Barry Guy

Articles Barry Guy

Duncan Heining articles

Barry Guy: Ploughs into Swordshares (Part 1)
by Duncan Heining

Barry Guy: A Prophet is Not without Honour (Part 2)
by Duncan Heining

Barry Guy: Back to the Drawing-Board (Part 3)
by Duncan Heining

Music&Literature articles

An Interview with Declan O'Driscoll June 24, 2014 Music&Literature No 4

A Conversation with Ben Dwyer

The conversation between Ben and Barry published on the M&L website first, but is collected in :
'Different Voices: Irish Music and Music in Ireland'.


for soprano, improvising voice, bass baritone and string orchestra by Barry Guy.
Please use the following link to read the excellently written review by the Irish composer and guitarist Ben Dwyer:

This CD is available for mailorder and also on our band camp site

Graphic Scores by Barry Guy

This essay appeared in Point of Departure an online musical journal published by Bill Shoemaker

A French translation was originally published in l’art du jazz (2011; Éditions du Félin)

The Perfect Match

Jane Dorner
In March, bassist-composer Barry Guy's new five-stringed bass made its concert debut at St. Paul's Cathedral, London, in the world premiere of John Tavener's The Last Discourse. Though wired with a Schertler pickup in case of need, in the event the instrument proved to have such ample acoustic resonance and to so naturally demonstrate its soloistic qualities that Tavener decided against electronic amplification.

For UK luthier Roger Dawson, the premiere was a public baptism for an instrument that was three years in progress, the result of a tailor-made commission for Guy. Dawson – who works out of an atelier in Greenwich, a leafy south London suburb – viewed it as an ideal commission since his client had very clear ideas concerning the sonorities he wanted to achieve. Guy knew – almost to within millimetres and grammes – the size, weight and feel with which he would be happy. He wanted an 'athletic' instrument, a marathon runner of a bass. Its prime requirements were endurance combined with a physical immediacy and responsiveness to the sort of pyrotechnical playing a jazz musician and improviser of Guy's pedigree requires. Lightness – in terms both of weight and touch – were born in mind at every stage of the making.

Throughout history, instruments have required adjusting to cope with advancing musical technique and innovation. When Boccherini in the 18th century wrote virtuoso passages in thumb position, something had to be done about the 30–31cm string length cellos of his day which were simply too big for the player to comfortably cope with flights in the higher registers.

Musically speaking, the stimulus for virtuoso double bass playing has been slower to develop than for the violin or cello. But with innovative demands from original players, all that is changing. The result of player-maker collaborations can be a creation that combines art with functionality, beauty with resonance and craftsmanship with playability. And the Guy-Dawson partnership has produced an instrument that may well take its history forward into new dimensions. The fifth string on the new instrument is a high C rather than the more usual bottom C or B (the latter common in the Berlin Philharmonic bass section). To match Guy's specifications of weight and feel, the scroll area was kept as light as possible with separate machine heads to keep the weight down. The plates are shaved to within the maximum safe thinness – around 9mm in the middle and as thin as 4mm round the edges.

Dawson, however, warns that a maker must never sacrifice structural strength to immediate big sound: 'If you try to produce an instant-sounding bass by making the plates too thin, then there is a danger that in five or ten years time it will dry out and stop functioning well,' he explains. 'So I always work within the norm. The way I learned was to get within the textbook correct measurements and then proceed by feel. Your eye and hand are the best judges of sound, and the tap tones on the front are more instinctive than a measurement gauge,' he insists.

Dawson is one of a growing band of dedicated double bass makers and repairers. He started in the trade at the age of 15 when he joined the well-known firm of Withers in 1963 when the shop was under the proprietorship of Stanley Withers. Dawson – apprenticed under Mr. A. 'Jimmy' Jones who previously worked at Harts – was addressed as 'boy', the respectful level to which master craftsmen rose in those days. Dawson stayed until 1969 when he joined Guiviers. In 1977 he moved to Thwaites of Watford for two years, by which time he had decided to specialise in bass making a repairing. 'I felt an affinity with the larger instruments,' Dawson recalls, 'and the beauty of the double bass is that you never see two basses the same. They all have a highly individual character.'

In due course, Dawson set up his own workshop in the south London district of Rotherhithe before moving to nearby Greenwich. He's been there ever since. Many players only know his as a repairer, an aspect of his craft for which he is much in demand. 'It's very satisfying to make an instrument sound better,' he says. Nevertheless, through repairs and restoration occupy a large part of his time, the Guy-Dawson instrument is his twenty-second bass. Simple mathematics suggest that, with such an output, having this one bass on the go for three years doesn't make logical sense.

'Well, of course it didn't take three years to build, but there were various things that held it up – other repairs, some health problems and so on,' he elaborates. 'But the real delay was trying to get the right wood for it. I ordered the spruce for the top and maple for the back and sides from Bosnia and, political troubles aside, it is now very difficult to get a fine figured piece for the back. The major hold-up on this instrument was that I had to send back two pieces of maple before I could even start work. The first was so riddled with woodworm, I couldn't get it out of the workshop fast enough. The second had a windshake in it and was not suitable. And then I had to wait because the German buyers who get the wood from Bosnia tend to cut up big trees for fiddles as they can make more money that way. Nowadays you have to be willing to spend more than £2,000–£3,000 on wood for a bass.'

While the finished instrument – composite of swell back with the flat-back bend at the top – is inspired by Panormo, the detailing and outline are Dawson's own design. The centre bouts are slightly deeper than Panormo's and the top bouts are slightly narrowed with sloping shoulders for maximum comfort. The instrument has nice big cusps on the corners, which Dawson likes while recognising the need to draw a line between what looks elegant and what is practical to play.

Since Dawson has been looking after Guy's basses throughout the latter's playing career, the marriage of practicality and aesthetics presented no problems. The ancestry of the new instrument developed out of three others. Guy had a French bass (Gand, 1894) which had a resonance he wanted to replicate. Dawson made him a copy of a Gasparo de Salo violone, which provided a rich fund of bass information on which to draw. At the same time, Guy was using a chamber bass for baroque music and enjoying the tessitura capabilities it had.

'I think he was surprised that a modern instrument could sound so resonant,' comments Dawson, 'and it was out of that discovery that the five-stringed bass grew.'

'It just seemed to me that a modern instrument ought to be able to combine the best of those three instruments so that I would only need to carry one around with me,' Guy points out. 'By extending the range upwards, I thought I would be able to achieve the chamber qualities while replicating the resonance of the Gand. I wanted the same swell back and neck dimension that had the same look and feel.' The neck is thicker, inevitably, but is basically tailored to match so that the player can move seamlessly from one instrument to another.

As a jazz bassist [Double Bassist No.1, p.10], Guy had several requirements that were unique to a new type of playing he was inventing for himself and a new set of sounds that his own compositions and jazz improvisation made desirable.

The speed of reaction of notes is particularly important in improvisation,' Guy emphasises, 'where you are responding in microseconds to your partners and your anticipation skills need to be complemented by the flexibility of the instrument. I particularly wanted a long sustained pizzicato. The E-string resonates for a glorious 22 seconds – I've timed it.'

Another requirement was that the instrument should respond well to Guy's range of sound extensions – sticks, beaters and brushes threaded over and under the strings at various points along the fingerboard (rather like a guitar capo) which changes the relationship of the strings and gives a new and exciting range of sound possibilities. The fifth string acts as a 'spare' open string at the top or the bottom. The bridge (made by Dawson) has adjusters in the feet so Guy can vary the string height according to the humidity of a local climate. 'It is wonderfully responsive to all my needs,' says Guy, 'I love the sound it makes and I love the warm colour and glow of the varnish. And it's also wonderfully responsive with the bow, very even throughout.'

It's clear that the product of the marriage between player and maker is an outsized and well loved infant. Guy caresses and nurses the bass in his arms as he speaks, wanting it to grow up and bear the marks of life but at the same time being protective of the as yet unblemished dark varnish. Dawson is unfussed, though.

'People create a mystique about varnish,' he says. 'I found something years ago that works – a basic spirit varnish with a proprietory pigment of oak or light oak – and I just get on with it. Why experiment with oil varnishes that dry to slowly that workshop dust is bound to stick to it? The way I was taught to varnish was to get a brown-yellow ground on straight away. It's very exciting applying that first coat because at first it comes out all tiger-striped. But gradually it settles down and over about six coats, rubbed down between whiles, it acquires an attractive variegated texture. To be frank, varnish is there to protect the wood. I think natural wear and tear enhances the look of the varnish; there's no need to be precious about it.'

And Dawson's further ambitions? If he is so drawn to the large members of the violin family, does he want to make a giant octobass? 'I have thought of it, actually,' he confesses, 'but one has to be practical. Who would play it?' – confirming that player demand is what furthers the development of an instrument.

The Dawson five-stringed-bass
String length / 1055mm
Back length / 1130mm
Bouts (top) / 530mm
Bouts (bottom – at widest point) / 695mm
Neck length (from bottom of button to underside of nut) / 400mm
Head length (from underside of nut to top of scroll) / 300mm
Rib depth / 222mm
Sound holes (at nicks) / 22mm
Table length / 1095mm
Peg Box (maximum width at top nut) / 70mm
Inner peg box – maximum / 45mm
Inner peg box – minimum / 25mm

Double Bassist – No. 6 Summer 1998, reproduced with permission of Orpheus Publications Ltd.

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Free Agent

Nick Kimberley
How do you bridge the opposing worlds of free jazz and New Music? Ask bassist Barry Guy.

We have a musical culture capable of redeeming the irredeemable, yet as far as I know no one has ever managed to deify the English trad jazz bands of the 1950s and 60s. If nothing else, trad can be credited with fostering the talent of bassist Barry Guy, currently one of the most prodigious and mercurial figures in both the European Improv and New Music scenes. As Guy recalls: "At school we had a military band and there was also a trad band. I started on trumpet in the military band, slipped down to valve trombone. When I joined the trad band I moved from trombone to one-string bass, the tea-chest bass, which my colleagues thought a bit simplistic, so my parents bought me a four-string bass. The other people in the band told me what to play: 'Put this finger there, that finger there.' I had a piece of cardboard behind the strings to show me where all the notes were."

Great oaks from tiny acorns: in 1994 alone, Guy's output has been overwhelming, with the albums After the Rain, Portraits (recorded with the London Jazz Composers' Orchestra, which Guy founded in 1970), Imaginary Values, an improvising trio with Evan Parker and Paul Lytton, and Study/Witch Gong Game 11/10 by the NOW Orchestra containing some of the most compulsive music to be heard all year.

Guy's formidable skill no doubt owes a lot to having to make one string do all the work. This being the 60's – Guy was born in 1947 – there was interplay between different musical styles. Guy took formal music lessons at Goldsmiths College where, he recalls, "We had to write a composition at the end of each term. I wanted to write a cadenza for trombone and alto sax, so we brought in Trevor Watts and Paul Rutherford to play it. As a result I was invited to join The Spontaneous Music Ensemble. At that time, in the late 1960s, there was a strange night life going on between the Little Theatre Club and the Old Place: the foundations of the free music scene where being laid, important liaisons forged, positions formulated."

There is neat irony in the fact that composing brought Guy into contact with the free music scene. Positions may be less rigidly held than once they were, but for many on both sides of the divide the two procedures are incompatible. improvisors suggest that score-led performers have lost their musical imagination, interpretative musicians may echo Pierre Boulez: "Improvisation is a personal psychodrama." Barry Guy happily embraced both disciplines: "I didn't find any conflict between composition and improvisation. One is intense discipline at the table, one is intense discipline in the live situation."

Through the 70s and 80s, Guy continued to work as improvisor, interpretative musician and composer. Boulez himself conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra's 1974 premiere of Guy's D; later works have been played by Kronos, London Sinfonietta, City of London SInfonia, Gemini, and he has provided pieces for London Contemporary Dance Theatre.

When composing, Guy prefers to know who he's writing for: "Most of what I've written has been commissioned by players who want to enlarge the repertoire of their instrument. In 1984 I wrote Circular for the oboist Robin Cantor who wanted something different from the work of Heinz Holliger, with whom he'd studied. I went through Holliger's music, checking all the Holligerisms I shouldn't include, and wrote the piece from there. It was like making a suit: you make the piece around the personality."

Recently, Guy has composed pieces which provide notation as well as space for improvisation. The first of these was Bird Gong Game, written in 1992 for the painter Alan Davie, also a talented pianist. "Alan asked me for a piece: he didn't want to read any music, he wanted to improvise, yet he also wanted a straight ensemble. I thought, 'How do I write a piece where I have absolutely no idea what he's going to play, nor how long he might want to play, but still get an ensemble in there which is totally flexible?'"

Guy found a solution in Davie's painting, which provided a series of symbols suggestive of sounds or musical procedures. Guy incorporated these in the score, as well as transferring them to cards which the conductor – Guy himself – could hold up to the ensemble musicians, individually or together, indicating which section of the score they could go to, or instructing them to improvise with or against the soloist. He has adapted the technique to works for the NEW Orchestra and for the Rova Saxophone Quartet, producing not only striking music but also scores of great visual beauty.

Guy admits, "Generally I keep improvisation and composition separate but there are some classically trained players willing to enter into the spirit of the thing. Where it doesn't work is if you say, 'OK group, play free'. You have to create the space, provide suggestions as to how people move in that space. With the performances of Bird Gong Game with Gemini, I offered the option of going with or against the soloist. I've never found they go against – they leap on the soloist like a pack of dogs so that when, for example, Evan Parker sets up his circular breathing thing with some rapid soprano sax work, and the oboe, clarinet, flute emulate that, getting inside his sound, you get some lovely textures."

