|Parent company||Universal Music Group|
|Distributor(s)||Universal Music Group|
|Country of origin||Germany|
|Official Website||Official Web site|
ECM (Edition of Contemporary Music) is a record label founded in Munich, Germany, in 1969 by Manfred Eicher. While ECM is best known for jazz music, the label has released a wide variety of recordings, and ECM's artists often refuse to acknowledge boundaries between genres. ECM's motto is the Most Beautiful Sound Next to Silence, taken from a 1971 review of ECM releases in CODA, a Canadian jazz magazine.
Its album covers have been profiled in two books thus far, Sleeves of Desire and Windfall Light, both published by Lars Müller.
The first ECM release was Free at Last in 1969 by American pianist Mal Waldron. For some years the label specialised in jazz, releasing recordings by pianists Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Paul Bley, Egberto Gismonti and Art Lande; saxophonist Jan Garbarek, vibraphonist Gary Burton; drummers Jon Christensen and Paul Motian; guitarists Pat Metheny, John Abercrombie, Ralph Towner, Bill Connors and Terje Rypdal; bassists Eberhard Weber, Arild Andersen, Charlie Haden and Dave Holland; and the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
There is a clear link between some ECM recordings and world music, especially the folk recordings by Jan Garbarek and the work of Steve Tibbetts and Stephan Micus. Other examples of ECM's world music are records by Codona, Tunisian oud musician Anouar Brahem, Indian violinist L. Shankar, Jon Hassell, Dave Liebman and Brazilian percussionist Nana Vasconcelos.
The ECM New Series was created to document Western classical works. It has released work by various composers, from the early (such as Thomas Tallis, Carlo Gesualdo and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina) to the contemporary (such as John Cage, Elliot Carter, and Steve Reich). Keith Jarrett, better known as a jazz musician, recorded several classical works by Bach, Mozart, Shostakovich, and others for the New Series. The soundtracks of several works by the filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard are on the ECM New Series label.
On many releases, the jazz and classical sides of ECM are combined: For example, Garbarek's Officium (1994) features him playing saxophone solos over the Hilliard Ensemble singing Gregorian chant, early polyphony and Renaissance works. Garbarek's work with guitarist Ralph Towner draws on, and is as apparently influenced by, 20th century chamber music as by any overtly jazz-oriented material. John Potter, formerly of the Hilliard Ensemble, has recorded works by John Dowland with jazz saxophonist John Surman and others, and Surman's Proverbs and Songs is a suite of choral settings of Old Testament texts, recorded in Salisbury Cathedral. The label has also released unique works that fit into no obvious genre at all (like the records of composer Meredith Monk).
In 2002 and 2004 ECM released a series of compilation CDs titled :rarum. Twenty of the label's artists were asked to compile a single CD of their work for the label (Garbarek and Jarrett's compilations are double CDs). Artists who contributed to this series are Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Chick Corea, Gary Burton, Bill Frisell, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Terje Rypdal, Bobo Stenson, Pat Metheny, Dave Holland, Egberto Gismonti, Jack DeJohnette, John Surman, John Abercrombie, Carla Bley, Paul Motian, Tomasz Stanko, Eberhard Weber, Arild Andersen, Jon Christensen.
Manfred Eicher continues to take an active interest in the music released by ECM, acting as producer on the vast majority of its recordings, although Steve Lake, Thomas Stoewsand, Robert Hurwitz, Lee Townsend and Hans Wendl have also produced discs for the label. The typical ECM session is just three days — two days to record, one day to mix. Many of the albums have been recorded with Jan Erik Kongshaug (of Talent Studios and later Rainbow Studios) in Oslo, Norway, as sound engineer; other engineers have included Martin Wieland (who recorded Jarrett's "Köln Concert"), James Farber, Stefano Amerio and, on classical recordings, Peter Laenger.
After working as a writer for the Melody Maker Steve Lake first joined the ECM-staff in 1978. While working predominant for the writing department he now has also produced more than 40 records which are more in the experimental areas of jazz like ones of Evan Parker, Roscoe Mitchell, Hal Russell, Joe Maneri or Mat Maneri. Furthermore he published the book Horizons Touched: The Music of ECM (2007) with music critic/novelist Paul Griffiths and made contributions to the books Sleeves of Desire: a Cover Story (1996), Windfall Light: The Visual Language of ECM (2010) and ECM - A Cultural Archaeology (2012). He also answers questions about the label in a forum on jazzcorner.com.
