berlin november 2008 – mark anthony whiteford

berlin november 2008:

visions sounds meetings

Berlin Jazz Festival / FMP Total Music Meeting (40th


by mark anthony whiteford


            i met a woman on the train. we talked about the east and west and what it meant that it was gone. and what it meant that once we had a dream of socialism. a nd she lived in the horror whilst i grew up far away wishing it could all be the dream and inequality would get wiped out. ‘it’s over now’ she said and my daughters are living lives i could never have hoped for. ‘and i’m glad i’m not in that any more. but now life is not quite right. it’s only about money and nothing else now here in the west.’ she still lives in her same house in what once was the east.

            the revolution? it happened. things changed. capitalism now reigns like some self-obsessed monarch/patriarch [the west is the best/victorious. the rest of the world can suck on a gun barrel/a broken coke bottle/nothing. the fmp is alive [and kicking?] all the men are still here in their blazers and shoes and shirts. all with slightly podgy bellies. still playing[the same stuff40years on?] THE FMP IS 40YEARS OLD. i met a man who remembered the first gig he saw with peter brötzmann 40 years or so ago. ‘yes’ he said ‘we believed everything is different from now on.’


            is it?


Wertmüller Project w/ Brötzmann & Pliakas

feat. Keiji Haino, Peter Evans, Mars Williams

  • Michael Wertmüller · drums
  • Marino Pliakas · bass
  • Peter Brötzmann · saxes
  • Mars Williams · tenor sax
  • Keiji Haino · electronics, guitar, voice
  • Peter Evans · trumpet

Quasimodo, 6/11/08 (Berlin Jazz Festival)


            peter brötzmann played in a jazz club [a very standard jazz club-tables waitresses <yep waitresses only. no waiters in a jazz club man> all the people on stage were men. it was very macho and loud and dense. brötzmann played some very lyrical stuff at times. [maybe trying to a force a wedge of something else against/within the loud dense noise onslaught?]]    i enjoyed it. it was ceaselessly loud and dense and full tilt and it made me laugh or feel exhilarated or both. keijo haino was there and he was refreshingly something else. like a wild cat let loose in the circus of macho men in his frilly black lace and long hair and screaming wailing fumbling guitar and voice and pedals. there was some very heavy unrelenting bass and drums and some other guy on saxophones screaming and snarling. and then peter evans who kind of seems to be following in the wake of axel dörner but seems to me to also have some of that more traditional male/berlin/free improv bluster in that he sweats and tussles and clearly shows how much he’s wrestling with the trumpet forcing it to do things by feats of heroic muscular force. by the time he’s done his shirt is wet and testifies to his male heroic struggle even though his sound world is more out and unconventional than the likes of brötzmann and the other fmp horn players i witness on this trip.


clayton thomas/peter evans/axel dörner/henry grimes

ausland, 3/11/08


            on my way into berlin i rush from the airport [yep goodbye trees and planet-the western male pursues his desire whilst the asians drown. hello easyjet and the riches of the western world stolen from the rest of the non-human ‘other’ people [not quite people]] to get to an abandoned church [the white male god has vacated and the white male anarchists have taken residence.<some things change maybe?> for the [better?]]

            i arrive in time to catch peter evans storming away with de rigeur free improv [free jazz?] double bass slogging it out with him. they’re both going all over the place with some physical force. peter evans is sweating. i’m a bit thrown by this all. i’ve got evans down as a quiet noisemaker in the vein of dörner. but this is quite full blast and muscular [that word again] soon it’s over somehow. i only get about a five mins of it.

            i try to pay someone but the man who takes the money has gone home so there’s no one i can pay. which is neat and refreshingly uncommercial. ‘i’ll buy a cd’ i say to the soundman but i dont actually. i’m wondering what i’ve missed. what i really wanna catch is axel dörner with peter evans since i’ve never heard either of them live and i love what i’ve heard on my hifi so i’m keen to see what they’ll be like live and together.

            then a familar looking man comes shuffling into the hall with  a violin case under his arm. people seem to have been not expecting him. and it seems an impromptu duo set is got underway involving  him and one of the bassists. he has his violin out and is rustling scrappy old bits of paper about on a table. i’m tryin to figure out who he is. but i guess the context of berlin blocks me fathoming it out. he reads some poetry that’s full of de rigeur black american references/ phrases/melody. redolent of ntozake shange/maya angelou/william parker. lots of references to skyscrapers being like cliff faces and lots of references to infinity freedom alienation. i’m trying to remember who he is. the closest i can get is william parker who he aint. the poetry is very badly delivered. faltering and stumbling. barely audible above the accoustic bass. it’s highly impromptu and the bassist and the poet dont seem to know what form the thing is gonna take, when to stop when to keep going, which i like a lot. when the stranger picks up the violin things flow much more freely and there’s a drive and a searingness to the violin whilst the bass is now more comfortably in the ‘supporting’ role it seems to me.

