Davey Williams, LaDonna Smith, Gunter Christman & Torsten Müller's classic outsider piece, originally issued on Davey & LaDonna's seminal Transmuseq label in 1981- complete with a separately printed reproduction of Hal Rammel's comic book "Song of an Aeropteryx"!!!
Improvised music in Tuscaloosa, Alabama had its beginnings in the early 70s out of diverse roots. Davey Williams had been playing with guitarist Johnny Shines and in various rock/blues bands like Wally du Goombah (which already included a lot of experimentation with instruments and sounds). LaDonna Smith was studying composition and teaching electronic music at the University of Alabama. They met in 1973 (introduced by harpist Anne LeBaron) and their first duo concert took place on the University of Alabama campus on April 7, 1974 with LaDonna on piano and viola and Davey playing both Gibson Les Paul guitar and bass clarinet. Davey Williams has observed: “There existed in Tuscaloosa a circle of friends who were playing very free music by 1970; some were musicians, some weren’t. This gradually evolved into a conscious effort to play ‘freed music’. When I met LaDonna we really triggered each other musically and conceptually, and our work as a duet led to the gradual expansion into what is now TRANS.”
Trans was short for "Transcendprovisation." Davey Williams expanded on the concept in a letter reprinted in the 1977 issue of BELLS: “The point to me is how the music composes itself. The only function of me the musician is to bring it out as faithfully and as clearly as possible.... Perhaps more important is the practice of being in tune with the music itself as it comes out, being right in the middle of it (faithful transposition of thought to sound, unconscious) at the same time being at a distance from it, being able to follow the changes in direction, sensing the endings when they appear, etc.... We appreciate the phenomena, and invite them subconsciously....”
Trans drew upon an extensive array of musicians, including Anne LeBaron, Adrian Dye, Ted Bowen, Tim Reed (alias. Fred Lane), James Hearon, among others, and was only one part of an active musical scene. Other groups included the Blue Denim Deals, the punk swing of Ron Pate and the Debonaires, and the music theater extravaganzas of Raudelunas. Trans toured the south in the mid 70s, distributed music on reel-to-reel tapes, and within a couple years made their first appearance in New York. They took part in a performance of John Zorn’s “Lacrosse” which was included on a John Zorn and Eugene Chadbourne LP on Parachute titled School. The London-based magazine MUSICS published Peter Riley’s airmail interview with Davey, LaDonna, Ted Bowen, Tim Reed, and James Hearon in their November 1976 issue. In those early years they were always questioned about their emergence from America’s less cosmopolitan centers. Davey replied to Peter Riley: “Being so far (in another land) from the acknowledged kingdoms of art discourages being an artist of musician as a get-rich and famous scheme. Nobody plays Dixieland music inland, and most southern women aren’t Appalachian, and there are tornadoes every year and summer heat in the upper 90’s for weeks on end; survival is different than in the city. There are many thick woods and poisonous snakes; people have gardens you know. The culture at large engages in worthless time-killing activities based on their exploitation by large-scale profiteering, but you can exist at least partially free from all this sort of stuff. You can live with aspects that urban life, art, business render untouchable. There’s something here; you can’t put your finger on it . . . .”
The first trans record (a quintet session) appeared in 1977 under the TransMuseq label. Another Tuscaloosa-based label called Say Day Bew had already released a Raudelunas Pataphysical Revue recording from 1975 and had a Blue Denim Deals record titled ‘Armed Forces’ Day featuring a 14-piece improvising ensemble in the works. TransMuseq expanded its catalog with Folk Music (a trio with bassist Ted Bowen) and Jewels (a trio with harpist Anne LeBaron). As the 70s ended the first European tours by the Trans duo were beginning.
Torsten Müller, Günter Christmann, Davey, and LaDonna met at the Moers festival in 1980. As Torsten tells it: “Davey and I had been in contact by mail since the late 70s I guess. Like many improvising musicians back then, who were scattered about the globe in improbable places, we were readers of the wonderful magazine MUSICS where we read reviews of each others records, wrote articles and aired our views.”
The magazine MUSICS, first published in London in the spring of 1975 by an organization of improvisers called the Musician’s Collective, was crucial in fostering communication between improvising musicians far beyond its dedication to the London scene. Its 25-30 cut-and-paste pages were packed with interviews, record reviews, concert previews and reviews, cartoons, theoretical discussion on the nature of music and improvising, and, at times, a contentious exchange of ideas and opinions that carried from one issue into the next. Unbeknownst to the editors and contributors of its first issues, the momentum of MUSICS spread far beyond local issues to a larger community than they originally intended. Steve Beresford was one of its founding members: “We were always committed to examining musics from all over, but also in covering improvised music we and our friends in London were making. As soon as people in other parts of the world started reading the magazine, they started writing to us, so we were quickly aware that it was having an impact beyond the UK.” Torsten Müller reports: “I think I discovered MUSICS Issue 4 on sale at a festival in Holland. From then on I looked forward to every edition. I still consider it the best music magazine ever made, by far. Whilst I lived in London briefly in 1979 I helped staple the mag together on a couple of occasions. I was already playing at the time and through MUSICS I met a number of musicians with whom I collaborated and became friends (Nigel Coombes, Roger Smith, Colin Wood). Many of these friendships and collaborations exist to this day (John Russell, Jon Rose, Roger Turner).”
Bassist Torsten Müller came into the free improvised music scene in the mid 70s, first playing with Free Music Communion (an ensemble with guitarist Herbert Janssen and pianist Udo Bergner) recording three LPs on their own Fremuco Records label. He co-founded the large improvising ensemble King Ubu Orchestra and was a memeber of this ensemble for 10 years. By the time of the Moers festival in 1980 Torsten Müller and Günter Christmann had been working together for some time. Günter Christmann had been active as an improviser in Europe since the late 60s playing both double bass and trombone in a variety of groups with Rüdiger Carl, Peter Kowald, Tristan Honsinger, and, from 1973 on, as a member of the Globe Unity Orchestra. The breadth of his work may best be represented in his VARIO projects, many of which have been documented on LP and CD, expanding his international interests to include widely different combinations of improvising musicians, dancers, actors, clowns, and acrobats.
Torsten recalls: “When Davey and LaDonna came back to Europe for a tour the next year, we played a number of trio gigs and invited Günter to join us for some of them. He organized a concert and recording date for the quartet at Schulzentrum, Langenhagen in Hanover. I think it was the first time we performed and recorded as a quartet.” Out of several days of performances in February of 1981 came the Fremuco record Ham Days, a live recording featuring Davey, LaDonna, and Torsten with members of Free Music Communion, pianist Udo Bergner and guitarist Herbert Janssen, replacing Günter Christmann. Three days later the quartet of Davey, LaDonna, Torsten, and Günter met for a studio session. Plans were made for a separate release of those recordings with the provisional title In flagranti. Günter Christmann took a set of abstract photographs of telephone poles for the cover and Torsten contributed ideas for titles. Ultimately, two of Torsten titles (“White Earth Streak” and “Born for Water”) were used on the record, one of those doubling for the LP’s title. White Earth Streak was issued as TransMuseq 7 in 1983 using a powerful cover collage by LaDonna and Davey’s Alabama surrealist comrade Dorah Lee Rosen.
Hal Rammel, September 2001