Achim Forst (1981)


"In the midst of capitalism on the field of capitalism, playing against capitalism,
starting out..." Wilhelm Liefland.


The cardboard sign hanging in the Berlin music pub "Quartier von Quasimodo" in November 1968 was the cashier's idea. It said 'double entrance price for jazz critics' and thus it expressed more about the enterprise (that here tentatively was celebrating its birthday) than some witty article could have done.

In protest against the festival and media establishment's narrow minded dress regulations at public appearances German free jazz musicians summoned the Berliners to a counter-performance, and many came. Not only frustrated visitors of the established festival hurried from the Philharmonic's temple of the muses to the first "Total Music Meeting", but also such musicians as Sonny Sharrock and Pharoah Sanders came with their instruments and joined the sessions. Not even the gentlemen of the critical press stayed away. One naturally hoped for some publicity (and not without success) from them. But a year was still to pass after this successful beginning before Free Music Production would come into being in September 1969.

He who looks for a clear and determined definition of the phenomenon FMP soon finds himself in difficulties. The Free Music Production is a co-operative of musicians who have taken on the task of representing European, free, acoustical music by producing records and arranging concerts. Having basically determined what it is, one is forced into a series of definitions of what it is not. The FMP is not a music agency that negotiates and organises music and concerts to anybody's liking. Nor is FMP a recording company which (like well known examples), researches the market for supply and demand and only then "features" a musician. The FMP is a non-profit organisation where the requirement of not wasting profits unfortunately always corresponds with the reality of having no profits at all. The FMP is commercial where it is forced into the capitalistically organised record market and in regard to the revenue office.

Since its inception a limited liability company, a limited partnership or similar organisation has not grown out of the co-operative. Legal responsibilities connected with the FMP are handled by Jost Gebers who is responsible for the record production, concert projects and technical aspects of these departments. Dieter Hahne is responsible for the areas of sales and organisation. Though newspapers critics and radio journalists have acknowledge that it was the most important factor that one can speak of in regard to European free jazz, a firm bearing the name Free Music Production has never existed officially.

The March Begins
Free Jazz has been in Europe in the form of live music since the beginning of the 60s, even though it has remained mostly unannounced by the media and completely ignored by recording companies. In Berlin for example a trio with Donata Höffer (piano), Jost Gebers (bass) and Manfred Kussatz (drums) and the group built around saxophonist Rüdiger Carl played in the music bars which were then numerous. The music scene was not as narrow as it is today. Ever again there were interesting encounters between differing styles. The Free Jazz musicians played with an open Dixieland band for whom moderate collective improvisation was not new. Peter Brötzmann joined the rock group "Tangerine Dream". Fans of avant-garde jazz in Germany were at first above all listeners of "serious" music while followers of the traditional and even modern jazz were irritated, sneered and regarded the "confusing chaos" with disdain.

By the mid-60s three groups gained media acceptance were at the forefront of bringing a reputation to the new German jazz. These were the Irène Schweizer Trio (with Uli Trepte (b) and Mani Neumeier, later known as the "Guru Guru"-Drummer), the Peter Brötzmann Trio with Peter Kowald (b), Sven-Åke Johansson (dr), and trumpeter Manfred Schoof's quintet (with Gerd Dudek (sax), Alexander von Schlippenbach (piano), Buschi Niebergall (bass), and Jacki Liebezeit (dr)).

The first free German jazz record was "Heartplants" by Gunter Hampel with Schlippenbach, Schoof and Niebergall among others produced by MPS in 1965. Radio stations began inviting them for recordings sessions and in 1966 during the Berlin Jazz Days there was the first performance of the "Globe Unity Orchestra" under the direction of Alexander von Schlippenbach. However, this spectacular recognition of German Free Jazz did not change the general situation. The musicians were not organized and were still forced to fight for a chance to perform. Mostly they were unable to earn more than their transportation expenses, and yet they were handed over by commercial managers and organisers of the record and concert business.

