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Stevan Kovacs Tickmayer

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Topic: Stevan Kovacs Tickmayer
Posted By: toroddfuglesteg
Subject: Stevan Kovacs Tickmayer
Date Posted: November 27 2011 at 14:27

Born in 1963 in Novi Sad, Vojvodina (ex-Yugoslavia) as part of the Hungarian minority there, Stevan Kovacs Tickmayer currently lives and works in France (since 1991). He studied piano and double bass and then continued to composition studies in the Academy of Arts in Novi Sad as a student of Rudolf Brucci and went on to The Hague in the Netherlands to complete these studies where he graduated with fellow composers Louis Andriessen and Diderick Wagenaar.

In 1986, during his studies, he established his ensemble called Tickmayer Formatio, where he mingled his classical training with jazz and avant-rock. This group was active until 2001.

I got in touch with Stevan for his story.


Your biography has been covered in your ProgArchives profile so let's bypass the biography details.
We will also end up with a pretty thick book if we goes through everything you have been involved in. A book I hope you one day will write. So we have to be selective and only talk about your albums listed in ProgArchives and personal things. How was it to grow up in Novi Sad during the Tito era and how much did that influence your music ?

Actually the book is already written, but in that manuscript (not yet published) I am not talking much about myself, I was rather more concentrated on the things that happened around me (and doing this, probably I was also telling much about myself in a more indirect way). The book ends with the outburst of the war; I was really trying to escape the well paying formula of the “victim”: such a commonplace, very often employed by artists who never had whichever problem in the country. Most of them used the fact of coming from ex-Yugoslavia as a golden opportunity, where their background served as a great “career” starter in Western lands. In a certain way we were all victims, but I – just as many other artists - was far from suffering directly as unfortunately many did on the battlefields, concentration camps or other of many crime scenes.
To answer your question, I shall try to give you a bit wider picture of the country and my hometown of my youth. Probably the younger generation is not really accustomed with the history of that country (well, finally it ceased to exist) but one should know that it was a very special one back in Tito’s days, when the political map of the whole world was a very different one. We are speaking here about the period of Cold War, where the probability of the outburst of a new devastating and probably nuclear confrontation - between the US and USSR - was on the every day’s menu. In that context Yugoslavia had a very special status: close to communism but far from Kremlin, ogling with the West (especially with US and UK), getting huge loans from the latter countries (and others) and giving away massive amounts for the help of the so called Non-Alignment Movement which was Tito’s brainchild. The “well fare state” and the “not so well fare state” periods succeeded each other often abruptly, changing immediately the cultural policy as well. Artists and writers had much liberty (well, not enormously) than their colleagues stacked in the countries of the Warsaw Pact, just because the Yugoslav Communist Party wanted to show to the world how that country was more open, prosper and human than those controlled by KGB’s criminals, although, much less openly they often employed more or less the same procedures as the Soviet secret police did. In that sense, even in the eighties – when it was clear that the system is over - some artists were imprisoned if they were misunderstood by the authorities or their work contained a hidden political disagreement. Of course, this was the dark side of the moon of the secret police (so called UDBA), and information on these cases didn’t leak out at all, especially not outside the country borders.
Yugoslavia was built in 1918 on the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian (the north and the western part of the country: Slovenia, Croatia and Vojvodina) and the Ottoman Empire (more or less the rest: Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Macedonia) and it was constantly drenched into contradictions (ethnic, religious, political and class) that finally led the country to a two collapses (1939 and 1991). Before the World War II, while the country was bourgeois, all avant-garde tendencies were treated as left orientated and consequently condemned to a marginal status. After the World War II, when the country became socialist (and communist as well) the avant-gardes were treated as an extreme of the Western bourgeois decadence. The year when I was born (1963) was marked by Tito’s crusade and condemnation of avant-garde tendencies and since that moment, the political power had a ambiguous relationship with all new tendencies in art, music literature and philosophy.
