With its differentiated, contextual approach the program also embraces contradictory developments at the interface between freedom and tradition, as manifested in the music of the Polish band Lautari, with its mix of virtuoso traditional folk and free music, and El Ombligo from Columbia with its “radical deconstruction of Cumbia stereotypes” employing Free Jazz elements.

Free! Music is part of the 100 Years of Now series. If we go back one century, we end up in 1917. At that point in time the Futurists were active, the Cabaret Voltaire opened in Zurich, and Arnold Schönberg was performing his so-called “scandal concerts.” Where do you, as curators, see the beginning of free music within this era?

Detlef Diederichsen: For the phenomena we present at Haus der Kulturen der Welt we can only rarely say, “That was the day free music began and caught the world by surprise.” Almost all musical developments are always in flux, and many of the roots of the music that was new and free a hundred years ago go back to the nineteenth century. Also, free music moves in proximity to and in dialog with developments in other art genres. But we can clearly say that a lot was already going on in 1917: People everywhere were deliberating and testing things, including the liberation of music.

Björn Gottstein: And of course, there are also breaks in the history of music. In 1913, the Futurists made a mark in history with Luigi Russolo’s manifesto L’arte dei rumori; and in 1909, Arnold Schönberg undertook the first expressionist attempts to express a liberated expressive will in the very few clusters of sounds in his Opus 11. In the 1910s, there was an enormous desire for freedom.

People always speak about the global language of music – that it’s cross-border and transcends nations and languages. What role does free music play at a time when the clock is being turned back?

Björn Gottstein: For a very long time music was glorified as a sort of “language of the heart” that all people understood. Actually, this glorification wasn’t questioned until the late twentieth century in the wake of poststructuralist thinking and a somewhat finer concept of differences. The moment people began to ethnologically contextualize and question the concept of music, they suddenly realized that outside Europe, no single aesthetic practice is defined and it is more a social practice. Thus, it became clear that in different cultures “music” is understood as very different things. This differentiation of the meaning of music was very helpful because suddenly the assumption was no longer that “they” mean it the same way “we” do. This made the discourse much more complex.

Detlef Diederichsen: There are parallel and contradictory developments. These are both nationalist retro movements like the Serbian turbo-folk scene as well as departures from local traditions into internationality. One example is the Polish band Lautari, which we invited to Free! Music. With Maciej Filipczuk, Lautari have an extremely remarkable violinist whose playing is every bit as virtuosic and traditional as a hundred years ago. As a result, Lautari also have more than just one audience – they have one that’s interested in free music and one that prefers traditional music. El Ombligo from Colombia also radically breaks up folk traditions that would otherwise run the risk of becoming cliché. They take cumbia stereotypes and radically deconstruct them – not least by means also learnt in free jazz.

Björn Gottstein: That’s another reason why the Free! Music program is so heterogeneous: because the freedom that can be conveyed in music means something quite different in South Africa during apartheid than when Harry Partch decides that twelve notes on the keyboard are no longer enough.

There will be sixteen concerts over the four days of Free! Music. What were your criteria when you curated the program?

Detlef Diederichsen: We’re constantly searching. We travel a lot and listen to a great variety of music. The central aspects of the program are the great liberation movements of people who came from composed music conventions and who were looking for ways to overcome its limitations. People like Conlon Nancarrow and Harry Partch come to mind. We set a special focus on South Africa because the country looks back on a decades-long history of music that had to react to apartheid. It’s a long history, also of musical liberation, that we haven’t told this way before.

Björn Gottstein: We asked ourselves: Where do we experience freedom, where is it endangered and where does it play a role in music? We’re also showing the film Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, in which Cash plays for inmates. We sought a balance between the various possibilities of experiencing freedom, emancipation, dissolution of boundaries, resistance and protest in music.

Did you have any personal epiphanies that shaped your approach to Free! Music and perhaps to the selection of music as well? Are your own biographies and personal interests reflected in the program?

Detlef Diederichsen: In my personal biography, I’ve always had an ambivalent relationship with what is commonly referred to as “free music.” I remember very well how my brother and I recorded music from the radio on cassettes as teenagers. One day we recorded “Responsible” from Peter Brötzmann’s album Machine Gun. To us, it was crazy. But I’m always experiencing key moments like that. Some time ago, I discovered Emil Richards, a percussionist and vibraphonist for The Wrecking Crew in Los Angeles. He made some crazy records where he combined microtonality and groovy 1960s jazz in a completely whimsical way. I’ve always been very interested in these musical hybrids – and of course the ideas behind them. Why does Peter Brötzmann do something like “Responsible”? What are the ideas behind the music of Conlan Nancarrow? There’s a lot to read about that. I find it incredibly exciting also to recognize the equivalencies someone had in mind while composing. Those moments of realization were always great.

Björn Gottstein: Moments of enlightenment like these are phenomenal. There are places in music that you can’t imagine, that you can only discover. Music that brings you to these places, which transcend borders, has something to do with the artist’s yearning for freedom. To enter this place as a listener, to get there, that is our hope for Free! Music.