Free Jazz musicians are particularly sensitive towards institutionalised regimentation because their music can be created only in an atmosphere in which people are able to communicate with one another in a free and unhindered way. Free Jazz is the "Utopia of a creative socialisation", the "musically expressed quest to make living together bearable", wrote some of the critics. Indeed, in its best moments this music actually transcends the free and merely intuitively bound collectivity of musicians, encompasses the audience, is felt, understood and is then perhaps in reality the "fiction of a socialistic society".

The awakening of jazz musicians to self determination and the establishment of the Free Music Production did not haphazardly coincide with the time of the European student (protest) movement. Even though they did not regard their music as a political weapon as did many Black jazz musicians in the USA ("Free Jazz - Black Power"), the almost euphoric political atmosphere caused European musicians to ponder such concepts as exploitation, manipulation and monopoly. While tens of thousands in Berlin participated in blockading the Springer concerns and closing the Sorbonne in Paris, the Free Jazz musicians began their march against the institutions in unspectacular and quite small groups. Peter Brötzmann, the saxophonist from Wuppertal had already long held an idea of an organisation of musicians which would be called the "New Artists Guild". Not until that politically hot summer of 1968 did the opportunity present itself for musicians to really try out a common treatment of solidarity. At that time the cultural scene in Cologne was graced by "Jazz on the Rhine" an ostentatious commercial festival of well known names. Free Jazz musicians from Cologne and the surrounding area, among them Manfred Schoof, Gerd Dudek, Peter Kowald, Schlippenbach and Brötzmann began a counter initiative, informed the astonished press and played one weekend long in an underground garage in Cologne. Thus a beginning was Made to undermine the traditional market by bringing Free Jazz directly to the public.

Shortly afterwards, during the "Essener Song Tage" an idea was formed from discussions among the musicians, to offer an alternative arrangement during the Berlin Jazz Days which not only presented Avant-garde Jazz but which also could be differentiated from the atmosphere and organisation of the state subsidized festival. In the relaxed and inspired atmosphere of "Quasimodo" during those five nights, spontaneous sessions came about in which quite new and surprising constellations developed.

There was another important new element. There were no single organisers but rather the musicians were themselves the organisers and Made their appearances. Thus the first "Total Music Meeting" took place exactly according to the concept that was to mark all concert forms of the FMP in succeeding years.

FMP - these are the musicians
If one were to draw a geographical family tree which showed the musicians who have been connected with FMP over the years one would have to place the main roots in Berlin and Wuppertal with many branchings in the Rheinland and the Ruhrgebiet. Very quickly communication branches grew to musicians and their organisations abroad: to "Instant Composers Pool" (ICP) in Holland and across the channel to England's "Musicians Co-op" and "Incus".

The first "Total Music Meeting" in 1968 show just how international the FMP-family and its friends were. Outside of the English "Spontaneous Music Ensemble" and Berlin's Donata Höffer group there were only European mixed formations. Guitarist John McLaughlin who was later to become a super star played with Gunter Hampel. John Stevens played the drums in the Manfred-Schoof-Quintet and the "Globe Unity Orchestra" had an international group of musicians. In Peter Brötzmann's group, other than himself there were no other Germans (Evan Parker, Paul Rutherford, Fred Van Hove, Han Bennink).

Because the co-operative, as has already been mentioned, had no definite union or association status, the roots of the FMP tree were only as strong and firm as the people who represented them. It was the contact between Jost Gebers and Peter Brötzmann that maintained a constant liaison between Berlin and Wuppertal over the years. Both men rescued the FMP during the lean time when two years after its spectacular beginning in Berlin's "Quasimodo" many musicians believed that an experiment was coming to an end and further participation was not worthwhile. Jost Gebers gave up playing the bass and concentrated on the technical and organisational structure of the young Free Music Production while Peter Brötzmann and Peter Kowald with concert activities effort established Wuppertal as a music center. This is why newcomers to the FMP soon moved to Wuppertal: Hans Reichel (g) came from Hagen, Rüdiger Carl (sax) from Berlin, Detlef Schönenberg (dr, perc) from Bochum.