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Improvising the Score

Bill Shoemaker
(a version of this article appeared in Jazz Times April 2001)

Barry Guy and Maya Homburger have been moving bit by bit into their new home in County Kilkenny, Ireland, taking much longer than they ever expected. The process has been repeatedly delayed by their respective touring schedules. Guy is a bassist and composer whose credentials run the gamut from early music to improvised music; Homburger is a Baroque violin specialist who has branched out into what the British call contemporary music, and beyond. Luckily, their schedules have increasingly meshed since forming the duo featured on <> (ECM New Series), a luminous program of solo and duo readings of works by Guy and 17th Century composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber. Still, it was only during a recent lull before delving into a series of projects – concerts with conductor John Eliot Gardiner's Bach Pilgrimage and commissions for Nova Scotia's Upstream Ensemble and the Munich-based International Composers and Improvisers Forum – that Guy was finally able to retrieve some books from storage. Serendipitously, he came across Elias Canetti's <>; having formed the Barry Guy New Orchestra in 2000 after 28 years at the helm of the groundbreaking London Jazz Composers Orchestra, Canetti's treatise prompted Guy to reevaluate some of the fundamental premises of his work.

"It made me realize that I have a crowd of musicians to contend with," Guy said of the 10-piece BGNO, which includes such acclaimed improvisers as pianist Marilyn Crispell and saxophonists Evan Parker and Mats Gustafsson. For Guy, rereading Canetti "also brought back the old specter of command and implementation, and fascism and freedom, as it relates to composers and improvisers." Such issues were front and center in the polemical English improvised music scene of the '60s and '70s, when Guy worked with Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Iskra 1903, and pianist Howard Riley's trio (all of which are represented by Emanem CDs). In a way, Guy's LJCO Intakt recordings comprise a teflon-like argument for the legitimacy of the composer in improvised music, as his works are casebook studies in the integration of improvisation and predetermined materials, and the empowerment of improvisers to substantively shape the work.

Since "it could be said that I am exercising some kind of politically incorrect power over them by writing a score, however loose," Guy tested the relative freedoms of his scores against the minimally scripted performances of Parker's Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, of which Guy is a charter member. "Prior to a performance, Evan hands us what I would call a mini-score, which is not much more than a list of events, so we have a clear idea of who comes in where, who goes out where, and where there are crescendos and overlaps," Guy explained, detailing his longtime colleague's methods (Guy first played with Parker in a '67 edition of SME; but, it is through their ongoing trio with percussionist Paul Lytton that the two are most commonly associated). "While the implementation of his score is much less specified, the basic tenet of Evan's scores and mine are the same: these are the structures to be followed over the course of the performance," Guy concluded.

"Given that there's an element of command even in (Butch Morris') Conduction method of using gestures and body movements," surmised Guy, whose contemporary music compositions have been performed by the ECM-affiliated Hilliard Ensemble and the iconic conductor-composer Pierre Boulez, "I suppose that the most a composer can do is develop an organic process with an ensemble so that there is a seamlessness between materials the composer brings to the situation, and the language the composer and the ensemble articulates together through improvisation." That was Guy's agenda for debuting BGNO as part of the 2000 Mostly Modern series at The Bank of Ireland Arts Centre in Dublin. Over a four-day period, Guy programmed lunchtime and evening concerts featuring BGNO members in solo, duo, and trio settings, while holding open afternoon orchestra rehearsals. The culmination was the premiere of Guy's album-length composition, <> (the Intakt CD is from a subsequent studio recording).

"I didn't have to play in every concert, so I was able to listen to the various improvisation-based languages being used within the band, and use the process to build the piece from constituent parts," Guy related. "One of the impulses of putting together the band was to bring together acquaintances I've made in duo and trio situations – within the band, you have the Parker/Guy/Lytton trio, my trio with Mats Gustafsson and (drummer) Raymond Strid, and the trio with Marilyn Crispell and Lytton, which is intense and ongoing," he explained. "The process of having these concerts and rehearsals together in such a concentrated way caused these various languages we have articulated over the years to converge as we built the piece, which I thought was very apropos of the word 'Inscape', which means an unique inner quality or essence of an object shown in a work of art."

Almost immediately, Guy confronted the differences between LJCO and BGNO. "There were obvious trade offs," Guy explained. "With the LJCO , I had amazing sonorities available in terms of orchestration, and to go down to ten pieces has given me some headaches in some ways; but, in many respects, the music really takes off in ways and feeds upon its own energy with ten pieces." Yet, the biggest difference was Guy's ability to delegate conducting chores among members of BGNO. "Since I want to concentrate on playing the bass as much as possible, I set up strategies so that I don't end up flailing my arms about all the time," said Guy, who conducted all but the earliest LJCO recordings. "So, I'm passing some vital things over to the players. In the beginning of <>, the placement of the brass unisons is determined by the musicians. They get it together on their own. There is one section of the piece where the band is split down the middle – five and five – and Mats directs one half while I direct the other. That's something I couldn't have really done with the LJCO. Five and five are manageable numbers in a graphic area."

For Guy, graphic notation is an important tool for the composer walking the tightrope of empowering musicians while retaining some sort of personal imprint on the composition. Pulling out a book by Scottish painter, Alan Davies, whose work he refers to in his graphic pieces, Guy quoted, "'I work with the conviction that art is something basically natural, an activity motivated by a faith in the actuality of existence, which is outside and beyond knowing.'" "For me," Guy continued, "that sums up quite a lot of what I'm trying to get at. There's the conviction of actually doing it, that it is natural, and that it is out of my control beyond a certain point." Guy acknowledges that it is the composer's role to catalyze music into that otherness to which Davies refers, but only if there is "a real chemistry within an ensemble. I must say that chemistry is not just this magical spark; it is the ability to solve problems, because there are always a number of predictable and unpredictable problems that arise in creating a piece like <>. That's what I like about this band – they go beyond the score and make things happen. They take the parts I write to that otherness, that newness. That is how the power is shared more evenly, I think."

Usually, the phrase "collective statement" is applied to music which has no clear compositional guidelines. Yet <> is a thoroughly collective statement, despite being liberally peppered with the compositional signatures Guy has employed since LJCO's landmark 1972 recording, <> (Intakt) – intrusions of advanced jazz-informed, jabbing staccato figures, wisps of bluesiness, and glints of English pastoral lyricism. However, these materials do not function not as a static superstructure, but as flexible vertebrae, moving with the unfolding of improvisation-based events. Subsequently, each member of BGNO – including trumpeter Herb Robertson, trombonist Johannes Bauer, tuba player Per Ake Holmlander, and reed player Hans Koch – repeatedly shapes the piece.

Luckily, Guy's bass is heard to much better effect on <> than on LJCO's discs; not only did the dual chores of conducting and playing limit his options, but there was also one or two other bassists of the caliber of Dave Holland and Barre Phillips on the gig. Throughout the program, Guy's lightning runs, surreal bursts of textures (which are often achieved through means that have to be seen to be believed), and time-stopping glimpses of beauty, confirm his complete command of the instrument and his status as a starkly original artist. Still, the full range of Guy's bass playing cannot be comprehensively conveyed through a single recording, which makes the imminent release of <> (Intakt) with Crispell and Lytton all the more timely. Longtime listeners will savor their reworkings of such LJCO works as Harmos and Double Trouble II, as well as compare their reading of Guy's lovely ballad Odyssey, which is woven into <>.

'It's very intriguing, the way Marilyn, Paul, and I work as a trio, Guy reflected. 'There's something very special about the way Marilyn voices the piano. Marilyn likes to work harmonically and motivically, with a lot of long scale development. She builds lines that can really take your head off with their complexities, and then do something very delicate.' Guy also likes the interaction between Crispell and Lytton, a percussionist who 'can play tiny little sounds for seems to be ages and then suddenly roar. You can never be quite sure of what he's thinking. Both Marilyn and Paul have the capacity for creating these really dramatic contrasts, which is something I have been very involved with in both my writing for LJCO and BGNO.'

'For this album, I didn't want to do the obvious thing – have a head, do the improvisations, and go back to the head again,' Guy continued. 'On the piece I originally wrote for LJCO – Harmos – we began to improvise with the goal of reaching the tune, but not knowing exactly how we'd get there. I like the idea of reaching a moment where it seems to be the right decision to move into the tune.' For Guy, this method 'introduces a certain mystery, because nobody knows when exactly it will happen. It's a more organic process than everybody nodding their heads at the same time to go into the tune. It's feathered, which is a quality I tried to give the tunes themselves, to sound improvisational. Marilyn is wonderful at this, making it seamless from she goes from a song to an improvisation, or back again. I think the reason she can do this, and all of the other amazing things she does, is that whatever her soul is telling her, she lets it out.'

As for his own approach, Guy acknowledged that 'compared to the early days with Howard, there's a world of difference in what I'm doing with the instrument. Old age has given me some understanding. I'm more expressive, the chops are better, the fluency is better, and I've opened up the coloration.' Guy credited his new five-string bass, which 'has opened up a new dimension to my playing. It's so resonant that it invites you to play a hanging note, and it's good with the bow, as well. Having this new instrument is one of those moments in life where a door opens up and you go, "Wow!"'

Barry Guy's five-string bass was made in 1997 by London instrument maker Roger Dawson. It is equipped with Thomastick strings and a Schertler pickup. Guy owns two amplifiers: a custom-made Yseult and a Walter Woods.

Listening Pleasures:
Igor Strawinsky: Rite of Spring,
Ritual Dance: Pierre Boulez, Cleveland Orchestra (Deutsche Grammophon)
Charles Mingus: Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus (Impulse!)
Iannis Xenakis: Pithoprakta and Metastaseis: Maurice le Roux, Orchestre de l'O.R.T.F. (le chant du Monde)
Albert Ayler: Spiritual Unity (ESP Disk)
Claudio Monteverdi: Vespers of 1610: John Eliot Gardiner, English Baroque Soloists (Archiv)
J.S.Bach: Six sonatas for violin and harpsichord: Maya Homburger (violin) Malcolm Proud (harpsichord) (Maya Recordings)
John Coltrane: The Heavyweight Champion – The Complete Altantic Recordings (Rhino)
Anton Webern: Complete Works: Pierre Boulez et al (Deutsche Grammophon)
Bill Evans: The Complete Riverside Recordings (Riverside)
Eric Dolphy: Out to Lunch (Blue Note)

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A Guy Apart

Michael Dervan
Article appeared in Irish Times on Thursday, November 13, 1997

The double bass is most familiar in one of two guises, as either the solid, none-too-agile lowest member of the symphony orchestra's string family or through the freer, nimbler, plucked bass lines of jazz. The profile of Kilkenny-resident, British bassist and composer Barry Guy, 50 this year, is however, in other areas. On the orchestral scene he has worked in chamber orchestras and early music bands. He's also one of the finest interpreters of the most demanding solo pieces produced by contemporary composers. In jazz he's renowned for his work in free improvisation. And his compositional output ranges from works for conventional orchestras and ensembles (he received the Royal Philharmonic Society's Award for Chamber Music Composition for 1991-'92) to pieces for the London Jazz Composers Orchestra, of which he is founder and artistic director.

It all started, he says, with the descant recorder in primary school and in the school military band in secondary school. Here he tried everything from trumpet to tuba and beyond, settling on valve trombone. More interesting than the band itself, however, seems to have been the Dixieland band that was formed within it. " 'the naughty boys' band,' we used to call it. They wanted a little bit of bass line, not on the trombone but on something that thumped, so I took up the tea-chest bass, you know, one pole and a line, a reflection of the skiffle thing that was happening at the time."

The little group turned out to be quite successful, getting gigs in working men's clubs (Labour not Conservative) and this led to the purchase of a real double bass, with the luxury of four strings, and major problems of where to put the fingers (solved by marking cardboard and putting it under the strings!).

Later, as the Peter Robinson Hot Four, Guy and his friends used to go to jazz clubs and play the interval, sometimes heading off after the show for late-night jam sessions with well-known blues and jazz performers. It helped that the place they headed off to was an off-licence. In spite of all of this, Barry Guy's main interest was not music at all but 'drawing art' and when he left school he spent three years in an architect's office "working with three elderly gentlemen who taught me how to draw churches, do Georgian restoration and the like". At the same time, though, "there was a saxophone player in the band who knew a lot about the American avant-garde, John Cage, David Tudor, Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg. I don't know where he accumulated this knowledge. He persuaded me to go along to take composition classes he was taking at Goldsmith's College. It set in motion a quest for research, finding new things."
Eventually, he decided to study music on a full-time basis. He recalls his audition at the Guildhall. When asked to continue a given fragment in Mozartian style, he launched into "a screaming improvisation" which impressed one of the professors, Buxton Orr, enough to guarantee him a place. "Since I'd been working for three years, I felt it was a great privilege to be allowed to study music full-time. A lot of people came straight from school and I found them wasting their time more than anything, because it was an extension of school."

At college, "everyday was a great discovery". He was, he says, "almost like a vacuum cleaner" sucking in everything from Monteverdi to Stravinsky and Xenakis. And at the same time, he had moved out of swing into bebop and modern jazz and was involved in the early experimentalism of the Little Theatre Club in St. Martin's Lane, "the workshop for the new, free music".

The impetus here was to move away from Afro-American jazz, "to find some European way of playing improvised music. We had to discard some of the old models, to break down the old buildings, to build something fresh. It was like going into a dark tunnel with no real way out, necessarily. But we knew it had to be done in order to find a new type of discipline. Once you drop a lot of the conventional and routine things of the song form, like regular recurring harmonies, certain rhythmic aspects, the melodic aspect, we wanted to find new ways of defining how we play. It was exciting and scary at the same time. "In this scenario, the first sound would be the moments of creativity. Where that note or sound arrived or how it arrived in space, the qualities of that sound, the intentions of the player that made the first sound, all of these things were a type of evaluation that had to be dealt with at the time.

"It's incremental, the way that the whole language is built up. And for me that's why I'm so interested in this aspect. It's a form of communication which is pure between people. I always call it an intensely socialist type of music, because you're having to play this music without composition. What you're dealing with is human beings. You're actually getting right to the heart of how people communicate with each other. There's always the sense of finding something new about somebody."

He counters the let-it-all-hang-out, soul-baring view of the free improvisation with a caution that "there is an intellectual process". He quotes Cartier-Bresson to the effect that the thinking should be done before and after taking a photograph, not while taking the photograph. "A lot of the way we interact in this type of music has to be intuitive but, at the same time, it has to have a huge back-ground knowledge to make the thing work. If you go on stage and let it all hang out, that's sloppy discipline, like talking to your therapist or something.

