FMP/FREE MUSIC PRODUCTION - An Edition of Improvised Music 2010

FMP CD 147

Ulrich Kurth


Peter Kowald: Was da ist (live)

„What there is, is quite a lot, actually almost everything. A big sack that I pull things out of, everything on the table: … like air, rain, sun, the cold, warmth … eye to eye, not to be overlooked, ear to ear, not to be overheard. Not everything is in range of the ear, there is a no man's land of perception, black holes, dark fields. But there is so much there … and I try to comprehend, to grasp, to utilize and to leave out, simply take what is there.“

Peter Kowald about his solo playing on the first CD with the title „Was da ist“ from 1994. He recorded the 23 pieces in the studio, all by himself, and called them „Part 1“ to „Part 23“. In 2000, however, he preferred a concert-like version which developed out of the TMMcompact. The result was a total of seven pieces which he simply listed alphabetically from „A“ to „G“, with three monosyllabic words above with emphasis most probably on the second one. Accentuations on the first or third word would be restricting, because they would be aiming at the limitation of a strictly defined musical language or aesthetic certainty. „The big sack“, however, is a symbol of the amiable astonishment in view of a double-bass cosmos, requiring curiosity and caution in order to explore it. Because the double-bass can also open up a world of un-heard sounds between familiar areas and „black holes“. Kowald has been a conscious investigator of sound all his life, who let musical ideas of structure guide his discoveries. He distinguished between horizontal and vertical processes, manifest in the rhythmical meshwork: The horizontal music (which is the largest part of the existing music, by far) has a continuously structured flow over the course of time, the vertical music, on the other hand, postulates discontinuous layers, that is sequences of sounds or tones. The English improvisors Derek Bailey and Tony Oxley, who Kowald worked with, were also concerned with the idea of „vertical“ music. He used the two models dramaturgically, rarely in a pure form. The vertical playing alters the perception of time during playing, and can lead to sensations of expanded or compressed time, in relation to the „moment“ which is in itself no objective measure of time. The movements in Kowald’s improvisations also reflect visual, literary and acoustic experiences of an attentive observer who has often worked with dancers, painters and writers. They are sediments of philosophically filtered observations of a traveller. Part of this are also the cuts and cross-fades from the area of animated film or the clipped language of comics. They also express themselves in abrupt changes in the playing energy.

Cross-fades and vertical layers appear already in the first piece that Kowald begins his concert with. It starts inconspicuously with a three-tone motive in bowed flageolets. The movement relates a choreography of very short, fast elements, Kowald repeats the motif, creates a collage, vertical layers with increasing intensity and density. The passage ends in a whirling sound field, breaking off after 2 min and 12 seconds. He pauses for a moment, blends in with the sound field and takes it to an ostinato in the lowest register. His imagination includes sounds alongside the choreographic ideas, and it only proves consistent when he also uses his voice with undertones, created by a throat singing technique. It is the dramaturgical turning point of the piece. He contrasts the E-Ostinato with high bowed flageolets, with noises created by means of the bow. After another whirl of sound he ends the piece with a variation of the opening motive in harshly bowed fourths.

„Was da ist - Part A“ is a structured Improvisation out of one cast drawing an arc emanating from one motif, never abandoning the inner connection to the motif. In the other 6 pieces on the CD, Kowald also orientates himself towards the parameters of his musical vocabulary, the elements of which he developed as part of his very own instrumental technique. This improvisational consistency constitutes his standing as influential musician and characterizes most of his recordings, whose magic arises from the tight but not uptight craftsmanship. Was da ist - What there is.

Translation: Isabel Seeberg & Paul Lytton

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