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To quote from the booklet notes to the first Ensemble CD;“…formed with the object of finding stimulating and satisfying ways of making music with a large number of improvising musicians. One of our approaches to group improvisation is to work within predetermined structures.”
The group was first heard in 1985 at a concert organised by Chris Burn and John Butcher at the LMC premises on Gloucester Rd, North London. As seen from the flyer the personnel was not that of the octet that was established soon after. For the LMC concert the group worked with some very simple predetermined structures. Adherence to some kind of ’skeletal score’ became a key feature of the group’s work throughout their existence; alongside other schemes and freely improvised pieces.
The octet from this period were;
Chris Burn Piano, John Butcher Saxophones, Jim Denley Flutes, Phil Durrant Violin, Matt Hutchinson Synthesiser and Electronics, Marcio Mattos Double Bass and Cello, John Russell Guitar, Stevie Wishart Violin and Hurdy Gurdy
This octet that was to work through the 1980s and ‘90s. They initially gave concerts in London, and a special concert was arranged in the Purcell Room, South Bank Centre in December 1989. For this event a number of scores were devised by Chris Burn, and John Butcher composed his piece ’Fun for All’. Richard Barrett reviewed the concert for the Wire wrote;
‘Chris Burn’s Ensemble is precisely that: the loosely-structured octet music which predominated in their performance isn’t a play of personalities, but a succession of textures of teeming complexities, whose individuals contributions (however striking in themselves) hardly ever draw the attention away for long from the febrile turbulence of their combinations. …….The Ensemble play some of the tightest group improvisation you’ll hear, and some of the most alluring assemblages of sound.’
The following year they performed (with a smaller group) at the SPNM’s Improvisation Day; the octet recorded their Cultural Baggage CD (ACTA 7) and toured the UK
...the restraint and sense of spaciousness to be heard on the groups new CD, ‘Cultural Baggage’, on the innovative ACTA label makes for compelling listening.The group interweaves strings, synthesizer, sax. flute and piano textures, balancing lengthy discussions - as on ‘Influence and Concealment’ and ‘Funforall’ - with concise three to five-minute pieces, and strives for an ensemble ‘sound’ rather than the expression of individual fancy. …….this spontaneous, though paradoxically almost classically organised music should be one of the more fascinating improv meetings of the year. (Jo Hughes, Time Out, 1990)
In 1991 in a concert at the Place Theatre, London, as part of the Crosswinds festival, the group had Evan Parker guest on one piece; Blocks and Arches. A piece by Keith Rowe - ‘Pollock #82 was also performed by the group. This music was later released on EMANEM as ’The Place 1991’ EMANEM 4056.
Through the ‘90s Chris Burn’s ‘Ensemble’ performed at a variety of concerts and festivals in the UK and in mainland Europe. These included Bochum - Ruhr Valley Festival ‘92, Guildford International Festival ‘93, Koln Stadgarten and Ulrichsberg Kaleidophon in ‘95 along with Radio and TV broadcasts for WDR and BBC Radio 3 sessions for Midnight Oil, Hear and Now and Music in our Time.
In 1997 the octet was expanded with the addition of Rhodri Davies, Mark Wastell and Axel Doerner. This larger ensemble recorded ’Navigations’ ACTA 12 (with booklet notes by Richard Barrett). In addition to pieces from Burn and Butcher scores were devised by John Russell, Phil Durrant, and Axel Doerner. The content of the scores varied quite extensively. Burn’s scores primarily indicated various groupings within the Ensemble, Phil Durrant’s piece asked for a number of specific techniques to be used whereas Axel Doerner’s composition was the nearest thing to a fully notated composition that the group have ever played.
