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1.
Restart 29:34
2.
Immersion 08:10
3.
In Between 11:27
4.
After All 03:15

about

The golden age of second generation improvised music in Germany.

This freight train phrase describes an object of study that’s been woefully under-attended relative to its counterparts in London, Amsterdam, and New York. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, across Germany, especially in the north, with outposts in smaller cities like Witten, Wuppertal, Leverkusen, Wiesbaden, and Aachen, musicians gathered as workshops, cooperatives, and collectives, presenting themselves in festivals, projects, or “meetings,” following the example set out by Jost Gebers and Peter Brötzmann’s Berlin-centered first wave free music organization, Free Music Production (FMP), away from which these regionally diffuse platforms pushed. The scenes cross-pollenated, germinated, grew into their own particular musical ecosystems. Some amalgamations were fleeting; others were longer lasting. A few jelled into bona fide bands.

XPACT was one of the strongest of the second gen German free music working bands. A quartet, XPACT took shape in M.A.I. Orchestra, a large improvising ensemble founded in Witten by pianist Martin Theurer, which included all four members. Guitarist Erhard Hirt and bassist Hans Schneider were both from Leverkusen and had been working together since their late teens. Schneider was part of a trio with saxophonist and clarinetist Wolfgang Fuchs; the group recorded an LP for FMP in 1979. Hirt led a quartet with Fuchs, Schneider, and drummer Jochen Twelker at the Moers Music Festival the same year. In 1981, Paul Lovens introduced Hirt to British ex-patriot percussionist Paul Lytton. (Lytton is technically a first generation improvisor, having come of age in the London jazz scene of the mid 1960s.) Hirt and Lytton recorded never-issued duets before teaming up in 1982 with Fuchs and Schneider. And XPACT was born.

This foursome was the core of another classic group of the scene, King Übü Örchestrü, which, unlike M.A.I., was international in scope, incorporating non-German members from Switzerland, Austria, the U.K., and Italy. After a short stint as a collective, Fuchs and Hirt assumed leadership of Übü; the dispute between them that led to Hirt leaving the large group in 1986 also precipitated the disbanding of XPACT. During its four-year run, XPACT played together extensively, developing a unique approach to small group interplay documented in synopsis on their lone LP, Frogman’s View, released on the FMP subsidiary Uhlklang.

Fast-forward 34 years. XPACT reboots in a different world. Tragically, Fuchs died of a heart attack in 2016. In his place, Stefan Keune brings his own less oblique sensibility, portaging some of the tongue-centric vocabulary of his predecessor, adding fulsome tonal directness, identifying a clear position amid the old comrades, who fall together like dear friends around a table, estranged for forgotten reasons, reunited to see if there’s spark left. There’s more than a spark here. This is spectacularly sharp improvising. It is purely organic, elementally sonic, reveling in crunchy timbre and texture, building on the productive confusion of electronic and acoustic pitches and noises. I’m reminded why I was riveted to Frogman’s View back in the day – Schneider’s sparkling arco, Hirt’s versatility and quickness, Lytton’s warmth, musicality, and humor. The richest spoils of this music are found in the band’s interaction. There, in sudden changes of direction or unexpected protractions, you can hear how, against all odds, all members having grown and changed over the years, XPACT is somehow still XPACT. (John Corbett, Chicago, November 2020)