"What is interesting for me in free improvised music is that you're creating a cogent argument, a music which makes sense to the intellect as well as the heart. It's this amazing fine balance of human endeavour. If you do it right and infuse it with energy and commitment, I think the music can come over as being as solid and as convincing as a piece of composition. But it's different, because you're not dealing with composition in the normal sense of the word. You're dealing with creation, creation at the moment. I don't see that as a lesser music than writing something down on paper. After all, I'm a composer as well as a performer. It just means that two musics happen in different spaces, in different time spans.

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Erkundungen im Grenzgebiet

Improvisator, Interpret und Komponist – die drei Leben des englischen Bassisten Barry Guy
von Christoph Wagner

Manchmal führen nur Umwege ans Ziel. Das gilt zumindest für den englischen Bassisten und Komponisten Barry Guy, dessen Karriere alles andere als geradlinig verlief. Guy gehört zur seltenen Spezie musikalischer Grenzgänger, die sich mit gleicher Sicherheit in verschiedenen musikalischen Gattungen bewegen. Der 1947 in London geborene Musiker hat sich zuerst als Freejazz-Improvisator einen Namen gemacht, bevor er sich als Interpret Alter Musik profilierte, um danach als Komponist zeitgenössischer Musik Anerkennung zu finden. In seinem neusten Projekt, einer Kooperation mit seiner Lebensgefährtin Maya Homburger, einer renommierten Violinistin der internationalen Early Music-Szene, wagt Guy erstmals den Brückenschlag zwischen Alter Musik und Neuer Musik, Komposition und Improvisation, Freejazzbaß und Barockvioline.

Daß Barry Guy überhaupt die Musikerlaufbahn einschlug, war eher Zufall. Ursprünglich hatte er anderes vor. Nach dem Schulabschluß beschäftigte er sich intensiv mit moderner Malerei und mittelalterlicher Architektur. Drei Jahre arbeitete er im Büro eines Restaurators gotischer Kathedralen und trug sich mit dem Gedanken, die Kunstakademie zu besuchen. Erst als diese Pläne scheiterten, rückte die Musik wieder ins Zentrum seines Lebens.

Schon im Blasorchester der Schule war er in den Bannkreis des Jazz geraten. Mit ein paar „bösen Buben“ formierte er eine Dixieband, mit der er in Skiffle-Manier mit Zuberbaß in Arbeiterclubs und Pubs auftrat. Das warf genug Geld ab, um sich einen richtigen Kontrabaß zu kaufen, mit dem sich Guy bald Richtung Bebop davonmachte.

Die rebellische Attitude des modernen Jazz paßte in die Zeit. An den Universitäten gärte es. Die Studenten probten den Aufstand. Es wurde gegen den Vietnamkrieg demonstriert. Hippies und Kommunarden schreckten ehrbare Bürger auf. Traditionelle Werte wurden verworfen. Durch die Gesellschaft wehte ein frischer Wind.

Die Künste blieben davon nicht unberührt. Im Little Theatre Club in der Londoner St. Martin´s Lane trafen sich die jungen Wilden der englischen Jazzszene, die einer gemeinsamen Vision folgten: Sie wollte über Hergebrachtes hinaus! „Die etablierte Jazzszene glaubte, wir seien verrückt, weil wir alle Schranken niederrißen,“ erinnert sich Guy. “Wir spielten nicht mehr die bekannten Jazzstandards, sondern verabschiedeten uns von Harmonie, Melodie und Ryhthmus. Man war allgemein der Meinung, daß wir den Jazz kaputt machen wollten.“ Im Little Theatre Club fanden regelmäßig Sessions statt, organisiert vom Schlagzeuger John Stevens, der Barry Guy einlud, im Spontaneous Music Ensemble mitzuwirken.

Inspirationen strömten damals von vielen Seiten ein. Barry Guy hatte sich am renommierten Guildhall College in London im den Fächern Komposition und Kontrabaß eingeschrieben und jeder Studientag wurde zu einer Entdeckungsreise. Guy verspürte Nachholbedarf und sog alles auf wie ein Schwamm - ob Monteverdi, Strawinsky oder Xenakis. „Ich schwamm plötzlich in einem endlosen Meer musikalischer Möglichkeiten“, beschreibt er die neue Situation rückblickend. „Es war wirklich spannend und euphorisierend.“

Rückwirkungen blieben nicht aus. Mehr und mehr versuchte man sich im Little Theatre Club von den amerikanischen Jazz-Vorbildern zu lösen. Ideen und Konzepte der Neue Musik kamen dabei sehr gelegen. Guy begann sich intensiv mit Zwölftonmusik und seriellen Kompositionstechniken zu beschäftigen. Zudem organisierte er Konzerte mit Neuer Musik und führte selbst Werke der Avantgarde auf.

Aus dem Kreis des Little Theatre Club schälten sich nach und nach verschiedene Ensembles heraus und meistens war Barry Guy als Hausbassist mit von der Partie. Er wurde Mitglied im Trio des Pianisten Howard Riley, spielte mit Trevor Watts´ Amalgam und in der „Open Music“-Formation von Bob Downes. Sein Radius begann sich mehr und mehr zu weiten. Er nahm an Bandprojekten des Schlagzeugers Tony Oxley teil, um selbst im Juni 1970 mit Paul Rutherford (Posaune) und Derek Bailey (Gitarre) das Trio Iskra 1903 aus der Taufe zu heben, benannt nach Lenins Exilzeitschrift „Iskra“ (=Funke), was sowohl politisch wie musikalisch als Programm zu verstehen war.

Zielstrebig erweiterte Barry Guy seine Ausdruckspalette. Er bearbeitete die Baßsaiten nicht nur mit unterschiedlichen Bögen, sondern schlug sie mit verschiedenen Stöcken und Stäben an, ließ sie knarren, quietschen, scheppern und gegen das Griffbrett knallen. Eine eigene musikalische Handschrift nahm langsam Gestalt an, die durch eine fiebrige Unruhe, dynamische Ausbrüche und kaskadenhafte Tongirlanden gekennzeichnet war.

Die Gründung des London Jazz Composers Orchestra 1972, die Barry Guy maßgeblich betrieben hatte, stimulierte die Phantasie. Experimentelle Kompositionsverfahren und freie Improvisation sollten in dieser Großformation, die aus der Creme der Londoner Jazzavantgarde bestand, unter einen Hut gebracht werden. „Energie ist eine der zentralen Kategorien der Free Music. Ich versuchte mit den Kompositionen, die Abläufe stärker zu kontrollieren, um die Energie, über die die Musiker verfügen, zu bündeln. Damit hoffte ich, die Free Music noch kräftiger zu machen,“ verdeutlicht Barry Guy seine Intentionen.

Das Gegenteil trat ein. Einige der Musiker fühlten sich als Pendler zwischen zwei Welten überfordert und ließen sich nicht ans Gängelband festgelegter Parts und ausnotierten Passagen legen, was als Affront gegen das Freejazz-Ethos der totalen Freiheit verstanden wurde. Nach vier Jahren wurde das Projekt zeitweise auf Eis gelegt, um erst 1980 mit verbessertem Konzept und teilweise anderer Besetzung wieder zu neuem Leben erweckt zu werden.

Barry Guy hatte allerdings die Auszeit genutzt und sich als Komponist zeitgenössischer Werke einen Namen gemacht. 1974 wurde seine Komposition „D“ von Pierre Boulez und dem BBC Symphony Orchestra uraufgeführt. Im gleichen Jahr entstand auch das Orchsterwerk „Flagwalk“ , danach „Eos“, das 1977 bei den Donaueschinger Musiktagen, gespielt vom Radiosymphonieorchester des Südwestfunks unter Ernest Bour, seine Premiere erlebte.

Seitdem ist das Werkverzeichnis von Barry Guy auf über 40 Kompositionen angewachsen, deren Spektrum von Kammer- über Theater- bis zu Filmmusik reicht, wobei die prominentesten Auftraggeber die Gruppe Fretwork, das Kronos Quartet und die Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields waren, für deren Cello-Ensemble 1991 das Stück „Look Up!“ entstand.

Weil ihm auf die Dauer die Existenz als Freejazzproletarier und Gelegenheitskomponist zu unsicher war, verschaffte sich Barry Guy in den 80er Jahren ein drittes Standbein. Er bewarb sich um die Stelle des Bassisten in Christopher Hogwoods Academy of Ancient Music, einer der profiliertesten Early Music-Formationen auf der Insel, und bekam den Job. Zahlreiche Tourneen und Schallplattenaufnahmen absolvierte er mit Bravour, wodurch sein Name in Early Music-Kreisen langsam einen guten Klang bekam. Er avancierte zum gesuchten Spezialisten für die tieferen Register, ob mit The English Consort oder The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

Das Hinabtauchen in die Musikgeschichte entwickelte eine eigene Faszination. Was anfangs aus finanziellen Erwägungen begann, wurde zu einem festen Bestandteil seiner musikalischen Existenz. „Es bedeutet mir viel, auch klassische Musik zu spielen,“ bekräftigt Barry Guy. „Das hat nicht nur ökonomische Gründe. Für mich beinhaltet es, daß ich Neues entdecken kann, neue musikalische Ausdrucksformen, neue Klangwelten.“

Über einen Mangel an Arbeit brauchte sich Guy nun nicht mehr zu beklagen. Er mutierte zum musikalischen Hans Dampf, der bis zu drei Sessions pro Tag absolvierte. Morgens Beethoven-Orchesterprobe, mittags Monteverdi-Plattenaufnahmen, abends vielleicht ein Freemusic-Gig mit Evan Parker und Paul Lytton. Dafür war blitzschnelles Umschalten erforderlich. Untergründige Verbindungslinie wurden sichtbar. „In der Barockmusik gibt es ebenfalls improvisatorische Möglichkeiten in den Sonaten für Cembalo bzw. Violine, oder was Ausschmückungen und Verzierungen anbelangt.“

Trotz dieser Paralellen macht es für Guy wenig Sinn, die Barockmusik zum Jazz des 18. Jahrhunderts umzumodeln - im Gegenteil. Seine Intentionen zielen vielmehr darauf ab, Stilgrenzen nicht zu verwischen und Unterschiede zu kultivieren. „Manche Leute meinen ja, die eine Spielpraxis schließe die andere aus,“ erklärt Guy. „Ich habe dagegen die Erfahrung gemacht, daß sie einander nicht stören. Wenn ich klassische Musik interpretieren, dann interpretiere ich. Spiele ich improvisierte Musik, dann improvisiere ich. Ich hab´ beim Improvisieren noch nie den Zwang verspürt, ein bißchen Mozart oder Bach zu integrieren. Diese Mixturen mag ich nicht. Ich hab´ da eine puristische Musikauffassung.“

Die Erforschung historischer Aufführungspraktiken hat den Klang revolutioniert. Neben der Wahl der richtigen Saiten, des Bogens und der Stimmung rückte die Frage nach dem adäquaten Instrument in den Mittelpunkt. Über die Jahre hat sich Guy ein Arsenal von sieben Kontrabäße zugelegt, die aus verschiedenen Stilepochen stammen und alle ihren speziellen Ton besitzen. Für die authentische Spielpraxis der Early Music steht ihm ein Instrument aus der Werkstatt von Gasparo da Salo von 1560 zur Verfügung, von dem es nur noch ein paar wenige Exemplare gibt. Seine feinnervigen Freejazzimprovisationen klingen dagegen besser auf einem Modell vom Ende des vorigen Jahrhunderts. „Die Spannung der Saiten war im 16. Jahrhundert viel geringer. Damals besaß der Baß sechs Saiten und der Steg lag um einiges tiefer, was zusammen einen vollkommen andere Ton ergibt,“ bringt er die Diskrepanz auf den Punkt.

Auf einer Tournee mit der Academy of Ancient Music lernte Barry Guy 1988 seine Lebensgefährtin Maya Homburger kennen, eine Züricherin, die acht Jahre mit der Camerata Bern musiziert hatte, bevor sie Mitte der 80er Jahre nach England übersiedelte, um Barockvioline bei Trevor Pinnocks The English Consort und den English Barock Solists von John Eliot Gardiner zu spielen, mit dem sie als Solistin zahlreiche Hauptwerke der Barockliteratur aufnahm.

Die Partnerschaft Guy/Homburger führte in den letzten Jahren zu einigen spannenden Kollaborationen, die mit den Möglichkeiten der Kombination von Alter und Neuer Musik experimentierten. Mehrere Kompositionen für Barockvioline und Kontrabaß entstanden, wobei Barry Guy selbst ein paar Stücke beisteuerte. „Für uns war es eine ganz natürliche Entwicklung,“ erklärt Maya Homburger . „Da ich als Barockgeigerin laufend Bach, Telemann und Biber übe, ist Barry, seit wir zusammen leben, laufend dieser Musik ausgesetzt. Daraus hat sich ergeben, daß wir beide Stile einmal zusammen in einem Konzert präsentierten. Barry hat ein Ohr für diese Klänge entwickelt und wie sie am besten in zeitgenössische Kompositionen einzubauen sind.“

Im Gegensatz zur Hektik und Sperrigkeit seiner Baßimprovisationen, zielt Guy darauf ab, die Stärken der Barockvioline voll zu Geltung zu bringen. Seine Kompositionen heben die Ausgewogenheit und die Schönheit des Klangs von Maya Homburgers Meisterinstrument hervor, das 1740 in der Werkstatt von Antonio della Costa in Treviso entstanden ist und sich bis heute in seinem Originalzustand befindet. „Barry hat seine Stücke rhetorisch so konzipiert, daß sie der Barockgeige wie auf den Leib geschnitten sind,“ sagt Homburger. Das war kein Kinderspiel, macht doch die unterschiedliche Stimmung der beiden Instrumente das Komponieren zu einer kniffligen Angelegenheit. Da die Barockgeige einen halben Ton tiefer gestimmt ist, mußte Musik entworfen werden, bei der sich nicht eine der beiden Stimmen fortwährend in einer ungewöhnlichen Tonart befindet.

