Twenty Years of King Übü Örchestrü
The painter facing the white canvas
Improvised music arises from silence
Übü is the place where EARsome improvisers interact.
For Übü, there is no set personnel. Not only because
of the guests that we occasionally like to invite, but because
of the different developments that every player is going
through with his or her own, mostly smaller ensemble before
another meeting with Übü comes up. Hence, the
participants´ names are the same by and large, but
their bearers have reached a different musical plane through
the years. Thus, Übü is a new ensemble each time
its members get together. The new idea for this concert
was to invite three vocalists (Boris, Irena, and Phil) who,
totally independent of each other, worked with the text
of Alfred Jarry´s play ´Ubu Roi´ (1896).
Without prior consultation, they musically shaped parts
of the text as they went along.
The Übü´s collective-productive seventh
sense shows in the two minutes of silence shortly before
the end of the first piece, initiated by a phrase repeated
by Boris several times - in German. Amazingly, half of these
Übü musicians don´t have any German
The result in hand is encouragement for us to continue this
Long live Übü!
Wolfgang Fuchs, August 8, 2004
P.S.: Thanks to Urs for the introduction, and to those
who made this CD possible through their contribution.
(English version by Werner Merz)
I¹m supposed to provide an introduction, well actually
I wasn¹t supposed to,
but I got the message this evening, just as BSC Hertha scored
goal and then I said, OK. Of course I could actually begin
King Ubu: say u-a-a-h-o-o-o or his famous merdre: mer-,
mer-, merd, merdr,
or Schreiße, Schrei, Schr...
That´s the funny thing about Jarry, he lives from
the fact that he didn¹t
call shit shit, rather it¹s just an unusual theatre
piece which had a great
influence at least on my generation because after the 2nd
World War came the
Theatre of the Absurd and that was actually the kind of
theatre that we were
interested in. That was Ionesco, Adamov, Beckett, of course,
and maybe it´s
difficult to compare these people with Jarry because of
the language, but
nevertheless, the way he deals with reality, how he goes
at it, for us at
that time was something which we didn¹t learn in school,
or anywhere else,
but we read it, we tried to act it ourselves and that was
"By my green candle, shittr, I think I finished him
off, by my green candle
The piece had various names, amongst others Les Polonais,
although I haven¹t
had the chance to find out why. It surprised me. But it
could have been
any of them. He writes ´Cook 150 oxen and sheep´.
I¹m very curious how it
can be translated into music. After all the things I¹ve
heard at this
Total Music Meeting I think it will turn out great. Philippe
Soupault, one of the
important French Surrealists, said: "Jarry did what
we all would like to do:
set things straight." And he wrote that 40 years later,
when we could see
how provocative Jarry had been in trying to set things straight,
wanting to cook
150 oxen and sheep. He wanted to set things straight with
the powers that be
and he did it. "So, Gentlemen, now we want to try the
And, before the musicians come and play, Jarry about Jarry:
"He is neither
Monsieur Tiers nor bourgeois nor uncouth brat, rather the
but with that something which prevents us from becoming
He is human, therefore cowardice, filth, hatefulness, etc."
Of the three souls which Plato differentiates: head, heart
and belly, the
last is in his case not embryonic. And finally, I don¹t
know what the name
Ubu means: perhaps an abstraction from some prototype which
turned up by
chance but never got mentioned.
Expect, maybe a vulture, but that´s only one side
of his role. If he has
animal features, first of all he has a pig´s face,
a nose like a crocodile´s
upper jaw and his cardboard cloak turns him into a brother
aesthetically most disgusting sea creature, the limulus
Yes, we can´t wait to hear what the musicians will
make of it.
Urs Jaeggi, September 8, 2003
English version: Melvyn Poore
Poem for King Übu Örchestrü
wisteria fronds of
the sonic maze
a delicate glass sphere...
Who would pierce
the swollen membrane?
Anne LeBaron, May 26, 2004
It has always been in my dreams that Ubu on many levels
is within the King Übü Örchestrü, the
magical play of simultaneous levels of communication that
allows such a sizeable group to work and integrate so well
.... with unbelievable intensity married to humour and profound
worldly issues and commitment ..... here it comes to bloom
with the original source.
I remember the concert as one of the most concentrated I´ve
ever known, considering the number of musicians involved.
The performance was magical. Wolfgang Fuchs was a brilliant
casting director (what a great Ensemble!) and a remarkable
music director who got everyone on the same page with a
rare minimum of talk. This virtuoso group were also virtuoso
listeners and that´s clearly the secret! It was an
unforgettable night pure & simple.
In my teens I read a lot of literature, including Ubu Roi.
