situation without generalising? And what place does the aesthetic subject take in the face of such (pseudo) objectivations?

Grooves 'n' Loops - this title on the COWWS Quintet's programme astonishes us at first as no one expects catchy rhythms or continuous ground-bass from this ensemble. After all its members have for many years figured among the devoted champions of open musical improvisation in Europe. It is very openness which makes it possible to react to change.

Rüdiger Carl developed the concept of a directed music which creates a multitude of connections with the various musical worlds. One of its characteristics is the quote, but not in the sense of a direct musical appropriation. A beat from a waltz or a funk-riff set the stage as it were. Something about it tells us that it is no longer a waltz, but just the distant recollection of one which is admittedly laden with association. From here the events unfold on the imaginary stage - improvisation and mutual interaction plumb the very depths of music. In this of course it differs from traditional jazz with its pattern of theme-improvisation-theme. The goal is not melodic variation, but rather musical-motional development. Its main formal features are breaks and collage-like eclipses as well as tonal estrangements (depending on the piece played). A funk-pattern for example does not come over violently loud, it is plucked softly on the double-bass and embellished by a mixture of sounds of the violin and accordion which serve to create a completely different atmosphere than that of a city dance-hall. The given materials are broken up on the fringe, either by instrumentation or by the selective quote. This suddenly opens up new areas for the improvisers to act in. However their form can not be left to chance. All involved have to make a conscious and economical selection of their artistic ability to create the unity of vision they are aiming for.

A concept like this can only be put into effect by superior improvisationalists who are able to put the idea of motion first, and not the freedom of expression fought for over the years. For this they require a wide range of musical skills as well as the readiness to communicate to the full. In other words it is a continual sensitive response which ranges from a restrained accompaniment or even soundlessness right as far as the great solo. Something new can emerge from this - a music full of subjetivity, dedicated to this moment in time but which at its peak points the way beyond. Then reason and emotion, or even composition and improvisation, are no longer opposed to one another, they form one unit. The utopia of freedom from oppression is different to what is was, it is no longer fundamentalistic. It finds its expression where musicians achieve a unity of discourse and yet remain true to themselves. Then it is not a masque, it is an authentic form of "chamber music".

Grooves 'n Loops is not just a padded out quotation of styles, it points the way to freedom. The drama on the imaginary stage requires all means of affects, laughter and tears, rage and forgiveness ... The COWWS Quintet's pieces develop in this way. Memories do not remain nostalgic. Structural possibilities emerge which go beyond all trends and fashions. Beautiful music is no longer a game.

Talking about memories: Jay Oliver died suddenly in Berlin in the late summer of 1993.

Translation: Margaret Neuendorf

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