Lothar Jänichen (1979)

10 years Free Music Production (FMP) in Berlin

A conversation with Jost Gebers


Jänichen: Two of the major events, the "Workshop Freie Musik" and the "Total Music Meeting" already celebrated their 10th anniversary in 1978. One is almost amazed to find out that Free Music Production had its 10th anniversary in September 1979.

Gebers: Right, FMP has been in existence since September 1969. But there were obviously several years of work prior to that, where Brötzmann, von Schlippenbach, Schoof and myself already worked together and this finally resulted in the setting up of FMP. In the summer of 1968 some of the musicians from this circle gave some concerts parallel to a festival in Cologne which was called "Jazz am Rhein". Then, in autumn 1968, we had the first "Total Music Meeting" here in Berlin, Easter 1969 the first "Workshop Freie Musik" and half a year later, around August, September it became clear that there would be some kind of organization called FMP which would do certain things.

Jänichen: The foundation of FMP coincided with the highest point of the student's revolt. Is it correct to assume that there is a political aspect in your work?

Gebers: We certainly have people with a very concrete political background who also want their music to be seen in a political context. But there are others who aren't interested in politics at all. Within the framework we are working it is difficult enough to establish criteria of quality for the musical side of things, connecting everybody involved. If you wanted to bring this together to form one political opinion we would be doing something entirely different from what we are doing today. The person making his music should be the only controlling body.

Jänichen: But wasn't the climate of the time favourable to your work?

Gebers: That's right. People who started to think differently about political things suddenly found a kind of music which also worked differently and they immediately grabbed hold of it. This is why the concerts and clubs were usually relatively well attended. But then it became clear to them very quickly that our music couldn't be used in the way they would have liked to. When you meet a whole number of people today who regularly visited us around '68/'69 they are listening to the most reactionary kind of rock music you can imagine but still read all the left-wing daily news papers and they consider us elitist without realizing that this whole rock music they pacify themselves with is the worst kind of stuff around at the moment. At that time it was good for us that they came because there was no kind of support for our concerts during the beginning and so we were dependent on the income. But you can't say that the general situation at that time had a significant impact on the music.

Jänichen: Let's come to the objectives that FMP set itself with its foundation.

Gebers: On the one hand it was producing records, on the other hand, the organization of concerts. Both of them from the same point of view: slightly more matched to what this music is, what is was, but also taking into consideration the problems of the musicians and the audience. This means finding other ways of presentation, how to motivate people to listen to this kind of music and to try to make it a bit more transparent as to how this music actually develops. We didn't want to do the usual thing where a couple of people get on stage, play their music and then dissappear to the dressing room; instead of that we wanted, very carefully, to also try and show the processes over a period of time, how people work and how they get to certain results.

Jänichen: What were the main intentions behind the record production?

Gebers: To document, to interfere as little as possible with the musicians, preferably not at all, and to get the music on to tape and later on to record as realistically as possible. Obviously there were other ideas on top of this. The most important one was to set up a world-wide distribution, based upon similar musicians' organizations in England, Holland and America (Incus-Musicians Co-op, ICP, JCOA). This sort of worked, at first, but didn't really work in the end because some of the people who had been involved very quickly had their reasons not to be involved anymore because they saw possibilities of having bigger and faster success doing it the commercial way. And after ten years this is still the most regrettable thing, that we haven't managed to achieve this point. It would have been very important in order to avoid the commercial ways of distribution and, in the end, also to undercut the prices. The proportions are fairly crazy when you think how a record price of DM 20,-- comes about, that the guy who is actually producing the record, the musician, gets the smallest share of the final product. Distribution takes off quite a lot, roughly 5 Marks, the shop another 5 Marks, these are roughly the conditions; and then they'll say that the investment is too high. In relation this is just complete nonsense. The musician's investment, just in instruments, studying, rehearsals etc is just as high. Or for us, buying the technical equipment, making the tapes … And obviously, on top of that our music is more difficult to exploit than, for example, popmusic. For these reasons we wanted to develop a real alternative and to find a way of avoiding all these things and also have a better way of distributing the money involved.

Jänichen: Do you get public money at present?

Gebers: A difficult subject. We do concerts, we make records and sell them. This happens in a building which, for the state, makes us a business enterprise. We produce things and sell them, preferably at a profit. On the other hand we organize concerts. Although with a concert you can't make any profit, this was clear from the beginning. We get funding for some of the projects among our concert activities, otherwise it wouldn't be possible to do them (Workshop Freie Musik, Total Music Meeting, Rathauskonzerte, Jazz Now). Just like any theatre, every theatre needs public funding. But for our record production where, for example, funding would be necessary, sometimes more necessary than for concerts, we don't count on it. On the other hand we have three working levels within our recording program: people in from the off (Brötzmann, Kowald, Schlippenbach) - who were quite popular even at that time - , then the new generation who we tried to support with our record productions and the concerts. The third level is, for example, musicians from the GDR or Steve Lacy, John Tchicai, who have looked for contact with us or vice versa. There is an extra difficulty with our record production, the fact that we only have one third of the records where money comes back in, sometimes in a very short period of time.