The recording of the first disc by Free Music Production took place in June 1969 in a radio production of the "Manfred Schoof Orchestra" in Bremen. The list of musicians here, too, proved that jazz on FMP from the beginning was not merely German but European. Referring to "European Echoes" (FMP 0010) Jost Gebers said, "We were all of the opinion that this first tape for our first record was exactly the right one, in that almost all of the musicians who had until then belonged to the cooperative, were represented on it." Members of the orchestra belonged to the three most important formations of the German scene, the Brötzmann-Trio, the Schoof-Quintet and the Irène-Schweizer-Trio. Her first record under her own name came out in 1974 (FMP 0190) with a quartet which included Rüdiger Carl. The FMP is thankful to Irène Schweizer for the vital link to the new young musicians, belonging to the Swiss Confederation. Urs  Voerkel  (piano)  (FMP 0300 + FMP 0340), Norbert Möslang  and  Andy Guhl (FMP 0510)

and the guitarist Stefan Wittwer (FMP 0350 + FMP 0470).

When the record program documented continuously and accurately the development of musicians of those first hours (such as Kowald, Schlippenbach, Brötzmann), unknown names of young musicians appear more and more frequently in the FMP catalogue with the increasing productions over the years. Such newcomers were pianists Georg Gräwe, Bernhard Arndt, Elmar Kräling and finally the much praised Martin Theurer, Wolfgang Fuchs (ssi, bcl), Willi Kellers (dr, vibraphone), the Berlin trio "Ohpsst" as well as guitarists Achim Knispel and Andreas Willers and the musicians connected with Friedemann Graef.

Three discs in the catalogue (FMP 0080, FMP 0090, FMP 0100) were already in existence before the founding of FMP. They were produced by the musicians themselves and sold at performances: "The Living Music" by Schlippenbach, and Brötzmann's "For Adolphe Sax" and the legendary "Machine Gun".

GDR/German Democratic Republic
Contact to the other German republic began in 1972. However, it limited itself for a long time to the buying of licences for tapes. The first production with a group from the GDR was "Just for Fun" (FMP 0140) by the Ernst-Ludwig-Petrowsky-Quartet. In this way the most prominent jazz musician of the GDR became a member of the FMP circle. Subsequent records appeared with pianist Hans Rempel, Ulrich Gumpert (p) in duo with percussionist Günter Sommer and his Workshop Band and the trio of trombonist Conrad Bauer.

Relationships to institutions in the GDR took a positive turn. Since 1978 the FMP has organised concerts with GDR musicians in the west and in 1979 the first co-production took place with VEB Deutsche Schallplatten, the state record company in the GDR. FMP 0710, FMP 0730, FMP 0790 are discs which were simultaneously released in the GDR and by FMP. The availability of musicians for purely FMP productions is not even a problem any more.

Free Music - Open Spaces
Concerts and Series
Public performances have always followed a set ritual for concerts and appearances, especially in the area of so-called "serious Music". The product of art is presented frontally and must be offered according to a set form. The musicians appear on stage at a set time, play (following the printed program), leave the stage. The audience, in set rows of chairs, absorbs, consumes in front of the artists, applauses to its liking. In the 60s it was clear to the Free Jazz musicians that their music which was enjoying increasing acclaim had also gained access to the concert podium and thus needed quite new forms of presentation.

"Workshop Freie Musik"
After that successful first step which the "Total Music Meeting" Made in this direction in November 1968, West Berlin's Academy of the Arts offered the use of their rooms for concerts during an exhibition, an offer which came just in the right time. In those Easter Days of 1969 the concept of the "open concert" which the FMP so successfully practised in the years immediately following its inception would have been brought nearly to ruin. Three Free Jazz groups as well as the Alexis Korner Blues Group had been brought to the "3 Nights of Living Music and Minimal Art" without a thought to the explosiveness of such mixture. The stage was set for an organisational fiasco. Blues fans, angered by the undesired free music offering, charged against the steel objects on exhibit with beer bottles and would not let themselves be calmed by the reconciling words of Alexis Korner. There were hand-to-hand battles and the press had a scandal to write about.