I thought it was stupid. Then I started to notice what real
politicians were doing in the real world around me. I thought
they were stupid too. And very dangerous for us all. More
than three decades later, things haven't changed much, except
that I no longer think Jarry's play is stupid.
Open letter to Helma Schleif
I´m very happy and even proud to be one of the co-producers
of the fourth release of the King Übü Örchestrü,
and to have been invited by you to add a few bars to this
beautiful and very interesting booklet.
I´m also a little bit dissatisfied because so many
industrial musical monsters made a lot of CD´s which
sold by the dozen while the King Übü Örchestrü,
one of the most creative units of this time, has only recorded
four times in twenty years, which is one of the reasons
why this wonderful pick-up group is only known to the happy
Most so-called music lovers only love background music and
hate in a certain way real music. I´ve been a serious
music lover for more than fifty years but it wasn´t
always easy to travel from King Cole to King Oliver´s
Creole Jazz Band and from King Oliver´s Jazz Band
to the King Übü Örchestrü.
King Cole, who in the beginning was a very promising tickler
of the ivories, but who faded away from Jazz and became
one of the most popular crooners in history, was once one
of my idols, while King Oliver´s Creole Jazz Band
and the King Übü Örchestrü are both
statements, each one in their own way.
Before I´d ever heard the name of the King Übü
Örchestrü, my close friend Fred Van Hove sent
me a copy of ´Berliner Begegnung´ (SAJ LP 47)
with Wolfgang Fuchs on sopranino sax, clarinet and bass-clarinet,
Peter Hollinger on drums and percussion, and Fred Van Hove,
of course, on piano.
Fred Van Hove´s new baby was a bit of a disappointment
for me, especially for the presence of Wolfgang Fuchs, and
I didn´t get any kick from his work on clarinet and
bass-clarinet and found his sound on sopranino sax just
When I told Fred Van Hove about my problems with the new
release, he didn´t get angry, but started to smile
and replied: "I really understand you, you have expected
more familiar material, but we try out some new things.
Just stay on it and one day you´ll discover a new
I followed Fred Van Hove´s advice, and his ugly baby
became, step by step, a beautiful prince, and a little bit
later I asked FMP in Berlin to send me every available Wolfgang
Fuchs record including the first and only LP the King Übü
Örchestrü ever recorded, the Uhlklang release
´Music is music is´ (uk 6).
Through the years I became more and more interested in the
Art of Improvised Music but without losing any affection
for the heritage of more conventional jazz artists like
Billie Holiday and Lester Young who were great storytellers
and mostly told stories about the facts of life, whereas
Wolfgang Fuchs never picks up his horns to praise the Lord
or to tell some kind of story, but his pure Free Improvisations
are what I call Adventures in Sound.
It´s easier to play changes than to improvise freely
anyway, yet free improvisation with a large group without
any arrangements, as practised by the King Übü
Örchestrü, is almost a mission impossible. It
was Wolfgang Fuchs with the help of some friends who made
this mission possible way back in 1983, and the first and
only LP by the King Übü Örchestrü that
I mentioned above is without any doubt a collector´s
item of great historical value.
The present CD, recorded during the 2003 Total Music Meeting
on the occasion of the KÜÖ´s 20th anniversary,
doesn´t offer a simple reunion of the King Übü
Örchestrü along the lines of reunions of conventional
jazz groups such as the Benny Goodman Combo´s and
the Modern Jazz Quartet. Instead, this ensemble provides
ample space for the human voice. The King Übü
Örchestrü has opened yet another door for further
I don´t think there´s any need to tell the story
of each member of the KÜÖ. Some are new faces
while others are set to become living legends, and I think
you know their stories better than I do, but please do tell
all these wonderful improvisers that in my opinion this
CD is the cream of the crop.
John Rottiers, presenter of Radio Centraal, Antwerp, July
The Magic of the Moment - The Magic of Silence
On the Music of the King Übü Örchestrü
at the Total Music Meeting 2003
Free improvisation always implies that you should be open
and willing to let yourself in for adventure and risk -
this goes for the musicians and the audience. The performance
of a soloist is already fraught with risk and can be compared
to a tightrope act which, even for a master musician, may
end in a painful fall. Yet it is one intellect only that
is responsible for what is being created. Consider then
the complexity of two, three, four or even five musicians
facing the risk of creating a web of freely improvised music
by interacting without previous premeditation, musicians
daring enough to devise, compose and to create music in
and out of the moment! There is no place to hide for anyone,
each individual is responsible both for his personal contribution
and for the common good. Sounds like a high-falutin democratic
utopia? Well, not if you are familiar with this kind of
music, not if you have witnessed what an invigorating and
deeply satisfying experience it is when great musicians
miraculously succeed again and again in making said utopia
The King Übü Örchestrü, in previous
line-ups comprising nine or ten musicians, was initiated
by Wolfgang Fuchs in 1983. For economic reasons, gigs have
been few and far between over more than 20 years, and before
the edition on hand there have been a mere three KÜÖ
recordings available (the 1985 music is music is
uk 6/Vinyl, the 1992 Binaurality on FMP CD 49, and Trigger
Zone of 1998 on FMP CD 117).
