Each moment is eternity
What to make of ‘the moment’? This last remaining mystery aside from eternity. The only unit of time which cannot be measured but only felt. To be right there, in ‘the moment’, is one Jazz’s most frequently used clichés. Musicians make out that, in improvisation, they blend together with the actual moment in time during playing. It is not that this isn’t possible, but in order to do so you have to capture the whole magic of the moment. Not merely leave it to chance but seize the chronological microcosm in its entirety. Seize the right moment, this is another set phrase improvising musicians like to use. Even Goethe was conscious of the hopelessness of this undertaking when he let Faust exclaim: „Then, to the Moment I’d dare say: ‘Stay a while! You are so lovely!’”
Peter Kowald's „Open Secrets“ is composed of moments. The duration of 40 minutes and 57 seconds is a statistical indication of no relevance. Kowald succeeds in an almost unique work of art not only to make the moment perceivable but to document it for eternity in nine different states. For the bass player himself this particular day in 1988 was a special moment. The CD is a precise reconstruction of the recording situation and yet it renews itself every time you listen to it. Time either expands or is compressed. Light and shadow of the sounds are distributed in different ways, the relationship of depth to surface varies. Is Kowald meditating in an extended monologue? Or is he in a dialogue with himself and his instrument? Is he processing experiences or is he discovering spontaneously? Who would want to answer this today? There are new answers with every listening.
1988 was to be a good year for Peter Kowald. He was on tour non-stop, had made trips to Japan, India, New Zealand and New York with his bass and was scheduled to play in front of 120,000 people for the opening of the Olympic Games in Seoul in the summer. Maybe he was unaware of this when he recorded „Open Secrets“ in Berlin in January, but he was brimming over with inspiration. His body, embracing his bass as a lover, is one of the unmistakable silhouettes in Jazz, like the shape of the contorted figure of Miles Davis. However, in his deep embrace with the bass, his sensors were constantly switched on. On his world-wide search for clues he picked up details all around and incorporated them into his vocabulary. On „Open Secrets“ he is all by himself and, after decades, shares the particular moment only with the actual listener. He loved to work with dancers, singers, painters and poets and he virtually united all these creative obsessions in himself. Furthermore he was a philosopher, hermit, iconoclast, priest, a traveller through world and time. To present all this in his art, all he needed was his bass.
„Each moment is eternity“, quoting Goethe once more. „Open Secrets“ is much more than a coincidental extract from the endless continuum of free improvised sonic history. These bass sculptures, unique in their perfection, cancel out the irreversibility of time and the finiteness of its units once and for all. The deep reverberation of Kowald's bass – and also of his voice on the last track of the album – expresses a degree of creative peace and serenity, outpouring the moment into eternity, far removed from any kind of esotericism. The great achievement of this musician from Wuppertal lies in the placing of his language, in the best sense according to Ornette Coleman, outside any idiom and in creating a distance from the intentions of Free Jazz as much as to creating closeness to the achievements of the musical cultures of all continents. The moment itself can only be free, by definition, because there is no frame of reference. Time only becomes a coordinate of performance through its measurability. „Open Secrets“ is one of the very few documents which celebrate the freedom of the moment with dedication, consistency and conviction.
Translation: Isabel Seeberg & Paul Lytton