Rigobert Dittmann, Bad Alchemy #111

XPACT II (FMR Records, FMRCD601-0221): Hut ab vor 'Guter Unterhaltung', die sowas wie "XPact" mit einschließt. Im Kölner "King Georg" waren am 25.9.2020 als Entertainer am Start: Stefan Keune am Tenorsax, Erhard Hirt an Gitarre & Electronics, Hans Schneider am Kontrabass und Paul Lytton an Trobriander Laptop (haha) & Krimskrams. Mithin also ein Botschafter des British Spleen, der in den 80ern mit deutschen Adepten spielte, die heute als 2nd Improv-Generation gelten, aktiv im Raum Witten-Wuppertal-Leverkusen, hörbar auf dem FMP-Spinoff Uhlklang, mit Xpact (anfangs noch mit dem 2016 verstorbenen Wolfgang Fuchs) und Schneiders Erfahrungen mit Fuchs und Georg Gräwe als Link von Martin Theuers M.A.I. Orchestra zum King Übü Örchestrü. Dem machten Reibereien zwischen Hirt und Fuchs 1986 ebenso ein Ende wie Xpact. Doch 34 Jahre danach und aufgefrischt mit Keune und dessen - durch John Russell - Knowhow in britischem Freistil und X-tauglicher Saxpower kam es zum 'Restart'. Mit diversen Hirt-Sounds, fiependem, rau keckerndem Altissimo, surrendem Bogenstrich, eifrigem Genestel und Gerappel, kindsköpfisch kakophil. Vordergründig besticht die Quickness dieser Rasselbande und ihr sägendes, zwitscherndes, jauliges, brummiges Krachmachen mit teils kuriosem Spielzeug, über das heutige Kinder ebenso die Rotznasen rümpfen wie über Opas, die sich derart närrisch aufführen. Keune kommt kaum runter von seinem Soprangezirpe, Schneider quietschfiedelt und knarrt, Hirt schrappelt, Lytton gibt Laut mit Batterie und knatter-rasselt ohne Strom. Die Großvateruhr schlägt über dieser Ludo=Narratologie eine 13. Traumstunde, in der gleich mehrere Sandmännchen haufenweise Klangbrösel streuen und die Träumer mit auf den Buckel genommenen Traumbeinen Krachlawinen lostreten. Bis über beide Ohren eingetaucht in verhuschte Saitenbruitistik, Rrrreedgefurze, Schrotthagel, Klanggestöber, der eine auf Draht, der andre mit Pfiff, der dritte dongend oder wuselig, alle vier mit fragilen Friktionen oder furiosen kleinen Schüben. Statt als Überwältigungsstrategen verlocken sie allein mit akustischer Feinkost, zuletzt nochmal mit emsigem Stöbern über eintönigem Bass.

Jean-Michel van Schouwburg, Orynx improv' and sounds

XPACT n° 2 !! Enfin réunis après plus de trente ans sans le regretté Wolfgang Fuchs (RIP 1949 – 2016), mais avec le saxophoniste Stefan Keune au sax ténor, si j’en crois le crédit. Je rappelle que le premier album du Stefan Keune trio (Loft / Hybrid Music 1992) avait été enregistré avec Paul Lytton, ici crédité aux Tobriander laptop et miscellaneous table top objects (and percussions !), et le contrebassiste Hans Schneider, tous deux fondateurs du « premier » XPACT avec Erhard Hirt, guitar and electronics. Le groupe avait enregistré et publié Frogman’s View en 1984 sur le label Uhlklang, un sub-label Berlinois plus expérimental et électronique de FMP – SAJ. Après quelques années d’activités, XPACT s’est dissous pour des raisons de désaccord artistique entre Fuchs et Hirt au sein du King Übü Orkestrü, groupe dans lequel ces quatre musiciens étaient impliqués (avec Marc Charig, Torsten Müller, Radu Malfatti, Peter Van Bergen , Günter Christmann, Phil Wachsmann, Phil Wachsmann etc… ). Par rapport à l’album de 1984, on retrouve ces sonorités électroniques « trafiquées » de Hirt et celles de Lytton, lequel jouait alors d’objets et de cordes de guitare montés sur un cadre métallique amplifié. Question souffle, il y a quelques similitudes entre les attaques extrêmes de Fuchs à la clarinette basse et au sax sopranino, ces recherches de timbres et contorsions radicales de la colonne d’air et du bec et les morsures acides et les pépiements au sax ténor de Keune. Ce dernier évoque l’Evan Parker « abstrait » des années septante, mais avec un style et une « voix » immédiatement reconnaissable. Si ce groupe semble être un quartet de format « free jazz » par son instrumentation saxophone - guitare – contrebasse avec un percussionniste, il faut bien insister sur le fait que Paul Lytton ne joue pas de batterie ici, comme dans le trio avec Barry Guy et Evan Parker, mais improvise avec les moyens du bord , laptop et un attirail d’objets percussifs et créateurs de bruits étalés sur la surface d’une table. Une fois qu’il agite ses percussions et les éventuelles baguettes, on le reconnaît immédiatement à son imagination follement claudicante et contrastée. Quant à l’énigmatique contrebassiste Hans Schneider, il travaille de l’archet en s’insérant dans les frictions et fluctuations zébrées et éthérées des sons électroniques ou, étrangement dans le n°4, il fait résonner systématiquement deux notes graves d’un gros coup de patte nonchalant. Quatre improvisations de 29 :33 (Restart), 8 :10 (Immersion), 11 :27 (In Between) et 3:14 (After All). Il faut s’attendre à une palette étendue d’atmosphères, de dialogues différenciés et simultanés au sein d’une entité en perpétuel mouvement, dialogues en tournante impliquant successivement l’un ou l’autre, bouillonnements électroniques, extrêmes fragmentations de l’articulation faisant éclater, malaxer, étirer les timbres, cris, coups de langue, pincements du bec, vocalisations très brèves du sax sopranino, explosif, volatile et ... quelle dynamique !! Le contrebassiste relève les effets de ses doigtés croisés et coups de langue répétés torturant la colonne d’air avec des coups d’archets frénétiques, des rotations d’harmoniques moirées ou des grondements sombres. Le décor évolue depuis une activité ludique assidue jusqu’à des sons épars dans les aigus planant dans le silence, cymbale frottée et murmure électronique. Ici, on explore de nombreuses possibilités, on tente le collègue, on essaie un son et puis un autre, on écoute , évalue, on laisse le temps s’étaler et les choses venir et se dérouler en ajoutant , après un silence réfléchi, ou une respiration, un son minime, une résonance, un choc, un fragment de phrase, un grincement jusqu’à ce que les sons et les bruits de l’imaginaire se croisent, se répondent, se fondent créant une trame. Connu, inconnu ? Gouvernail laissé pour compte ? Solo, dialogue, fil conducteur, logique, disruption, réactifs, la musique peut s’échauffer, se compresser, s’amplifier ou s’arrêter brusquement. Le morceau suivant a chaque fois une autre tonalité, une autre densité, une autre intention, une autre intensité : sa propre personnalité collective.