Erkenntnisgewinn gab es auf beiden Seiten. Auch Maya Homburger hat von der Zusammenarbeit profitiert. „Ich hab´ mehr von Barry und seine Freejazz-Kollegen über die Interpretation barocker Musik gelernt, als je zuvor in meinem Leben. Seit ich mit Barry zusammen lebe, spiele ich diese Stücke von Jahr zu Jahr freier. So nähern sich die beiden Bereiche einander an.“

Aktuelle Neuerscheinung:
– Barry Guy/Maya Homburger: Ceremony. ECM New Series 1643/453847-2

Auswahldiskographie Barry Guy:
– Spontaneous Music Ensemble (mit Barry Guy): Withdrawal (1966–67). Emanem 4020 CD.
– Barry Guy, Even Parker, Paul Lytton: At the Vortex (1996). Emanam 4022 CD.
– Barry Guy/London Jazz Composers' Orchestra: Portraits. Intakt CD 035/1994
– Iskra 1903 (Barry Guy/Paul Rutherford/Phillip Wachsmann): NCKPA. Maya Recordings MCD 9502.

Auswahldiskographie Maya Homburger:
– G.P.H. Telemann: XII Fantasie Per Il Violina Senza Basso 1735. Maya Recordings MCD 9302. (Carrickmourne, Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland)
– J.S. Bach: 6 Sonatas For Violin & Harpsichord (Malcolm Proud). Maya Recordings MCD 9503 (2 CDs).

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Transfigured Bass

Graham Lock

A man is dancing with his double bass, his upper torso draped as lightly as a coat over its wooden shoulder. His head is bowed in rapt attention, a small central point of calm, while at the peripheries hands whirl in manic motion. Fingers tear at strings, pluck out spumes of shrieks and sighs, as the pair lurch and sway, loom and totter, across the floor.

So what exactly are you communicating when you play? I ask Barry Guy.

"Sound in space, really. Energy. I'm communicating musical energy. And I'm very particular about how the energy comes from me through the bass. I got some ideas when I used to play with the London Contemporary Dance Theatre. Working with dancers was fascinating because you can see how they transfer energies through their bodies for different jumps, different lifts. There's such fluency of movement.

"What I try to do is direct the energies through the arms, so the body is kind of light – you don't feel as if you're in contact with the ground or with the bass. You actually try to think upwards, so the energy comes through the arms into the fingers, which for the most part are what articulate the sounds. And if you make your body unaware of being there but be conscious of these intense little lights at the ends of the fingers, then I think you can communicate the energy you want to get out through the notes.

"You have almost – I mean, it's a regularly used phrase – to be at one with the instrument. You have almost to be inside it. People have asked me why I move a lot with the bass and I think it is to do with this dance area. Because if I'm moving with the bass, that's the flow of energy. I can't stand still with it. It is like a partner in a dance.

"I talk about the fingertips, but sometimes I use my neck to stop the strings. That's a new area I'm interested in. You can do contrary motion things, have your neck playing the bottom strings and be plucking the higher strings, which means you can be going in two directions at once. So I have added the neck to my repertory. (Laughs) The communication actually comes through my bodily contact with the bass."

Barry Guy. Born Lewisham, South London, 1947. Began to play music in school military band, later graduating to its offshoot trad group. Then one day a friend played him a Charles Mingus LP. "I thought, Christ, this is the music we should be playing!" At the group's next meeting, during a school lunch break, he floated the suggestion. "They said, no, no, we should be playing Kenny Ball and Acker Bilk. It became quite heated and there was a huge fight, lots of blood, desks all over the place. I kind of nailed my colours to the mast at that point."

A profusion of colours, since he found himself attracted by both contemporary composition and modern jazz. After leaving school, Guy went to work in an architect's office, though continuing with his musical activities in the evenings. Before long, however, he'd abandoned his architectural career to spend his days studying at the Guildhall School of Music and his nights gigging around the capital's jazz haunts, particularly the Little Theatre Club, where the new free jazz being explored by players such as Evan Parker, Paul Rutherford, John Stevens and Trevor Watts "arrested me – I think that was a moment of change".

Guy subsequently established himself as a virtuoso in three very different fields of music. He played total improvisation in small groups such as the Howard Riley Trio, Iskra 1903 and the Evan Parker Trio; he became a solo and chamber ensemble specialist in modern composition, performing pieces by the likes of Hubert Stuppner and Iannis Xenakis; and, in the mid 70s, he became heavily involved in Baroque music and the period-instrument movement, working with conductors such as John Eliot Gardiner, Roger Norrington and Christopher Hogwood, in whose Academy of Ancient Music he was principal bassist from 1978 to 1990. At the same time he continued to pursue his abiding fascination with structure by writing his own 'straight' compositions and by mixing form and freedom in the company of the London Jazz Composers' Orchestra, the improvising big band he founded in 1970 and which today probably enjoys the highest profile of his various musical projects.

The band has been exploring different dialogues between space and structure for more than two decades as Guy sought ways to integrate his "great joy in writing for a big band" with an equally strong love for, and commitment to, free improvisation. Looking back on the LJCO's history, he distinguishes "three eras" of activity, the first beginning with Ode, a large-scale piece Guy wrote in the late 60s "to celebrate the freedom I'd found in music". Specifically designed to include players from all areas of jazz, Ode "wasn't only expressing compositional values, it was also expressing socialist values, if you like. Socialism in the sense of getting people to work together and discover together. I didn't want it to be a one-way conversation."

Ode was also one of the first examples of a new kind of European music. Wanting to create an extended composition that went beyond "the usual devices of jazz", and critical too of American Third Stream pieces that tried to marry older forms of jazz and classical music, Guy found a congruence between "the fantastic strides being made in articulation and instrumental technique" by the free improvisers and the "abstract sound worlds" of contemporary European composers. The challenge was to develop a language compatible to both disciplines. Ode, finally recorded in 1972, was a major step towards meeting that challenge.

The work's success meant that the LJCO became an ongoing concern and Guy started to write new pieces for the band, although almost immediately he faced a clash of interests. "I guess my enthusiasm for compositional structure started to alienate people. There was too much written music, too little improvisation. I realised I was going up the wrong street and decided to open it out. I said, OK guys, if anybody wants to write for the band, start writing! That was how the second era began."

The LJCO's second era occupied much of the 1970s. The band played works by members Howard Riley, Paul Rutherford, Kenny Wheeler and Tony Oxley (whose scores used various types of graphic notation) as well as further contributions from Guy and occasional pieces by 'straight' composers such as Penderecki, Buxton Orr and Bernard Rands. "It was very exciting but it was also very difficult for an audience", recalls Guy, "because I don't think they really knew where they were half the time. We were dealing with anything from graphics to totally abstract pieces. It wasn't jazz in the big band tradition that people knew and liked."

This phase of activity came to a halt around 1978, when Guy's growing involvement with Baroque music left him no time to organise LJCO projects. For a couple of years the band was put on hold.

When you play a solo improvised concert, I say to Barry Guy, where do you start? Do you have specific goals? How much do you plan in advance?

"It depends on how long the concert is going to be and the space and the context in which it takes place. If, say, you're doing two sets of 45 minutes each, then I think you have to be fairly clear about the type of material you're going to present. So I tend to be specific about the areas I might go into, or at least start off from. I might begin with a piece that concentrates on the bow, then move on to pizzicato sounds or one of the more percussive pieces. Just to differentiate the types of sound. Though as soon as you start, the pieces tend not to stay in the same area.

"If I'm doing a shorter set, I probably wouldn't plan anything at all. If I have a 20-minute improvisation, I just start. We often do this in the trio with Evan (Parker) and Paul (Lytton) – as well as playing trio pieces, Evan and I normally take solos. That has a different space and, as such, I probably wouldn't have a particular strategy, I'd let the musical sounds lead me instinctively.

"It's a constant evolutionary process; one idea leads to the next. One also likes to research the possibilities of the tools you're using – the bow, the sticks, pizzicato – to extend the vocabulary of the playing procedures. One always tries to push further forward in terms of the articulation of sonic events. But I like to try and keep it a fairly logical sequence. I'm not terribly interested in just mindlessly beating the instrument. (Laughs) I think it's essential, if you're playing the bass, to bring out as many of the wonderful colours as possible."

Doesn't this get harder the longer you've been playing? After improvising for some 25 years, you can't have many sound areas left to explore.

"The amazing thing is that something different always comes out. You might go into similar areas, there might be qualities that indicate this is from the same part of the brain as a previous improvisation, but there's always a difference because you'll be led in a different direction by the circumstances.

"I try to think of every solo performance as a new beginning. Not that it's possible to come up with a new language each time you go onto the stand, but I do think that every time you play there's a kind of refinement of your language. And I think in solo playing you're dealing with absolutely the innermost qualities of that language. Each articulation, each sonority, is being put under a microscope. I mean, every time I pick up a bow and put it on the strings, there is a sound that has been made millions of times before – the bow crosses the D string, for instance. But each time, if you really listen, the quality is different. There's always a different parameter to it. Maybe there are less hairs on the bow, maybe there's less rosin or more rosin, maybe the string is younger or older, the harmonics speak in a different way. So there's always this changeable quality, which is one of the fascinations of solo playing."

While he was still at music college, Barry Guy's professor arranged for him to play a few concerts with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. It proved a traumatic experience. Told off at the first rehearsal "for showing too much enthusiasm", he found the attitudes of the players "totally alien, totally anti-contemporary music" and has never played in a symphony orchestra since. Instead he specialised in chamber works and, already a devotee of Baroque music, found himself intrigued by the burgeoning period-instrument movement.

"Early music has a strong resonance for me. I find it rhythmically intriguing, spiritually uplifting. I find there's a purity in the music, a purity of language, and a great sophistication too, say in Bach's fugues and canons. I find that instantly enjoyable. And I seem to know what to do to play it on the right instruments. It's fun using original instruments and finding out how they worked. Finding the right sort of bow, the right mental attitude to produce that great legacy of sound.”

Guy's own Baroque period lasted until 1990, by which time he felt that "the record companies had taken over" and the whole enterprise of performing and recording on period instruments had become too commercialised. "There were two moments when I thought, what the hell am I doing here"? he declares. One was when, for the second time in a year, he recorded the nine symphonies of Beethoven; first with Roger Norrington and the London Classical Players, then with the Academy of Ancient Music with Christopher Hogwood. The second moment was during the recording of the complete cycle of Haydn's 104 symphonies with the AAM. "It got to the point where we were going straight into the studio with no feeling of preparation – the red light would go on and we'd just play it. I wanted more time, more understanding, but the record company was demanding its mega-projects. Oh, it kept the bank manager happy and helped me to pay the bills for the LJCO – so thank you, Haydn and Beethoven. But there seemed to be his huge discrepancy developing between music-making and recording, the latter was becoming almost a mechanised process. I thought, this is crazy! So I threw it all in."

Though he still plays baroque music in small ensembles led by his partner Maya Homburger the only classical post Guy currently holds is principal bassist with the City of London Sinfonia, a contemporary chamber orchestra with whom he's been associated since the early 70s. As well as playing with the group, he has also written for them, notably 1983's Voyages of the Moon, for double bass and orchestra, and 1992's After the Rain, for string orchestra, a commission to mark the Sinfonia's 21st anniversary.

"Most of the compositions I've written have been commissioned by friends or ensembles I play with or professional acquaintances who know my music and who like to experiment on their instruments. I've never been tempted to sit down and, in the abstract, write an opera or a symphony. I have to have some kind of personal liaison with ... the energies of people, their languages."

In recent years Guy's compositions have included Circular for oboist Robin Canter, Whistle and Flute for flautist Rachel Brown, The Eye of Silence for violinist Rosemary Furniss, The Road to Ruin for the Kronos Quartet and Electric Phoenix and Bird Gong Game, for improvising soloist and chamber ensemble, which is based on a painting by Alan Davie, who commissioned the piece. Current projects include a saxophone quartet for ROVA, a violin-and-tape work for Maya Homburger and a piece for viols, commissioned by the early music group Fretwork as part of the 1995 Purcell Tercentenary celebrations.

The only one of these compositions currently on record is After the Rain, just released as a CD single by NMC. The work draws both on the contemporary languages that Guy has, in part derived from his improvisations and on his love for Baroque music. Like several of his compositions, it was influenced too by Max Ernst, who is one of his favourite painters. (Surrealism, Dadaism, the "minimal theatre" of Samuel Beckett and American Indian poetry are other major inspirations for Guy.)

"I felt certain resonances coming from Max Ernst's painting Europe after the Rain, which I saw at the Tate Gallery's retrospective. When I saw this huge picture ... I heard voices. The painting had these amazing forms. It looked as if it was after a catastrophe, everything looked dead – there were these masses, like bodies, rocks, in large masses – but within the picture you could see life forms beginning to emerge. It conformed to this idea I had that I wanted to write the City of London Sinfonia piece with reference to old Baroque forms. I wanted to write a piece that was sonorous, with these antiphons, long glissandi that slide and diverge, very slow moving blocks of sound."

You seem to keep your composition and your improvisation fairly separate activities, I say to Barry Guy.

"It's part of splitting Barry Guy down the middle! They are different musics. With all of the possibilities available to me when I improvise as a solo bassist, I feel I don't need to exercise those same rights, as it were, in my composition. I found too that expecting players to improvise who are not used to improvising can lead to very disappointing results. So, in general, nothing is left to chance in the straight compositions. Of course, I employ certain extended techniques – circular bowing in After the Rain, for instance – that I use in my improvisations, but I don't want my composition to be like a shop window for my improvisation devices. It's a completely different music and it comes from a different place."

Talking of different disciplines, your composed music is nearly all through-composed, your improvisations are nearly all totally improvised: you don't seem to play any conventional 'jazz' these days.

