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

FMP CD 124

Bert Noglik


For Peter Kowald, this series of duos was connected with the desire to document a large number of encounters which were important to him. With the idea of the length of an LP (Vinyl) in mind, he began recording duo pieces of roughly three to five minutes so that it would be possible to present ten different duos on one album. Drawing from the backlog of the duo recordings from the years between 1984 and 1990, it was possible to produce three records and a CD in 1991. (Peter Kowald With... Duos Europa America Japan). A good ten years after the FMP Vinyl label ceased to exist, Kowald and Gebers agreed to compile this album from the existing LP-takes. Kowald promised to bring the liner notes for this recording (which had been arranged down to the last detail with him) back from New York. But it was not to be. Peter Kowald died on the night of September 21, 2002, in New York, at the age of fifty eight.

Peter Kowald has left us with so many things. Many things which can be documented and many things which cannot be documented. They live on, as impulses, as ideas, as work in progress in many individual's minds and in collectives, in many parts of the world. Peter Kowald was an ambassador without missionary ambitions. What he had to say, he chose to communicate mainly in playing music with others. And he preferred the principle of the dialogue. He generously passed on his musical experience and his knowledge of life, sometimes merely giving it away. Giving it to friends and processes of playing music which to him were worthwhile. But he was not only a giver, he was also a taker to the same degree. While playing with the sounds of his partners he would grasp their mental processes at the same time, questioning himself or letting himself be inspired by the experience of the complexity of existence. Even if there is a concept behind the idea of the duos based upon selection and restriction, the sequence of these recordings demonstrates a fascinating breadth at the same time.

Looking back, a process of opening up becomes evident which does not relativize the identity but manages to deepen it in alternating constellations of playing. Personality and individuality are keywords in all these undertakings which, in the flow of sound, in the force fields of known and unknown, concordance and discordance, develop musical meaning within the dialogue. Originally coming from Jazz and after a brief phase of negating all traditions, Peter Kowald created a new kind of free improvisation and finally an understanding of improvised music which includes the Afro-american tradition but goes far beyond it at the same time. His creative work developed in the dialectics of extension and concentration. Even as early as the sixties he began setting up a European network through close contact with improvising musicians in Switzerland, Holland and England. At the end of the seventies and the beginning of the eighties - at which time he had already recorded a series of bass duos with Barre Phillips, Barry Guy and Maarten Altena - Peter Kowald gained a new understanding of world music in the trio with Leo Smith and Günter Sommer. Not only individually assimilated and filtered traditions from Jazz and European improvisation music were part of the experience of playing but also elements of ethnic cultures. Peter Kowald later called this process a "long continuum".

Distancing himself from the often superficial and, frequently, music industry-manipulated "World music", for Peter Kowald it was about the exchange through dialogue, not a rash kind of fusion. The world-wide diffusion of a new kind of improvised music which was no longer tied to the patterns of Jazz created the preconditions for a new quality of musical encounters. And Peter Kowald hit the road. Europe - USA - Japan. In Japan he met musicians expressing themselves in a similar language to his own. At the same time he encountered entirely different musical attitudes like Junko Handa's which has its roots in traditional music. Since both of them were prepared to approach each other open-mindedly there developed between them a highly inspired dialogue.

Through the duos, Peter Kowald tested and opened up possibilities which were later integrated into his "Global Village"-vision. Ensembles, in which musicians from different parts of the world and from different traditions could work together having equal rights - without assimilation, without loss of identity but enriched by the energy and experience exchanged with others. In so doing, Peter Kowald never wanted to limit the exchange processes to the area of music but has always sought contact with painters, dancers and writers. And the extension of the geographical experiences through traveling found its counterpoint in the 365 days "am Ort", in 1994, the year he spent in Wuppertal.

Duos have always been a challenge for Peter Kowald, to break away from habits of playing. He often spoke about "routines", necessary on the one hand to hold one's own within certain musical processes, but which on the other hand have to be left behind before they become clichés. In so doing, and in completely different terms, he described the problems similar to the ones which Derek Bailey tries to point out with the differences between "idiomatic" and "non-idiomatic" improvisation. For Peter Kowald, as well, it was about breaking out of habits established through cultural conditioning and habitual playing techniques. At the same time he knew how to integrate "routines" sensitively into the spontaneous process. In a similar way, this also applies to his duo partners, who shine through and remain recognisable as completely distinctive musical personalities even if the alternative versions of previously issued titles take on the character of new pieces. Alongside completely free improvisations there are duo recordings where verbal agreements had been made or where they had played or sang material to each other beforehand. So the degree of "freedom" may be different, but the attitude is always inspired by the idea of free improvisation. What was consciously "composed" was the selection and sequence of the pieces on this CD.

Even if Peter Kowald demonstrates a multitude of his playing techniques in the series of the duos, here, it was for him less about presenting techniques and musical material but getting unreservedly involved with his partners. In so doing Kowald always acts on an equal footing, but he also knows how to keep back if it seems appropriate to him. Peter Kowald has always thought in terms of a meshwork of relationships. He wanted to play as a soloist and as an accompanyist, complex but fundamentally simple, "horizontally" in the sense of a continuous flow and "vertically", in opposition. And he often succeeded in connecting different aspects. He was well aware of his particular talent and, at the same time, alongside the sympathetic modesty in everyday life, showed impressive selflessness. It may well be that he also was able to learn this through his contact with others cultures. Peter Kowald has absorbed so many things and has passed on so many things, and he has left a trail of sounds - also at the present time he will no longer be witness to.

Translation: Isabel Seeberg & Paul Lytton

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