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


Markus Müller


"Ignorance of our culture is not considered cool"
(The Residents, 1978)

Peter Kowald has been playing solo-bass for more than 15 years. The intense preoccupation with the instrument is clearly to be heard on this CD. Carl Einstein has spoken of a "Normalization of experience" with regards to photography, implying that photography during this century has led to changes in the perception of images, thus we can draw a similar analogy regarding our relationship to music, that recordings, above all, records and CD's, have caused an essential change in the perception of music. "What is there" belongs among the few recordings, whose quality goes far beyond just being of documentary value. "What is there" is more than just an interesting and fascinating addition to the catalogue of important solo-recordings. "What there is" is: Perceiving can actually be heard. To digress: Peter Kowald spends one year, from May 1994-May 1995 at home, at his place (Ort), Luisenstraße Wuppertal. Without going further into the concept "ORT" at this point, I have to mention, that Peter Kowald's solo-concerts are one of the major fixtures of this concept: Every saturday at 19:00 the evening's events are preceeded by Kowald on bass. And although a concert and a CD vary in form (in a concert-situation Kowald has so far worked to develop a continuous piece of up to 45 min. duration, where as the CD spans a period of 70 minutes duration of shorter, more concentrated vignettes), whilst I write these lines listening to the CD, I have got the feeling that I "know" Kowald in a way that I hardly "know" any other improviser. This also means, moreover, in this special case, and even with my background of having attended 10 or 15 concerts, the CD sounds different and yet familiar each time I listen to it. In as much as the CD as a medium tries to capture something which by definition refuses to be captured; this CD is, time and again, that beautiful moment, where the mind allows itself to look backwards or forwards but not to linger. And maybe especially because these recordings document a "special knowledge" (in the true sense of the word) about the specific possibilities of the instrument, there is "no reason to be impressed by anything technical anymore)..." Kowald, who once said that he "likes to combine - and where possible at the same time - complexity with simplicity..." does with his bass just about everything one could possibly imagine since the advent of Jimmy Blanton, that means since 1939, and from time to time he also does things one cannot quite imagine and - and the crucial part is that he does know what is not permissible. Peter Handke is not the only person to point out that this is what decides the quality of music or art. When Kowald plays pizzicato coll'arco before, behind and next to the bridge, like the trapeze artist with and without a safety net, using his chin to thicken up the harmonies, singing a drone with the lower bass registers, gathering over-tones like clouds floating in an american sky in the mid-west, makes use of rimy scratching sounds, hints at the classical "Walking bass", and introduces melodies reminding one of the greeks from Pontos, he is, (wait for it) no longer the subject in front of the reality of the bass, but he uses it to project playing possibilities on to this world, which sound like dreams being acted out, maybe dreams of tibetan monks (but because making the dream a reality, the computation, that is to say the processing of these dreams is your duty, i.e. the listener's task, I don't wish to impose my own concretions any further. This does not only mean that one is not impressed just by technique anymore, but that technique is actually just a tool used in order to make possible the poetry of the imagination and in this case (and in my opinion there aren't so many) of Peter Kowald's own poetic imagination. That's obvious. In this way I can describe one of the basic tennets within free improvised music. It is about: "telling one's own story". And Kowald tells his own unique story. On the other hand it is not easy to follow whether Kowald's stories have been inspired more by Jimmy Blanton, Scott La Faro or by the wind in the willows and the overtones which have to pass through a tiny hole in Tuva. The music sounds like a very personal cultural universe and as if the one who is making this music knew very well which steps to take, the markings on his way within this cosmos. But the special thing about this "wordly blueprint" is neither the self-reflective quality nor a maybe historical digression using musical role models. In my opinion Kowald is neither interested in the creation of concrete impressionistic soundscapes nor in the tradition in which he is working. Kowald is interested in a new kind of realism. A realism of listening as a certain act - of listening, which is conscious of its own capabilities and which cultivates those capacities in opposition to the conventional, practice orientated listening demanded by the media. In this sense Kowald's music denies any real notion of the ideal beauty. The sounds he works with are not pure "colours". In the same way that we hardly ever hear a "C" in nature, sounds always break down into other sounds, they change in relationship to their surroundings and are above all dependent on space, atmosphere, wind and weather and also our moods and they can only be perceived as an element of a constantly changing, highly differentiated 'sound orchestra', thus Kowald's music does not present a predefined system but 'only' some kind of equivalent for this experience stemming from the times before the "Normalization of Experience". "What there is" is "realistic" music in the above sense, does not only enable a process, in which listening can become aware of itself, but goes beyond that by showing that the system in which we live, is determined by us and not by nature - and that by being able to listen in a non- conventional way is an important faculty allowing us to experience this for real. Kowald had a trio together with "Baby" Sommer and Wadada Leo Smith which has become well known and highly acclaimed. This trio projected a similar kind of warmth to this CD but by a different means. Kowald explained his preference for this trio by stating amongst other things that "Leo never wanted to get anywhere, he was just 'there'. " For me this is also a way of describing what's fascinating about this CD: It is "What there is".

Translation: Isabel Seeberg & Paul Lytton

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