Wolf Kampmann (2002)

Productive forces of the music world

The history of free improvised music would have taken a different course if a defiant collection of people hadn't got together at the end of the sixties, including Peter Brötzmann, Peter Kowald, Alexander von Schlippenbach and Jost Gebers, among others, who took matters into their own hands and founded the collective Free Music Production. The musicians attended to their own projects while the organization and realization of productions and events very soon ended up in the hands of Jost Gebers. Conditions have changed since then and the end of FMP is on the horizon. Gebers, however, in retirement but as active and gung-ho as ever - leans back, quite relaxed in his conversation with Wolf Kampmann, lights up a cigarette and with a smile, philosophizes about old and new times.
FMP and its reputedly grouchy producer Jost Gebers went beyond the boundaries of improvised and composed music, opened up cultural channels between East and West and overcame the often postulated antagonism, especially in the area of Free Jazz, between the American and European views of improvisation. For more than 30 years - extending far beyond the individual productions - FMP was a creative process of development in itself, a long-time work of art, whose final impetus cannot yet even be grasped.


Wolf Kampmann: How can you get across to somebody today that feeling of the collective that happened when FMP started up at the end of the sixties?

Jost Gebers: I don't think you can really pass this experience on because it all happened within a particular situation of upheaval in society. The year 1968 was the peak of a development which had started earlier and went on well into the seventies. Everybody was affected by it. After a certain time, however, this collective-concept proved to be difficult to handle. An artist, no matter from which area, has got a legitimate interest in pushing through his own ideas. Which makes it a bit strange for him to sit at the same table with his competitors, talking about productions which aren't even his own.

Wolf Kampmann: Nevertheless, the character of FMP appears to be a collective one up to the present day.

Jost Gebers: Right until the end, planned projects were always based on the information of the musicians. I never thought up any project just sitting alone at my desk. One part of it was the musician's desire to realize a certain concept. The basic idea to let as much as possible happen together, has proved itself to be right. Each person has only bits of information which are made available to him. The more sources, the more varied the possibilities are to choose and to select from.

Wolf Kampmann: You intentionally called the label Free Music Production and not Free Jazz. Where was the difference?

Jost Gebers: Each one of us had his own definition for this difference. In the case of Alex von Schlippenbach it is certainly still Free Jazz. For me the emphasis was more on the European aspect at that time. For Tony Oxley, as well, it was the European idea which has stronger links to composed music than to American Jazz, even though he was the one who had the most experience in this area. We just wanted to keep things open in this respect, right from the beginning.

Wolf Kampmann: How would you describe the music from this time of upheaval?

Jost Gebers: Kowald once said: Smash up everything and find something new. I wouldn't have used that formulation. For me it was more about finding out what people around us do and think. The essential thing was the documentation of the working processes of that first group of people. Looking back certain constants like Brötzmann and Schlippenbach also represent different main currents. In some areas ideas merged, in other areas totally new things began.

Wolf Kampmann: Apropos "document": Even though you called yourselves Free Music Production, didn't it have a lot more to do with documentation than with production?

Jost Gebers: Yes and no. The label has been a separate entity since January 1st, 2000. Up till that point it was a combined label and production enterprise. Both aspects were closely linked. Obviously it is about documenting the events, but first of all it was much more about allowing for the possibility of certain impulses taking place. First of all, we had to create and maintain an environment so that certain people had the chance to work on their ideas continuously.

Wolf Kampmann: So you documented music and produced an identity?

Jost Gebers: Not really. Take Cecil Taylor, for example. I got to know him at a certain stage of his work. At that stage, I, Gebers, set out in order to get different results. What he had achieved until that point in time was enormous. Then this thing in 1988 happened. Through discussions and also with slight pressure I put him in this situation, out of which came the well-known result. If you look at all the things that were documented - and this was really a documentation, something I wouldn't say of every one of our records - you can trace how, out of a particular situation, certain things got going. The success of this project didn't only have an effect on him but on many of the people who were involved.

Wolf Kampmann: I have always thought of FMP as representing the individual musicians involved. The fact that you used pressure to push through certain things is new to me.

Jost Gebers: It wasn't like that in general, but only in certain situations. Usually with the Americans. Europeans are more emancipated in this respect. They deal much more precisely and consciously with what they're doing. The exception proves the rule.