Concerts were given at the Victoriaville Festival Canada, 1998 and at the Purcell Room as part of the 7th LMC Festival of New Music, 1998. Following the relative extravagance of an eleven musician group, a more flexible approach to personnel was adopted soon after. In 2001 a concert at the Red Rose Theatre, London by Chris Burn, John Butcher, Rhodri Davis, Mark Wastell John Russell and Matt Hutchinson was recorded for Emanem; ‘Horizontals White’(EMANEM4210). A nucleus of Chris Burn, John Butcher, Rhodri Davis and Matt Hutchinson was augmented by Nikos Veliotis and Xavier Charles for the 2002 Musica Genera Festival, Poland. A piece by Nikos Veliotis was performed along with material from Burn and that of the Ensemble. Again the music was recorded for CD release; Ensemble at Musica Genera 2002 MG006.The following year a similarly smaller group of Burn, Butcher, Russell, Hutchinson, Wastell and Davies was assembled to play the 2003 Bangor Festival of New Music. For some of the pieces, the group was augmented by dancer Eddie Ladd. For the radio recording , as a member of Equity she received a higher fee than the musicians. Very occasionally her footsteps could be heard on the recording. At the festival the group gave first performances of ’Trioled’ by Guto Puw and ‘Codex’ by Richard Barrett.
The 2004 Freedom of the City Festival saw a quartet of original Ensemble members - Burn, Butcher, Denley and Hutchinson - augmented with guest musicians Clare Cooper and Will Guthrie, heard as part of the EMANEM CD 4215 In 2005 a large Ensemble played at the Vienna Concerthaus on the Generator series, and a reciprocal concert took place in Berlin in 2007. For both concerts new pieces were devised. The Vienna concert became in effect a 50th Birthday concert for Chris Burn. This was the largest manifestation of Ensemble since the ‘Navigations’ group.
Chris Burn’s ENSEMBLE, Vienna; Chris Burn Piano, John Butcher Saxophones, Xavier Charles Clarinet, Cordula Bosze Flutes, Franz Hautzinger Trumpet, Eva Reiter Viola da Gamba and Contrabass Block- flote, Werner Dafaldecker Double Bass, Burkhard Stangl Guitar, Paul Lovens Percussion, Helge Hinteregger Sampler, Christof Kurtzmann Llooper.
For the April 2007 Berlin concert the group members were;
Chris Burn Piano, John Butcher Saxophones, John Edwards Double Bass, Burkhard Beins Percussion, Boris Baltshun Computer, Kai Fagashinski Clarinet, Christof Kurtzmann Llooper, Diego Chamy Bass Drum, Burkhard Stangl Guitar.
The following year a small Ensemble was organised in Brussels with Burn, Butcher and Denley partnered by Guitarist Jan Huib Nas and flautist Adelheid Sieuw.
In October 2008 a quintet with Chris Burn, John Butcher, Simon Fell, Christof Kurzmann and Le Quan Ninh played a freely improvised set - no pre-determined structures - at the Festival Densites, France. A recording of their concert can be found at www.lequanninh.net. Other musicians who have played in occasional Ensemble concerts have included trumpeter Matt Davis and violinist Angharad Davies.
Both sets are comprised of free improvisations, instead of the more structured pieces that are feature on the Ensemble's three previous albums. Some may say that the group has grown old enough to face improvisation without a safety net, but that would be unfair as compositional canvas usually don't make things easier. Yet, Burn and co. have rarely sounded this focused and vital, the music this appealingly strange. In the intervening years, all the musicians have thrived to push their playing away from the sounds usually associated with their instruments. This is particularly true of Butcher (who breathes, gurgles and burps, but rarely emits a 'note'), Wastell (king of microscopic bow scratching), and Burn who's inside-piano playing has grown very remote from what can be heard on his 1997 solo CD MUSIC FOR THREE RIVERS. The 22-minuteHorizontals White and the closing Still Life on May Day provide spine-tingling moments, but there is not a dull minute on this hour-long disc. Recommended. Francois Couture. - All Music Guide.
Above; Navigations art work from photo of road repair by Chris Burn. Below; Page of score of 'Circulatory' from Navigations.
The flyer for the inaugural Ensemble concert played at the London Musician'c Collective.
Acta 7. Cover photo is of 'The Diplomat' by Leslie Glasgow.
Above; Xavier Charles and Chris Burn discuss which way up Burn's score is best read. Vienna, 2005.
Below; Ensemble, Vienna, 2005.
Two Emanem Ensemble CDs:
Above; The Place 1991,
below Horizontals White.
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