Even though considerable damage was done the music administrators of the Academy continued to support the concept of alternative concert forms and gave the green light for a second Easter festival in 1979 which would receive the definitive name, "Workshop Freie Musik". The FMP which had meanwhile be founded offered five days of Free Jazz programming in the open rooms of the exhibition hall on two podiums. Open rehearsals were also part of the program. Audience response in the years to follow showed that the new form of music presentation was understood and accepted.

There were, however, still misunderstandings among musicians who sometimes reverted to the old performance ritual. Some members of the audience misunderstood the word "workshop" and thought that here one could learn to play the saxophone with Peter Brötzmann or simply "jam" with him. Said Jost Gebers: "Flute manufactures must have enjoyed a terrific turn-over in these years."

Since the 1973 Workshop only one stage occupies a central space in the exhibition hall so that one is able to concentrate better on the musical happenings.

The undertaking is still financed by the Academy of the Arts which places rooms and workers at their disposal. The musical concept itself is still in the hand of Free Music Production.

Over the years musicians and audiences have gained experience in the new frame of the music making. Gebers: "The greater part of the public comes without extremely high auditory expectations. They no longer wish to confirm the old patterns of musical experience." Music is no longer simply performed, reeled off. During the five workshop evenings musicians and audience alike let themselves be challenged by the slow process of rehearsal and trial: The musicians no longer under a time limit in which to fullfill their musical obligation: the audience patiently going with the slow musical development an even following through long barren passages in order to finally bring home real 'auditory experiences."

"Total Music Meeting"
The second annual series of performances which became known far beyond the borders of Berlin found a permanent residence in the converted movie house "Quartier Latin". Here it Made its third appearance in 1970 after a second showing in the Berlin bar "Litfass" in 1969. Thus the "Total Music Meeting" moved geographically a whole step closer to the official Jazz Days in the Philharmonic Hall.

By 1968 the TMM was still known as the opposition and alternative festival. Meanwhile the "Total Music Meeting" no longer found it necessary to define itself as negative to the established Jazz Festival. It now had its own interested and competent audience (among them many musicians) which through the curiosity of the critics and guest of the Philharmonic Hall would only become larger. A whole series of TMM musicians were to be presented a few years latter at the Jazz Days. Pianist George Gruntz, the musical director of the Berlin Jazz Festival said, " With you music is Made. With us it can only be performed."

When one speaks of the broadening of listening experience at FMP concerts one has to mention Albert Mangelsdorff who had experienced a personal turning point at the 1979 "Total Music Meeting" after just 25 years on the jazz scene. It was the first time that he heard the live music of Peter Brötzmann and his group and he was enthusiastic. Albert unpacked his trombone and blew his first free solo. After that night session in the "Quartier" an informal collaboration with the FMP developed which led to a concert with the Brötzmann Trio a short year later. This concert has been captured in full on the discs "Elements", "Couscouss de la Mauresque" and "The End" (FMP 0030, FMP 0040, FMP 0050).

"Jazz Now" and...
Other concerts of the FMP include the long series of "free concerts" in the city hall of Charlottenburg (a district in Berlin) from 1969 the FMP's founding year to 1978, and "Jazz Now". an open series with varying strong points and taking place in different areas. In 1979 the broad spectrum of avant-garde jazz from the GDR was introduced in the concert series "Jazz Now" (see special edition of "Snapshot").

Because nearly 20 years after the beginning of the European Free Jazz there is no opportunity in Berlin for free playing musicians to perform on a continuous basis, the FMP now concentrates strongly on working out a base by organising regular concerts in the music pub "Flöz".

The FMP projects are centered in Berlin. Yet continuous work is being achieved in the Federal Republic as well: Since 1973 there has been an annual Free Jazz Workshop in Wuppertal. That was when Peter Kowald revived the old "Globe Unity Orchestra", patterning the event after the Berlin example by holding rehearsals open to the public and closing with the concert. With the same basis concept of changing formations, work has continued since 1978 under the leadership of Kowald and Brötzmann.