"I'd say the Evan Parker Trio plays jazz. It's total improvisation but I think it comes directly from the jazz tradition. In the early days I went through a kind of concise history of the music: I started playing New Orleans jazz, went on to swing, to standards, to bebop. Then I heard the Spontaneous Music Ensemble and headed off into free improvisation, but the momentum came initially from playing those earlier jazz styles. As far as I'm concerned, and I think Evan would agree, the Evan Parker Trio plays in a jazz context. A free jazz context, if you like. But it's not abstract improvisation, it has its roots in jazz music, the phraseology, the tensions ... What we've listened to over the years has distilled down into a type of playing that seems appropriate for that musical space. I think Evan's great love for John Coltrane comes out in his music as much as my great love for Charles Mingus. We have such a love for these people that something is bound to filter through."

But you're no longer interested in playing standards of bebop?

"No. I think one of the things I found about the jazz ensemble, about how people interpret standards or bebop tunes, is that there's a kind of normality to it now. You get great soloists, but very often it seems to me there's a tiredness to the format. The idea of a head followed by a sax solo, a trumpet solo, guitar solo, back to the tune again – so many jazz pieces take on this form. It's like a horse race. All the players start off at the line and come in different orders in different tunes, but basically it's the same race going around the same course. This is why I find free improvisation much more interesting – you can go anywhere you like."

The 1980 recording of Guy's Four Pieces for Orchestra (later released on the Stringer LP) marked a new beginning for the London Jazz Composers' Orchestra. But several personnel changes in the early 80s meant that the group's "third era" proper began with Polyhymnia, written by Guy in 1981 but not recorded until six years later. The band line-up on that LP, part of the Zurich Concerts double-album set, is virtually the same as the current personnel: a blend of core members (Marc Charig, Paul Lytton, Evan Parker, Howard Riley, Paul Rutherford and Trevor Watts all played on Ode) with more recent recruits such as Peter McPhail, Barre Phillips and Simon Picard.

With Polyhymnia, Guy ushered in a new focus on structures that "allow the music to breathe and the musicians to find space ... the individual voice to express itself in an uncluttered way". Harmos and Study, both "prolonged examinations of melody", also date from this period, as do Double Trouble and projects with guest-composers Anthony Braxton and George Lewis. The band's 1992 CD, Theoria, had Swiss pianist Irène Schweizer as the featured soloist on a piece written to celebrate her 50th birthday. It's a kind of piano concerto, says Guy, adding the caveat that instead of constantly pitting the pianist against the orchestra en masse, he has Schweizer improvising with a succession of small groups taken from its ranks.

This is a strategy he has refined further in Portraits, the LJCO's latest recording, scheduled for release on the Intakt label before the end of the year. Described by Guy as "musical journey around the personalities of the band", Portraits was very much influenced by an evening of small-group improvisations, entitled 'Subsets and Intrasections', that made up one of the LJCO's Chicago concerts during their autumn 1992 tour of the USA and Canada.

"While we were on the road," explains Guy, "I went around to all the band and asked, who do you want to play with? Would you like to play a solo? How about a duo? Or a quartet? Then I tried to make a balance of the possibilities, to include everybody in different ensembles – duos, trios, quartets – but to do it in such a way that there was a kind of structure to it. So within each of the four sets we played that night, I tried to put in a duo, a group, a solo and a special combination of some sort."

'Subsets and Intrasections' proved such a hit with audience and players alike that Guy decided to try and incorporate the same combinations within Portraits, a piece he was already sketching out in consultation with the band. Portraits is divided into seven main sections, each of which contains a 'portrait' of one, two or three players; but rather than simply feature these players as soloists, Guy asks them to perform in some of the 'Subsets' ensembles – all of these encounters being entirely improvised. "It's my ideal balance", he enthuses, "because inside this large structure, this conglomeration of 17 people, I've placed the freedom of the trios, quartets, solos and duos. That's where the free improvisation comes out, it's like opening windows in a building".

With the LJCO's 25th anniversary due in 1995, there is already talk of special events to mark the occasion – including, perhaps, a new recording of Ode – but nothing has yet been finalised. Meanwhile, Guy is keeping himself busy in many other areas of improvisation. He hopes to continue a recent association with Cecil Taylor – "the guy is a genius piano player, it's a great lesson every time you play with him". He has also become involved with two new trios: one with young Swedish musicians Mats Gustafsson and Raymond Strid, the other with Marilyn Crispell and Gerry Hemingway. A recording by the latter trio is already in the can, as is a quartet session with Evan Parker, Paul Dunmall and Tony Marsh. Both could possible appear next year on Guy's own Maya label, already home to his Arcus duos with Barre Phillips and the Live date from improvising sextet Elsie Jo (with Lytton, Parker, Phillips, Schweizer and Konrad Bauer). First, however, he plans to release a CD of his solo bass improvisations.

This disc, called Fizzles was recorded in "the superb acoustic" of a wooden church in Blumenstein, Switzerland, and presents a wide sampling of the different sound areas Guy explores in his solo improvisations. Invention – the Bird of Infinity and Still are the more melodic, ballad-like pieces; She Took the Sacred Rattle and Used It features sticks and mallets; Five Fizzles for SB and a series of three Rouge works take us through specific areas in a very short space of time"; Hilibili Meets the Brush, a "down-home" tune subverted by Guy's use of brushes, has "a tongue-in-cheek, almost cartoon-like quality". On Afar, Guy took his instrument to the other end of the church to see how that bass would sound from a distance". The opening Free Fall was one of the first pieces he played: "the point at which I felt comfortable with the acoustic, with the bass in those surroundings. It was like the launching pad, a feeling of 'here we go' and I called it Free Fall because of ... just the idea of when you skydive, you jump out of the aeroplane and before you is the whole landscape."

A man is dancing in his soul. As the music sweeps over him, he feels transported, disembodied, as if he is floating – shooting – into space. Tears spring from his eyes. He tries to think, to form a sentence in his mind that describes what is happening, but the words spin away. It's all too much. He dissolves into the music, tears flowing down his cheeks. The joy, the joy.

You've mentioned the spiritual quality of music, I say to Barry Guy. Can you say exactly what you mean by that?

"That's a hard one. I think what I mean is something that I find uplifting, moving, intense – the ability of music to transport us into another space. It's not religiosity, it's more an intangible quality, to do with what it does to my inside".

Does it happen when you're listening and when you're playing?

"Yes. I find it in all the music I enjoy, whether it's playing with Evan Parker or Cecil Taylor or playing Bach. All of those music makers take our minds and bodies to another area of living. Into special emotional moments.

"When I first played Monteverdi's 1610 Vespers, I felt almost disembodied. There are certain things that happen; certain chords, music climaxes, that emotionally transport me. As if ... perhaps it is looking at God, I don't know. But it's not an everyday experience. There's a mystery about why this happens. It's a very deep quality that takes over you whole body and it's a tremendous thrill to be involved in that".

Presumably when you're improvising, it just happens. But I guess Monteverdi was consciously trying to achieve it – the 1610 Vespers don't have affect simply by chance.

"Well ... I'm sure he was trying to make people feel spiritually risen, if you like. There are certain techniques in those great choral works that uplift anybody who is in contact with them. But that's technique. I don't think you can work toward this particular feeling. For me, it's the combination of all the factors that somehow coalesces into a magnificent musical moment. That's what happens in improvisation – some moments you feel like you can go straight through the ceiling because of what's happening in the musical conversation. There is a certain point where it becomes almost unreal – you're taken far beyond the practicality of standing there playing the music. There are certain coincidences of sound and activity that take us into another realm. And whether it's Evan Parker or Monteverdi, you have a completely new experience. You can't really say what it is".

Have you explored any methods to make it happen when you're improvising, or to prolong it once it starts?

"I don't think it can be manufactured. I don't think you have any control over it when it happens. It's like being out in space and meeting a black hole. The types of energies that are flowing there, are of a totally new order. You're taken into the music, into this black hole, almost unconsciously. If it happens, it's fantastic, but I don't think you can recreate it.

"Although, of course, Monteverdi created it already, so every time we play the 1610 Vespers ... I do have almost the same feelings at the same points. But it depends on the performance too, that characteristic is terribly important. I've heard some dreadful versions of the 1610 Vespers that have transported me absolutely nowhere except home on the bus pretty fast. (Laughs) On the other hand I heard John Eliot Gardiner do a performance at Brompton Oratory where I was nearly in tears. It actually destabilised my body. I'm sitting there, a rational human being listening to the music, and there are tears coming out of my eyes. I'm not sad, I'm very happy actually. I think it's to do with joy, spiritual joy, uplifting you to a space that is almost indescribable. But it is joyous, that's the main thing. For me, the joy of music-making is where everything centres."

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Instant Sound Architecture - der Bassist und Komponist Barry Guy

Juerg Solothurnmann, JAZZLIVE 137 – August 2003
Interpret klassischer Tradition und kühner Improvisator, Kontrabassist der Spitzenklasse und Komponist, scharfer eloquenter Denker und intuitiver Aktionist - das alles gehört zu Barry Guys Ausnahmebegabung. Lange Zeit hat der nun 56jährige Londoner ein musikalisches Doppel- und Dreifachleben geführt. Im hermetisch-steifen Zirkel eines international aktiven Barockensembles hat er sich die Mittel verdient, um als einer der Exponenten des Free Jazz und der britischen Free Music zu überleben. Guy reagiert ziemlich sensibel, wenn man zweifelt, ob diese Mentalitäten gut zusammen gehen. „Ich bin gleichzeitig ein Komponist und Improvisator und alle Information die durch mein Instrument oder auf dem Papier entsteht, stammt aus demselben Kopf. Das ist keine Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-Situation, wo das Monster die Musik schreibt, und der andere Teil improvisiert,“ machte Guy 1995 klar.

„Ich war immer sehr enttäuscht, dass meine klassischen Kollegen gar nicht wissen wollten, was ich ausserhalb ihrer Welt tue. Ich konnte am Morgen mit Christopher Hawkwood Haydn-Sinfonen spielen und am Abend im Vortex Jazz Club mit Evan Parker improvisieren. Die Kollegen dachten dann ,Na ja, er frönt wieder mal seinem kleinen Jazzlaster’. Als wäre das irgendeine belanglose Tätigkeit zum Zeitvertrieb, ,weil er gerade keine Lust hat nach hause zu gehen und etwas Ernsthaftes zu machen.’

„Die Wahrnehmung meiner musikalischen Tätigkeiten ist immer noch von dicken Trennlinien unterteilt. Viele Leute haben keine Ahnung, dass ich auch für andere Zwecke komponiere als fürs London Jazz Composers Orchestra. Die Jazzszene ignoriert, dass ich auch Streichquartette geschrieben habe, für Kammergruppen und klassisches Orchester, und die Leute von der ,straight music’ kennen meine Arbeit fürs LJCO nicht, auch wenn sie vielleicht gehört habe, dass ich ein bisschen mit Jazz rummache.

„Vielleicht ist das mein eigener Fehler, vielleicht hätte ich das immer dick hervorstreichen müssen. Meistens misstraut man aber Leuten, die in so verschiedenen Bereichen tätig sind. Der klassische Kommentator denkt, wegen der Jazzverbundenheit sei man ein oberflächlicher Mensch. Und die Jazzleute denken: ,Ach, der will sich doch bloss mit dem Establishment gut stellen.’

„Trotzdem hat es vereinzelt bereits echte Verbindungen gegeben. Aber da denkt man sofort: ,Aha, also Third Stream - weder Fisch noch Vogel.’ Die Third Stream-Idee - jener Versuch, sinfonische Musik und Bebop, zwei ganz verschiedene Welten, zusammenzubringen - stand der angemessenen Beurteilung meiner Arbeit oft im Wege. Ich spreche diesem Versuch die Berechtigung nicht ab, möchte aber keinesfalls als ein Abkömmling davon gelten. Meine Arbeit fürs LJCO kommt von einem ganz anderen Ansatz. Ich beginne schon mal überhaupt nicht mit der Absicht, irgendwelche Dinge zu verkuppeln. Ich möchte nur, dass die Musik den involvierten Individuen Raum für eigenen Ausdruck lässt.“

Guy findet einen Vergleich mit Ellington oder Mingus nicht abwegig: „Wenn ich für Improvisatoren komponiere, dann habe ich die Persönlichkeiten, für die ich schreibe immer im Kopf. Als Komponist für klassische Orchester fixiere ich Ideen, die gleich bleibend interpretiert werden, eine Wiederholung der anfänglichen Idee. Beim LJCO haben wir ein paar gleichbleibende Strukturen, die Flexibilität ermöglichen. Als Komponist bestimme ich Aktionsfelder, Klangtypen oder bestimmte Details, welche hoffentlich die Qualität gewisser improvisierte Teile steigern.“

In jüngerer Zeit hat sich gezeigt, dass auch andere Orchester mit nötiger Erfahrung die LJCO-Kompositionen spielen können. Aber beim LJCO ist nie ein Repertoire-Denken aufgekommen, und dies nicht nur aus wirtschaftlichen Gründen. Als das Label Taktlos zum 25. Jubiläum des LJCO die erste Aufnahme „Ode“ (1972) wieder veröffentlichte sagte Guy: „Ich höre meine Musik selten an. Die Gelegenheit, Ode wiederzuhören war aber informativ. Ich entdeckte interessante Zusammenhänge zwischen damals und heute. Schon damals neigte ich zu ausgedehnten Stücken. Es war ein Bruch mit der Kurzform des amerikanischen Song-Modells. Ode war der erste gemeinsame Versuch, wie man das afro-amerikanische Idiom mit europäischem Strukturdenken umsetzen kann. Ich hatte damals meine Kompositionsstudien damals gerade abgeschlossen und versuchte, all das in dieses erste Werk hineinzubringen.“

Guy widerstand der Versuchung, Ode wieder aufzuführen: “Von den Originalmitgliedern sind nur noch 6 im LJCO. Ich hätte Ode umschreiben und eventuell einige der Solisten von damals wieder einladen können. Aber die sind ja inzwischen verschiedene Wege gegangen und andere tot. Ich wollte keine LJCO-Nostalgie. Ich kam mehr und mehr darauf, dass unsere Gesellschaft nostalgisch ist und ständig zurückschaut auf etwas, das vor ein paar Jahren angeblich viel besser war. Tatsächlich gibt es in unserer Gegenwart viele schlechte Sachen, doch wir müssen weitergehen, versuchen zu reparieren und aus unseren Gaben das beste zu machen - verstehen, wie wir die Musik anwenden können, dass sie das menschliche Leben bereichern.

