Anthony Wood (1983)


In this issue, The Wire goes to Germany to investigate the musician-run label Free Music Production (FMP) – an organisation which bas pointed the way in the presentation and perpetuation of European improvised music since 1968. But – as Anthony Wood found out – in 1983, FMP is struggling….

The Sixties brought forth a great social and cultural revolution in the western world. This revolution manifested itself in many ways – the banishing of traditional taboos, the exploration of new means of expression, and the commercialisation of art into a popular marketable commodity – pop art, pop culture, pop music.

Jazz in the Sixties also experienced the irrepressible pull towards new modes of expression and presentation. By a natural evolutionary process, chord changes and time signatures went out the window because that was where the musicians had brought the music. It was the next logical stage in the music’s development. But, in doing so, jazz was punished by the establishment for failing to be commercial or, in other words, few gigs – even fewer records.

In America, moves were made by musicians to control their own working situation. The short-lived Jazz Composers Guild promoted its own concerts and produced its own records. Musicians used their own loft space for concerts.

In Europe in the mid-Sixties, musicians were experiencing similar problems with presentation. The three countries which formed, as it were, the cradle of free jazz/improvised music were Britain centered around London’s Little Theatre Club, Holland with the Instant Composers Pool as its source, and West Germany.

In Germany in the mid-Sixties, an organisation called the New Artists Guild was formed by saxophonist Peter Brötzmann along with other musicians; the guild was short lived. Three groups were emerging as the main elements in a ‘German Scene’, Irène Schweizer’s Trio, Peter Brötzmann’s Trio with Peter Kowald and Sven-Åke Johansson and Manfred Schoof’s Quintet which included saxophonist Gerd Dudek and pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach. These musicians were to form the basis of Free Music Production (FMP).

In November 1968, German free musicians – frustrated at the lack of representation at the established jazz festival in Berlin (Berlin Jazz Days) – organised their own event at a pub called Quartier von Quasimodo. They raised a sign bearing the words ‘In the midst of capitalism, on the field of capitalism, playing against capitalism, starting out…Wilhem Liefland’. The musicians had nailed their colours to the mast. The Total Music Meeting had arrived.

Along with the protesting students, Berlin, West-Germany and the world seemed to be crying out for a change. The following year FMP began earnest. Jost Gebers, who had been playing bass in Berlin in the early Sixties, gave up playing to concentrate on the legal and organisational side of FMP, later being responsible for producing the huge catalogue recording which streamed out of Berlin. Dieter Hahne took over sales and organisation while musicians Brötzmann and Kowald, based in Wuppertal, organised concerts establishing a working base for playing, attracting musicians such as Hans Reichel, Rüdiger Carl and Detlef Schönenberg.

In 1969, in addition to the Total Music Meeting, FMP established the Workshop Freie Musik in association with Berlin’s Academy of Arts. This festival has since presented every year over the Easter holiday. These two annual events formed the basis of FMP’s concert activities along with workshops in Wuppertal. In the same year, the first of over 140 records was released (Manfred Schoof’s European Echoes, FMP 0010), eventually making FMP the largest catalogue of free music in the world.

Although the Total Music Meeting was originally organised as an ‘anti’ Berlin festival, belated recognition came from the city’s establishment in 1976 financing the Meeting for the first time. By now in its permanent home, the Quartier Latin – a converted cinema – the Meeting has, over the years, presented many significant names.

In 1968, the first one had John McLaughlin rubbing shoulders with the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Gunter Hampel, Globe Unity Orchestra, Evan Parker and Paul Rutherford. Sonny Sharrock and Pharoah Sanders brought their instruments and joined in; such was the atmosphere for playing.

Despite its growth, FMP’s philosophy has remained constant – the organisation is in the hands of the musicians who have total control over the presentation of concerts and recordings.

As FMP has grown, so has its influence and that of its musicians – several of whom participated in a Berlin cultural festival in Los Angeles in 1980 and in similar events in Amsterdam and Florence in 1982. FMP was also responsible for introducing East-German musicians to western audiences.

In addition, several of the musicians more recently associated with FMP have established events of their own – Paul Lovens in Aachen, Willi Kellers in Münster, and pianist Martin Theurer in his own town of Witten. So, over the last 14 years, FMP can be thought of as a success story…

Present and future

Not all good things last, however, and along with other minority areas FMP finds itself with its back to the wall. In the past, Jost Gebers and his wife have been able to sink one of their incomes into FMP. However, his wife was made redundant last year, thereby closing off a major source of FMP’s finance. Therefore, in order to maintain its activities, FMP has to seek other areas of funding, taking it inevitably to the largest source of finance - the West Berlin government. However, political fortunes have changed since the days of Willi Brandt – so has Germany’s economy. With all this in mind, FMP has a fight on its hands but, undaunted, has approached the government for 500.000 marks. The verdict will come from the powers-that-be this summer, but Gebers is in no doubt that FMP will receive a negative response.

Why 500.000 marks? Gebers explains that FMP wants to establish its own centre rather than use other venues. In addition, FMP has, over the years, received personal loans which are now due for repayment. There has also been an inevitable decline in audiences. I say ‘decline’ because free music has been seen more as a fashion in Germany than elsewhere, linked with the extended period of prosperity that the country has enjoyed. The purely Sixties’ culture of Britain and the USA extended in Germany trough the Seventies and saw free music as part of its thinking. Now the Eighties has shown that all that glitters… So the students are hard at work with no sign of protest and FMP finds its audience shrunk form 2000 a night at the Workshop Freie Musik in 1978 to 700 at this year’s.

But the creative process goes on – the music is alive and well, and so should FMP continue for it has pointed the way towards establishing a criterion for the music’s presentation which has been taken up by organisations throughout the world, establishing a living library through its records of improvised music’s development which must continue to grow with the music.

Free Music Production Must Not Die.

from: The Wire # 4, June 1983

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