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

FMP CD 117

Peter Niklas Wilson


Dispute at the next table

I wonder what the lively discussion, after the act, at the next table was about that November evening. Engaged, argumentative, even heated, emotional. Quite obviously, tension played a role. Tension on stage as well as off stage. Tension builds up inevitably when nine musicians play in front of an audience for 68 minutes such an uncompromisingly reduced, uncompromisingly "speech"-less music, want to say: music abandoning rhetorical elements of the European and African-american music tradition. A music which has among its most fundamental premises: transparency and economy. A preference for delicate, filigree structures. Space for silence. The de-vocalisation of the traditional ideals of instrumental timbre in favour of precisely sculpted noise elements. Renunciation of conventional concepts of the organisation of multiple voicings (homophony, polyphony) in favour of a logic of sound textures, at times pointillistically diffracted, at times spread in layers. Music which, for all its predilection for the pianissimo, for migrant travellers on the edge of silence, does not indulge in somnambulant sluggishness but harbours inside itself almost subcutaneous but extremely lively micro dynamics of split-second Ensemble reactions. Music which, with all its shunning of conventions quite obviously also has its own lines of tradition. Some, which, for example, derive from Anton Webern's Sechs Bagatellen für Streichquartett op. 9. Or from the experience of the pioneering improvising ensembles of the sixties, of AMM and Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza. Not forgetting its own tradition, that of an ensemble which - the extremely meagre documentation on recorded media makes us forget this all too easily - by 1998 could look back upon 15 years of history.

The aesthetical determinants were generally known on that November evening, especially to an audience of tried and tested, and demanding connoisseurs of improvisation like the one at the Total Music Meeting. And yet, the tension during the performance of the King Übü Örchestrü was obvious. Maybe because this kind of music still represents a provocative counter proposal to the gesticulated energetics of most improvised music. Maybe because this time the nonet performed this music on the verge of music even more sparingly, even nearer to shattering the musical continuum, than its ten-piece predecessor which, in 1992, recorded the CD "Binaurality" (FMP CD 49). Maybe because among the larger ensembles of improvised music (of which there aren't too many anyway), there are hardly any which trust the 'NOW' as uncompromisingly as does the King Übü Örchestrü, which do not delegate, at least in part, the process of musical creation to graphic scores (like the British Chris Burn's Ensemble), to explicit rules of playing à la John Zorn's game pieces, to hand-signal systems à la Fred Frith or Rova or even to the conductor's hands of a Butch Morris.

Tension also because of Wolfgang Fuchs' predilection for breaking up too strong an aesthetical homogeneity of the ensemble (and with that too much predictability of the musical result) by means of decisions over the line-up which may, at first glance, seem irritating. People may have asked themselves before the concert at the Podewil in Berlin, what is the Italian musician Fernando Grillo, one of the most impressive double bass virtuosos of New Music but hardly known in the improvising fraternity, doing in this ensemble of hardcore improvisors? Why on earth the Marseille tabletop-guitar-anarchist Jean-Marc Montera, an improvisor obviously inclined towards a more expressionistic ideal of playing than the other King Übü protagonists - as demonstrated by his duo performance with Louis Sclavis the same evening? These kind of well-aimed intensifying irritations, one might reply, contribute to anchoring the music of the King Übü Örchestrü in the 'NOW', to leave the sound results open, open to discovery instead of goal-oriented, as a zeitgeist term rather obtrusively demands. Improvised music, as played by the King Übü, does not produce a calculable acoustic yield, no operating results in accordance with the criterion of maximum shareholder value. The added value of the playing as well as of the listener's/listening participation in this music is of a different nature, much more difficult to quantify. "If I orientate myself only on the result right from the beginning", Übü spiritus rector Wolfgang Fuchs said in an interview with Martin Pfleiderer in 1999, "I end up chasing my own patterns of expectations and block off the most possible direct line of access to the other musicians." And so there were certainly enough expectations that November evening which remained unfulfilled. Just taking the last extended (maybe over-extended?) piece. At least three times, at 11:30, at 18:30 and at 27:15, a classic finish, as in improvised music, is reached: a "nice", "rounded" ending, one might think. And each time there is a musician who does not see the silence after the diminuendo as an ending but as a fruitful pause, as a breeding ground for a new musical situation, possibly causing much irritation to his fellow musicians. Maybe that was one of the points which was so heavily discussed after the concert at that table next to me in the Italian restaurant next to the Podewil, where the musicians of the King Übü Örchestrü were sitting, drinking, and quite obviously not at all in agreement over whether what they had just played had been "successful". Maybe one should have stopped earlier. But actually this debate had already been held in sounds, in a resounding collective reflection about form, about formulating improvised orchestral music.

Translation: Isabel Seeberg & Paul Lytton

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