„Alle haben sich verändert. Wenn wir uns in all den Jahren nicht verändert hätten, dann wäre etwas nicht in Ordnung. Wir alle haben uns auch technisch in einer guten Weise weiterentwickelt. Wir haben zu einer sehr zusammenhängenden gemeinsamen Sprache gefunden. Wir gingen durch verschiedene Prozesse der Evaluation, und sie werden weitergehen. Doch heute ist unser Ausdruck sehr eloquent, sehr flüssig geworden. Es hat auch Meinungen, es gebe in meiner Musik rückläufige Tendenzen, weil ich in jüngerer Zeit plötzlich auch melodische oder harmonische Elemente integriert habe. In meinen neuesten Stücken für Zürich gibt‘s sogar eine Art von Ballade, ein langsames Stück für Marilyn Crispell (Sleeping Furiously). Warum? Nun, ich habe mit Crispell und Gerry Hemmingway im Trio gearbeitet, und manchmal hat sich die Musik dahin entwickelt, und Marilyn hat das sehr eindrücklich gemacht. Weil ihr diese Atmosphäre offenbar liegt, schrieb ich etwas entsprechendes.“

Das LJCO war 1972 als eine einmalige Idee gedacht, lebte dann aber unter der alleinigen Leitung von Guy sporadisch weiter. Heute ist das LJCO praktisch aufs Eis gelegt. Das seit jeher traditionsorientierte Denken der britischen Kulturförderung hat sich seit der Thatcher-Aera verstärkt. Guy und seine Lebensgefährtin, die Violinistin und Managerin Maya Homburger, waren so enttäuscht, dass sie das Domizil von England nach Irland verlegten. Guy kann aus eigener Erfahrung bezeugen, dass immer noch ein eklatanter Unterschied besteht zwischen der Subventionierung von Spitzenensembles der Klassik und des Jazz. „Die Realität war zudem, dass die Festivals und Promoter, die sich für Grossorchestern interessierten, immer weniger Geld hatten. Die Perspektiven wurden zunehmend schwierig. Der Auftritt beim Jazz Fest Berlin 1998 war darum so etwas wie ein Höhepunkt unserer geistigen und musikalischen Bemühung“, sagte Guy 2001. Patrick Landolt vom Zürcher Label Intakt, das - bewundernswert - fast alle Aufnahmen Orchesters veröffentlicht hat, riet Guy ein kleineres, international besetztes Orchester zu gründen. Das 10köpfige „New Barry Guy Orchestra“ hatte im März 2000 in Dublin seinen ersten Auftritt. „Aber ironischerweise ist die Situation des BGNO noch schwieriger, denn die Mitglieder kommen aus allen möglichen Ländern. Es kostet also mehr, alle zusammen zu bringen.”

Guy hat längst den Kniff heraus, welche Strukturen sich relativ schnell einstudieren lassen und gleichwohl starke Wirkung haben. Beim BGNO plant er nicht nur gezielt mit Individuen, sondern setzt auch modulartig Duos und Trios ein, die sich separat bereits bewährt haben. “Die Gründung des LJCO war ein Zusammenzug von Musikern, mit denen ich in den frühen 70er Jahren in London gespielt hatte. Das BGNO folgt derselben Philosophie, aber in kleinerem Rahmen. Ich schaute mich um, überlegte und wählte unter meinen musikalischen Bekanntschaften Leute aus, mit denen ich in jüngster Zeit in Kleinformationen gearbeitet habe.

Die Bezeichnung „Post Free Jazz“, mit der heute auch eine teilweise Rückkehr der präfixierten Formen gemeint ist, irritiert Guy nicht. Ob als Bass-Improvisator oder Planer, „Struktur ist für mich sehr wichtig. Das kommt vermutlich auch der Zeit, wo ich mit Architekten zusammen arbeitete. Ich lese viel über moderne Architektur und bin interessiert, warum gewisse Dinge stehen bleiben und andere manchmal zusammenfallen. (Gelächter) Auch wenn man sich einen bestimmten namhaften Architekten vornimmt, z.B. Frank Lloyd-Wright, dann lässt sich in seiner Arbeit ein Fortschritt vom ersten bis zum letzten Gebäude erkennen. Architektonische Formen werden immer sophistizierter. Das gleiche stimmt vermutlich auch für meine Kompositionen. Ich sprach über zeltartige Strukturen in meinen Drei Stücken für Orchester (1995). Wenn man die Idee des Schirms oder des Spinnennetzes versteht, da ist etwas sehr Grundlegendes daran, wie sie die Form zusammenhalten oder stützen. Da gibt es viele Parallelen zur Musik, nicht nur beim Aufschreiben einer Komposition, sondern überhaupt beim Verständnis von musikalischer Organisation, wenn wir zusammen spielen. Post Free Jazz repräsentiert ein hohes Niveau der Verfeinerung dieser Aspekte, weil wir auch instrumental immer besser werden.“

2000: Barry Guy New Orchestra: INSCAPE – TABLEAUX, Intakt CD066
1997/98: Barry Guy and Anthony Braxton & London Jazz Composers Orchestra: ZÜRICH CONCERTS, Intakt CD005 (2 CDs)
1995: Barry Guy & London Jazz Composers Orchestra: DOUBLE TROUBLE TWO, Intakt CD053
1995: Barry Guy & London Jazz Composers Orchestra: THREE PIECES FOR ORCHESTRA, Intakt CD045
1993: Barry Guy & London Jazz Composers Orchestra: PORTRAITS, Intakt CD035 (2 CD)
1991: Barry Guy& London Jazz Composers Orchestra: THEORIA feat. Irène Schweizer, Intakt CD024
1989: Barry Guy & London Jazz Composers Orchestra: DOUBLE TROUBLE, Intakt CD019
1989: Barry Guy & London Jazz Composers Orchestra: HARMOS, Intakt CD013
1983: Barry Guy & London Jazz Composers Orchestra: STRINGER, FMP SAJ-41 LP
1972: Barry Guy & London Jazz Composers Orchestra: ODE, Incus 6-7/Intakt CD041 (2 CDs)

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Barry Guy ist der Inbegriff eines Klangarchitekten

Der britische Jazzbassist Barry Guy hat Oberstammheim zu seiner Wahlheimat gemacht. Hier erklärt er dem Besucher, wie seine CD «Oort-Entropy» entstanden ist.

Beherzt greift er nach einem Rebstock und linst in die Kamera des Fotografen. «My vineyard», verkündet Barry Guy keck - was nicht stimmt, aber gut sein könnte. Hoch über Oberstammheim hat sich der renommierte Bassist und Komponist ein Haus samt Umschwung gekauft. Seine Liebe zur Schweiz ist so alt wie vielfältig. Im Zentrum steht Maya Homburger, die Zürcher Violinistin, mit der Barry Guy seit gut 15 Jahren Arbeit und Leben teilt. Bis letztes Jahr lebte das Paar in Irland, der Umzug in die Schweiz geht weniger auf Homburgers Heimweh zurück als auf Guys Pragmatismus. Für das international agierende Paar ist Oberstammheim der Nabel der Welt. «München, Milano, Wien, Paris - alles ist so nah hier», sagt Guy und rattert auswendig alle S-Bahn-Verbindungen nach Kloten und Zürich HB herunter.

Organisch-schillernde Musik
Nicht nur die zentrale Lage der Schweiz behagt dem Briten, auch die Präzision und Verlässlichkeit der hiesigen Menschen. Denn so frei sein musikalischer Geist auch schweben mag, beim Handwerk ist Guy Pedant. Im riesigen Kelleratelier des Stammheimer Hauses ist das kreative Chaos geregelt und organisiert wie in einem Architekturbüro. In hohen Gläsern fächern sich scharf gespitzte Bleistifte und bunte Tuschefüller auf, in den Schubladen fahrbarer Sideboards lagern Papierbögen und Pläne. Wer denkt an Musik in einer solchen Umgebung, an freie, improvisierte Musik zumal? Der Hausherr natürlich, der sofort zwei, drei seiner neuesten Aufnahmen vorspielt - eine aus Barcelona mit dem Pianisten Augustí Fernandéz, die andere aus München mit dem Munich Chamber Orchestra. Wuchtig füllt sich der lichtdurchflutete Raum mit der organisch-schillernden Musik von Barry Guy.

Wuchtig klingt auch «Oort-Entropy», eine dreiteilige Suite, die Guy für sein New Orchestra geschrieben, am letztjährigen Taktlos-Festival in Zürich uraufgeführt und nun beim Zürcher Label Intakt herausgegeben hat. Ein Schlüsselwerk für Guys Denk- und Arbeitsweise. Der Titel verweist auf die «Oort-Cloud», eine chaotisch kreisende Wolke von Eisklumpen jenseits des Planeten Pluto, die der Astronom Jan Hendrik Oort (1900-1992) entdeckt haben will, deren Existenz aber bis heute nicht bewiesen ist. Unter «Entropy» ist die Gleichzeitigkeit von Ordnung und Chaos zu verstehen. In «Oort-Entropy» werden die zehn Orchestermitglieder gleichsam zu oortschen Eisklumpen, zu Individualisten, die den Tanz zwischen Ordnung (Komposition) und Chaos (Improvisation) wagen sollen.

Dieser Dualität, die zudem von stilistischer Pluralität genährt ist, verleiht Guy seine besondere Prägung, indem er einen Trick anwendet. «Ich schreibe fast nur für Musiker, die ich sehr gut kenne», sagt er. So hat er das Barry Guy New Orchestra wie auch dessen opulenteren Vorgänger, das London Jazz Composers Orchestra, mit langjährigen Partnern bestückt. «So kann ich meinen Musikern auf den Leib schreiben wie ein Dramatiker "seinen Schauspielern», erklärt Guy, «womit das Orchester zum pulsierenden Organismus verschiedener Stil- und Spielarten wird.»
Wenn Guy für fremde Ensembles schreibt, lässt er sich detaillierte Informationen zukommen, aus denen er Organigramme und Funktionsschemata zeichnet, die als Basis für seine Partituren dienen. Die «Pläne» in den Sideboards im Stammheimer Atelier sind nichts anderes als solche Partituren, deren Erscheinungsform eher abstrakten Gemälden gleichen als strengem Notenwerk. Guy langt nach drei besonders bunten Exemplaren - Stücken für weltbekannte Ensembles wie das Rova Saxophone Quartet, das Hilliard Ensemble und das Kronos Quartet - und erklärt, wie sie entstanden sind und funktionieren.

Hat er die Funktionsschemata der Ensembles einmal entschlüsselt, entwirft Guy seine musikalischen Ideen, indem er sie visualisiert und zu dreidimensionalen Gebäuden zeichnet. Pläne und Zeichnungen wachsen zur Partitur, in der auch Notenblöcke vorkommen, vor allem aber Symbole und visualisierte Anweisungen zu Aufbau, Entwicklung und Dynamik des Stückes: für geschulte Musiker exakte Anweisungen, was, wie und wann sie zu spielen und zu improvisieren haben. In Barry Guys Atelier wird klar: Dieser Mann ist die Verkörperung eines Klischees - Barry Guy ist ein Klangarchitekt.

Aus dem Londoner Arbeiterviertel
Technik und Wissenschaft hätten ihn stets interessiert, sagt er, weshalb er weder Fussballer noch Fabrikarbeiter geworden sei - die üblichen Laufbahnen im Londoner Arbeiterviertel, wo er 1947 geboren wurde. «Ich besuchte Abendschulen und jobbte in einem Architekturbüro.» Drei Jahre lang zeichnete er Pläne und entwickelte Konzepte, was ihm ausnehmend gut gefiel. Parallel dazu musizierte er, Dixieland zuerst, dann Swing, Blues, Bebop. Als er an die Guildhall School wechselte und seriöse Musik von Bach bis Coleman zu studieren begann, verliess er das Architekturbüro. Die Präzision des Zeichners und Entwerfers aber ist ihm geblieben.

Barry Guy musiziert und schreibt seit Jahrzehnten für die international erlesensten Musiker und Ensembles von barocker Kammermusik bis zu aktuellem Jazz. Auch in der Schweiz, wo er schon früh mit Irène Schweizer arbeitete. Heute sitzt der Bieler Bläser Hans Koch in seinem New Orchestra, er spielt oft mit den Cellisten-Brüdern Thomas und Patrik Demenga, und mit Lucas Niggli und Jacques Demierre hat er eben ein Trioalbum eingespielt. Kürzlich erschienen ist «Dakryon» mit barocker und Neuer Musik, auf dem sich das Duo Homburger/Guy vom Perkussionisten Pierre Favre begleiten lässt. In Guys Kopf stapeln sich Ideen und Projekte, die im Atelier aber zuerst die Projektierungs- und Entwicklungsphase durchlaufen müssen, bevor sie als kunstvolle Partitur vorliegen.

Frank von Niederhäusern © Tages-Anzeiger, Zürich, 26. Juli 2005

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Zwischen Konstruktion und freier Improvisation

Rosmarie A. Meier und Patrik Landolt
«Nachdem ich die Schule verlassen hatte, arbeitete ich bei einem Architekten, der gotische Kirchen restaurierte. In England haben wir ein Ausbildungssystem, wo man sich einem Lehrmeister anschliessen kann. Man lernt bei ihm und tritt in seine Fussstapfen. Ich war also eine Art Assistent oder Gehilfe bei diesem Architekten. Mein Lehrmeister war ein ausgezeichneter Zeichner und kannte sich in der Kunst eher gut aus. Ich wollte damals eigentlich eine Kunstschule besuchen. Aber die Schule, die ich absolviert hatte, bot mir dazu die Möglichkeit nicht. Ich hatte auch das Wissen nicht, wie man so etwas anpacken könnte. Es war damals üblich, dass man nach der Schule Geld verdienen ging. Die meisten gingen in die Fabriken, von denen es in der Gegend zahlreiche gab. Ich hatte also Glück, dass ich zu diesem Architekten kam.