            at some point i write on a little flyer ‘who is he?’ and pass it to the woman at my side[no women on stage but women in the audience] there is no stage. i’m not completely enjoying the music. i’m enjoying the violin and bass fine but the man keeps returning to poetry and i keep thinking ‘this is displacing the quartet music’ which i believe is gonna ensue for the rest of the set.

             i get my piece of paper on which the woman’s male partner has written ‘henry grimes’ and i’m beside myself with incredulity. i am amazed to find myself in this abandoned church off my plane face to face with henry grimes. i’m thinking this man has played with albert ayler and this man has survived the vile racist oppression of vile capitalist america and is still here and so am i with him. i am privileged. i’m still not digging the poetry though.


and i still want dörner and evans.


            eventually dörner evans and the 2 bassists get to play. and one of the bassists invites grimes to sit in. so we get a quintet. it’s cool. i’m  happy. dörner and evans blend nicely. the bassists and mr grimes keep up a more straight forward thing than dörner and evans jumps about between the string players and  dörner’s soundscapes fairly undriven by dominant rhythm and thrusting dynamics. i like what dörner does best. i like his slabs of rebellious sounds. he quietly and with little outward show of physical exertion pushes some incredible sounds out into and under the quintet music.


i see evans three more times.

  • once with brotzman and company as above.
  • once solo.
  • once with evan parker richard barrett and another bassist


solo he’s quite incredible. totally pyrothechnics totally in the tradition of pushing the instrument beyond what it wants to do. but very quiet unlike the old guys. he plays a long set solo. 35minutes, maybe more. what i will say in favour of the fmp guys is they dont kowtow to the current ‘audience freindly’ strategy of presenting bite size chunks. they allow a lot of very long sets to take place during this week long festival.


  • keith and julie [tippetts]
  • evan parker quartet
  • john Edwards
  • wachsmann turner kirchmann eckel


            all play very long uninterupted sets in the good old noncompromise freeimprov no concession to capitalism’s bite size endless consumerist fandango. [roll up roll up get some more of these unsatisfying little things and make it all start up and go round again put your money in the slot it’s the cumshot it’s the cumshot slot.]

            so yeah. he plays a long set. i’m fairly absorbed. i’m slightly caught up in that old jazz trip of marveling at his technique. but i think there’s a sound piece that unfolds too and it’s not just technique.[?] there’s a fair bit of quiet and space in the piece. a fair bit of contemplation and wonder. he also does a short ‘encore’ and his shirt is soaked in sweat by the end. he has to do a very big warm up, before he plays. i hear him in the dressing room. which is obviously absolutely essential due to the extreme pressure he puts him self under when playing.



  • Julie Tippett voice
  • Willi Kellers dr, perc
  • Keith Tippett piano

Berlinische gallery, 6/11/08.


            a set by keith and julie tippett in trio with a drummer. i love this set. i feel it’s totally sweet. it is what it is. it is what it’s always been with keith and julie. keith does his thing. it’s the long 45minute keith solo style. he does the thing at the very top of the piano and of course the thing at the very bottom of the piano. with some delicate and jazzy piano in and around it all. he seems to be accommodating julie at times. he shakes his rattle too. julie does  her voice thing which to me seems so unassuming, so delicate and unsure and thin. and she seems self assured enough as to allow this offering of hers to be enough for us for her for keith and the drummer. she leaves a lot of space too. she seems to fit in with what’s ensuing. sometimes you feel she’s taken the lead and the 2 men follow her. she plays some little instruments. a tibetan singing bowl a recorder an mbira that she plays with a little mallet. and between them they weave a delicate quiet slow unforced/unforceful mesh. it’s very quiet. the drummer does very delicate things. he waves his  brushes in the air. he’s still and quiet. i love them all and i feel grateful and blessed that such people and such music can still exist in a vile epoch which would have preferred to crush such entities as this if only it even knew they were there.

when it’s over they bow and say thankyou and they go. hell, it’ll be a poorer place to exist on, this planet, when mr grimes and these people all bow out.


what else was there?


