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Alexander von Schlippenbach: Twenty Minutes

By Published: May 20, 2008
AAJ: I was going to come on to ask about your solo playing. I don't particularly associate you with solo piano, more playing with other people....

AvS: No, you are right. I did two solo records at the beginning of the 70's and then I was mainly busy with the orchestra work and writing lots of music and playing with the trio and all different kinds of situations. Then I was asked by Intakt records to do this double solo. That's the way it happened. I'm doing more solo nowadays.

AAJ: It was a surprise to see on this tour that you were playing solo.

AvS: Yesterday [at Blackheath] I played one of those Twelve Tone Tales compositions, called Twelve Tone Tales 1. On the recording I did two more of those. There was one composition, then I went on improvising on it, variations on the idea. The other pieces were improvised.

AAJ: What are the particular non-jazz influences on your solo playing?

AvS: When I was a student in Cologne, Bernd Alois Zimmermann was very interested in improvising. [Twelve Tone Tales Vol. I features "Allegro Agitato" by Zimmermann.] Anyway, Cologne was quite interesting at this time as a center of contemporary music. I was listening also to Schonberg. In these Twelve Tone... pieces there are some that are quite romantic.

(As well as his trio, Schlippenbach is most closely associated with the Globe Unity Orchestra, the first large scale improvising ensemble, which first came together in 1966 to record his composition "Globe Unity." The members of the orchestra reads like a Who's Who of European improvisers.)

AAJ: We've recently had the fortieth anniversary of the Globe Unity Orchestra. What can we expect in the future? It gets together intermittently, and none of you is getting any younger...

AvS: I hope there is a future. So, as long as we can keep it up... There was a break in the story of the orchestra, but now it is on again. We have some new players, Axel Dorner and Rudi Mahall, who are very important. We just brought out the record for the fortieth anniversary; this was a special production because we chose some points from our history, some pieces from this period. But now we'll play just improvised sets. I think in the future we'll mainly go on in this way. The next CD will definitely be from those performances.

AAJ: Sadly, it was Paul Rutherford's last performance. Do you see Globe Unity Orchestra evolving as members leave or die, as Paul did? For instance, you didn't replace the bassists [Peter Kowald and Buschi Niebergall]...

AvS: Yes, but this was not only about... there were enough bassists. I like to have it without bass because this is a brass orchestra. I found the bass sometimes made it sound more... I wouldn't say unclear, but it gives a color, which is not necessary. Another thing is that any bassist needs to leave his amplifier at home, but lots of them turn up with an amplifier. But anyway, good results—two drummers.

AAJ: Lastly, I want to ask about what I think is your most atypical of your recent recordings, LOK 03 [on Leo]. When that came out it was a surprise. (The album features two pianos—Schlippenbach and his partner Aki Takase—plus DJ Illvibe on turntables, in a series of pieces named after various cities around the world.)

AvS: This is a special production, a family work because the turntable player is my youngest son (pictured). It was based on an idea of Aki's to have sound pictures.

AAJ: Like a travelogue... Was it a one-off?

AvS: We have a few concerts this year and we also did a live improvised music to a film. And this year maybe we are going to make another recording.

AAJ: And the tour that's just gone, that was being recorded?

AvS: Yes. We have recorded yesterday.

Selected Discography

Alexander von Schlippenbach, Twelve Tone Tales Vol: I & II (Intakt, 2007)

Schlippenbach Trio, Wintresse (Psi, 2006)

Alexander von Schlippenbach, Monk's Casino (Intakt, 2005)

Parker, Schlippenbach, Lytton America 2003 (Psi, 2004)

Alexander von Schlippenbach, Broomriding (Psi, 2003)

Globe Unity Orchestra, Globe Unity 40 Years (Intakt, 2007)

Globe Unity Orchestra, Globe Unity 2002 (Intakt, 2003)

Schlippenbach, Takese, DJ Illvibe, Lok 03 (Leo Records, 2005)

Photo Credits

Centered Group Photo: Courtesy of Dagmar Gebers

Bottom Photo of DJ Illvibe: Courtesy of Alexander von Schlippenbach

All other photos: Juan Carlos Hernandez

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