In dieser Zeit lernte ich Leute kennen, die sich mit Musik und Komposition beschäftigten. Einige studierten an der Universität Mathematik, sie kannten die verschiedenen Korrelationen von Musik und Mathematik. Wir taten damals sehr intellektuell, debattierten stundenlang, hielten uns in den Pubs auf und tranken. Das war etwa 1966. Es war eine sehr intensive Atmosphäre, es brodelte: die Flower-Power-Zeit, Vietnamkrieg; es schien damals, als ob die ganze Welt in einem Gärungsprozess steckte. Vielleicht tönt es nostalgisch, wenn ich auf die sechziger Jahre zurückblicke, oder beschönigend, wenn ich sage, wie aufregend die Zeit damals war. Aber wenn man das erlebt hat und diese Erfahrungen gemacht hat, dann weiss man, wie prägend dieses Klima war.

Meine Eltern waren überhaupt nicht musikalisch. Aber sie hatten viel übrig für Musik. Als ich einen Kontrabass wollte, um Jazz zu spielen, sagten die Eltern sofort: O.k., wir kaufen dir einen Bass. Meiner Zwillingsschwester kauften sie ein Klavier. Mein Vater war ein kaufmännischer Angestellter und arbeitete im Teehandel. In den Jahren, als in London die Docks verschwanden, verlor er die Stelle und war längere Zeit ohne Arbeit. Danach fand er einen Job in der Buchabteilung der BBC. Leider ist er mehr oder weniger gerade am Tag seiner Pensionierung gestorben. Aber zurück zu der Zeit, als wir begannen, Musik zu spielen. In einem Pub lernte ich Paul Rutherford kennen. Jemand sagte mir, dass er ein hervorragender Posaunist sei. In meinem Kompositionsunterricht schrieb ich dann ein Stück mit einer Passage für Posaune und Saxofon. Paul Rutherford lud den Saxophonisten Trevor Watts ein, um das Stück zu spielen. Später erwähnte jemand unsere Namen bei John Stevens vom Little Theatre Club. John Stevens lud mich einmal in den Little Theatre Club ein, und so trat ich dann dem Spontaneous Music Ensemble bei.

Es folgte eine unglaublich intensive Periode, wo erstaunliche musikalische Dinge passierten. Wir experimentierten sehr viel und machten neue Entdeckungen. Ich habe von den Musikern im Little Theatre Club viel gelernt. Wir wollten zum Beispiel mit unserer Musik nicht nur ständig Impulse des amerikanischen Jazz aufnehmen und wandten uns der europäischen Gegenwartsmusik zu. Wir wollten die Ketten brechen und uns von dieser sklavischen Haltung befreien, immer wieder die neuste John-Coltrane-Platte zu imitieren. Wir steuerten alle auf etwas noch Unbekanntes zu. In einem gemeinsamen Prozess arbeiteten wir darauf hin. Wir versuchten die Details zu klären, die verschiedenen musikalischen Disziplinen zu verknüpfen. Es ging auch darum, Formen eines musikalischen Diskurses zu finden, um mit den andern zusammen koexistieren zu können. Indem wir die traditionellen Kommunikationsmuster zertrümmerten, wollten wir ja eine intensivere Kommunikation erreichen. Wir wollten nicht in einer abstrakten, unehrlichen Weise miteinander umgehen. Wir wollten möglichst intensiv und dicht musizieren.

Ich hatte damals einen Freund, dem ich viel verdanke. Er war ein sehr engagierter Mensch, setzte sich aktiv gegen den Vietnamkrieg ein. Er war ein Vietnam-Experte, so einflussreich, dass selbst die britische Regierung ihn einlud, um sich bei ihm zu informieren. Später ist er unter mysteriösen Umständen umgekommen. Er hatte ein unglaubliches Charisma, das sehr viele Linke anzog. Das Erstaunliche war, dass er auch noch ein guter Kenner der zeitgenössischen Musik war. Wenn er Leute einlud, eine Party gab, wurde Musik gespielt; und zwar nicht nur Rock'n'Roll, sondern Jazz und zeitgenössische Musik. Ich hörte bei ihm zu Hause zum erstenmal in meinem Leben «Le Sacre du Printemps» von Igor Strawinsky, und ich hörte zum erstenmal «Threnos, Den Opfern von Hiroshima» von Krzysztof Penderecki. Von heute aus gesehen, ist es unglaublich, dass diese Musik an einer politischen Veranstaltung gespielt wurde. Aber es passte zum politischen Klima. Die meisten Leute waren int eressiert an dieser Musik.

Ich begann mich dann vermehrt mit zeitgenössischer Musik auseinanderzusetzen, hörte Zwölftonmusik, Anton Webern, Alban Berg, dann die Neuentwicklungen der späten fünfziger Jahre, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Boulez, Iannis Xenaks É Die Arbeit beim Architekten und mein musikalisches Interesse kamen sich in die Quere. Ich benutzte meine ganze Freizeit, um Musik zu machen und Musik zu hören. Es zeichneten sich damals zwei wichtige Entwicklungen ab: Im Little Theatre Club entstand die britische Free Music. Da herrschte eine phantastische experimentelle Atmosphäre. Auf der anderen Seite begann ich die Welt der klassischen Musik zu entdecken. Ich war radikal und wollte genau herausfinden, was es mit dieser neuen E-Musik auf sich hatte. Ich wurde sehr aktiv, begann Konzerte zu organisieren, suchte nach Musikern, die diese Musik spielen konnten, und spielte auch selber. Ich war wie besessen, denn ich fühlte, dass ich spät dran war. Zum Glück lernte ich den Kompositionslehrer Buxton Orr kennen, der an mir Gefallen fand. Buxton Orr hat übrigens später das London Jazz Composers' Orchestra dirigiert. Orr entdeckte in mir eine musikalische Ader, und obwohl meine Ausbildung allen akademischen Erfordernissen entgegenliefen, sagte er: Diese Person muss an die Musikhochschule. Und er verschaffte mir einen Studienplatz. Da bekam ich die Chance, auch akademische Studien zu betreiben.

Das waren vier tolle Jahre. Es war wie ein grosses Fest. Natürlich kannte ich Beethoven, Schubert, Mozart, aber ich hatte mich früher nicht ernsthaft mit Musik beschäftigt. Jetzt öffneten sich plötzlich all diese Möglichkeiten. Ich konnte mich mit der alten Musik auseinandersetzen, hörte Monteverdi, Tartini, alle diese hervorragenden Violinisten und Komponisten des Barock. Ich schwamm plötzlich in einem endlosen Meer musikalischer Möglichkeiten. Es war wirklich spannend und euphorisierend.

Ich hetzte in dieser Zeit von einem Ort zum anderen, um neue Erfahrungen zu machen, um aufzuholen. Jedesmal, wenn ich die Musikhochschule verliess, ging ich zum Little Theatre Club, spielte mit John Stevens, die Gruppe Amalgam von Trevor Watts wurde gegründet, später entstand das Trio Iskra 1903 mit Rutherford, Derek Bailey und mir.

Die Szene um den Little Theatre Club wurde von der etablierten Jazzszene als verrückt und gefährlich taxiert, weil wir zu viele Schranken herunterzureissen drohten. Denn wir kümmerten uns nicht um die traditionellen Standards, wir kümmerten uns nicht um Harmonie, Melodie und Rhythmus. Wer aber genau hinhört, wird feststellen, dass auch wir mit Rhythmus und Melodie arbeiteten, dies aber in einem anderen Sinn als der traditionelle Jazz. Wir waren unbeliebt, es herrschte die allgemeine Meinung, dass wir destruktiv seien, dass wir den Jazz kaputtmachen wollten. Aber wir hatten ein starkes kollektives Bewusstsein, das dem Druck der öffentlichen Meinung standhielt. Dazu gründeten wir auch eine Selbsthilfeorganisation, die Musicians Cooperative. Wir legten mit soviel Punch los, dass uns niemand etwas anhaben konnte.

In diesen Jahren entstanden auch Verbindungen mit Musikerinnen und Musikern anderer Länder. Wir entwickelten eine kosmopolitische oder internationalistische Vision von Musik. Ich erinnere mich sehr gut an den Moment, als ich zum erstenmal den deutschen Saxophonisten Peter Brötzmann hörte. Ich konnte es nicht fassen, dass mit einem Saxophon ein solcher Lärm gemacht werden kann. Ich stand vor meinem Bass und hörte den ganzen Abend von meinem Instrument keinen Ton. Man hörte nur dieses Röhren, dieses Brrrrrrrr, was unerhört faszinierend war. Ich dachte: Die Deutschen spielen ziemlich anders als wir Engländer. Die deutschen Musiker nannten unsere Musik «washing machine music». Sie wollten damit ausdrücken, dass sich unsere Musik endlos drehte. Unsere Musik hatte einen fliessenden, fast transparenten Charakter. Wir spielten nicht diesen harten Jazz wie die Deutschen, den wir «tank music» nannten.

1972 gründeten wir das London Jazz Composers' Orchestra. Rückblickend kann man heute die Entwicklung des Orchesters in drei Perioden einteilen. Die erste dauerte von 1972 bis 1976. In dieser Zeit ging es mir hauptsächlich darum, einen Weg von Koexistenz zwischen frei improvisierter Musik und Komposition zu finden. Ich suchte nach Möglichkeiten, die gegensätzlichen Momente von Freiheit und Kontrolle miteinander zu verbinden. Mit der Komposition «Ode» fand ich eine erste Lösung.

Die Free Music verfügt über eine immense Energie. Dieses Ausscheren und Weit-über-sich-Hinausgehen setzt Energie frei. Energie ist eines der zentralen Merkmale der Free Music. Für das Publikum geht es oft zu schnell, so schnell, dass die Leute gar nicht mehr hinhören können. In der klassischen Musik habe ich oft den Eindruck, dass die Musik immer langsamer und langsamer wird. Eine Ausnahme ist Xenakis. Er ist in der zeitgenössischen Musik einer der wenigen Komponisten, der ungeheure Energien freisetzen kann. Auch Boulez hat in seinen späten Jahren ein Stück geschrieben mit dem Titel «Responsorium», das sehr frei und energetisch klingt. Ich glaube, dieses Stück ist eines der wichtigsten Stücke dieses Jahrhunderts im Bereich der Komposition.

Ich versuchte meinerseits, mit den Kompositionen die Abläufe stärker zu kontrollieren, um die Energie, über die die Musiker verfügen, zu bündeln. Damit erhoffte ich, die Free Music noch kräftiger zu machen. Aber, wie sich herausstellte, war es der falsche Weg. Die Musiker rebellierten, da die Partituren immer komplexer wurden. Sie sagten: Wie können wir diese anspruchsvollen Noten lesen und plötzlich reinspringen in die total freie Improvisation, und das alles in einem ungeheuren Tempo. Wir entschieden uns dann im gegenseitigen Einvernehmen zur Trennung vom Dirigenten Buxton Orr.

Danach folgte eine längere Pause. Ich hatte überhaupt keine Ahnung mehr, in welche Richtung ich mit dem Orchester arbeiten sollte. Dazu kam, dass wir über keine Auftrittsmöglichkeiten und kein Geld verfügten. 1978 lud uns Jost Gebers, der Initiator der Berliner Free Music Production, ein, an seinem FMP-Workshop während fünf Tagen zu proben und aufzutreten. Das war der eigentliche Neuanfang der zweiten Periode. Quasi als Reaktion auf die komplexen Partituren und die Rebellion der Musiker sollten nun die Spieler mehr Verantwortung übernehmen. Die Erfahrungen der ersten Jahre öffneten die Tore in Richtung frei improvisierter Musik. Die Big Band als Free-Music-Orchester. Ich schrieb ein paar Partituren, welche die Musiker animieren sollten, die Abläufe weitgehend selbständig zu gestalten. Ich wollte aber immer noch den überblick haben über das, was musikalisch passiert. So fixierte ich gewisse Muste ur, um musikalische Kombinationen zu planen und die Zufälle zu limitieren.

Der nächste Schritt – und vorläufig der letzte – bestand in einer Umgestaltung des Orchesters. Neue Musiker kamen rein, andere verliessen die Band. Die Probetage im Herbst 1987 im Kulturzentrum Rote Fabrik in Zürich gaben uns die Möglichkeit, einen dritten Weg zu suchen. Die Kompositionen, «Polyhymnia» und vor allem «Harmos» sowie das später geschriebene Stück «Double Trouble», repräsentieren für mich ein neues Verhältnis zu den Musikern und zur Musik. Unsere langjährige Orchesterarbeit bedeutet einen immensen Zuwachs an Erfahrung und Reife. Wir haben viel gelernt. Wir wissen nun, wie wir die Dinge zusammenfügen müssen.

Als ich «Harmos» schrieb, entstanden einige sehr kraftvolle, ausdrucksstarke Melodien. In erster Linie wollte ich ein Stück für den Saxophonisten Trevor Watts schreiben. Ich suchte eine Melodie, die diesen wunderbaren Bogen spannt, den Trevor Watts spielt. Wenn ich ein Stück schreibe, stelle ich mir die Musiker vor. Es ist ein Charakteristikum meiner Kompositionen, dass ich versuche, eine musikalische Sprache zu finden, die auf die Spieler passt. Gleichzeitig versuche ich eine Komposition zu bauen, die kohärent ist. Eine Passage, die nur zu Evan Parker passt, und eine andere, die für Trevor Watts geschrieben ist, müssen durch die Konstruktion verbunden werden, so dass die beiden in einer einsichtigen Beziehung zueinander stehen. Um all die Materialien zu verknüpfen, brauche ich Zeit. Deshalb schreibe ich immer so lange Stücke.

Wie zur Zeit des Little Theatre Clubs arbeite ich auch heute in verschiedenen musikalischen Bereichen. Es bedeutet mir viel, auch klassische Musik zu spielen. Das hat nicht nur ökonomische Gründe. Vielmehr kann ich Neues entdecken, neue musikalische Ausdrucksformen, neue Klangwelten.