Jazz musicians – although not avant-gardes - had also a kind of difficult starting point during the first years of the after World War II period. Until 1948, Tito was an allies and a good friend of Stalin, and Moscow feared everything that had a decadent Western taste. Luckily the love affaire between YU and USSR ended in 1948, when Tito said a historical “NO” to Stalin (that started the so called Informbiro period in the country) and risked a huge military escalation (US Army was in a maximum state of alert just as the USSR Army and their satellites, already positioned on the Hungarian-Yugoslavian border). This put the end of the Zhdanov doctrine and aesthetics (although the street in Belgrade which bears his name, was never changed – sounds again quite contradictory) and let some fresh air in the cultural life (although still well controlled). But I am not going to tell you the whole history of the cultural life of the country here but rather concentrate on things I can recall.
I started to listen to rock and soon after that to the jazz and jazz-rock music, quite early on. Those early teenager days coincided with the probably most flourish years of the history of country (we are speaking here about the seventies). That was a period when in the country a bunch of state controlled record companies existed: actually almost every republic - as the state had six of them, plus two autonomous provinces – had at least one big company (as Jugoton and Suzy in Zagreb/Croatia, PGP RTB in Belgrade/Serbia, Diskoton in Sarajevo/Bosnia, ZKP RTLJ Ljubljana/Slovenia, etc.). The quality and the catalogue of those (and other) companies were clearly inferior of those coming out from Western record plants, but from time to time, we got some substantial vinyl releases of the groups or personalities from abroad. Useless to say, as soon as you were interested in a more underground or alternative music, your only choice was to get those titles from the West and that was quite complicated and expensive. Here are some progressive names of those days I can recall that were licensed to and published by some of the before mentioned publishers: many of main titles from the seventies of the groups as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, David Bowie, ELP, YES, Genesis, Jethro Tull, etc (this list of course is not exhaustive). Also some of the main titles in the field of jazz-rock of the same period, groups as: Mahavishnu, Return to Forever, Herbie Hancock, Billy Cobham, The Crusaders and alike. And finally speaking of the 70’s, some punk and new wave acts as well: Sex Pistols, Clash, Damned, B52, XTC, PiL, Devo, etc. In any case, that wasn’t huge but at least something.
However, classical music was poorly covered and the records with new tendencies of those days, with the exception of few records of domestic composers – mainly from Croatia – didn’t exist at all. I never saw Schönberg, Stockhausen or Varese in any of record shops (that came later, in the 80’s, when a small selection of Hungarian classical music records were imported in some of the record shops). Paradoxically, the new music (and the good classical releases as well) was much better covered in Hungary, the country that was directly under the Soviet control. Same stood for music scores – nobody published them in Yugoslavia (with the rare exception of Composers Associations, who printed few copies of some of their members) in the same time, Hungary had a great catalogue and availability even of new music scores and literature. Considering classical and jazz music Hungary – due to its great music heritage - was always and remained superior comparing to Yugoslavia. This was for me a godsend: as a member of Hungarian national minority, I had no problems with all those great books and score instructions I bought in Budapest at bargain price (life in the countries behind the iron curtain was much cheaper than in YU). The great deal of my music education comes from books, scores and records bought in Budapest and from experiences of playing there during eighties with some very fine improvisers.

