Keith McMullen (1999)

Free Improvised Music: An Introduction

More than in the United States, Europe has been a bastion for free improvised music following in the tradition of Albert Ayler, late era Coltrane, and others. This music is characterized by its relative lack of preconceived compositional structure and reference. There is rarely notation and a minimum, if any, of pre-performance instructions or guidelines. The performance is a spontaneous composition rising out of the intuitive interaction of highly educated and skilled musicians. Following, I will present brief descriptions of the more prominent recording labels specializing in this music.

Free Music Production (FMP)

One of the oldest labels producing free improvised music is Germany's FMP. It was founded in the late 60s by Jost Gebers, bass player and full-time social worker in Berlin. The organization was conceived as a collective protest against the timidity of mainstream music, and its initial offerings were known as anti-festivals. FMP operates by organizing concerts and festivals by German and other European free improvisers and recording them to document and disseminate the genre. Although the music receives more recognition and support in Europe than in the United States, it is not popular, and the company operates on a shoestring budget always on the brink of extinction. In 1982 FMP almost went under due to lack of funding, having to take an 18 month hiatus from recording. Thanks to occasional government funding and the nonmusical an occupation of many of its members, FMP is currently up and running with a fairly steady stream of concerts and recordings.

While there is a broad spectrum of musical expression to be found in its catalog, FMP is known primarily for its energy music, pull-out-the-stops free blowing which can be meat (brown rice for you vegans out there) to some and poison to others. As Steve Lake says in 'Big Noise From Berlin' in the February 1991 issue of The Wire, "Classic albums of the first decade...might be described as workers' epiphanies, or revelations by and for the non-religious and irreligious." The biggest selling FMP release is Machine Gun by the Peter Brötzmann Octet. Its title says it all, as the music is a barrage of dense textures assaulting the listener's senses and sensibilities. Brötzmann is a multi-reed player famous for his bombastic style. Legend has it that he once was blowing so hard he broke a rib during a performance. Cecil Taylor is also prominent on the label, performing on numerous releases with varying combinations of European improvisers, from duos to large ensembles. At the other end of the sonic spectrum are the likes of Hans Reichel and the King Übü Örchestrü. Reichel is a guitarist who makes his own instruments from which he coaxes a variety of strange ethereal sounds, most prominently on solo recordings. The King Übü Örchestrü is a large ensemble which combines acoustic instruments, and electronics to weave complex group improvisations of great subtlety and delicacy. (…)

from: pfMENTUM, October 1999

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