Jänichen: I could imagine that you have a great deal of problems with newcomer records.

Gebers: Yes, that bit is the most difficult part for us. In order to produce a record you need several thousand marks to cover the basic costs. To get this kind of money back with completely unknown names is unbelievably difficult. On the other hand, the productions of the next-generation musicians are an immensly important aspect for us. The whole scene would die out if you only went for the popular names all the time. And it would lead to misrepresentation because you would lose track of the roots if you only follow the development of certain people who obviously are important, sometimes seminal, but don't actually represent the entire scene.

Jänichen: Where does your new generation of musicians come from?

Gebers: Only few of them from Berlin, only Friedemann Graef and his group, the piano player Arndt and the reed player Fuchs. Just a handful of people who live and work here. Berlin is a real tourist thing when it comes to jazz. Big events, a couple of times a year but there is no real jazz scene here. The major part of the newcomers comes from the rest of the federal republic.

Jänichen: Could you give us a couple of names?

Gebers: Apart from the younger ones like Georg Gräwe, Elmar Kräling and Martin Theurer, who will soon have a record out, I would like to mention Hans Reichel, who is also by now, thank god, somehow established. Achim Knispel, or the Christmann-Schönenberg duo, completely unknown at that time; Rüdiger Carl. In a way, they are already the establishment. But they had the opportunity to do something with us right from the beginning. The drag is that we are still the only ones actively pushing this kind of music. If you look at the work of established record companies over the past ten years you ask yourself what have they actually done for the new generation. Obviously some people are going to get up and say we have done this or that but this has mainly happened in the established jazz-rock area. With ECM it's the Americans. And if you look further, MPS, ENJA, for example, the big companies anyway, where do they put money into young talents? This situation is very unfortunate. In Germany, American Jazz still ranks much higher. Archie Shepp, Art Blakey or others are sent round the German clubs, very often for fees well below what German musicians need just to live while it just covers a free day for the Americans passing through. This leads to someone like Peter Brötzmann playing maybe 5, 6 times a year in Germany. You can easily imagine the kind of problem the younger people have. The German jazz scene is very dependent on the same people in influential positions, usually in radio stations, who write at the same time and create a situation which has absolutely nothing to do with reality. The club owner depends on a certain kind of resonance. On the other hand, the audience is influenced by the media and, obviously wants to hear Shepp or Blakey and doesn't care what, for example, Achim Knispel does. This is one big treadmill and if we're not careful there soon won't be any jazz musicians. Only the people from the jazz-rock scene, blasting our ears.

Jänichen: Have you ever got in touch with the UDJ (Union Deutscher Jazzmusiker - Union of German Jazz Musicians) with regards your work with younger musicians?

Gebers: I don't see too many chances there for us to get involved because I'm fairly suspicious when it comes to the structure of the UDJ. Maybe there are 60 professional jazz musicians in Germany. As far as I know, the UDJ has about 400 members. You can easily work out that there is a strange variation: 60 people within this organization may have similar intentions, others are just starting up. There are maybe 300, mostly amateurs, looking for a platform just to be able to find a gig. The share of the real professionals has become too small.

Jänichen: Let's talk about your concert series; the "Total Music Meeting", for example, marked as alternative festival to the Berlin Jazzdays in 1968.

Gebers: A lot of people took it the wrong way at that time. It was obvious that we would work differently. If you look at the event ten years later it is quite obvious what is actually different. We try to leave out the interfering factors, like television with the huge cameras. We mainly presented working groups, not ad-hoc combinations which was what the Jazzdays used to do. And we try to make the processes on stage visible for the audience by giving a group or a soloist the chance to perform a couple of times which gives the opportunity to make comparisons. At the beginning it was very difficult. We've had enormous financial losses with these projects. For two, or three years we have been getting regular money from the 'Berlin Festspiele GmbH' which allows us to put on things we really want to do. We can now invite people and pay a fixed fee while before we could only pay travel expenses and hotels. We have been incredibly lucky over the past years that the frequently poor program quality of the Jazzdays drove crowds of people to us.

Jänichen: The "Total Music Meeting" takes place parallel to the Jazzdays in November. There must be a number of people interested in both events who just don't manage to make it time-wise because the concerts in the Philharmonie are still going on while the concerts at the Quartier Latin have already started. Apart from that it is nearly impossible to digest that amount of music.

Gebers: In spite of our subsidies we have to work commercially. If we put on the "Total Music Meeting" before or afterwards we wouldn't have certain people in the audience we can anyway do without, mainly journalists, standing at the bar and talking, preferably when the music is really quiet. On the other hand some people would be deprived of listening to what is happening in the Philharmonie as well as to our music. Luckily we aren't dependent anymore on people coming over from the Philharmonie at night, like at the beginning. We have our own regular crowd interested in our things which also goes to see certain programs on the Jazzdays. We also get a lot of people who just drop in accidentally from the Jazzdays who often hear and see such uncompromising music for the first time. One important aspect of this event is also that the musicians are always there, which means you can talk to them. In the beginning it was integral part of our arrangements and contracts that the musicians should be present even when they weren't playing, so that the audience could talk to them. We want to continue in parallel with the Jazzdays because we've had such good experience.

