le 28 septembre 2013
The first thing we have to say about the catalogue is to enthusiastically mention the extremely rich iconography. Hundreds of pictures from the time of birth of the company to today. This gives a visual dimension to the catalogue of an exhibition about a music firm, hence an auditory firm that could have at best produced audio-visual products. Their business was recording musicians and music. That rich inside iconography is a great idea.
The second thing is that this catalogue is a luxury product (though easily accessible on Amazon and other virtual vendors) that can be an enhancement for a personal library but also a coffee table book for businesses dealing with music and of course a reference book in any musical library, or the department dedicated to music in any library. Yet there might be a problem here because of the digitalization of libraries in the world. I am not sure this catalogue, if digitalized, would be easy to use and pleasant to read on a computer screen because of the size of it which is in no way adapted to a computer screen. Some might say a book is still an object and its virtualization by digitalizing it is not to be considered as a priority. I am afraid digitalizing books has to be taken into account today, and what’s more portable tablets or smart phones are becoming the rule and the book has to be in the size of the screen, one way or the other, vertically or horizontally.
This point is not targeting this particular catalogue, but the fact that in many museums and exhibitions it has not yet been taken into account that communication is no longer what it used to be. The audio guide in a museum that is giving explanation as you go is good but expensive when a simple smart phone could get the same program, with images and hence visual orientation, and yet contained within the limits of the museum by some kind of protection. It would be really better to invest on 3D virtual visits for people who cannot come, or for people who want to have an idea about what they may encounter in this or that museum than on artifacts like printed catalogues that cannot reach the wide public of the world. The world is changing and any cultural product, artifact, heritage or creative work has to be available to the whole public in the world, which does not mean for no cost, but freely accessible within clear protection of the intellectual property concerned.
Note the site of the Haus der Kunst has a slide show about the exhibition. That’s a good beginning. Then move towards a 3D video rendition of one or two rooms, if not all, of the exhibition. That would be creative.
We are far from that still.
Now what about this exhibition and the catalogue?
This catalogue tries to explore the “important legacy of the twentieth-century cultural accomplishment” (page 50) that ECM may represent. It was founded in 1969 and it is very precisely situated in the vast movement of the 1960s with here and there, but not systematically, a widening of this period to what preceded, in fact the period from 1945 onwards. Then this project contained in ECM and coming from its founder Manfred Eicher is considered as a turning point in jazz music for various reasons we are going to consider here. Three are given as the three interpretation of the title of Waldron’s 1969 album “Free at Last.”
First the rejection of consumer’s society in which the jazz musician is antagonistic to the commodity form that has brought jazz to its own death by succumbing to commercialization. It considers then Jazz has been frozen into a commercial mould, meaning a form that enables the music to sell in the public, to make a profit. This is implied to be the only interest of the people who possess the means of production of this music on sellable media and this is antagonistic to the people who possess the product itself, the music then. Eicher proposes then “the credo of the relationship between producer and musician” that has to be “cemented” by working with a producer who believes in this freedom from commodified forms.
The second meaning is the fact that this new practice of jazz is based on the radical form of improvisation, “improvisation and group dynamics” being the two sides of this new approach though it is important to keep in mind that “free jazz does not mean complete anarchy or disorganized sound. In my vocabulary disorganized sound still means noise. And don’t forget that the definition of music is organized sound” in Waldron’s own words. But his formulation is clear: it means anarchy, even if not complete anarchy. Then it means some disorganization even if not complete disorganization.
The third meaning is the reference to the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King and the 1963 demonstration in Washington DC and the speech “I have a dream” that ends with the sentence:
“Free at last! Free at Last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
It is surprising to see that reference in third position. I cannot see how Black musicians could not be fully part of this struggle for civil rights and how this objective could NOT be the first and upmost perspective in their life and creative work. This is slightly distorted from this period. Jazz was originally Black. It became commodified when it stopped being only performed for a poor, segregated Black audience and when it became a music that was reaching out for the whites thanks to the radio and the presence of jazz on this medium. Jazz became what it is today, what it was in the 60s thanks to the emergence of the radio in the 1920s, after the First World War. But we come here to another point I will develop later.
What is happening after 1945 is not entirely identified when it is reduced to an epistemological change or transformation. In the 1960s “political, cultural, artistic and intellectual changes” are taking place, but that is not enough. It reduces the transformation of this period to altogether only mental, abstract, non material and even ideological elements. In the same way it is not enough to speak of the revolutions in the third world, the fall of colonial empires and decolonization to characterize the post WWII period. We miss something if we do not speak of the Chinese Revolution in 1949 that sent a wave of panic in the USA, the Korean war and the Indochina war, the nationalization of the Suez Canal, the Algerian war that will produce doubt and even fear in France, and the emergence of the important nouvelle vague that is nothing but the result of the failure of modern culture to prevent all the catastrophes starting in 1914. One word has to be brought up here: we have entered a “post-modern” period, a word I have not seen exploited in this catalogue. In fact we entered it just some time before WWII when the socialists in France let the Spanish Republic die in 1938, and when Stalin started in 1936 having thousands of people expurgated just the same way Hitler had similar numbers deported and executed.
This is reflected in Martin Luther King’s 1963 speech when he speaks of “God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics” and does not mention the Buddhists (including the Chinese), the Hindus (including the Indians) and the Muslims (including the Arabs, the Indonesians, the Iranians, the Pakistanis, etc). Why wasn’t King more inclusive though a certain Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam or Black Muslims already existed? And I will not mention the absence of the communists, the socialists and the capitalists? These absences are significant and meaningful. And that is the melting pot that produced the 1968 mental and material revolution as well as the tremendous cultural upheaval and boiling over that started with the Hippies of Jesus Christ Superstar, Hair or Fritz the Cat, and was to develop for decades avec Woodstock and is still developing, though we have reached a new stage in this movement.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU