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Interviews

Peter Brotzmann

By Published: November 29, 2003
AAJ: It seemed like the Globe Unity [Orchestra] was able to maintain a high level of activity.

PB: That was really a good time to find out what is possible with a large ensemble. Yeah, we had Globe Unity from twelve to nineteen, twenty people sometimes. That was a great time, but for that, of course you need money, and that is nowadays very hard to find. We were lucky that Ken [Vandermark] was able to put in some of his MacArthur [grant] money for the Tentet tours we did here in this country. Until now, we were lucky to play some bigger festivals over in Europe. We have coming up this year four or five festivals, which is nice, but the near future, for next year and the year after, we will see. I just was sitting yesterday together with Ken and we talked about what we can do. We have to find sponsors, some private money, some foundation or whatever, but that's hard. In Germany, it's hard to get people from the foundations interested in this kind of music. They give a lot of money to the visual arts, they give a lot of money to the symphony orchestras and all that classical business, but our kind of music still moves on the lowest level, in a way. It's difficult, but we work on it and we don't give up'

AAJ: So would you rather work with a regular group, or do you like to vary it as far as personnel? Which is more fruitful for you?

PB: It always depends a little bit on what time we are living in. I think all of us three - [pianist] Fred van Hove, [drummer] Han Bennink, and myself - ten years of playing with the trio was for all of us very important, to develop the music and set up the record label and do all the things around that. And then, there was a time that I was involved in trying this and that, whatever. Now, I'm very glad I've known William Parker for 20 years and I know Hamid [Drake] now for 13 years. Even if all the guys are busy with other groups and other things, but to get together a couple of times a year is what I like. There are not so many people; you have quite a bunch here in Chicago, but in other cities here and in Europe, it doesn't look like that. You always have to look hard, you have to be like "this could be a guy," and there are not so many.

AAJ: How do you view the recorded medium in relation to improvisation? Do you feel that it's important, or would you rather not look back to your previously recorded material?

PB: When we started to set up the record business, that was in the mid '60s, we thought it was good enough to have a kind of information to reach people you usually don't, and to develop things...I think even nowadays I have to look back, because Atavistic is setting up all this old stuff, and to be confronted with what you did 30 years ago, it's good. Because you can look at it with a lot of distance and you can quite clearly see what you did at the time, and what kind of nonsense it is, of course' (laughing) or even how good it was. And so I have nothing against it.

AAJ: Do you think that records go against the nature of the music at all, the spontaneity of it? Some people have completely negative feelings on that.

PB: I don't think it goes against the nature of the music, and especially if you work like most American musicians work; they have certain pieces and compositions or whatever. To have that on a CD or on vinyl, I think that's good. Sometimes with improvised music, of course, it's a kind of contradiction. I know that, but on the other hand, if you follow Misha Mengelberg's explanation for it, he found a perfect word for what we did the last three days. It's a kind of 'instant composition', so why not have it? But sometimes it's nice to have a stage, to have the guys there, to have an audience. You play, and that was it. No recording, no nothing. I mean, we had recently two months ago, a kind of memorial night for Peter Kowald, and we invited a lot of guys, his friends from New York and everywhere, a lot of Europeans, and we played from 8 in the evening until 4 in the morning.

AAJ: Uninterrupted?

PB: Nearly uninterrupted; it was good discipline, it went on and it was great. So, we had to decide: do we record that or not? It would have been difficult, it would have cost money. The musicians came for noth-ing, and so that was my decision: no recording. Even the guys with small recording equipment in the place had to get out. We had a very good night, and we had 600 people in the audience, and these people got the music, and we got it, and that was it. But there's no document. I think that was the right decision, you know, and sometimes I'm embarrassed by all the recording. I mean, everything is recorded and if I think back when we started, it was so difficult! It was so difficult to have an engineer, find a guy who had the right machines, find the right room; it was expensive too. You had to save a lot of money just to start. Nowadays, everything is so easy. You put the mic in front of your nose.

AAJ: So how has your approach to the music changed over the past 30 years?

PB: Of course it would be stupid to say it's the same like it was forty years ago, of course not. I learned a lot; when you are young and developing the music in those quite-heavy years in Europe, in Germany, you have a different approach to things than you have nowadays. For me the funny thing is that it has changed a lot, but the rules are still the same. Of course I'm much more in control of what I'm doing and I can set up things much more functionally; on the other hand, the music for me was never a kind of intellectual or personal expression. It always had to do with the times and the way the world develops and the way our society develops, and if you look at the situation now, and look back at the time of the Vietnam War, the situation in Europe at the time' It seems to be a kind of Sisyphus-work, you always have to start again. Human beings are f*cking stupid, and all the time the same mistakes and no respect. Going to stupid wars, nobody needs that kind of nonsense, and so I think the music is still a part of setting 'signs'. Maybe in '66 or '68 we had the idea of changing the world a little bit with the music or the arts, but that is a thing of impossibility. What you can do is convince a person from time to time to think differently about things. I think it's the small steps you have to take, and to make, and that's finally something. It's more than other people do, so whatever we do and try to do, I think it's very necessary that we do it, and it's good to see that especially the group in Chicago [Br'tzmann Tentet], they really are trying hard not to give up. That's finally a good perspective for me.


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