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50 years of sound over silence: “modern music Publishing” by ECM Records

50 years ago, in November 1969, the first album of the ECM Records label — “Edition of Contemporary Music” – was recorded in Studio Bauer in Bavaria.

A long time ago, in a distant galaxy on the island of Lindau, on the Bodensee, a boy named Manfred was born. After a few light-years, he realized that there is a power above silence and it is called sound…As time passed, the boy Manfred became the double bassist Manfred Eicher (Manfred Eicher), who graduated from the Berlin Academy of music. In 1969, in Munich, Manfred created an independent label specializing in contemporary jazz. The words written about it later in the canadian jazz magazine CODA:the most Beautiful sound Next to Silence” — became the motto of the ECM.The 50th anniversary year of the ECM was marked by a gala concert of the main band of ECM musicians in November last year-ECM 50th Anniversary Weekend.Before this anniversary, alas, only a few days did not live another founding father of the concept of “Publishing modern music” – Norwegian Jan Erik Kongshaug (Jan Erik Kongshaug).
On November 5, 2019, this jazz guitarist and music figure, who played a significant role in European jazz of the 1970s and 2000s-but not as a performer, but as an ESM sound engineer, passed away in Norway at the age of 75. Light to his memory…

Jan Erik Kongshaug behind the Rainbow Studio console
When describing the native characteristics of “ECM sound”, listeners and another founding use the words “transparency”, “ice crystals”, “sound spaces”, and even “noise of ice fjords”. The fact is that the two creators of ” ECM sound» — founder and chief producer Manfred Eicher and sound engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug from the very beginning of their collaboration sought to ensure that the sound picture clearly read all the nuances of the sound of each of the instruments, as well as that the entire picture was “swaddled” in the long afterglow of artificial reverberation, what creates the listener’s subjective effect of the notorious “sound spaces” or “ice fjords”.Characteristic of the “ECM sound” recordings are always perfectly panned (Kongshaug himself called this effect “homogeneous stereo panorama”) and have several layers of sound plans — in no small part due to the use of several reverberation effects simultaneously with a long period of fading. As the American jazz journalist Larry Appelbaum once ironically remarked: “when we talk about the sound of ice fjords, let’s not forget that what we really hear is not the natural afterglow of instruments, but the sound of the Lexicon-manufactured reverb knobs twisted by Jan Erik in the Studio to the maximum.”
Naturally, the digital Lex, twisted to the maximum, dominates the natural sound of the acoustic composition of musicians. But the ESM initially had another major assistant.

EMT 240 Plate Reverb
This analog plate rever cost a hell of a lot of money and required serious space. The first EMT 140 reverb allowed recording engineers to adjust the reverb time, offering significantly more control than could be obtained from a traditional camera.However, when forming the sound picture of ECM releases, a certain neutral coldness of the musical material, which comes from Manfred Eicher’s producing tendencies, also plays an important role in the nature of the sound. He actively and rigidly works with musicians at the stage of planning the recording scenario, sometimes quite fundamentally interfering in their creative process.Eicher values medium and slow tempos, unhurried development of a musical theme, length of chords, restraint of the performer’s temperament and sound production.

In the Studio from left to right: Naná Vasconcelos, Manfred Eicher, Pat Metheny and sound engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug.
For me, modern jazz began with the works of ESM, specifically with the great “Return to Forever” by chick Corea. While studying at MARHI, I was simultaneously learning the basics of proper jazz at the Moskvorechye Jazz Studio, and Alexey Batashev, who taught us the author’s course in jazz theory and history, showed me a record of “Melodies” with the author’s article on the back.

Chick Corea “Return to forever»
An incongruous black font diagonally blocked the free flight of the Petrel to the expanses of the USSR, but what I heard on this vinyl changed me forever.
When this masterpiece became available in the original, I discovered another name in the world of sound: Tony May — the man who created the sound of the first “Return to Forever”.