Jänichen: …as alternative festival …?

Gebers: One example: There is a brilliant piano player in Europe, Irene Schweizer who played once, in 1967, on the Jazzdays. Since then, we have presented her, again and again, in Berlin. A piano player like JoAnne Brackeen played the Jazzdays twice, directly one festival after the other, for no musical reason, once would have been enough; in the course of three years you could hear her four times in Berlin. I ask myself is it right that a woman like Irene Schweizer doesn't get a chance at all now to play on the Jazzdays because it appears that the organizers don't seem to take these people seriously anymore or maybe don't even recognise the quality of Irene's music. This is what justifies our activities. We have to carry on doing them. The response from people who visit our concerts, who write about them, talk about them, proves that we are right.

Jänichen: The "Workshop Freie Musik" is another FMP event. Because of the associations with the term 'Workshop' people keep asking me why outside musicians never get the opportunity to work with your musicians.

Gebers: I think the expression 'Workshop' was first used by Mingus for his groups and his way of working and this is where our idea came from. Apart from that 'Workshop' is something really hip in Berlin at the moment. There are workshops for movement, speaking, faith-healing, food etc. and I would like to completely distance myself from all of this. Our 'Workshop' is always related to a musical event where you experience work processes and where one has the opportunity to talk to the musicians involved. What gives it this workshop character is also the fact that the musicians work differently here than on other festivals. And another word should also be mentioned …… 'alternative'. With the "Total Music Meeting" we took it out of the title two years ago because this whole 'alternative' scene became so suspicious that we didn't want to be associated with it because we see ourselves as a real alternative. And if this goes on with the term 'workshop' we'll leave that out, as well. Apart from that we also did projects where the audience was involved, in the years 1971, '72 and '74 - although they were children. But if you don't do this on a regular basis you only get a result that we're not interested in. It would have to be done over a longer period of time.

Jänichen: One of your most important events was the one with musicians from the GDR. How did that come about?

Gebers: We called them up in 1972 and met at some point. Brötzmann, Schlippenbach, Kowald, Rutherford, Parker also played there after that time and so, slowly contacts developed. When you get to know the musicians and the music you quite logically also notice their quality. We intended to make records with the GDR colleagues and to present them in our concert projects. We managed to get the records out relatively fast. It just took a bit longer with the concerts.

Jänichen: This sounds so simple. Was it that simple?

Gebers: There are so many misunderstandings buzzing around here that it is incredibly difficult to get on with GDR people. We can't say that. We have been able to do our recording projects with great support from the radio people and the 'Künstleragentur der DDR', and now the concerts. We'll carry on from there.

Jänichen: For you, what were the most important things to come out of the concert series "Jazz-aus-der-DDR" (Jazz from the GDR)?

Gebers: There certainly are different approaches in various areas from those of the West European musicians. And then there was a special effect which is very interesting: Looking back, ten, fifteen years ago there were two jazz-heavyweight socialist countries - Poland and Czechoslovakia. Today you only get imitations of American jazz music from these countries. There is nothing left of what people like Krzysztof Komeda or Tomasz Stanko were doing in the early days. In comparison, in the GDR, the quality of Jazz and its musicians has gained enormously in stature over the past three, four years. Apart from musicians like Petrowsky, Sommer, Gumpert, Hering, Koch, Bauer and, above all, the trumpet player Heinz Becker, to my knowledge there is only one fantastic trio in the socialist countries, in the Soviet Union, the Ganelin Trio. Obviously, the situation in the GDR has a lot to do with their social system. The musicians there have a completely different status from ours. They're more economically integrated, have all the social institutions at their disposal and can play a lot. This also allows them to continuously work on their music.

Jänichen: What FMP projects are you planning for the future?

Gebers: There are loads of concepts. Above all, we are looking to get our own place where we are free to do programs, where we've got rehearsal space, seminar rooms, studios etc. Once we've managed that we want to give grants to newcomers so that they can work here for two week periods. Obviously this is all very expensive and it is very difficult to get public money for these kinds of projects because subsidies for theatres, opera etc take priority, quite unjustifiably.

Jänichen: Looking back on the past ten years of FMP would you do it all again?

Gebers: I don't think so. I could imagine that I would have done something similar because this is what interests me. But something reduced to a particular group: I would have also left out quite a lot of things which today are an integral part of our work, for example big events like the "Total Music Meeting" or the "Workshop Freie Musik".

Translation: Isabel Seeberg & Paul Lytton

From: Jazz Podium No. 10, October 1979

The copyrights remain with the aforesaid sources and/or with the authors.