john edwards bass solo

Berlinische gallery, 6/11/08.


            again another long no concessions timewise set. up until recently i’d not seen a lot of john edwards live. and lately i’ve seen too much of him. seems like everytime the cube cinema put on any improvised music john edwards will be the default musician. he plays very loud[via amps] and very muscular. he has a set of things he does. and he throws himself about a fair bit when he gets going, which he invariably does. seeing him play is a bit like watching hearing a standard jazz musician in that he kind of visits various places and will always ‘peak'[ie a moment of loudness or speed that would like to imply some kind of frenzy] at some point he will reach some kind of ‘resolution’ at ‘the end.’ in berlin he did l this. there are times when he seems to be delighting in the sound he is creating as if he’s surprised  himself yet whenever i see him he does these certain things –


1 bows with great physical force breaking strings as he goes

2 goes very quiet and hesitant at times

3 smacks the body of the bass

4 rubs the body of the bass with a wettened finger

5 sticks things in the strings and smacks them about

6 plucks the strings above where he’s fingering

7 bows the bass below the bridge


            he often visits each of these places at almost the same point in any given piece he’s playing. and rarely misses one of these certain actions within any performance i’ve seen. he’s a seemingly ‘very nice chap and very unassuming and polite.’ at the venue in berlin i saw him met and recieved by some very well behaved middle class berlinische galleryafficianados who seemed very pleased to be met by him in this very nice and unassuming way.


i also saw him play during my most hated moment of the whole festival.


  • Manfred Schoof trumpet
  • Gerd Dudek tenor & soprano saxophones
  • John Edwards double bass
  • Günter ´Baby´ Sommer dr, perc

Berlinscher Gallery, 7/11/08.


            i hated this set immensely and found myself diametrically opposed to the modus operandi of performance presented. a group of elder statesmen who call themselves improvisers who for some inexplicable [to me] reason chose to present us with some very sloppily arranged and executed ‘tunes’ and structures. all of them except edwards wore the fmp male blazer and shirt and de rigeur 1950s male haircuts. the absolute low point of despair for me was when the drummer entered into a standard jazz style ‘cutting contest’ goading and challenging edwards to play louder/faster and keep up with the barrage/charade of pushes and shoves that the drummer put before him whilst sending gestures and smiles to the other older guy compatriots seeming to say ‘hey do you think he can cut it and hang in there with me/us?’ and when it was all over he gave edwards the nod of approval like some ridiculous scorcese ‘gangster’ [middle class white male actor in fact] who indicates to the assembled macho men that ‘the boy is ok’ once he’s killed a man.


  • Evan Parker tenor & soprano saxophones
  • Peter Evans trumpet
  • Adam Linson double bass
  • Richard Barrett sampling keyboard, live electronics

Berlinscher Gallery, 8/11/08.


            oh fuck, i’m so sorry but i have this ongoing problem with evan parker’s current output and stance. i’m really sorry. i love evan parker and he started up this thing we all care so much about and live and breathe didnt he? but what is going on with mr parker at the moment? i just wanna cry to be honest. i’ve seen him several times over the last couple of years and i’ve heard him on the radio several times.[once on radio 3 playing a monk tune. hell. help. get me outta here] and i just feel so badly that mr parker has stagnated. he just does the things he does. he takes little breaks and then he picks up his saxophone and you know what’s gonna come out and i even have a strong sense of how long he’s gonna play for before laying out again. and i experience his playing as ‘saxophone solos’ laid over the top of what’s going on instead of being integrally woven into the music fabric.

            tonight he’s up there with peter evans and this is the first time i’ve heard them together. so i’m intrigued how this is gonna work out since i currently feel that evans has taken up the mantle along with the likes of axel dörner and gone on a mission to see where we might push the music next. [into more purely abstract sound away from form\format\?] and i usually enjoy richard barrett. indeed i’d rank him amongst my favorite free improvisors of the moment. [check out forch; spin networks] i’ve also seen evans playing with fokt replacing john butcher to some effect at  a gig in london a while back at spittalfields which worked ok was a great gig apart from the dire sound in the echoing church hall.

            but for this gig i couldnt get my head into it. i felt there was so much potential for parker and evans to interlock and get into something and you’ve even got the circular breathing thing they both do. but it didnt seem to come together at all. the sound was dire fmp free  jazz mix so the saxophone and trumpet were way up front so no mesh could be heard. not that there was one. seems evan parker wanted richard barrett to take on the drummer role which seems a bit sad; what i always loved about european free improv was its ability to forego the classic jazz line up and consider itself a chamber music. anyways. they played a long set. i’ve listened to it several times since. but i cannot make anything happen in my head. nothing seems to come together. if you treat it like a free jazz concert maybe it works. i couldnt feel parker and evans meeting. and evans didnt seem able or willing to bend to meet the very differant soundscape evans was bringing to the horn music. and poor old richard barrett and linson were left bubbling away in the background like some jazz rhythm section mixed right down by the soundman.



what else did i see and hear?

something that felt like nothing


  • Anthony Pateras prepared piano
  • Lê Quan Ninh percussion.