Rock music (along with some prog-rock, jazz-rock and punk-rock industrial-rock acts) was without any doubt the best music that Yugoslavia ever had. I have a kind of very personal theory about that: in my opinion, as the country was a new one (founded in 1918 with the unification of three major ethnicities), things that are usually based on a long tradition (as classical music, painting, philosophy or even literature) never really flourished in that young and in many aspects artificial country as there weren’t much to build on. A long and continuous tradition was clearly missing, the situation was especially a chaotic in literature, as the common language, the so called Serbo-Croatian failed to impose itself. However, the rather fresh artistic disciplines as film, conceptual art or rock music gave far better results.
To be honest, back to those days, I wasn’t really crazy about neither domestic rock nor jazz music scene; the interest came post-festum, after I left the country, although it was more in a documentary sense than the artistic one. Today when I look back, I have to say that the rock scene was a much more stimulating than any jazz one. Few interesting groups existed back to those days as: Time (from Zagreb/Croatia) with their really good first - the white - album, Korni Grupa (from Belgrade/Serbia) a very controversial band that was capable to put out a double album built on a Middle of the Road pop songs (LP one) and some sympho and jazz rock mixture very close to the language of Soft Machine (LP two). There was also a bunch of interesting groups from Slovenia as: September (complex rock music with lot of jazz-rock influences) Buldožer (was a very much Frank Zappa influenced rock happening concept), Sončna Pot (the completely forgotten and definitely the best jazz-rock band of the ex-country), the great Begnagrad (the first RIO and the best group in all ex-YU – at least for me) and finally the first punk acts in the country, the group called Pankrti (whose first album I really loved in my teenager days) and of course the world renowned Laibach. The so called, folk rock scene – which always represented the YU rock establishment– never affected me in the slightest, as it basically dealt with the kitschy, new tradition of folk music heavily based on Turkish melismatic patterns, a very popular style of nowadays Serbia and Croatia as well. Again, another paradox situation: besides hating each other, Serbs and Croats always considered Muslims as their biggest enemies.
As I mentioned above, my way was a quite different one and that is probably one of the reasons that I always stood in a gloomy shadow of that country’s music scene. Back to those days, the domestic rock music scene never gave me enough satisfaction: I was searching for something considerably more experimental (finally, I did that with The Science Group much later) and the jazz one was even less inspiring. I was still very young when I heard for the first time the father figure of Hungarian free jazz music, deeply rooted in Bartók’s style and the Hungarian ethnic music of the old tradition, György Szabados, who was – and still is – my biggest influence on my free improvisational style and procedure. Actually, although I have – another paradox – more references in the prog rock world, probably due to my compositions for The Science Group and the collaboration of some musicians from that scene, as a musician, I spent a far more time in the world of free improvisation (I never played publicly classical jazz music, although I like it very much). The concerts of Szabados’ formations and especially his solo piano music showed me the path and definitely reaffirmed something I was already guessing but wasn’t sure of: that there is still left much to build on Bartókian (and most broadly speaking on the old tradition of Carpathian and Balkan regions), on the language(s) which is our mother tongue (it was quite often rejected by the represents of the avant-garde composers of 60’s). My biggest concern with the Yugoslavian music scene in general was a lack of originality and deeper roots – as a new country which desperately tried to show and prove its internationalism, it was rather under the influences of Anglo-American music or under the aforementioned kitschy folk music of new tradition (something that Bartók strictly rejected).

You moved to France. Why France ?

Completely by chance, in fact I was supposed to work with the choreographer Josef Nadj who eventually invited me to France. He was based in Orleans with his dance group so, this is the shortest version of the story how I landed in the city where I still do live. Otherwise, before coming to this country I didn’t have a slightest contact with it, especially not in the field of music and culture. I was studying in Holland before arriving here, and probably I would try to settle down there or in Hungary after the outburst of the civil war in ex-Yugoslavia, where I refused to be mobilized by Milosevic’s killing machinery. As the job with the dance group seemed an interesting and a promising one, finally I did choose that option. Honestly, today I am not really sure whether I did the right thing. France is a closed society in every possible meaning of that word, and that affects much the country’s cultural life as well. French people doesn’t really communicate with the world and they still think that everybody should speak their language, as it is “the nicest” one. Consequently, they can hardly speak any other languages and establish a real communication and intellectual exchange on an international level (well this is well known) so, they rather opt for a cultural incarceration within national boundaries. This inevitably leads to the cultural provincialism characterized by a hard, desperately romantic and anachronistic cultural nationalism (e.g. recently I heard that the French jazz is the best on this planet!?!? in fact, every French product is the best on this planet) where, if you not aligned with this kind of thinking and cultural imprisonment, many doors remain closed forever. There is nothing bad to love your country, language and culture, but when in that cultural landscape there is no place for anything else, one should really start to ring the alarm bells.

