The International Composers and Improvisers Ensemble is a progressive modern creative troupe based in Munich, Germany. It was founded by cellist, contrabassist, and composer Johanna Varner in collaboration with experimental trombonist Christofer Varner. Johanna was born in Munich in 1963; Christofer came into existence at Salt Lake City three years earlier. After his family relocated, he grew up about 190 kilometers from Munich in Stuttgart. Both individuals are classically trained with extensive chamber and orchestral backgrounds. Johanna began concentrating on improvised music at the age of 23 and studied with jazz bassist Rufus Reid. Christofer, who received instruction from Mingus Dynasty veteran Jimmy Knepper, began to expand his artistic methodology in 1992, and now combines improvisational trombone technique with the use of electronic sampling software. In addition to the ICI, Johanna has established numerous educational and culturally significant operations including "International Encounters", the children's musical theater program "Music First-Hand", and the "Improvised Music Munich" project. Her "Composer in Dialogue" concert series is designed to feature exceptionally creative individuals with the ICI Ensemble Munich. The Varners are also members of the Ammü Quartett with percussionist Han Bennink and violinist/violist Mary Oliver.
The ICI Ensemble's trumpeters are Oliver Kollmannsberger, Rich Laughlin, and composer/educator Franz-David Baumann, who doubles on euphonium. In addition to Christofer Varner, participating trombonists are Roberto Mandruzzato and Leo Gmelch, who also blows the tuba. Reeds are sounded by Roger Janotta, David Jager, Stefan Schreiber, and Markus Heinze, a bass clarinetist who handles baritone and Tubax contrabass saxophones. Along with Johanna Varner, the string instrumentalists include Gunnar Geisse, who uses laptop-computerized guitar and banjo; "5.1 Surround guitarist" Andreas Paolo Perger; free-form bassist Georg Janker, and Siegfried Rössert, who is equally proficient with double bass, electric bass guitar, and Powerbook computer. Pianist Martin Wolfrum and percussionists Bastian Jütte, Sunk Pöschl, and Yogo Pausch have also played with this texturally diverse organization. Special guests have included French contrabassist Joëlle Léandre and Susan Alcorn, an innovative steel guitarist from Baltimore.
In September 2003 the ICI performed in Munich with saxophonist Evan Parker and the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra. In 2007, the ICI released The Wisdom of Pearls, an album of original works by four members of the group. The first composer in the "Dialogue" series recording appeared in 2007 and featured trombonist, musicologist, and AACM historian George Lewis. It was followed in 2009 by an audio recording of "Who Am I?" and "No More," two audio films by Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth, who operated laptop computer and bicycle machine, and "Winter Sun Crying," a special collaboration with celebrated poet, bassist, and multi-instrumentalist William Parker. All of these recordings were released on the Neos label. In 2009, Johanna Varner shared an album with Mary Oliver and called it Jomo. On October 6, 2010 the ICI engaged in a Battle of the Improvisers with Mischa Mengelberg, Han Bennink, Mary Oliver, and the Instant Composers Pool Orchestra at Munich's Jazzclub Unterfahrt im Einstein. On January 27, 2012 the ICI performed with electronic sound artist Knut Aufermann of the London Improvisers Orchestra.