Wolf Kampmann: At some point you became the producer, the central character in the whole thing. This means that FMP must have been strongly linked to your ideal of freedom.

Jost Gebers: First of all I was independent. I had a job and never had to be afraid of having to do things I wasn't convinced of, just for financial reasons. Financial independence was really a feeling of freedom. You can see what has become of a lot of festivals and labels run by people who have been dependent on their success, either professionally or privately. Without ever having to think about it I was never forced to make compromises.

Wolf Kampmann: Were there times when you had to redefine yourself and your work?

Jost Gebers: I was continuously confronted with new things and had to consider whether this area would help take us further or not. There were attempts with African or composed music. We noticed from time to time that you just couldn't get certain ideas over to the people. In this respect I admire Manfred Eicher, but his Jazz productions and composed stuff were just much closer together than in our case. At least in the perception of the audience. For us it wasn't possible to distribute certain productions adequately.

Wolf Kampmann: Why is it that Brötzmann productions from the late '60s are still so intense and today's Free Jazz sounds so old-fashioned?

Jost Gebers: Brötzmann is definitely an original. I don't want to mention any names here but quite a number of things from those times still grab me much more than others, things which maybe even have been perfected by the musicians. Something got polished away over the years, which was very strong at that time. Many of Brötzmann's old records have been re-issued, especially in America, and they are still incredibly exciting. There are reasons, however, why certain attitudes towards playing seem so rigid. With all my activities I have always tried to remain a listener. That means getting to a point when I've got no idea and where I ask myself … does this interest me? The smaller the structures become the more difficult this gets. Development often only takes place on a very minimal scale. Even if you really know your way around it gets difficult to detect the changes. It even takes me quite an effort to listen to some of the CD's from this area right to the end.

Wolf Kampmann: How does one manage to remain a listener over such a long period of time?

Jost Gebers: It is not that I sit at home and listen to Brötzmann. I have always listened to a lot of different music. Pop, classic or 'old' Jazz, I always enjoy it. And I have always bought records which didn't have anything to do with the other stuff I do. When I work on a project I only listen to that particular material and nothing else. Obviously there are always duff things. You organize a five-day event and don't get to listen to any music because there is so much to do. In the meantime I'm in a different position because I'm working through the archive in peace, after 30 years and I can listen to all those things. And I regularly get to places where I think: This can't be true. You look for certain tapes and suddenly you find two copies of the whole thing. You listen to both of them and realize: We definitely put out the wrong record at the time. The criteria have simply changed.

Wolf Kampmann: Why did you say goodbye to the European focus with the Cecil Taylor project in 1988 and turn more towards America?

Jost Gebers: This is absolutely wrong. American musicians have been involved in our projects from the very beginning. Obviously travel costs played a role even then. At the beginning musicians like Don Cherry and Steve Lacy, who lived in Europe, were involved but more and more musicians came over directly from America - like Sirone. We also had a contract with Lennie Tristano, for example, which just couldn't be fulfilled because he died around that time. There has never been a focus just on Europe or later just on America. There was simply a clear-cut project with Cecil Taylor in 1988 who I wanted to encounter certain aspects of the European scene.

Wolf Kampmann: But this later opened a door in the direction of Sam Rivers, Charles Gayle, Butch Morris and Matthew Shipp.

Jost Gebers: From the business point of view, this documentation opened up markets and made people take notice of us. If you can offer people something they know, your position for negotiation changes fundamentally.

Wolf Kampmann: To what extent are you still involved in the label today?

Jost Gebers: Since January 1st, 2000 Free Music Production in its original form doesn't exist anymore. There is a legal successor - FMP-Publishing - with label, publishing, production, and archive, and me as the producer responsible. FMP-Publishing has made a contract with Helma Schleif for the marketing of the recordings on the label. This is only about having CD's pressed as per demand, promoting and distributing them. At present a situation has developed between the label and Helma Schleif which could spell a premature closure. This is why I am reinforcing my efforts to bring to fruition concrete musical ideas and considerations.

Translation: Isabel Seeberg & Paul Lytton

From: JAZZ THING Nr. 47 - 1/2003 February/March 2003

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