Only a few people today can still remember that at the "New Jazz Festival" in Moers, FMP musicians participated in the program planning before the cream of USA jazz gathered there. And because everywhere musicians' initiatives of every style had sprung up, it is hardly noticed that a few of them came directly from the sphere of Free Music Production. The musicians in percussionist Paul Lovens' circle presented a "Festival for Improvised Music" every year in Aachen. Willi Kellers brought to life a musicians' initiative in Münster and pianist Martin Theurer founded one in his hometown of Witten and has organised an Easter Jazz Festival as well as "Autumn Days for Improvised Music".

A saxophone Sounds Like Brötzmann Sounds
On the aesthetic of recordings
FMP's philosophy of recording corresponds with the music concepts of its members and can be most succinctly described as "acoustic" and "live". From the very beginning it was the goal of the co-operative to produce "acoustic" jazz music and to record it. Gebers: "In our record productions we try to capture the spontaneous musical spin-offs as realistically as possible. The aesthetic considerations of how a saxophone sounds or drums, take second place to consideration of how Brötzmann sounds or Gerd Dudek; how Lovens sounds or Bennink. The use of electronic devices "microphones, the mixer, tape recorders) thus serves only to record and mix signals, and that happens simultaneously with their coming into existence."

In this way the FMP was able to pull itself away from the cursed dynamics of an unsteady growth of electronics. This was the element which would kill Free Jazz which found difficulties in gaining acceptance in theory but which attracted audiences when heard live and could appeal directly to the senses. Even the solo record of the synthesizer player Michel Waisvisz (SAJ-14) does not contradict this notion. Anyone who has ever heard him in concert knows that he handles and "plays" his self-Made electronic device just like an acoustical instrument. Just as Reichel and Knispel on their guitars or Schlippenbach when he plucks at the strings of the grand piano, Waisvisz fathoms sounds and creates music from noise.

Good Free Jazz does not succeed where the studio is the calmest and the recording equipment is most perfect, but rather where the atmosphere and interaction between the audience and the musicians is at an optimum - in live concert. Under this condition the dialectic relationship of FMP's two work areas becomes understandable. Record production is the logical consequence of their public performances and vice versa. This is why 80% of the FMP catalogue consists of live recordings. The tapes are kept in the rooms of the Free Music Production. This is a treasure house for research and analysis yet to come, a music archive of European free jazz history for Jost Gebers has taped almost every minute of FMP concerts since 1973.

Gebers is committed to the "acoustic principle" not only during the recording but also with regard to the amplification during the actual performances. The loud speakers should be as true to nature as possible and as inconspicuous. The sound events from the stage should be reproduced and not drowned out by too much volume. The communication between the performing musicians and public which is so important in this music must never be destroyed.

For example Gebers distributes microphones around the entire stage for performances of the "Brötzmann-Bennink-Duo in order to make realistic recording and reproduction of Han Bennink's unique percussion performance which always engulfs the entire room.

SAJ - the other label
There is no secret abbreviation behind these three letters. They are the initials of drummer Sven-Åke Johansson which have become FMP's other label and have appeared on 30 discs since 1974. SAJ became a supplement and created a wide foundation of style for the FMP label which wanted to maintain its reputation as an independent label for free jazz music. Thus Alexander von Schlippenbach's recording of the music of Jelly Roll Morton appeared on SAJ (SAJ-31) while his other work was brought out on FMP. SAJ is the label on which the Blues of Franz de Byl and the percussion group "Africa Djolé" appeared, but SAJ also took over and published free jazz in co-productions with other musicians' organisations.

Special Editions: "For Example", "Snapshot" and ...
FMP has, to date, twice brought out combination disc-text documentations: The set "For Example" with book and 3 LPs for the tenth "Workshop Freie Musik" and "Snapshot", a double album with written text which documented jazz in the German Democratic Republic and was heard in the 1979 concert series "Jazz Now". Both editions have since been sold out.

Translator: Unknown

From a booklet by FREE MUSIC PRODUCTION(FMP) 1981/82

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