CHAT WITH WOLFGANG FUCHS
As the leader of the King Übü Örchestrü, Wolfgang
Fuchs' place in the European improvisation lineage is safe. Moreover,
Fuchs' '89 recordings of various duets with Evan Parker, Louis Sclavis,
and Hans Koch on the FMP label (Duets, Dithyrambisch) is a case study
in duel improvisation. In particular, Fuchs and Parker are monsters. Fuchs
sat down with the Roadshow on a recent trip to Los Angeles, where he played
the line space line Festival. I am honored to have Wolfgang Fuchs as a
guest, unedited and in his own words.
FRED JUNG: Lets start from the beginning.
WOLFGANG FUCHS: When I was younger, I played in a mandolin orchestra.
I was a boy of twelve or thirteen years. We played in different places
and I realized that people like music. This is very simple. So I thought
this must be something and it must be important to do this. I think it
was a kind of social aspect for me. Later, when I started with this improvised
stuff, it was also again, this kind of social aspect because I think in
improvised music, it is the most direct way to communicate between people
because there is nothing in between. There is no score, no composition,
no conductor. It has to do with one person on a very direct way to the
other person or persons.
FJ: The capacity to communicate defines the effectiveness of the music.
WOLFGANG FUCHS: It is the basic thing of every music style, to play together,
to work together. Without this, nothing would happen because you cannot
play music together or in your mind and in your thinking, you are at another
place with other persons. Yeah, it is the basic thing of all music.
FJ: Classical trained, did you find a need to break away from convention?
WOLFGANG FUCHS: Yeah, the thing is, I went to this music academy in Karlsruhe
to study first saxophone and then clarinet. I wanted to do a lot of things,
but then I realized what they were teaching and their thinking
about music, I would not like to do it, so I stayed there for a while,
but I didnt study. What I build up for my own as the idea of playing
together with musicians and therefore, I had to find my own way to work.
I was there, but in reality I was kind of an odd duck.
FJ: Lets touch on your collaborations with Alex von Schlippenbach.
WOLFGANG FUCHS: I met Alex when I went to Berlin. This was in 1974 because
I knew he lived there as well as Sven-Åke Johansson. One day I met
him through Sven-Åke because he was building up a group with Berlin
musicians and so I met him and so our working together through the years
started not in very special groups, but always in add hock formations,
also duets and we did film and improvised music stuff together and other
bigger combinations together with Sven-Åke.
FJ: Improvising to film poses the challenge of taking an audible medium
to coincide with a visual medium.
WOLFGANG FUCHS: Yeah, a good question. I think it is different, but I
cant tell you why at the moment because when you look at films,
it goes through the eyes in your head and something happens. I dont
know exactly what happens. We did it because of this ir I did it because
of this, what happens with my own music when I am confronted to look at
the film at the same time. For me, I did it also with dances and I did
it also with poetry, as well as playing solo. I always have to think about
in a new way how I work with my material.
FJ: Who is King Übü?
WOLFGANG FUCHS: King Übü is the main figure of a theater play
written by Alfred Jarry, the French surrealistic writer, ending of the
18th century. It is Übü roi, King Übü, a figure of
this theater play.
FJ: Why did you form the King Übü Örchestrü?
WOLFGANG FUCHS: This started in 1982, 83. It came out of a combination
which was called Xpact, this quartet together with Paul Lytton, Hans Schneider
on bass, and Erhard Hirt. We always wanted to build up a big
group, a big improvising group or an orchestra because we all had heard
the great music of Globe Unity and also London Jazz Composers Orchestra.
We knew we had to try this and this came out of this and this was the
FJ: Various members of King Übü are becoming recognized stateside.
WOLFGANG FUCHS: As you mentioned, Paul Lytton is quite well known on the
scene and in America as well as Phil Wachsmann, Radu Malfatti. Maybe only
some people know our new member Fernando Grillo, the double bass player
out of Italy. I think a lot of people know Melvyn Poore, Peter van Bergen,
Axel Dörner as a kind of newcomer I suppose.
FJ: A tentet presents challenges that go far beyond music.
WOLFGANG FUCHS: Yeah, it is a European band, but it was not planned like
this because to bring ten players together out of different countries
is a question of money and you have to find an organizer or festival who
will pay for it. It wasnt possible over the years to invite players
out of the USA unless they were around in Europe for a longer time. It
is very, very difficult. A lot of organizers, when they think about Übü,
they would like to do it. They also have to think about how much money
it is and of course, to bring eight to ten people together out of these
different countries in Europe, its an expensive group and I am not
talking about very high fees.
It is expensive, traveling expenses, hotel, and then comes the fee. They
say that for this money they can do two or three other groups. So it is
very difficult, but some organizers like it and they do it. We try to
also to this years Total Music Meeting, but it depends whether we
get extra money from the Berlin government for this years very special
Übü project to work with the text of the theater play.
FJ: Is the well starting to run dry on the European government subsidies?
WOLFGANG FUCHS: Yeah, in all European countries, in the rich, West European
countries, the funding goes down and down and down and it will be less
and less and less. The European musicians maybe didnt learn to work
without this, to get funding from other places or private persons or to
go to sponsors. They have to learn it and so I think in USA, they learn
it from beginning on because they have to learn it or it is like in Italy
and in Spain, they have to learn it very early to find money from other
places and institutes. It makes it easier for the moment, but not for
the future. Then it is more difficult because there must be another thinking
that you have when you dont have this money. You expect it because
they give much money for cultural activities, but when they dont
do it for the next years, then we have to learn how can we do a festival
now or how can I can bring Übü or small groups to other countries.
