FMP/FREE MUSIC PRODUCTION - An Edition of Improvised Music 1989-2004


Markus Müller


In 1991, the Jazzfestival Middelheim (Antwerp) commissioned Fred Van Hove to write a composition for a "large ensemble". As a result Van Hove extended his established working situation. Starting out with two trios the Belgian has been playing in since 1984 (MLB III = Musica Libera Belgicae, with André Goudbeek and Ivo Vander Borght), and 1988 (Bauer, Van Hove, Nozati), he supplemented his new large ensemble with Charig and Rutherford (who Van Hove has been playing with since 1979 in MLA Blek= Musica Libera Antverpiae, Blech (brass)), the Swiss tuba player Benoît Viredaz and ("... the second saxophone player was very obvious ...", Fred Van Hove) Evan Parker. The Berlin line-up of the "'t NONET" has been changed, when compared with the original formation, in two places: Axel Dörner substitutes for Marc Charig and John Butcher is playing instead of Evan Parker (obvious choices to me). In the unmistakable basic sound, four brass instruments and only two saxophones, nothing has changed.

In Middelheim, the group played the "Antwerp Suite", an idea, as Fred Van Hove put it, "... I have been working on for some time, in order to put into sound the various parts of my town: the zoo, the central station, the harbour, the river ... Naturally, I had no intention of making programme music, the town and its typical sounds were only a guideline. The musicians never knew in which part of town we were. In this composition I have also tried to leave as much space as possible for the magnificent improvisational powers of the musicians involved."

"Suite for B ... City" at the same time develops a map with compositional juncture points and improvisational playgrounds. Their location is the history of Modern Music. In fact, the compositional and re-creative way of dealing with the phenomenon of organisation and chance since Ligeti's "Atmosphères" in 1961 . Ligeti was interested in structures within the structureless, i. e. he wanted to develop a sound-texture which holds up acoustically, where the interchange of acoustic events and pauses should be abolished. Events and breaks were meant to coincide in such a way that a constant resonance can be heard which, however, remains in the background in front of which nothing happens, at least it appears as if just as little is happening as in the spaces. The delicate clusters, the touches of intricate sounds Van Hove's "'t NONET" uses to open the suite form this kind of background, but with the difference that there is much more happening in front of this background than during most of the performances of contemporary music. When Ligeti seems to be "standing still", Van Hove is moving with the tides, creating high and low tides. And in such a way that the swirls and currents of the improvisation rise from a coherent organisation. The sounds are precisely organised, as becomes obvious quite soon. The sequence of organised sound events and "free improvisation", as appears subsequently, is just as precise and the listener experiences "more discovering than searching" which is, as we all know, a direct consequence of the 'living' practice and method of improvisation.

The sequence of solos, duos, trios is by no means coincidental, but a reflection, in certain cases, of over twenty years of playing music together. This allows the 'sexy' soundanalysis as English Improvisation Gestalt of "newcomer" John Butcher to be heard as well as the expressive exorcist(ic)-regimental playing together of Van Hove and Annick Nozati (Elisabeth Schwarzkopf á la Cronenberg). And the fact that this completely normal lunacy turns into a "... cosy little cradle ..." (Van Hove) for André Goudbeek, first a pre-Raphaelite romantic, then post-romantic alto saxophone ballad with Schmalz, even tears, demanding everything of Kukident denture fixative in its further development, meaning a change of paradigms within the suite, is only normal for listeners who have once tried Belgian Waffles. Not later than at this point (33'40''), the organisation-chance-obsession opens up in all its luxuriant possibilities.

Van Hove organises "'t NONET" from a 'ligeti-like' tidal breath through declamatory block formations to Protestant Albert-Ayler-arrangements (a Critique of teleological Judgement as sound), from Sicilian procession marches right up to Wuppertal Jahrmarkt / Local Fair (see also the Globe Unity Orchestra recording of the same name on Po Torch Records, PTR/JWD 2). These are very familiar landmarks which you think you rediscover behind each bend in the road: life, an instruction manual by Fred Van Hove - around the world on 88 keys. Obviously, this is no programme music, you really don't know in which part of town you are, but you know that you're at home!

And in this home you keep on meeting surprisingly unacquainted old acquaintances. Van Hove's organisation makes possible the best chance events, his compositional membranes do not leave space, they define and give space for wonderful improvisations.

And with this it also sounds like a banal truism: total organisation, composition means that the piece slips out of the composer's hand. Blind chance means the kind of freedom Sunny Murray once pointed out with a twinkle in his eye: "Give a guy on a street corner something he can use for drumming on a trash can, this is free music and it is horrible". It is exciting when one thing leads to the other and vice versa, it is exciting when Fred Van Hove organises something like that.

Translation: Isabel Seeberg and Paul Lytton.

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