Trybuna Muzyki Spontanicznej, 2021

Keune, Hirt, Schneider and Lytton as Xpact II!

This story began almost four decades ago, at the end of 1983 in Berlin. Three German improvisers - Wolfgang Fuchs, Erhard Hirt and Hans Schneider, then just starting out, today legends of the genre, decided to join forces with the English drummer and experimentalist Paul Lytton. They called their musical idea XPACT and the sounds of several meetings were included on the black disc Frogman's View*.

After this noble fact, almost unnoticed, several eras in music passed, and in the meantime clarinetist Fuchs sadly died. On the threshold of a new decade, the remaining musicians decided to return to the idea of electroacoustic improvisations they had practiced many years ago. They asked the well-known saxophonist Stefan Keune to succeed Fuchs. They finally met at the end of September last year in Cologne, at a place called King Georg, where they recorded the material for the album, which they called, not particularly revealingly, XPACT II.

Before we listen to the far-fetched sounds that were created then, let's get to know the full credits for the album. Here it is: Stefan Keune - tenor saxophone, Erhard Hirt - guitar and electronics, Hans - Schneider - double bass and Paul Lytton - quoting from the album cover: Trobriander Laptop and Miscellaneous Table Top Objects (we reassure the mildly anxious - he'll be doing what he does best, which is practicing clever drumming, although not with a standard drum kit, additionally encrusted with unobtrusive patches of electronics). Four improvisations - 52 minutes and 38 seconds in total, the CD is published by British FMR Records.

