From Japanese website Jazz Tokyo
An interview about “Horizons Touched”, March 2007
Kenny Inaoka: When and how the idea of publishing the book come about?
Steve Lake: It has been quite a long story. In 2000, ECM was approached by London-based publishers Granta to contribute a “soundtrack” for a music issue they planned for their magazine. I should explain that there are two branches of Granta: Granta Books and Granta the magazine. The magazine is a paperback-book- sized journal of new writing that appears quarterly. Fiction, poetry, journalism and some photography and graphics. And each issue revolves around a single theme. In autumn 2001 they wanted to do Music, and the magazine’s deputy editor Liz Jobey came over to talk to us in Munich. Granta asked ECM to provide a representative CD that could accompany the magazine, and offered us carte blanche to include we wanted. In the end, ECM decided against it -- not least because it’s exceedingly hard to do a representative sampler of what the label is about...
In the course of the discussions, however, we realized that we had some things in common with Granta. Their book range extends from Dostoevsky and Canetti to volumes on philosophy, art, memoirs, and modern fiction by writers such as A.M. Homes (just to mention one author I’ve been reading lately). In the last couple of years they’ve added some music journalism – including the Ashley Kahn books about Coltrane and Miles Davis - but at the time we were first talking they did not yet have any. My overall impression of their catalogue was one of serious intent coupled with openness. Quality was obviously important to them but they weren’t following one single artistic or aesthetic line. This made me think we were somehow in the same business.
So I was pleased when they approached us at the end of 2003 with the idea of doing a book about the label. Their editorial director, George Miller, is an ECM enthusiast, although he is more from the classical music side of things, and is a latecomer to jazz. And he felt that a comprehensive book about the label was overdue. In meetings in 2004, he and I talked about various possible authors and agreed that the problem was that there was not one single writer able to address the whole spectrum of music on ECM. Then Granta pointed out that I’ve known Manfred Eicher longer than any other English journalist (I first met him in 1973) and said I should consider writing the thing myself. I thought about it briefly but couldn’t see a way to write the entire book while also doing my regular work at ECM; there are not enough hours in the day. I agreed to edit it, instead, and to steer the project.
What is the concept of the book?
20 essayists discuss different aspects of ECM’s work between jazz, classical music and folk music, film etc. Plus interviews with Manfred Eicher and Jan Garbarek. Interwoven between the texts are short statements from the musicians, composers, engineers, film makers, photographers and graphic artists associated with the label “whose voices form an oral history in counterpoint” as the book’s dust-jacket says.
Were the contents compiled in the book discussed between just you and Paul or did Manfred also put his own idea in it?
The written content of the book was entirely selected by me and Paul. When I showed Manfred some page proofs quite late in the editorial process he reminded me of a few important archive photos I’d forgotten, so we went looking for those. But the texts he read only when the finished books arrived.
How were the roles shared between two of you (or also George)?
The ground plan for the book I discussed with George Miller first of all. But once the basic plan was sketched I felt I wanted the support of a co-editor who was really an authority on classical music and contemporary composition. I’ve unavoidably gained a lot of knowledge about these worlds through working at ECM but at heart I’m still a free jazz guy with a love of improvisation in the different traditions. I wanted a counterpart who was more deeply involved with structure and interpretation in composed music. Paul Griffiths was my first choice. I’ve appreciated his writing for many years: he has an incredible depth of knowledge allied to a novelist’s feeling for language. Paul was enthusiastic about the book project. In fact, the book’s title is his. Between us we chose the authors for the different chapters and solicited the statements from the musicians. In many cases we interviewed the musicians – Paul taking care of the classical side and me the jazz and folk - and we wrote the many introductions to the players’ statements. Every text in the book was edited by both of us. I believe it’s a significantly stronger book for Paul’s involvement. He also saw early on that the statements from the players were one of the key elements in making this book unique, and encouraged me to collect more of them.
How long did it take until the book was published?
We started talking about it in Autumn 2003 and it was published in Spring 2007. Much of the actual writing was done in nine months in 2005 – then there were some postponements while the design went through several revamps. In that time I also updated the text with artist statements by musicians who were new to the label, including Rolf Lislevand, Nik Bärtsch, Kayan Kalhor and Miki N’Doye, and added the discography.
What do you want to emphasize most with the book?
The most important thing for me is the fact that we have the full range of voices on ECM represented here. From Roscoe Mitchell to Gidon Kremer, from Arvo Pärt to Lena Willemark, from Anouar Brahem to Helmut Lachenmann, from the Hilliard Ensemble to Jean-Luc Godard. And the diversity of expression self-evidently dismisses the clichés about a single “ECM sound”. At the same time I think it’s fascinating that we find a lot of common ground between the ideas and priorities of musicians involved in early music research, free improvisation, folk, etc. ECM illuminates both the differences and the similarities between these groups of players.
There’s a lot of information in the book. I see it as a companion volume to the music itself, a guide to help you go deeper into the music, as well as a celebration of Manfred’s epic work as producer.
Where do you think ECM stands, not just in the music industry but in culture in general?
That’s really a question for someone outside the company to answer. But I feel good about the fact that the label has survived for almost forty years as an independent force, without caving in to the demands of fashion, and without being subsidized or sponsored by this or that patron. ECM is living proof that you can stick to your artistic principles and find an audience if you are sufficiently determined and ready to work hard.
Do you think the increasing number of productions in New Series may reflect the diminishing power of jazz?
