© Fotos: Roberto Masotti


An open letter to FMP

John Corbett

I am writing to express my admiration for the many years of invaluable work that has reached American shores from Berlin's Free Music Production, and furthermore I would like to suggest the centrality of that institution to the economy and ecology of creative music in general. As a music journalist (DOWN BEAT, THE WIRE, CODA, PULSE!, OPTION), disc jockey, and university academic based in the U.S., my understanding of European music was profoundly influenced by fortunate early encounters with Peter Brötzmann, Peter Kowald, Misha Mengelberg, Han Bennink, Alexander von Schlippenbach, Paul Lovens, Globe Unity Orchestra and Irène Schweizer, all of which came courtesy of FMP. Indeed, that music has played a significant part in my professional life - case and point: many of the label's musicians appear in my book, EXTENDED PLAY.
While FMP has remained loyal to ist older musicians (it ist, in the best sense, a musician's label), it continues to present, record and release music by new players, often unknown to us here in the States, offering a glimpse of some of the most exciting European - and particularly German - music that would otherwise remain totally obscure. Take, for instance, Bochum-born Georg Gräwe, who recently played to enthusiastic audiences in North America with his large GrubenKlang-Orchester; Gräwe's first two records were for FMP. Or consider the King Übü Örchestrü, led by Berlin-based reedman Wolfgang Fuchs; their 1993 FMP CD Binaurality received a rave review in the U.S. magazine CD Review from writer Kevin Whitehead, who rightly called FMP "the hippest European label". FMP has continued to put out music by Brötzmann, von Schlippenbach, et al., at the same time keeping abreast of current developments and helping make international reputations for deserving talent. And FMP was a trailblazer in exposing the music of East Germany to the West, long before reunification was a glimmer in anyone's eye.
My point is that so much of what we here in the United States know about the most adventurous European music has come directly from FMP that it is impossible, from a critical perspective, to consider that music without that label. In fact, both as a live-music presenter and as a record company, FMP has proven itself to be a model for one of the most innovative North American festivals and record companies, Canada's ‚Festival Musique Actuel de Victoriaville'. I've had the chance to go to Victo seven times, and it has always impressed me how much the festival and label both owe in appearance, programming, and spirit to Jost Gebers and his free music vision.
Finally, while ist primary function for an American audience may be the production and promotion of great European music, FMP has taught us some things about ourselves as well. From the overwhelming critical response it received and the ongoing influence it exerts (all us Yankee critics still talk about it seven years later!), a series of Cecil Taylor projects that FMP put together (especially the lavish 11-disc-box) place the label on the American jazz history map as well. It goes without saying that there were no U.S. labels daring and forward-thinking enough in 1988 to record Cecil's big-band music, let alone numerous duets with European percussionists, a duet with guitarist Derek Bailey (my number one record of 1989), or a trio with Evan Parker and Tristan Honsinger. The task was left to Free Music Production, as it was last year when it came time to make Charles Gayle's best recording (Knitting Factory had been trying unsuccessfully for a while now).
FMP is a premier German record label. Beyond this, in my opinion, FMP represents one of the most important contributions to contemporary music in the period since the mid ´60s. Free Music Production should be treated as an indispensible forum for musical experimentation; it should be valued as a landmark cultural institution. Of course, in the United States that wouldn't happen, but let's just hope that you Europeans have better sense than we do!

John Corbett Music journalist, Author of ‚Extended Play', Producer