By Ken Waxman
Perhaps Martin Schmidt could be thought of as a Mark Zuckerberg with improvised music cred. A German mandolinist and electric bassist who has been gigging since the ‘80s, he was able to start gligg records and the Spielraum recording studio because his love for advanced mathematics plus the growth of social networking presented a unique opportunity.
In 1996, Schmidt, who had previously been a full-time musician, usually in groups with trombonist Christof Thewes, decided to pursue a long-time ancillary interest in physics, mathematics and computer programming. In 1999 he helped create a comprehensive, world-wide social network for scientists using a system he invented and patented. By 2009, when the network was sold to Elsevier Science, B.V., the world’s leading science information provider, it had registered more than 400,000 scientists and had 1.8 million scientific profiles
“The sale gave me the chance to step out of that business and get back to music,” Schmidt recalls, “and it explains where the financing for gligg records and the studio comes from: I decided to invest a good part of the money into long lasting and sustainable platforms, specializing in music that always suffers from lack of money.”
Founded with an investment of 100,000€, the high-end Spielraum studio does no commercial productions and is a separate entity from gligg. However Schmidt is owner and managing director of both, is Spielraum’s chief engineer and so far has played on seven gligg CDs. Thewes is on 12. Spielraum and gligg are both located in Schiffweiler/Heiligenwald, about 150 miles from Frankfurt. In local dialect “spielraum” means playroom, while “gligg” means luck. Also “gligg” is intentionally unusual to easily appear on internet search engines.
This mixture of the local and the futuristic characterizes gligg’s releases. Committed to the most up-to-date standards of fidelity; physical, download and streaming distribution; focused marketing and publicity; and a five-year plan to establish the label; the initial CDs feature musicians Schmidt has played with over the years. “We started with what existed and what was ready to be released first, bands that were mostly driven by Christof or both of us,” Schmidt explains. “We then extended our network to include many Berlin-based musicians. There will always be music by us on gligg, but over time it will balance with other artists.” A dozen CDs make up gligg’s first set of releases, with the second another 12. “There’s more going on than current labels are willing to publish so too many things lack documentation,” avers Schmidt. “That drove me to build a studio for documentation first and then a label to get things published.”
Although gligg’s first projects were built around Schmidt’s and Thewes’ Undertone ensembles, subsequent releases feature, among others, such players as Japanese drummer Shoij Hano; Australian bassist Clayton Thomas, American cellist Thomas Ulrich and Greek pianist Antonis Anissegos.
“The reason I appear so frequently in gligg’s first production phase is that Schmidt and I realized a lot of projects, which could now be released via the label,” remembers Thewes. “In addition I recorded a couple of projects which could be released by gligg in very small editions. With these records Schmidt could experiment with the design, colors and picture-selection without being under time pressure – which is important for the start of a label. I hope I can go on to record in the Spielraum studio in the future and publish via gligg, but the number of CDs will definitely decrease – although I still have material for another 50 or so,” he jokes.
As for gligg’s musical identity: “There’s no hard definition of what gligg publishes, but the core spreads definitely from avant-garde and experimental jazz through free improvisation to contemporary music, which will come with two records dedicated to John Cage’s compositions performed by percussionist Dirk Rothbrust,” Schmidt elaborates. “These genres fit nicely together and overlap in many cases. I see no problem to publish any genre, as long as there’s a good portion of innovation in it.”
“It was [bassist] Jan Roder who first came up with the idea to record our trio Die Dicken Finger in Martin’s studio,” notes Berlin-based guitarist Olaf Rupp, featured on four gligg CDs. “Later [trombonist] Matthias Müller offered Martin a recording we made in Berlin; and it was [saxophonist] Frank-Paul Schubert who invited me to a recording session there. Die Dicken Finger was difficult to record, because of band-sound was more akin to hardcore and rock, so I drove to Schiffweiler to do the mix together with Martin. I brought my guitar and on the third day we recorded some duos.
“The big problem with improvised music in Europe has been that there are so few private sponsors and we depend so much on the benevolence of public cultural budget administrators. With the rise of turbo-capitalism this benevolence ended and financial support has gone down to almost zero. It’s very special that in a small village in the countryside something is possible that was never possible here among the arrogant and shattered Berliner improvising scene. I can’t tell you how much I was surprised when I heard about Martin's plans to start a new label in my old home region. I like Martin’s well-thought-out grass-roots approach. He’s planning everything very carefully and realistically. I hope I can travel many times to the hilly countryside of Saarland and do many recordings for gligg.”
Gligg can record, mix and master a CD plus provide a cover design and publishing at a cost far less than musicians could do on their own, notes Schmidt. Since “musicians never make CDs without the need of at least 150 for themselves, we split the costs for the initial release.”
Adds Thewes: “The main advantage of gligg is the connection to a first-class recording studio. Selected musicians who do not receive payments for recording sessions can use the studio without any costs for their productions, recording, editing, mixing, mastering and finally publishing via gligg. Musicians are only bound to the label for that particular production and can publish with other labels.”
Still Schmidt is realistic about improvised music’s place in the business world. “Sales don’t yet play any serious role, as this kind of music only finds a very small audience around the world,” he adds. “But the idea is to build on the image over the next years to establish gligg in the world wide community of enthusiasts.” The label’s multi-focus will continue with projected CDs including a quartet helmed by trumpeter Axel Dörner and a one matching pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach with the Undertone trio.
So is this ambitious five-year plan to establish an important creative music imprint while running a high-end recording studio enough to occupy Schmidt’s time? Not really. Since 2009, he has been studying for a bachelor’s degree in physics from a UK-based distant learning university and expects to have it completed in 2014.
--For New York City Jazz Record November 2012
November 6, 2012