It is difficult. First, it was easy, but it is also difficult.
FJ: In country and abroad, you present numerous workshops.
WOLFGANG FUCHS: Yes, I am doing it. There are two things. First, it has
to do with the money, of course, because as you know, the organizers here
cant pay very well and often, its just door money you will
get, but you have to pay for your flight to come from Europe to USA and
back and so it helps with the workshops because people pay directly to
me, the participants pay directly to me, so it helps to pay for my basic
traveling expenses. The other thing of course is I am always interested
in meeting new and of course, younger players and to work with them. I
do not really feel like a teacher. I teach through the years, clarinet
and saxophone, but it is not really that I feel like a teacher. It is
the confrontation with new people for me that I didnt meet before
and their thinking and their way to deal with musical problems. I have
meet in two or three years a lot of younger players, younger than me at
the Bay Area and now also in LA and they are very interested and they
know nearly all the stuff which happens in Europe, all the players, nearly
everything. They are very interestedin doing this European kind of improvised
music and they also have to do with the traditional jazz players, Duke
Ellington, Thelonious Monk.
FJ: What initiated the Total Music Meeting?
WOLFGANG FUCHS: As far as I know, it started end of Sixties, done by a
kind of collective with Jost Gebers, Peter Brötzmann, Alex Schlippenbach,
Peter Kowald, and they started it in Berlin and they asked for money and
they got it and also the label FMP. The situation two years ago was that
we had to realize that Jost Gebers stopped the festival. He went to the
government and said that he stopped the festival and he did not need money
anymore for this. When we heard this, it was unbelievable because he cannot
stop a festival and we cannot do it as a private party because for the
last ten, twenty years, he did it with money of the government, so it
was a public thing. I talked to Helma and some other musicians and said
that we have to continue it and this is what we do since and we are fighting
very hard for money every year and I think it works quite well. We try
to bring some new ideas in it for the festival and it works as you can
see from the program from last year. I brought also my new trio with Damon
Smith and Jerome Bryerton (Three October Meetings) from the Bay Area.
FJ: So is the Total Music Meeting without government sponsorship?
WOLFGANG FUCHS: We still have some because Helma wrote a lot of letters
and she went to the government and said that this must be continued. It
is not a good idea to stop it and so we still get a little, but Helma
also pays a lot of her own money from her own factory to do it and now
we are looking for other possibilities to continue it and work together
with other people, who are interested in continuing the Total Music Meeting.
It works in this way and all the musicians we invite know about the situation
and they are coming so that the festival can be continued and they really
play for low fees. This is the only way we can do it and we did it.
FJ: You play numerous reed instruments, akin stateside to Vinny Golia.
FUCHS: Yeah, I know him. I like three, the contrabass clarinet, bass clarinet,
and sopranino saxophone. The thing is, I started with tenor saxophone,
which was my first reed instrument and also as I mentioned before with
the B flat clarinet and then I found sopranino and I was very interested.
Then I came to the bass clarinet and this means that I had to leave the
tenor saxophone and of course, from the bass clarinet to the contrabass
clarinet, it is easy to go. So in the meantime, I worked very hard on
it over the years. For me, these three instruments are one. Of course,
I have to change and interrupt my playing when I go to the next instrument,
but for me, it is really like one because I have to whole range from very
deep tones to very high tones and incredible possibilities with all the
sounds. I cannot say I like this or this. I was also thinking about putting
one or two away because it is easy to travel and to carry the sopranino
and not the big cases of bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet, but I
cannot do it. It turned out that its one, one in three cases.
FJ: Having frequently played solo performances, apart from the obvious,
what are the challenges of playing without the luxury of other musicians?
FUCHS: That is a good question. To play solo, it also has to do with communication.
You can do it in a very direct way to the audience. The thing is to find
a way to play solo, that you are not only playing solo because you cannot
do like you are playing in trio and do the same stuff that you do for
all of the years. It is again, for me, a question of the material that
I have to work with to find out what is necessary to do and what has to
be done. This, I think, when you are alone on stage playing solo, is the
best way to do it to find out because you have nobody else. The members
of the group are not there. Youre mother is not there (laughing).
You are alone, so you have to do something that is necessary of this moment.
FJ: Utilizing electronics is cache of late, but that was not the case
when you and a very select few like Paul Lytton were doing it decades
FUCHS: I started in the beginning of the Eighties together with Georg
Katzer, the East German composer and also live electronic player. For
me, it was very interesting in the sounds and this incredible sounds that
they could produce. We played and we played a lot together. People liked
it. Of course, I have always met people who say that they like the pure
sound of the instrument. Me too, but people like it. In Europe, especially
in Germany and Berlin, in certain clubs, you only can play when you work
with electronics. This is, I think, a stupid thing because it is easy
to go into a shop and buy some stuff and do electronic things. People
like it and think it is new, but it is not new, but they dont know
the works of other players. In the beginning of the Eighties, the only
electronics thing I knew was the great Anthony Braxton together with Richard
Teitelbaum. This was the only thing I had heard until then.
FJ: And the future?
FUCHS: I plan the next solo CD. Yesterday, we recorded at the Capitol
Studios, which was a nice experience together in trio with Stephen Flinn
and Jeremy Drake. I played on the festival with this trio and
yesterday, we recorded here and maybe they will bring it out. I dont
know. My other planning is my next solo CD and hopefully, this project
of the King Übü at the Meeting in November.
Fred Jung is the Editor-In-Chief and just signed a 90 million dollar contract
with Nike not having played a single NBA game. Comments? Email