Not really. If you are looking at the whole world of composed music there is still obviously a great deal to be documented ...especially in 20th and 21st century music. And the whole early music world is very creative – with some of ECM’s ‘jazz’ people actively involved in that now too – Garbarek, John Surman, Barry Guy.
What do you think was the most significant point of building up New Series?
ECM started with jazz, but it could as easily have started with the classical end of things. Manfred was always equally interested in the two streams. He talks about this in the book. ECM was already recording Meredith Monk and Steve Reich in the 1970s but the discovery of Arvo Pärt’s music made the establishing of a new line an imperative.
ECM catalog is reaching its 1000th album but actual releases count approx 950 as of March 1st. What are the reasons for the missing items beside those to come out in coming months?
I don’t know. I guess it depends how you are counting. Jarrett’s “Sun Bear Concerts” was a 10-LP (6-CD) set with a single catalogue number, “At the Blue Note” is a 6-CD set with six catalogue numbers. I regard the 40 ECM Japo albums as ECM productions. The next Meredith Monk album, already recorded, has the number ECM 2021. By my approximate reckoning we’re well over the thousand already. The few ‘missing’ catalogue numbers: some are unfinished projects which may yet see the light of day. And some are finished albums waiting for the right moment.
When did you first become interested in ECM?
About 1970. I bought Marion Brown’s “Afternoon of a Georgia Faun” and the Music Improvisation Company LP with Evan Parker and Derek Bailey. A bit later I bought the Dave Holland/Barre Phillips duo album, and Circle’s “Paris Concert” and so on. By 1973 I was working for the music press and reviewing ECM albums in the Melody Maker and elsewhere.
When did you find your place in ECM ,and what was your job?
I joined the Munich staff in the summer of 1978, as a staff writer/producer working in a general A & R supporting kind of role. (We don’t really have titles at ECM). One of the jobs was to give some focus and direction to the Japo label. In the 1980s I went back to journalism for a decade, then re-joined ECM in the early 90s.
When and what was your first production?
I was a co-producer on Globe Unity’s “Compositions” in January 1979. That was soon followed by “Endgame” in April of that year with John Stevens and co, and TOK with Takashi Kako and friends in June 79.
How many albums have you produced for ECM so far?
Have you ever observed Manfred producing sessions?
Yes, many times. Starting with Kenny Wheeler’s “Deer Wan” in Oslo in 1977 with Wheeler, Garbarek, Towner, Abercrombie,. Holland and DeJohnette all playing together. Not a bad introduction.
Do you need to consult Manfred about your production plan, in other words, are you in a position to decide productions yourself?
Manfred’s the boss of course and ECM is very much his label. The productions that I do could realistically all also include his name as “executive producer.” That said, he has given me a degree of freedom for which I’m very grateful. Every project needs his OK but I’ve been encouraged by him to pursue some quite extreme musical directions over the years. Robin Williamson singing poetry to the accompaniment of free improvisers being one recent instance.
What do you predict in the future of ECM, more New Series? More visual stuff or what?
All of that. More albums of composed and improvised music and of music between the idioms. More albums based on literature. More films in the ECM Cinema Series.
Do you think you will find many young artists outside Europe too?
Sure, why not?. Personally I don’t care if they are young or old artists. Some of my most fulfilling and enjoyable experiences in the studio were with Hal Russell and Joe Maneri, both of them over 65 at the time. Amazing men - each with his completely original musical universe.
Have you ever been contacted by Japanese musicians for possibilities of production by ECM?
We are contacted every day by musicians from everywhere, who send us thousands of demo tapes which we have unfortunately little or no time to listen to.
From time to time Japanese musicians do appear on ECM, however. Quite recently we had Hiromi Kikuchi and Ken Hakii playing on Kurtág’s “Signs, Games and Messages”. Plus Thomas Demenga playing music of Toshio Hosokawa – with Asako Urushihara on violin. And so on.
What do you think of solo works created by Masabumi Kikuchi for his forthcoming ECM album?
This is very inward looking, poetic music. I like it. I think it opens up a space between Paul Bley at his most abstract and John Cage’s piano music.
And where do you think his music will be most appreciated in the world?
I don’t know, but I think it’s clear that the audience listening to Kikuchi’s “At Home” piano music will not be purely a jazz audience. Which is fine of course since ECM is not purely a jazz label.
Horizons Touched means you could now touch horizons (achievements) you only saw far ahead when you had started the label?
In other words you have achieved goals you set up in the beginning?
That's one possible reading of the title, Kenny. Although, conventionally, the horizon is always out of reach, isn't it? But it could also refer to two (or more) horizons touching each other or interpenetrating. For instance, the horizon of classical music and the horizon of jazz. In the end it's an image that the reader is free to interpret as he or she wishes.
Horiuchi who translated Paul's book on John Cage into Japanese told me "his dense text is quite hard to translate". Can you tell me what his personality is? It's true that I shared a dinner with him in Oslo, but he was too tired to talk after the hard sessions for “There Is Still Time” and Manfred talked himself a lot on that night.
To be able to translate Paul Griffiths adequately I'd say you need a translator whose feeling for words approaches Paul's. He has the capacity to be both impressionistically evocative in his writing and an accurate reporter. That's an unusual combination, especially in the classical music world. He gets the facts across while also taking the weight of each word and phrase and the way they sing together. He's a journalist who writes like a poet - or vice versa. I consider him as much an artist as anybody featured in the book.
We've spent a bit of time together in Munich but not very much: most of the book was realized via email with texts flying through cyberspace. Me in Germany, Paul in Wales.