In fall 2012 the Munich museum Haus der Kunst opened an exhibition about the work of the label called ECM - A Cultural Archaeology. It pointed out the early jazz-focused years till mid '80s before the New Series was initiated. In close relation with Eicher and ECM the exhibition was created by Okwui Enwezor and Markus Müller. In contrast to the historic-based content of the exhibition, it was accompanied with a concert series of current artists of the label which included François Couturier, Enrico Rava, Meredith Monk, András Schiff, Evan Parker, Gidon Kremer or Tomasz Stanko. Some of them, anyway, do have a long past with the label - even if their 'home' are ECM or New Series. The catalogue of the exhibition was published by Prestel Verlag in German and English.
ECM and Motion Picture 
The label has a special relation towards film and directors. Founder Manfred Eicher himself is a very passionate movie viewer and directed in 1990 an adaption of Max Frisch’s Holozän together with Heinz Bütler. The label has also released some soundtracks e.g. for The Return (2003) by Andrey Zvyagintsev or Nouvelle Vague (ECM NewSeries 1600-01) and Histoire(s) du cinéma (ECM NewSeries 1706) by French-Swiss director Jean-Luc Godard. This collaboration expanded over the years and led on the one hand into the contribution of several stills from Godard’s movies for covers like Morimur (ECM NewSeries 1765) by Christoph Poppen, Asturiana - Songs from Spain and Argentinia (ECM NewSeries 1975) by Kim Kashkashian or the 2011 Live at Birdland (ECM 2162) by Lee Konitz/Brad Mehldau/Charlie Haden/Paul Motian. On the other hand Eicher took over the musical direction of many of Godard’s films like Allemagne 90 neuf zéro, Hélas Pour Moi, JLG or For Ever Mozart. Besides these Eicher was also the head behind the music of Xavier Koller’s Reise der Hoffnung, Sandra Nettelbeck’s Mostly Martha and the Oscar-nominated documentary War Photographer by Christian Frei. Additionally Godard has released a collection of short films on the label with Anne-Marie Miéville called Four Short Films (ECM 5001).
Apart from her own work Greek composer Eleni Karaindrou wrote soundtracks for stage and for movies which includes Ulysses' Gaze (1995), Eternity and a Day (1998) and The Dust of Time (1999) among other by filmmaker Theo Angelopoulos released on ECM. The Swiss actor Bruno Ganz who has also worked with Angelopuslos has recorded two spoken word-albums for the label: one in 1984 with poems by Friedrich Hölderlin (ECM NewSeries 1285) and one in 1999 called Wenn Wasser Wäre (ECM NewSeries 1723) with works of T.S. Eliot and Giorgos Seferis. Another nameable release is the record Scardanelli (ECM 1761) with texts and music from Harald Bergmann’s film of the same name from 2000 which reflects the work of Hölderlin in his last years. In the title role it features Austrian actor Walter Schmidinger who’s reading the poems and texts on this record taken from the movie. In fall 2012 ECM released a record called Turmgedichte (ECM NewSeries 2285) by actor/voice actor/vocalist Christian Reiner also with poems by Hölderlin.