Chick Corea himself knew about the Soviet record and was proud that his material was almost the first official publication of modern jazz in the USSR. Then, in July 1982, his concerts with Burton were not officially held, but there was a jam at the Union of composers, Spaso-house and the Moskvorechye recreation center. Half of Moscow was running around looking for at least one Fender Rhodes Piano for chick, and I managed to extract the first chords of “Sometimes Ago” on the keyboard that was still warm after chick’s fingers…
You can’t help but notice that ” Return to Forever “doesn’t exactly have the” ESM sound”, and it’s not just this ESM release. Grammy — winning three albums of “ECM discoveries” – Pat Matheny-play in a peculiar way (“Offramp”, “Travels”, “First Circle”), and not only they.Manfred Eicher did not have his own Studio for a long time, until in March 1984, Kongshaug bought out Talent Studio in Oslo, renaming it Rainbow Studio.Back in 1967, Jan-Erik started working in a recording Studio that was built in Oslo by former pop singer Arne Bendiksen. There, by the way, was recorded the “pre-ECM” first album of Norwegian guitarist Terje Rypdal — “Bleak House”. Only in September 1970, and quite by chance (it was his turn to work on a shift), Jan-Erik turned out to be an engineer on the recording of the first solo album by the young Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek, with whom Manfred Eichen came from Munich as a producer — this is the point of acquaintance and the beginning of the “ECM sound”.Kongshaug spoke modestly about this important meeting: “Manfred Eicher met me in Arne Bendiksen’s Studio quite by accident. He came to Oslo to record “Afric Pepperbird”, Jan Garbarek’s first solo album. At first, he tried to record the Garbarek Quartet in the hall of the art Museum in Oslo, but it didn’t work out too well — the acoustics were too “live” for this recording. So they called Arne’s Studio to see if they could re-record the album with us. The phone was answered I. Pure coincidence, for sure!»

Afric Pepperbird Jan Garbarek Quartet — ECM
With money for the development of the creative couple Jan-Manfred was quite tight. Even in the ” fat “years, an ordinary, not too promoted record of novice musicians from the ECM label in the 1990s sold 5-7 thousand copies, but the circulation, for example, of the” Cologne concert ” by pianist Keith Jarrett reached in 1975… three million copies, almost immediately! A little earlier, the first “Return to Forever”went platinum — and the ECM had a budget.
Here, in my opinion, is the most interesting thing. Looking closely at the details of “Return to Forever”, I discovered that it was recorded by Tony may in London (Recorded: 2, 3 February 1972, IBC Studios, 35 Portland Place, London, W1 – Engineer – Tony May).
“Offramp” — album by Pat Metheny Group (1982 Grammy Award: Best Jazz Fusion Performance, Vocal or Instrumental – Offramp-Pat Metheny Group) – recorded at Power Station Records in new York. “Mixed by Jan Erik Kongshaug”, and who recorded the tracks?Recorded by Tony Bongiovi and Tony may. Since 1977, Bongiovi has had a hand in such masterpieces as” Avalon “Roxy Music,” Born in the USA ” by Bruce Springsteen, and many other useful works. Power Station had a “third beam” of power supply, wooden acoustic interiors of four studios, and a 24-channel Studer a-800 clip. In 1996, new owner Chico Imamura renamed the company Avatar Studios, but the good sound at the Berkeley power plant was saved. Recently, the former name returned home.About the choice of location and personal attitude to the recording, Manfred himself said the following:”it Goes without saying that I always follow the sound ideas of the composer, as well as the instructions contained in the musical text. It is quite natural that we choose the music in our ECM that is close to our ideas or completely corresponds to them; however, this is always an internal understanding.Searching for a sound is often very tedious work until you find the right one. Chance often plays an important role. If time is waiting, you can let go of the situation and everything will work itself out. It is not always good when you set a strict framework from the very beginning. Openness is a prerequisite for the birth of sound. You need to feel the moment. The music is always different and cannot be repeated. There is no second time in music. It is impossible to find two identical recording processes!”(Musiksalon № 3, 2015.)The last few works of John Abercrombie on ESM were recorded at Avatar Studios by sound engineer James Farber-the album” Up and Coming ” in 2017 and others.But let’s go back to the beginning of the 70s of the last century — “to the roots”. Several groups of musicians joined the ideology and concepts of Manfred Eicher.The first was the American branch, where, in addition to chick Corea and his experience with miles, there was Keith Jarrett with Charlie Hayden and Paul Motian. This was previously called “the Keith Jarrett American Quartet” with the experience of releasing four great albums on Atlantic and Impulse! (with van Gelder, of course). Gary peacock also pulled up after working with bill Evans and the Japanese Murakami and Kikushi.The pressure of their experience and habits on the young ESM was significant. The album” Death and the Flower “on Impulse was recorded by Tony may at Generation Sound Studios, and the Grammy-nominated album “Standards” was already recorded at ESM where? That’s right-on your favorite Power Station.The second wave of ” hot “Norwegian guys with Terje Rypdal, Jan Garbarek, Jon Christensen and others peacefully recorded” sound of the fjords ” at their native studios Talent and Rainbow in quiet Oslo under the herring. But there were also continental Europeans…

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