Berlinische gallery, 7/11/08.

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body [say no more. say no more. yes indeed government funded eh?]


            this was weird. all i experienced was a couple of men coaxing a series of fairly interesting unorthodox and treated sounds from their respective instruments. a piano with treated and dampened strings so that the sound was distorted but nonetheless full of predictable neo/quasi/cheap replicas of cheap simple rythms. clunk clank foursquare and repetitious. meanwhile the man with the drum and percussion instruments again coaxed some very extraordinary sounds from the skin of his upturned bass drum, but all to what effect? i ask myself a question here. how come sometimes when i listen to improvised music i feel all i’ve heard is an unsatisfacory series of random sounds whilst at other times i feel i’m experiencing something meanigfull. surely it’s all just a random series of sounds innit? maybe i just like julie and keith tippets and i know them a bit so create meaning and spirit out of what they do? not that i need spirit to make music meaningful for me. i dont consider john buthcher’s music spiritual but i hear or feel something going on when he plays. what a lark what a plunge it all is. what nonsense and made-upness.

                        ha ha.

            i cant keep going on about these gigs ad infinitum nauseum. so lets focus on something l liked. which i think is the last of the things i saw anyway. i missed some stuff i really wanted to see. i missed these things because i left to catch the brötzmann gig. i left the schoof/dudek/Edwards/sommer gig and had an early night cos i hated it so much.


this one i missed cos i went to see brötzmann instead elsewhere


  • Tomek Choloniewski dr, perc
  • Miho Iwata performance

Berlinische gallery, 6/11/08.


shame i’d’ve liked to see some performance. whatever happenned to performance? i thought it was going somewhere. but then the great white british tate/government sponsored art-fund-fuckover got hold of it and nailed it into the coffin of capitalism/ entertainment/ fakeculture.

so- ok, something i liked?



Joined by the artist SARAH B. ECKEL

  • Ronit Kirchman violin, live electronics
  • Philipp Wachsmann violin, live electronics
  • Paul Lytton dr, perc, live electronics
  • Sarah B. Eckel action painting .

Berlinische gallery, 8/11/08.


            yep this was up there with the julie and keith set for me. it was so quiet and so slight. so slow and ‘unclimatic.’ it was a weave of delicate slight occurrences with lots of space gentle interweaving no one getting all ‘worked up.’ everyone quiet and attentive. it was so quiet and slight that at one point the painter drowned out the musicians with her paint brushes. she was quiet and seemed absorbed in her world yet seeming to respond/interact with the musicians. she padded about at the back for the most part slapping some paint boldly onto card at moments, ripping the cardboard the next. and at one point hammering it with a hammer. there were some bold black lines almost like calligraphics. the whole painting was quite mimimal and spacious considering they were on stage for 45 minutes. she wandered about the stage at times and physically interacted with the musicians. there was even a staged fake ‘shock’ moment where she took kirchman’s violin and then hung it on the painting and action painted. did i mention she did some action painting. needless to say it wasnt really kirchman’s real violin but a body double. it was grand to see some action painting, or any painting taking place on stage with live music. it took me back to the good old days of revolution and straight ahead rebellion in the western world back before the capitalists nailed us into the coffin of noncaring and irony/postmodern nihilism.


            so here we are. 2009 or so it would appear. 40years of fmp and where’s it got us. the modernist men still rule imagining they’re engaged in something radical in their suit jackets/blazers pouring out free jazz de rigeur with no mind or space for wondering what’s coming next. the streets are not on fire. everybody says capitalism can only do good. the square building called the berlinische gallery sits close and comfortable alongside the holocaust museum and it’s all on the tourist map. all the arabs live in poverty just around the corner. i asked some street kids playing outside their block of flats ‘where’s the berlinischer gallery’ they had a great laugh at my german and hilariously told me ‘yes it’s the building with the coloured letters outside of it. yes look there. there it is.’


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