Furthermore ECM has many projects and albums dedicated to people in the motion picture. For example Italian piano player Stefano Battaglia pays tribute to the work of director Pier Paolo Pasolini on his 2007 Re: Pasolini (ECM 1998-99). Its cover pictures a still from Pasolini’s 1964 The Gospel According to St. Matthew. Polish jazz trumpeter Tomasz Stańko recorded in 1994 Matka Joanna (ECM 1544) as an homage to Polish film director Jerzy Kawalerowicz's movie Matka Joanna od Aniołów (1961). Three years later on his 1997 Litania: Music of Krzysztof Komeda (ECM 1636) Stańko honors the work of another countryman and film composer Krzysztof Komeda who is widely known for the scores of several films by Roman Polanski but was also a jazz pianist. The album Dans la Nuit (ECM 1805) by French woodplayer Louis Sclavis who has also worked as a film composer is a new score for Charles Vanel’s 1930 silent movie Dans la nuit. The French pianist François Couturier has dedicated a couple of his works to the Soviet/Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. This includes pieces on his 2010 solo record Un jour si blanc (ECM 2103) and the albums Nostalghia - Song for Tarkovsky (ECM 1979) from 2006 as well as the Tarkovsky Quartet (ECM 2159) from 2011 - both with photographs and movie stills of Tarkovsky in the booklet. Other examples of works dedicated to the director are the piece Eight Hymns in memoriam Andrei Tarkovsky by composer Stevan Kovacs Tickmayer which can be found on Gidon Kremer’s 2010 Hymns and Prayers (ECM NewSeries 2161) or 3rd Piece by Jan Garbarek on his solo record All Those Born With Wings (ECM 1324). In Spring 2013 ECM released the record La notte by Ketil Bjørnstad which took its inspiration from Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni; its title and cover were taken from the 1961 movie of the same name.
The connection with motion picture spanned further and reached also the design of the booklet of Mnemosyne (ECM NewSeries 1700) by Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble – the successor of their highly achieved Officium (ECM 1525). It includes stills from The Seventh Seal (1957) by Swedish director Ingmar Bergman.
There is also a documentary by Peter Guyer and Norbert Wiedmer called Sounds and Silence (2010) which portraits exemplary the daily work of Manfred Eicher with various musicians including Arvo Pärt, Nik Bärtsch, Anouar Brahem, Dino Saluzzi and Anja Lechner, Jan Garbarek and Kim Kashkashian or Gianluigi Trovesi and Gianni Coscia. The soundtrack with tracks from the recording sessions seen in the movie was as well as the documentary also released on ECM called Music for the Film - Sounds and Silence (ECM 2250). Besides this one ECM has also released concert videos of Karaindrou, Keith Jarrett solo and with his Standard Trio.
- 1980: Down Beat: Record Label of the Year
- 2005: MIDEM Classical Awards: Label of the Year
- 2007: MIDEM Classical Awards: Label of the Year; Jazz Journalists Association: Label of the Year
- 2008: Down Beat: Record Label of the Year
- 2010: Down Beat: Record Label of the Year
- 2011: JazzWeek Awards: Record Label of the Year
- 2012: Down Beat: Record Label of the Year; Jazz Journalists Association: Record Label of the Year
- 2013: Jazz Journalists Association: Record Label of the Year
Further reading 
- Sleeves of Desire: a Cover Story (1996). Edited by Lars Müller, Lars Müller Publishers ISBN 978-3-906700-85-4 1996
- Horizons Touched: the Music of ECM (2007). Steve Lake and Paul Griffiths, eds. Granta Books ISBN 978-1-86207-880-2 2007
- Windfall Light: The Visual Language of ECM (2010). Edited by Lars Müller, Lars Müller Publishers ISBN 978-3-03778-157-9 2009 [English] & ISBN 978-3-03778-197-5 2009 [German]
- Der Blaue Klang (2010). Edited by Rainer Kern, Hans-Jürgen Linke and Wolfgang Sandner, Wolke Verlag ISBN 987-3-936000-83-2 (german only)
- ECM - A Cultural Archaeology (2012). Edited by Okwui Enwezor and Markus Müller, Prestel Verlag ISBN 978-3-7913-5285-5 [English] & ISBN 978-3-7913-5284-8 [German]
- About the exhibition at hausderkunst.de
- About the concert series at hausderkunst.de
- for detailed information see Lake: Horizons Touched (2010), p. 115-133
- Lake: Horizons Touched (2010), p. 7-12
- Kern: Der Blaue Klang (2010), p. 99-111
- Lake: Horizons Touched (2010), p. 5-12
- Lake: Horizons Touched (2010), p. 122-125
- Kern: Der Blaue Klang (2010), p. 83-89
- Kern: Der Blaue Klang (2010), p. 83-89
- Official ECM website
- ECM Records on Facebook
- The "Ask ECM"-forum on jazzcorner.com answered by Steve Lake
- ECM Records discography at Discogs
- ECM Discography (Fansite by Paul Geffen - complete list of out-of-print releases)
- ECM Reviews Between Sound and Space - an ECM Records resource (and beyond) (Fansite)