Michael Naura (1999)

A thorn in the side of the Bourgeoisie

For 30 years, the Berlin Jazz label "Free Music Production" has been
showing what musical freedom can be

It sounds like a paraphrase of Nicolaus Bruhns' Cantata No.8: "I lie and sleep in peace." Three musicians from Free Music Production (FMP) lying blessed in Orpheus' arms: Evan Parker (saxophone), Alexander von Schlippenbach (piano) and Paul Lovens (percussion). Suddenly, and eerily, the trio is on its feet, igniting sounds Schlippenbach calls 'Hardcore Free Jazz'. "We can get up on stage at any time, without exchanging a word about what we are going to do and we can be sure that we're going to come up with a reasonable performance. It just happens." What does this word 'eerily' mean?

The fantastic sounds from Hell are from THIS world. You have known each other for years and internalised certain musical ideals: Play! Your brain is tacet! There is no written music, no tempos, no keys; nothing. Music like a bursting water mains. Yet the floods still gush through a filter of experience, memories and impressions. For Schlippenbach it was pianists like Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Cecil Taylor. The latter also from the FMP stable. Scary and frightening like the God Schiva, as he may appear to the uninitiated, when Taylor takes his place at the Bösendorfer Imperial, reciting his own poetry in a raised voice, I'm so stoned/Deserts/Time/Touching/Past. And he immediately gets into creating an hour and a half long sound poem which, in the end, gets all the souls in the room vibrating. Even the ones whose resistance to Taylor's music is at first activated, like a virus. There is hardly a trace of the occidental touch in the sense of his antipodean, Keith Jarrett. Instead: Africa. Under the fingers, palms, elbows and forearms the felt hammers of the huge grand piano transform themselves into the drums of the Dogon from the river Niger and into the drums of Baby Dodds, drum legend from New Orleans. His quite meditative opening in Ashmumniem soon pushes towards a violent concentration of the material. The sound, as it were, turns into the sound of metal on an anvil forged by Cecil Taylor, in rapid succession. His fist becomes the hammer racing over the keyboard. This rather fragile American has developed his mastery of glissandi and clusters into a highly subtle and vital "pummelling technique".

Without doubt, Cecil Taylor is the man who, in modern improvised music, has succeeded in turning the keyboard of the grand piano almost into a quasi magma chamber, emitting fascinating flame-like projectiles. When the Apollinic Chick Corea demands Follow Your Heart, Taylor says: Yes, but also follow your guts, including the shit, and your balls!" And when the quintet, following the graphic instructions of the pianist, improvises freely and, in the cheerful chaos of his interactive dramas, works itself to the bone, the intellectual ducks his head, thinking: What a ghastly resurrection of Grobianism in the guise of Jazz, that literary genre of the 16th century, describing crude and uncultivated ways of behaviour and mores.

In contrast, Karlheinz Stockhausen's notion of 'Werktreue' and performance practice seems of an almost child-like defiance: "Even when I'm no longer alive, it is the task of the Stockhausen Foundation for Music to not only blindly supply material and support performances, regardless of whatever preconditions, but to insure that what has been achieved up to now is respected and that those interpreters are involved in performances or for the instruction of the next generation of interpreters who have often rehearsed the relevant works together with me. I firmly believe in the tradition that new interpreters should learn from those who have the experience and who know the working practices of the composer."

The method of music making of Free Music Production is refreshingly open and is oriented to pumping blood. Man is closer to animals than we think. This seems to be one of FMP's 10 commandments. It is all about Werktreue. Every breath, every drop of blood, sweat, sperm. Only when you're dead is there a general pause, divine silence. GEMA's score archives have got very little FMP material to worry about.Their improvisation giants say: "We don't need sheet music. We are the music. We'll take it with us, with our bones, into the earth." In this regard, they are nearer to the pigmies and other primitive peoples than they would like to be. And if Helmuth Rilling has referred to Johann Sebastian Bach as the "clean conscience" of our musical history, the musicians of the Free Music Production, founded by the Berlin bass player Jost Gebers in 1969, with their repertoire of about 300 recordings and their courageous concerts in the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts are something like the "bad conscience" of Western civilisation. It demonstrates to the manacled and disfigured man of Late Capitalism what freedom could be like. It is a fantastic projector screen. Prayer of an offended citizen: "Oh Lord, in the face of the political processes in Bonn let me spew up in the same way FMPeter Brötzmann plays his saxophone." And this is a thorn in the side of the 'brownshirts'.

November 12, 1981. NDR radio station, Hamburg. Main studio. On stage, a phalanx of first-class FMP-musicians for the 164. Jazzworkshop: from Japan Toshinori Kondo (trumpet), Frank Wright (saxophone) from the USA, Peter Brötzmann (saxophone), Hannes Bauer (trombone) and Alex von Schlippenbach (piano) from Germany, Willem Breuker (saxophone) from Holland, Alan Tomlinson (trombone) from England, and Harry Miller (bass) and Louis Moholo (drums) from South Africa. The concert is a live broadcast on NDR 3. Suddenly, towards the end of the fiery concert a listener contacts the radio station. The highly excited man curses the music and declares his intention to explode a bomb in the concert hall. The concert is stopped immediately, the hall is evacuated. At that point we learned that even music can set off a bomb alarm, even in times of peace. At least in Germany.

Free Music Production, which has helped shape the music of the 20th century will always remain the thorn in the side of the bourgeoisie. They say horses are sensitive with a strong constitution. FMP is music for horses' ears.

Translation: Isabel Seeberg & Paul Lytton

From: DIE ZEIT, no.19, May 6th,1999

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