Founded in 1969 by legendary producer Manfred Eicher at a moment when the status of contemporary music was being redefined across all genres, ECM (Edition of Contemporary Music) aimed to bring jazz, improvised, and written music out of the studio and into the world. Acoustically rich and transparent, ECM's productions set new standards in sonic complexity.
Eicher's productions recorded some of the world's most extraordinary music and brought sound to a new dimension of spatial definition that set the label apart from its peers. ECM's enormous stable of artists includes Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Carla Bley, Meredith Monk, Marion Brown, Codona, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, along with music from the New Series by composers from Perotin and Machaut to Arvo Pärt, György Kurtág, Giya Kancheli, Heinz Holliger, Luciano Berio, Steve Reich, and Heiner Goebbels - performed by musicians including Gidon Kremer, Dennis Russell Davies, Kim Kashkashian, Thomas Demenga, the Keller Quartet, András Schiff, the Hilliard Ensemble, and many others. As a result, ECM's high standards of quality, clarity, and freshness remain points of reference in the musical world today. Gertrude Stein's instruction, "think of your ears as eyes", expresses what constitutes the label's unique language, which Manfred Eicher has continued to expand over the years.
Moving images and sound
The exhibition is designed as a sensorial field where photographic, sonic, filmic, typographic formats and installation are intermingled. This method of display pays tribute to ECM's overall achievement: its interdisciplinary and cross-cultural approach in which the complex relationship between sound and image finds its place, as do poetry and contemporary art.
One of the exhibition's central pieces is "See the Music" by Theodor Kotulla. Made in 1971, the film eventually fell into oblivion, but is now being shown for the first time in many years. The camera accompanies Marion Brown (alto saxophone), Leo Smith (trumpet), Manfred Eicher (bass), Fred Braceful (percussion), and Thomas Stöwsand (cello, bassoon) during rehearsals and preparations for a concert; Marion Brown's intricately composed improvisations; and an interview in which Brown and Smith discuss the fundamental elements of creative music. The closing scene of the musicians walking through the English Garden also makes the film a historical document on Munich as an avant-garde hub.
Commissioned by Haus der Kunst
, the Otolith Group developed a video essay researching the relationship between film and sound. This video is inspired by archival material in relation to the three albums that Codona (Don Cherry, Collin Walcott, and Nana Vasconcelos) recorded with ECM between 1978 and 1982. The Otolith Group (Anjalika Sagar and Kodwo Eshun) derives its name from otolith, i.e. "ear stones". These small anatomical particles in the inner ear, responsible for balance and orientation, symbolize the shifts in attention the artists' collective focuses upon.
One film in the "Four American Composers" series by Peter Greenaway (1983) is dedicated to the singer, performer, dancer, and choreographer Meredith Monk, who realized her first recordings with ECM. Greenaway captured a seminal performance of "Dolmen Music" in which Monk's theatrical-musical approach is particularly apparent, as is her conviction that sounds can simultaneously be futuristic and archaic.
In trustful cooperation with Jean-Luc Godard, Manfred Eicher worked on the soundtrack for the filmmaker's movie "Nouvelle Vague", the complete version of which was later released by ECM. "When you hear the soundtrack of my film without seeing the images, it is even better," Godard once remarked. This audio version, supplemented in the exhibition with film stills and expanded into an installation, renders the plot with its transparent thread between objects and people just as tangible as do images.
Films by Stan Douglas ("Hors-champs", 1992) and Anri Sala ("Long Sorrow", 2005, with saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc) complement the exhibition with central positions in contemporary art that explore the nexus between free jazz and its cultural political and social transatlantic realities as well as the specific ways of its media representation in European television.
Studio photography and sound
Included in the exhibition is photographic documentation by photographers such as Deborah Feingold, Roberto Masotti, Ralph Quinke, Dieter Rehm, Andreas Raggenbass, and Takashi Itoh, among others who have closely followed the musicians during recording sessions, concerts, and performances. Particular rarities are the photographs shot in 1980 in New York during the recording of Steve Reich's "Octet. Music for a Large Ensemble". The original blackand-white prints depict the musicians both during their recording, and when they were listening to it. Deborah Feingold thus provides unique insight into the entire recording process and the moods that arise during the listening phase.
In 1978, ECM released the "Sun Bear Concerts". The original ten LPs in this box contained the complete recordings of five improvisation concerts the pianist Keith Jarrett gave in Japan in 1978. Takashi Itoh photographed the artist's expressive facial expressions and unusual body gestures - thereby documenting the nature of the creative process in images.
ECM usually published the documentary photography inside the album booklets; only rarely did portraits of musicians appear on album covers.
Graphic design and sound
ECM used graphic design with as much originality as it employed photography. Typefaces, drawings, watercolors, and collages illustrate many of the label's covers, which contain as little information as possible and are often di- or monochromatic. This minimalism results from a desire to stand out in an environment in which excessive information generates noise, and is the norm. With graphics, the covers reflect a high respect for the calm for which ECM is esteemed.
Represented in the show is the graphic designer Barbara Wojirsch, who worked for ECM from the early 1970s to mid-1990s, and photographer Dieter Rehm, whose experimental images have appeared on many album covers.
"ECM A Cultural Archaeology" is Okwui Enwezor's first presentation for Haus der Kunst. Co-curator is Markus Müller, Berlin, project assistant is Anna Schneider, Munich.