Reviews by Massimo Ricci

The A23H chronicle


E.M.T. (Laubhuette Productions)

This instalment of the “Memories” is particularly important, despite the fact that E.M.T. belong to a very early period of Alfred Harth’s artistic life and, as such, reveal a lot of the initial “work-in-progress” phase of a career which touched on a multitude of different aspects. This notion is strictly linked to the other fundamental root of another cooperative improvising medium founded by the same person - Just Music, to which we will return in an upcoming chapter.

The origin of the E.M.T. collective dates from 1972, year in which AH decided to use three letters to designate a project destined, in his vision, to remain unlinked from any idea relative to a repertoire or a style, and whose meaning was left open to interpretation. The saxophonist recalls that, asked about the name, the favourite translations were “Energy/Movement/Totale”, “Extreme Music Troop” and “European Music Tradition”, the latter a bizarre choice since this stuff has very little “traditional” accents, unless you want to consider free jazz as folklore. It is interesting to note that the Frankfurter was completely unaware of AMM and SME in that period, therefore copycat-ism is out of the question: what was coming from these people was entirely original, like it or not.

The basic nucleus of E.M.T. consisted of Harth on reeds and assorted sonic tools, his then spouse Nicole Van Den Plas on piano and electric organ, brother Jean Van Den Plas on cello and bass and the percussionist who, in AH’s words, plays like “rolling ocean waves”, Sven-Åke Johansson (who, in turn, called it “dynamic vibrations”). Additional contributors (on the recorded material checked for this article) included Helmuth Neumann and Michael Sell, both on trumpet and Liliane Vertessen on trombone.

Harth had begun a steady live activity with Van Den Plas in Belgium a couple of years prior, playing with Peter Kowald and Paul Lovens among others. Johansson, who had performed first with him in 1968, joined them for a trio immortalized in the only official release, 1974’s Canadian Cup Of Coffee on SAJ. The three were intrigued by visual arts, and the drummer also recognized the influence of Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire (although his version of Sprechstimme is more similar to a drunk man mumbling amid trash cans in an alley…). The tracks’ names were so-called “fanciful inventions” by our main character, who wanted to mix exotic hints, European classicism and German Dada in the same cauldron.

The above mentioned record is probably the most restrained (!) example of what E.M.T. were able to do, as the sense of humour characterizing several of its sections is pronounced and typically vivid. Still, when one lends ears to the recordings dating from 1973 - gathered in two CDRs respectively named Haus Dornbusch / Heidnische Klänge / Heilbronn and Hamburg Fabrik - acknowledging the expressive urgency and lawless vehemence of the ensemble comes rather natural. E.M.T. treated the need of telling the truth against refined insignificance like an affair of honour, pushing their instruments to the limit almost everywhere yet managing to find some available space for duets or, if so preferred, parallel solos that demonstrate pragmatism and perseverance even in absence of aesthetical beauty. Face it: these incensed collections run well over 70 minutes, and attempting a moment-by-moment description would be pathetic. This is about the portrayal of a spirit, not visualizing instrumental colours. Of course, Van Den Plas is as far from grandiloquent as possible, her role apparently tailored to connect the extrovert passions of Harth and Johansson, the whole often turning into veritable frenzies informed by forward-looking wholeheartedness. But all the participants, in every circumstance, seem to listen to no reason, merely worried with keeping the embitterment against the potential enemy active. Let’s not forget the politically charged era in which this was happening: accepting those seemingly incessant blowouts will then be painless - maybe. Let me stress it: a relaxing experience this ain’t, finding correlations also easier said than done. E.M.T. obeyed to a hard-nosed conviction of creative paganism, and there was no time for rethinking. If you still want to do business with this concept three decades and a half later prepare to shed your ear fluff, as this music refuses the definition of “embellishment”.

Considering that the travelling for that era’s tours was made, according to the reports, utilizing vehicles in the category of Renault 4, Citroen 2CV and Volkswagen Beetle, one justifies the musicians’ urge of stretching someone else’s nerves once they went on stage after those uneasy trips.

E.M.T. in Wikipedia
in Temporary Fault