Phil Wachsmann (born 1944) is a contemporary / new music violinist composer performer. He has worked with many musicians in the free jazz idiom, including Evan Parker, Fred van Hove, Barry Guy, Derek Bailey, Paul Rutherford and many others. Largely concerned with improvisation, he developed work on the violin both acoustically and with electronics.
John Corbett notes that Phillip Wachsmann came to free improvisation from a predominantly classical background, particularly via the contemporary experiments of indeterminacy, graphic and prose-based scores, conceptualism and electroacoustics, listening to Webern, Partch, Ives, Berio and Varèse, reading ‘Die Reihe’ and interrogating the rhythmic, harmonic and melodic preoccupations of Western art music. Starting in 1969, Wachsmann was a member of Yggdrasil, an ensemble performing works by Cage, Cardew, Feldman, Ashley and others and in this group he used contact mikes on the violin and made his own electronic instruments, ring modulators and routing devices. Ironically, his studies with Nadia Boulanger in Paris (1969-1970) pushed him hard in the direction of free music. He recalls: ‘Despite her neoclassical orientation, her insistence that composition is about the imagination of performance and its realisation, the live moment, and her stunning ability to make this happen was a powerful influence on me, steering towards ‘performance’ and therefore ‘improvisation’.’
Philipp Wachsmann was born in Kampala in 1944 and moved to England in 1954. He studied violin with the international artist Isolde Menges, and music at Durham University gaining a BA with first class honours, and received a scholarship to study violin and composition at Indiana University, Bloomington USA in 1964/5, and another scholarship to study composition with Nadia Boulanger in Paris in 1968/9 where he also attended courses in modern music given by Henri Pousseur, and, by Pierre Boulez in Basel. He was a lecturer subsequently at Durham University 1969/70 and then moved to London to start a performing career.
He pioneered new sounds using the violin and electronics and can be heard on over 90 LPs/CDs on different labels including ECM, and plays worldwide. He performs with most of the musicians working in modern and improvisation related music. Ensembles and recordings include the London Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, the late Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, Barry Guy, the Belgian pianist Fred van Hove, and Tony Oxley. Recent ensembles are the Stellari String Quartet, The Imaginary String Trio but he often works as a soloist alone or with other groups. He regularly conducts his own pieces with the London Improvisation Orchestra. Compositions include ‘Three Draft Pistons’ for violin and electro-acoustic tape, a work for Chamber Orchestra, and various pieces and conduction projects with the London Improvisers Orchestra.
Recent performances include a tour with the video artist Kjell Bjorgeengen and musician Keith Rowe in the ‘Kill Your Timid Notion’ festival tour, a tour in the trio with the Chicago based saxophonist Ken Vandemark and Paul Lytton, and with the artist Sarah Eckel at the FMP Festival in Berlin.
He also works with film, dance and architecture. For many years he was Director of the Electronic Music Studio at Morley College and currently teaches courses in composition at the City Literary Institute.
He was much influenced by the music of Uganda heard since childhood and by discussions with his Father Klaus Wachsmann over the years, and by ethno-musicological thinking, though he has developed his own musical language as a performer and music making musician. Recently he delivered a now published paper on the “Changeability of Musical Experience – influences on my music making”.
Starting in 1972 he has given regular workshops in improvised music at various places and which have been a starting place for many of today’s performers.