This impressive spectacle of free improvisation, which fits perfectly into the idiom of true British aesthetics, albeit realized with German precision and the same narrative focus, begins with an almost thirty-minute long set, called Restart, which seems to be the key part of the game. The situation at the entrance is as follows - the modulated sound of a guitar with a slight current, the hum and rustle of percussion paraphernalia, tiny blasts from the saxophone tuba, and finally a modest bow on the double bass griffin. All the actors make astute short-cuts that work well together, building the intensity of the message but not stimulating any special dynamics. Lytton wouldn't be himself, however, if he didn't care about rhythm. He builds it on all the objects that come within reach of his long hands. Keune flows freely, full of respect for Evan Parker's achievements, although the latter is not lacking here at all. Electro-acoustic post-jazzy freechamber is born slowly, woven with small details, micro-actions and reactions, or free dialogues in sub-groups. Occasionally, the musicians work in a more dynamic mode, which they are able to slow down in a split second with extremely spectacular phrases. Since there is no lack of synthetic elements, the whole narrative occasionally takes the form of fake sounds, but generally the story balances well between acoustic and electronic accents, and in a finite number of cases relies on the supremacy of the former. As if to prove this point, a modest antithesis - at around the 10-12 minute mark, most of the sounds float in a fog of synthetics, even the prepared saxophone sounds somehow mysteriously unnatural. The narrative flows through hills, squeezes through cracks, dissolves through valleys - again and again the musicians dictate changes to us, which in each case seem to be pulled narratively by a different instrument. The bow generally slows down beautifully, Lytton's drumming even on the bare table usually adding to the dynamics. The saxophonist is comfortable with both variations, and the guitarist, though often working in the background, also provides us with nothing but aural pleasures. It gets especially beautiful around the 20th minute, after another perfect descent into the area of silence. The musicians make their way from acoustic to post-synth, only to set off in the opposite direction a moment later. The final part of the first improvisation takes a fantastic turn. At the head of the procession marches the tenor saxophonist, closely followed by the double bassist who, for the first time, probably reaches for the pizzicato technique. The artists end this part with a small but powerful portion of free jazz.

The next three improvisations are much shorter, lasting less in total than the entire first movement. The second installment of Xpact II begins with the double bass, which flows with a wonderful mix of arco & pizzicato. Percussion hums and guitar and saxophone speckle the flow, sounding interesting. Masters of subtlety and plotting filigree phrases that correlate perfectly, they work like four spirals of a single mechanism, interacting perfectly. Here, after a while, they catch their expression like a fish released into the boundless ocean. At the end of the section, however, instead of wallowing in the emotions of free jazz, they reach for calming, almost relaxing sounds. The third part begins with guitar preparations and an exceptional dry bow on the double bass clef. Lytton adds a handful of synthetic fake sounds, and Keune's sax waits with the first sound until the end of the third minute. In this phase of the recording, the musicians work with longer phrases, which pour down an exceptionally wide trough of almost sheer acoustics. Perversely, it is the electric guitar that begins to set the rules here, aided by a truly Parkeresque, yet gentle tenor timbre. The narration becomes darker, and after a short while it is strengthened by a very massive portion of low frequencies, created mainly by a double bass, but not without the participation of mysterious guitar sounds. Improvisation thickens - synths pulsate and stimulate acoustics. The musicians don't escalate the tempo right away, they hang around for a while, waiting for the moment to fall into the arms of a more fiery story. Xpact II reaches its highest peak and then serves us an impressive stopping in real-time! Bravo! The final improvisation is just a small, less than four-minute encore. But even here the musicians have prepared for us only delicacies - tiny molecules of saxophone and prepared guitar sounds, beautiful bass pulsation, whose repetition seems endless here, and finally rhythmic rustling of percussion. The narration is full of wonderful details, carries on with a small, last elevation and then fades away in a sense of a duty fulfilled. Xpact never dies! Original review here: spontaneousmusictribune.blogspot.com/2021/06/keune-hirt-schneider-and-lytton-as.html

*) The recording is currently available on Bandcamp: destination-out.bandcamp.com. This site consumes almost the entire artistic output of the key label for improvised and freejazz music, the German label FMP Production.

credits

released May 16, 2021

Stefan Keune – tenor sax


Erhard Hirt – guitar & electronics
Hans Schneider – double bass
Paul Lytton – Trobriander laptop + miscellaneous table top objects

All pieces by Keune, Hirt, Schneider, Lytton (GEMA)
Recorded on Sept. 25th. 2020 at King
Georg, Köln 
by Miguel Ortiz Caturani

Mastered at Soundatelier, Münster
Thanks to IMPACT & Elisabeth Coudoux 

CD produced by Trevor Taylor and XPACT 

Sleeve design by Hans Schneider

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The Acheulian Handaxe appeared first around 1.4 million years ago. For about 1 million years it was used by early humans throughout the Pleistocene period without significant design changes. Modern archeological evidence suggests that the handaxe was more than just a tool, and was used for elaborate social displays and for sexual selection. ... more

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