This is an archive based interview also intended for the fans you get well after both you and I have passed away so let's go straight to your albums. Please give us your views/some words on your albums, starting with.......

Monumentomanija Maleroznog Prvoborca from 1987

Well, this is a kind of bootleg recording (although not a harmful one, as it was recorded and distributed by people I know) of the concert played at the jazz festival in my hometown (Novi Sad). The title is also a kind of bootleg – I would never give a title like this, especially as it is a very murky one. By the way, in the same period there was another – double cassette – release, entitled  Intellectual Cabaret/Résumé 1984-86, a concert recording made in duo with the Formatio drummer, the late Djordje Delibašić (1965-2005).
This is the recording of the biggest formation I ever had. If I remember well, we were eighteen at the end of the concert, when the basic formation of four musicians (improvisers) was enlarged by a dozen of classical musicians. This was a period when I tried to make a synthesis between strictly composed parts with free improvised passages. Problems arose when classical musicians (who were employed along with free improvisers and prog, or if you wish art rock musicians) faced the improvise parts of compositions, and became speechless as basically nobody was able to improvise among them. For that reason I always included in my scores controlled aleatoric elements (the technique developed by Witold Lutoslawski and the other Polish composers from the 60’s) and with that, I somehow blended classical players into free improvisation. The performance of the last and the longest piece sounded pretty impressive, as the musicians were placed in the vast entrance hall of the concert venue. The group of eighteen players - positioned in the middle of that hall - had a large benefit of the hall’s huge reverb and an effect of the “spatialisation” was a really powerful one. You can’t hear much of that on the cassette release as the concert was recorded with a small Walkman of those days; therefore the overall sound quality is pretty bad and important nuances completely inaudible. The composition ended with a repetitive kind of dense cluster, particularly dominant in those acoustic circumstances. A friend of my told me after the concert, that the ending of the composition had the frightening effect comparable with the scene from the film Come and See of Elem Klimov, most precisely the scene when the Nazis burned down the church with the enclosed poor civilians.

Moments to Delight / Urban Music from 1988

This album contains a pretty much same line up, venue and esthetical and compositional procedure as the previous one. Moments To Delight is again a live recording (the only recording of mine that included two drummers) and Urban Music is a studio recording. There are a lot of things missing here, both in instrumental and compositional sense as well, as we were extremely limited with rehearsing and studio hours. Saxophonists as Dresch and Grencsó or the drummer Geröly, came from Budapest few days before concerts and they didn’t have much opportunities or time to work together with my group. However, back to those days, I travelled a lot to Budapest and played much with all those guys, so somehow I did belong to that new jazz scene from the eighties.
Apart from all the imperfectness, I still do like all those recordings, reminds of a period when I was searching for something that I couldn’t really rationally explain nor completely achieve. In that sense, that was a kind of experiment with totally unforeseeable results.

Spes from 1988 

Again a concert recording (same venue, the Studio M of Radio Novi Sad) of my very first solo piano recital I gave in my life. The concert program was a bit longer (some twenty minutes plus) but with the technology of those days, we had to respect the physical limits of the vinyl record. To be honest, I was never interested to publish this recording, as I thought it contains many holes (well, this was my first attempt in the world of soloing), but that concert was a special one in the eyes of many people, as it was probably the very first kind of fusion between contemporary composed music, free improvisation, ethnic music and some hidden rock elements as well in that part of the world. In any case, it was a first solo piano vinyl record of that kind in ex-Yugoslavia. After the release of it, I got a lot of positive feedback, and people still likes the youthful energy and the positive sounding of those compositions/improvisations. It is a pity that nobody in the West (where I sent a bunch of these records) wasn’t interested in it, so it still stays as my sole solo recording release (actually, I am preparing a “25 years later” one). Back to those days, that part of the world was still considered culturally as an inferior margin. When the West emptied itself and the fresh blood was urgently needed, all of sudden, those regions became (especially with the war) attractive, so even in New York you have bands who mix Balkan music into their stuff (well, this always results with a worst trash, as only the surface is integrated in, without the basic understanding of the culture they have borrowed or plundered).

Comedia Tempio from 1991

Wilhelm Dances from 1993

I put them together as both represents the same body of the work: these two CD’s contains recordings of compositions I made for the dance company of Josef Nadj. I wasn’t much involved in incidental music writing in my life, therefore these CD’s represent a half of my “stage-music” output. This was a kind of intermediate period in my life, when I casted away the idea to mix musicians of different background together, as well as to try to incorporate free improvisation into a strictly composed body of work. Most of that music is consciously simple, basic and melodic (but not tonal in a sense of functional tonality) and bears a character of background music, although those compositions embed some interesting ideas as well.

Repetitive Selective Removal of One Protecting Group from 2005
Cold Peace Counterpoints from 2008

I put those together as well, as they are incarnating a pretty same aesthetic world. Your readers are going to find much detailed information about these releases on my website, but let me underline here that these releases conclude a long period (almost ten years) in my creative solitude, when I employed and used a whole arsenal of new technologies in my compositions. That took me a considerable time as I wanted to go deep in that new world of possibilities. From the very beginning it was clear to me, that first I should really find out “what exactly I want to make with endless possibilities of the technology, otherwise I am lost and stacked in the jungle of great possibilities”. This led me so far, that in the certain moment I enrolled computer science studies, but – luckily – I realized that I don’t believe in scientific concepts in music and art in general (here I have to note that science was never a strange subject for me, and I am still much interested in many topics). In the same time, I was interested in pushing the limits of the machines and not to make them sounding human (this concept is especially omnipresent on “Repetitive Selective Removal…”). As a player, I am much more present on the second one, and probably the third (as these albums are imagined as a first two of a trilogy) will involve just a tiny bit of technology and lot of piano playing.

How is the availability of your albums?

I think you can still get almost all of those titles through ReR Megacorp with the exception of the cassette and Comedia Tempio. (I still have about 20-30 copies left of the latter, if there are somebody is interested in it, one can freely e-mail me and purchase a copy of it).

Some of these albums are released as Tickmayer Formatio. Is the approach to the music and the end result different with Tickmayer Formatio than on the albums released under your own name ?

Tickmayer Formatio was the name of my group that ended in 2001 (lasted for 15 years). From the very beginning it was clear for me that I could never form a group with stable number members as all those projects differed tremendously and consequently demanded different profile of musicians. Hence the term Formatio (which - one might guess - on Latin means formation) and no trio, quartet or whatever. It was a formation of at least two up to – as I mentioned above – eighteen musicians. I think you are right; the music I composed for my group is quite different that I made myself or I composed for orchestras or soloists in a classical sense. The group was always an experiment for me, a laboratory where I tried out ideas without the fear that “now I have to approve myself as a composer, otherwise the number of my commissions are going to drop drastically”. If you are a composer, working with your own group has many advantages (disadvantages as well) in comparison to composers who changes customers all the time.  

For those of us unfamiliar with your music; how would you describe you music and which bands would you compare yourself with? 

This is probably the most difficult task, as my music definitely embraces many influences and crosses a lot of boundaries, but one thing is for sure: I never valued music and art exclusively from the technical point of view and the degree of “novelties” (what a stupid aesthetical measurement) involved; and I was never a religious bigot and adept of an exclusive technique or aesthetic. I was always much more interested in an anthropological and ontological aspect of music and art in general, as well as the spiritual content of the same. Technology and technique are a great things, but not the only important in a life of human, the old Greeks knew that very well and had a great balance between the “heart and brain” (singing and thinking). This is something that we lost in our blind technological race, the one which led us to a nowadays scientific (even Einstein found himself in a shaky position) and moral crisis (nuclear power plants are still favored by many politicians – as scientist couldn’t find anything better and more profitable – despite the obvious dangers and hazardous use of nuclear energy) as well as economical collapse (well, probably this is the most disgusting part of today’s false morality of western democracies).
As for a comparison with other bands and music, in my life I listened to such a huge number of different groups and individuals that I would need few books to have enough places to mention them all. And I never had a favorite band but rather favorite pieces of many of those bands. But anyway, I always feel truly flattered when somebody tells me that my music has a real East European flavor.

How is your creative processes in your band from coming up with an idea to it's being recorded What is the topics on your albums?

The truth is that unfortunately I never had a real band, most of my vinyl and CD releases were basically diverse kind of projects, and for those I always had to gather different profile of players in that sense I would rather say that those were a different projects. Having a band is a very different way of dealing with music, it is much more creative, as all the members of the group are gathered around the group in an equal level of involvement, having one aim and deeply interested in what they are doing. This kind of communications with fellow musicians I had much more in situations when I played with improvisers, and that is again a very different kind of experience. I don’t want to say with this that in my group I never had musicians really interested in my music, far from that, but the level of interest and involvement of each of them differed from case to case. And you know in a band, even if you are a composer; very often the other members propose creative ideas and solutions. I was never a dictatorial kind of composer and always welcomed and listened to the ideas of other musicians. As composers, we are often dazzled and obsessed by some fix ideas, and often we are not really aware that we are trapped and lost in some blind alleys. It was very interesting to work with Chris Cutler, Bob Drake and the others, as although I was the composer of all the Science Group compositions (and I wrote out everything, you know in a classical manner), those guys came up with plenty of very creative advices and added them freely to the composed material. This is very different from the situation when the musician comes to the rehearsal, reads his score and leaves the rehearsal immediately after the last note is played, as he/she has to run to the other rehearsal, where he/she is going to play most likely an entirely different music (without noticing it). 
As for topics, your readers will find a very detailed description of many of my albums or compositions on my webpage.

What is your current status and what is your plans for the rest of this year and next year ? 

I am trying to play more live concerts and in the same time I warmed up collaboration with old musician partners as Boris Kovač with whom I didn’t play for twenty five years. With Boris we assembled a quartet for improvised music called Ultima Armonia and we shall start playing concerts next year, at the moment we are actively rehearsing. There is also a trio – Trio Kontraszt - with my old colleagues from Budapest: saxophonist Grencsó István and the drummer Geröly Tamás, we already played (after more than twenty years) in this trio line up this summer in Hungary. Again, there are much improvisations involved, the video recording of the concert will be soon uploaded to my site. And finally, there is a third group I am involved with at the moment, it is a trio with two younger French musicians: Stéphane Decolly on bass guitar and Nicolas Larmignat on drums. With them I am preparing a few, rather complex, heavily composed pieces of mine with also some improvised moments in almost all of them. For the readers of your webpage, this music is probably going to be the most appropriate one, as they will certainly find many prog elements in it.

To wrap up this interview, is there anything you want to add to this interview?

I think I said quite enough and this time I didn’t copy-paste a single word from my previous interviews (and that is rare) so, if there is anybody who needs some more, he can freely take a look on my webpage where one can find a lot of written material as well.

Thank you to Stevan for this interview
The PA profile is" rel="nofollow - and the homepage is" rel="nofollow -

Posted By: avestin
Date Posted: November 27 2011 at 14:55
Phenomenal interview with a composer and musician I've been interested in learning more about for a long time now. I have some of his cd's (his latter material) and highly recommend them.

-------------" rel="nofollow - Hanging Sounds" rel="nofollow - PA Index of prog music vendors

Posted By: ShW1
Date Posted: November 29 2011 at 07:14

I'd really like to dig in to this interesting musician releases. especially to the 'science' project. I dont know when this is going to happen (so little time... so many good music to listen to...)

Posted By: Man With Hat
Date Posted: November 29 2011 at 19:11
Great interview indeed! Thumbs Up
Looking forward to hearing the third piece in that trilogy as well as a couple of those new/upcoming projects.

Dig me...But don't...Bury me
I'm running still, I shall until, one day, I hope that I'll arrive
Warning: Listening to jazz excessively can cause a laxative effect.

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