Hence, for various reasons, expectations were high on the
evening of November 8, 2003. For one, each and every one
of the rare performances by the KÜÖ is as precious
as a diamond; in addition, the performance was set to be
the final concert of the superb Total Music Meeting 2003
- superb despite its shameful financial negligence on the
part of the Berlin cultural authorities - and it was to
celebrate the 20th anniversary of the orchestra. Moreover,
on this occasion a new, challenging element had been added
to the instrumental ensemble in the form of three voices
- voices that could hardly be more disparate: the classically
trained soprano of Irena Bart-Greiner; the truly unique
British improvising voice and sound virtuoso, Phil Minton;
and, last but not least, the young actor Boris Aljinovic,
remarkably and quite obviously open for this complex music.
All three would present, in their own special ways, passages
and fragments from Jarry´s black, caustic and disturbingly
contemporary comedy. What a challenge for both musicians
and audience! We were ready to embark on the trip
Following Urs Jaeggi´s introduction (just as freely
improvised as the music - he had only learnt a few hours
earlier that he was supposed to stand in for Alban Nikolai
Herbst, who was unable to attend), the musicians take their
places on the stage of Berlin´s ´Podewil´
- with nary a music stand in sight. In the absence of sheet
music, there is no use for any. Nor is there a ´conductor´
to guide the orchestra, to shape the improvisation by means
of elaborate gestures, hand signs and eye contact, along
the lines of Butch Morris´ well-known ´conductions´.
No, throughout this particular adventure, everyone would
be their own master, would have to rely on their very own
mettle, intuition and reactivity.
Out of the softest vocal and instrumental fragments, an
arch of breathtaking tension develops. The tiniest sound,
articulated on the lowest dynamic level and ´judiciously´
placed by one, takes on the significance of a major inspiration
for the others. The few dynamic intensifications and peaks
are all the more powerful, earth-shaking and shattering
for their turn-on-a-dime surge and retreat. One is inevitably
reminded of a term originating in the visual arts and applied
by the ground-breaking British improviser John Stevens with
regard to the music of his Spontaneous Music Ensemble: that
of peripheral vision, in which the tiniest and seemingly
unimportant details all of a sudden, out of action and split-second
reaction, take on a disproportionate and unforeseen significance.
And so, in the course of the evening, 45 minutes of literally
unheard-of music unfold, contemporary music which gives
back its original meaning to a hackneyed term, music in
the course of which, after 32 minutes, something truly unbelievable
occurs, something which I count among the great and unforgettable
moments of my life: After Boris Aljinovic has literally
and vocally ´dropped anchor´, there is silence.
Knowing what it is like to experience a few seconds of silence
in the midst of a large crowd of people, you will understand
how utterly stunning one hundred and twenty seconds of silence
can be, of breathless silence in a full concert hall, silence
that constitutes an integral part of this particular improvisation.
One may deplore the fact that after those two minutes of
tension-filled silence there is applause - tentative at
first, then bursting out with enthusiasm. However, an audience
prepared to brave the enormously satisfying but wild rapids
and demanding challenges of improvised music does not merely
rest in passive consumption, it interacts with the musicians
in manifold and even mysterious ways. Here, for a few seconds
only, the enormous tension accrued simply needed an outlet.
The magic spell was never broken - on the contrary. This
was an opportunity, perhaps unconsciously sought, for mustering
up new strength for the brilliant continuation and completion
of this amazing improvisation. I assume that one must personally
experience such astounding moments, with all their imponderabilia,
in order to be able to believe and to imagine that something
like this can truly happen.
Despite the never-ending argument whether it makes sense
or not to record and thus preserve improvised music, this
new CD of the King Übü Örchestrü is
cause for celebration. Naturally, the recording cannot completely
reproduce the unique intensity of the actual experience.
The visual element is lacking, and the magic of the moment,
the magic of silence can neither be captured nor conveyed
in full, not even by the most sophisticated technology.
Yet the present edition is simply and most definitely a
remarkable musical triumph, an artistic revelation that
has the power to give one´s life a positive turn.
Werner Merz (English version by the author)