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Machine Gun and Fly Swatter

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I had to think about it for a while, but the very first time I saw Peter Brötzmann play was on May 17th, 1986 in the Amsterdam Paradiso.

He played with Last Exit, his metal jazz quartet with Bill Laswell, Ronald Shannon Jackson and the late guitar player Sonny Sharock. And it was the loudest concert I’d even attended. Louder than the first Killing Joke concert, five years earlier in the same Paradiso that made history as one of the loudest ever.

At that moment I did not have a clue that Brötzmann was primarily a visual artist.

In those days, I was more into rock than jazz. My next encounter with Peter Brötzmann as a musician was some five years later during a music conference and festival in Berlin, at the legendary but now closed squat Tacheles. There he played with FM Einheit, in those days one of the metal butchers of Einstürzende Neubauten.

Einheit released sparks of fire from a big steel chain by using all kinds of Black & Decker gear and Brötzmann seemed to blow it all over the audience with his tenor.

I still didn’t know anything about his work as a visual artist.

That changed as the nineties went on.

I don’t remember exactly where it was, but I attended a Fluxus exhibition somewhere when I saw pictures of Brötzmann with Nam June Paik and some of his graphic work as well – woodcuts, I believe.

machine-gunAt the same time I started to collect a number of Peters records – starting with the rerelease of Machine Gun, of course, in the 1990 CD edition. But other records as well. And I started recognizing his signature record sleeves and concert posters.

About ten or fifteen years ago, I was struck by the sleeve for a record called More Nipples. Apart from the music – just about all of the players were my personal heroes, including Han, Evan Parker and Derek Bailey – I fell in love with the sleeve. There was a graphic on it, a lithograph from 1962, called ‘Fly Swatter’.

But I couldn’t make out from the picture what it depicted – and I didn’t understand the word ‘Fly Swatter’. I thought it was some German word or name. I didn’t look it up then, but later I found out that Brötzmann had made a whole series of ‘Fly swatters’ in the early sixties.

more-nipplesLater, much later, I took a dictionary and discovered it was a ‘vliegenmepper’. If Peter had only had called ‘Fliegeklappe’ – auf Deutsch – I would have understood. But at last I knew.

I continued attending Brötzmann’s concerts. I saw him with the reeds trio Sonore, with Gustafsson and Vandermark at SJU-huis in Utrecht. I saw him with Han at the big Ex party in the Paradiso. I saw him with two eccentric Japanese – one of them Keiji Haino – as the highlight of the Rumor Festival in Utrecht – The two Japanese almost killed each other, it seemed, the way they looked at each other, and Brötzmann just played and played and played and it was fantastic. I saw him play solo in Occii for some fifteen people, and it was beautiful.

And of course I saw him play half a dozen times at the Konfrontationen Festival in Nickelsdorf since I went there for the first time at the turn of the century.

peter-brotzmann-inexplicable-flyswatter-european-free-jazz-sax-cd-art-book-6e6b217bc6d5f7828ed7abcc60a3b178It was also at Konfrontationen, in 2010, that I interviewed Peter for the daily newspaper Het Parool. I started out a bit stupid, by remarking that Machine Gun was one of my favorite records. Brötzmann responded with a deep sigh…. Of course I should have known that every interview started that way and every interviewer still asked about Machine Gun, while I have been a music journalist long enough to know that every musician wants to receive praise for his or her newest record!

But everything turned out fine. Nothing wrong with Machine Gun, of course – the legendary sleeve has even been included in this exhibition.

We were talking about his – then – Tentet, which could be seen – I said – a bit like his famous Machine Gun group. Oh no, no, was Peter’s response. The sonic spectrum of the Tentet is so much wider, so much more spread out, than that of the 1968 group. And of course he was right.

And he talked about his Tentet as primarily a social experiment – something I have thought about a lot, afterwards. I even wrote about it later, in an article in which I related freedom to responsibility.

In the same interview Brötzmann spoke about the new generation of musicians who seem to be marvelous technical players, but don’t distinguish themselves from each other anymore and don’t seem to have anything to express – although the younger players in the Tentet, like Vandermark and Gustafsson certainly are exceptions to this rule.

,,Just playing the right notes isn’t enough,’’ Brötzmann said. ,,You must have something to say. Your music needs something like voodoo. Some mystery.’’

Later I realized that a fly swatter is a weapon, just like a machine gun. Although the fly swatter is a more gentle one. But aren’t the gentle ones the most powerful?

There is voodoo in Brötzmann’s graphic work and visual arts. And there is a mystery. And in the end that’s what it’s all about.

I hope you will enjoy the exhibition and tonight’s concerts.

Thank you.

Peter Bruyn

(Inleiding bij de expositie Peter Brötzmann: Graphic in het Bimhuis op 23 sept 2016)