Ich weiss, es gibt wenige Musiker, die kontinuierlich sowohl im Bereich des Jazz wie der klassischen Musik arbeiten. Es gibt Leute, die meinen, die eine Spielpraxis schliesse die andere aus. Ich mache jedoch die Erfahrung, dass sie einander nicht stören, weil beide Richtungen vollkommen unterschiedlich sind. Wenn ich klassische Musik interpretiere, dann interpretiere ich. Spiele ich improvisierte Musik, dann improvisiere ich. Ich habe beim Improvisieren noch nie den Zwang verspürt, ein bisschen Mozart oder ein bisschen Bach zu integrieren. Diese Mixturen mag ich nicht. Ich habe da vielleicht eine etwas puristische Musikauffassung.

Mein Ansehen im Bereich der klassischen Musik erlangte ich durch langjährige Arbeit in verschiedenen Kammermusikensembles. Christopher Hogwood, der Leiter der Academy of Ancient Music, bat mich dann vor etwa zehn Jahren, Mitglied seines renommierten | Ensembles zu werden.

Wenn wir mit der Academy auf die Bühne gehen, ist es, als ob man für uns einen Teppich ausrollen würde. Wir haben ein riesiges Publikum. Das hat damit zu tun, dass Hogwood ein hervorragender Kenner und Interpret alter Musik ist und wir inzwischen zahlreiche Platten produziert haben. Gleichzeitig ist das Renommee dieser Musik sehr gross. Wenn ich an die Europatournee denke, die wir kürzlich beendet haben, dann ist es natürlich ein schönes Erlebnis, erfolgreich zu sein und immer vor vollen Sälen spielen zu können.

Ganz zu Unrecht fehlt leider der improvisierten Musik dieses hohe Ansehen und dieses zahlreiche Publikum. Eine wesentliche Diffenrenz zwischen beiden Musikbereichen liegt darin, dass die öffentlichkeit sie vollkommen unterschiedlich bewertet. Die klassische Musik wurde über Hunderte von Jahren aufgebaut, gesponsert und unterstützt.

Improvisierte Musik ist jung, sie ist noch stark in die aktuelle Situation involviert, so dass es noch Jahre brauchen wird, bis ein grösseres Publikum diese Musik verstehen kann. Zudem: Diese Musik kennenzulernen ist Arbeit. Eine wunderschöne Arbeit. Aber man muss sich darauf einlassen und kann nicht einfach konsumieren. Wenn man sieht, über welche Vermittlungsapparate die klassische Musik verfügt und wie bescheiden die improvisierte Musik daherkommt, dann ist es ja ein grosser Erfolg, wenn das London Jazz Composers' Orchestra letztes Jahr in Zürich und Basel vor mehreren hundert sehr aufmerksamen Leuten auftreten konnte.

Patrik Landolt, Ruedi Wyss: Die lachenden Aussenseiter. Musikerinnen und Musiker zwischen Jazz, Rock und Neuer Musik. Die 80er und 90er Jahre. Ein Buch der WochenZeitung im Rotpunktverlag, Zürich 1994.

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Barry Guy: Freedom in Restraint

Kees Stevens
English improvisers like Derek Bailey, Evan Parker and Paul Rutherford were welcome guests among a small circle in the Netherlands around 1970, even though they performed now and again. The Dutch audience and the Dutch press were, despite the rise of European improvised music, still too heavily orientated towards American jazz. Han Bennink's fire-and-brimstone sermons on how nothing good was coming out of America anymore were conscientiously made note of, but it was out of the question that European music, Dutch included, was truly embraced by the public at large. One musician is missing from the row of English guests: Barry Guy.

After high school Guy went to work in an architect's office which was engaged in the restoration of Gothic buildings, while studying double bass and taking composition lessons at Goldsmiths College. At the same time he played swing music in the style of Benny Goodman and bebop in trumpet player Dave Holdsworth's sextet. His first contact with improvising musicians came about through his compositions. When he wrote a piece featuring a trombone, somebody suggested to him that he use Paul Rutherford. Through Rutherford he got to know saxophonist Trevor Watts and percussionist John Stevens, who in turn invited Guy to the Little Theatre Club, the place where it was happening in London in the sixties.

In the Little Theatre Club Guy met Howard Riley for the first time. After a stay by Riley in the United States at the end of the sixties, Guy set up a trio with Riley which initially made music which could be traced back to Bill Evans' trio concept. In an interview with Rudy Koopmans in Jazzwereld (Jazzworld), May 1970, Arjen Gorter describes it as follows:

All the right ingredients: an intellectualistic fine-fingered pianist, a busy-bee drummer and that kid Guy who shifts through in a terrific way, in huge leaps.

It was the first time, to the best of my knowledge, that Guy's name appeared in the Dutch press. That trio recorded 5 albums with varying percussionists, among whom Tony Oxley and John Stevens. With Oxley, who broadened the sound spectrum of his percussion with electronics, playing in tempo was largely brushed aside. In the 1979 trio with Stevens and Guy the ensemble blossomed out. The intense collaboration in the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, one of the leading initiatives in the area of English improvised music, also yields rich rewards in this trio. But we are getting ahead of history.

Guy studied double bass as well as composition at the Guildhall School of Music at the end of the sixties. It was there he first learned about Igor Stravinsky's music, notable Le Sacre du Printemps, and Lamentation for the victims of Hiroshima by the Polish composer Krysztof Penderecki. From there he delved back into history. After completing his course Guy remained working as a practising musician and improviser. He was active as bass player in Christopher Hogwood's Academy of Ancient Music for twelve years, an ensemble which had the role of pioneer in the field of early music. Among other things he was a member of the Monteverdi Orchestra, the London Bach Orchestra, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and the London Sinfonietta. He was also active as composer. Under none other than Pierre Boulez his composition D had its premiere with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1974. Compositions followed later for the Kronos Quartet, the London Sinfonietta, City of London Sinfonia and Gemini. He also wrote ballet music for the London Contemporary Dance Theatre which was played live during the performances.

These activities in the 'classical' world which often took him to America whilst his colleague improvisers were displaying themselves on the mainland, were time-consuming. That is the reason why Guy was so rarely heard as improviser in the seventies. That was also why he was unable to give his full attention to the London Jazz Composers' Orchestra (LJCO). Barry Guy set up that orchestra in 1970, following the example of the Michael Mantler's Jazz Composers' Orchestra from New York. In the LJCO, next to such prominent free improvisers as Trevor Watts, Paul Rutherford, Evan Parker, Tony Oxley, Paul Lytton and Derek Bailey, are gathered, among others, the saxophonists Mike Osborne, Bernhard Living and Alan Wakeman and the trombonists Mike Gibbs and Paul Nieman. I give this list in order to indicate the cross-links in the London jazz scene. For example Osborne worked together with Rutherford and Parker in Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath, while Living, Gibbs, Nieman and Wakeman were associated with Mike Westbrook. Rutherford has also played frequently with Westbrook. Within the circle of free improvisers there were also various cross-links. I limit myself here with a reference to Guy's role in Amalgam with Watts and Stevens, S.M.E., in Oxley's own groups and in the legendary trio Iskra 1903 with Rutherford and Bailey.

Guy's compositions for the LJCO should absolutely not be connected with 'The Third Stream music'. He even calls his compositions anti-Third Stream. The LJCO gives him the opportunity to seek a balance between improvisation and written material. Since his first composition for the LJCO Guy has always taken the improvisatory capacity of his orchestra members into account. In his Ode for Jazz Orchestra, in which he was inspired by Olivier Messiaen's Chronochromie, he places duos, trios, and quartets before the orchestra. In part six of Ode, in which Bailey is central as soloist, Iskra 1903 and the Howard Riley Trio turn up in such a way.

There are three periods to distinguish in the 25 year-old history of the LJCO. At the beginning the music scores were very detailed. They also worked with a conductor, Buxton Orr, Guy's composition teacher. Due to the constant refinement on the compositional side and radical abstraction, Guy alienated musicians from himself. For example Bailey left the orchestra because he absolutely could not feel at home with such an approach. In the second period he invited his fellow musicians to write pieces for the orchestra. Kenny Wheeler, Rutherford, Riley and Oxley delivered contributions. The orchestra also played a piece by conductor Orr, whilst in the repertoire of that period there was also a piece which Penderecki had written for the Globe Unity Orchestra. That repertoire offered a broad spectrum of complete,written scores, through the looser ones from Rutherford to the more graphic ones of Tony Oxley. Furthermore, the 'orchestra's composers' saw the business from the other side.

The decision to drop the conductor marked the third phase of the orchestra. According to Guy an orchestra with a conductor causes you to write for an orchestra with a conductor, and he wanted to get away from that. He advocated a looser approach, in which a few directions are sufficient and the musicians are responsible for taking initiative. He was very aware that a working method of that sort could not be achieved in a few years, but the construction of the orchestra has barely changed in the last ten years, so that everybody knows what they can expect from each other. There are still meticulously notated passages. That;'s how he, for example, will work out riffs, but in contrast to the orchestra's first period, the result heard is more supple, more natural.

By restricting his classical activities – he left Hogwood's ensemble because the emphasis lay more on making records than making music- he was able to pay more attention to his improvisatory sides.

Since 1987 the LJCO has found a permanent home at Intakt records in Zurich. Intakt is releasing, to celebrate the 25th anniversary, Ode and Stringer, an FMP/SAJ record from 1980, together with a new performance of Study, as a CD box. The LJCO is no 'working band'; the members are too occupied with their own groups, but the orchestra is project orientated. A part of these projects will be performed at the Taktlos Festival in Zurich, which again is closely associated with Intakt Records. That explains the relationship of the LJCO to Intakt Records.

After the double album Zurich concerts, in which the orchestra performed Guy's Polyhymnia next to pieces by Anthony Braxton, Taktlos changed over to the CD format: Harmos, Double Trouble, Theoria with Irene Schweizer as leading part and Portraits, which appeared last year. It is difficult to express a preference for one of these albums. Guy keeps on reaching his goal: a combination of structures and his fellow musician's freely taken initiatives. I cannot refrain from naming the saxophone section: Watts and Parker were there from the beginning, but the saxophonists Simon Picard, Peter McPhail and Paul Dunmall, all of whom came in the eighties, appear one by one to be incredibly inventive wind players. In Portraits the Evan Parker part is called Triple, a reference to one of he most interesting combinations of the last ten years: the Parker Guy Lytton Trio.

Apart from the LJCO, Guy hardly worked together with Parker and Lytton in the seventies. As we have seen, Guy was part of Iskra 1903. The percussionless construction gave a great clarity to the music. Stylistically the group fits into what is termed the English research into sound. That is an image of English improvised music which some still see before them, but such persons are evidently not aware of a trio such as Amalgam. Here Guy, Stevens and Watts make music in which the achievements of Ornette Coleman are linked with an individual expressiveness, playing in tempo alternates effortlessly with free rhythmic passages. Out of this music an insouciance and inspiration speaks which knows no equal. That is also a facet of the versatile English improvised music.

Barry Guy has always been the bass player for Evan Parker. He invited Guy to the improviser's Symposium during the Pisa Festival in 1980. The following year the gentlemen performed in Berlin combined as duo, a performance captured by Free Music Production. Performances with the addition of Lytton are scarce in the early eighties, especially in Holland. I remember a concert in Amsterdam from 1983 with George Lewis, trombone and electronics, as guest. Guy and Lytton also availed themselves with electronics; Guy possessed an extensive amount of pedals with which he could influence the sound, while Lytton operated his do-it-yourself apparatus. That use of electronics did not produce the powerful lines running through the music which distinguishes the trio now, but the tension running through was completely present. The trio went almost completely acoustic halfway through the eighties. Parker and Guy have since brought their solo playing to the highest form of perfection. by his means the acoustic possibilities have grown so that within the context of this trio the electronics could be abandoned. Parkers use of multiphonics makes it seem as if sometimes three wind players are at it, while Guy is by means of his extended techniques effortlessly able to double his lines. The trio can alternate explosive passages, in which the dry, cracking percussion from Lytton gives an extra dimension, with a pastoral peace of delicate flageolet-tones. Every note gets an intense physical charge. It is a miraculous threesome. Unimaginable, if you have never heard it.

A characteristic pronouncement by Barry Guy about his bass playing is that he attempts ' make the instrument extremely small'. That is not a statement about his music, but it is about his way of playing. Guy seems to want again and again to get the whole instrument to resound in one go. A beautiful way to achieve this is a bow between the strings which he sweeps up in one tug. While this is vibrating away, he is busy somewhere else. He can get thin flageolet-ones from his strings with a brush. Using his bow he manages a fine, full sound which transforms into a biting tone. A graceful pizzicato can be transposed over the entire length of the strings in one lightning movement. Such a movement is characteristic of Guy's playing. It is the result of a thirty-year old conscious engagement with the instrument: between Guy's musical ideas and the resulting sound there are no barriers.

Fizzles is his latest solo CD; this was released on Guy's own label Maya Recordings. The title Fizzles is derived from a series of short prose pieces by Samuel Beckett from 1976. According to Guy Fizzles represents a moment in Beckett's writing '(...) where a more pronounced minimalism was in sight'. On the CD Fizzles is the collective name for five miniatures which he dedicates to Beckett. Minimalism and Guy seem an unlikely combination, but Fizzles sheds a whole different light on the exuberance which marks Guy's playing. In this way there appears to be a surprising similarity in a stripped grating noise by Guy and the stripped-to-the-bone prose by Beckett. Research into musical-rhythmic similarities would demand a separate article.

Barry Guy is highly conscious of the differences between composed and improvised music. Freedom in composed music is no way as great as in improvised music. With the LJCO he has found a fine balance between composition and freedom. In pure improvised music is every freedom, through this freedom becomes as he himself says '(...) tempered by vocabulary, wisdom, experience and the other players'. Such an attitude reveals a true musician. And that's what Barry Guy is, to the tips of his fingers which bind his mind to his double bass.

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