Sunday, October 30, 2011
Monday, October 24, 2011
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
The journey of these songs began on cellphones, many spread from person to person via Bluetooth and phone-to-phone sharing that circumvented not only the music industry but the Internet. While traveling, collector Christopher Kirkley gathered them by culling memory cards and collected the best of them for release on, ironically, cassette tape, which he passed around to friends and fellow enthusiasts. Inevitably, “Music from Saharan Cellphones” landed on the Internet, where the website now offers it as a free download. It’s as fascinating a glimpse into modern-day West and North African music as “The Guitar and the Gun” collection of Ghanian high life was in 1983.
Auguste Solo’s “Decale” sounds like something M.I.A. will probably adapt in a few years — if she hasn’t already, a snare-drum-heavy romp with West African high life-inspired guitar riffs and an exuberant melodica and synthesizer. Morib’s “Kabablon” is one of the weirdest, wildest rap/North African mergers I’ve ever heard, a wind sprint that sounds a century old, until you realize that a lot of the sounds aren’t man-made but computer-generated. And the mysterious track “Mix” — some songs Kirkley has yet to accurately identify — is a strange, minimal AutoTune chant that taps into some universal groove that conjures not only the Sahara but the Middle East, Asian chants and Brooklyn hip-hop.
In late August the label posted a campaign to raise funds to press a two-volume LP of “Saharan Cellphones” and in the process continue to track down the artists whose work traveled this long, strange trip to compensate them for this unlikely collection. Which means that, if the funds are generated, the music will have moved from digital memory card in northern Nigeria to analog cassette to digital mp3 and an “official” release on ... analog vinyl. If that happens, someone needs to dub it onto eight-track tape pronto."
Sunday, October 9, 2011
Monday, October 3, 2011
Interview taken from Jazz Times
From humble beginnings as one of the key figures on New York’s so-called Downtown improvisers scene of the late ‘70s, upstart saxophonist-composer John Zorn has emerged as an important and influential figure in the avant garde/ experiment scene.
Zorn's triumphs over the past 20 years have been many, including running his own thriving and fiercely independent record label, Tzadik. When I first met him in 1981, he was blowing duck calls in buckets of water at fringe venues like 8BC, Roulette, Chandelier and his own tiny clubhouse, the Saint. By the mid-’80s, he had developed a number of sophisticated ‘game theories’ that involved strict rules, role playing, prompters with flashcards, all in the name of melding structure and improvisation in a seamless fashion. A breakthrough was his piece “Track & Field,” which was performed in 1984 by a dozen or so musicians at the prestigious Public Theater.
As his experiments began to be taken more seriously by the critical community, there followed more showcases at New Music America, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Whitney Museum. Sensing that Zorn was emerging as a significant new voice—the poster boy for post-modernism, as he once quipped— Elektra/Nonesuch Records signed him to a lucrative, high-profile deal and released a string of important works including TheBig Gundown, Zorn’s 1985 meditation on the music of composer Ennio Morricone; Spillane, featuring Albert Collins and the Kronos Quartet; Spy vs. Spy: The Music of Ornette Coleman in 1988; and Naked City in 1989, featuring the album’s titular avant superband with Bill Frisell on guitar, Joey Baron on drums, Fred Frith on bass, and Wayne Horvitz on keyboards. Since forming Tzadik in 1995’ Zorn has been incredibly prolific as a composer. He has created a variety of works including string quartets, piano concertos, chamber pieces, music for children, and compelling new music for his brilliant acoustic klezmer-meets-free-jazz band, Masada, featuring Dave Douglas on trumpet, Joey Baron on drums and Greg Cohen on bass. The current discography for Tzadik numbers over 150 and includes provocative original material by kindred spirits like bassist Bill Laswell, trumpeters Wadada Leo Smith, Steven Bernstein and Dave Douglas, violinist Eyvind Kang, and drummer Milford Graves, with whom Zorn has performed some scintillating free duets over the past couple of years. He has also performed and recorded with the hellacious power trio Painkiller, and Zorn continues to tour frequently with Masada and also plays occasionally with the harmolodic punk-funk band The Young Philadelphians.
I spoke to Zorn in the comfort of the same East Village apartment he has lived in for the past 22 years. Surrounded by his imposing and rather sprawling record collection, he spoke candidly about the state of his art, the nature of commerce, and the prospects for adventurous, art-conscious independent labels.
Generally people regard each new year as a chance to reinvent oneself And I would think the act is even more symbolic as we head into a new millennium.
ZORN: Every day is a chance to reinvent oneself, but the problem is that we’ve been so beaten down by the powers that be that people are happy to be asleep now. What I’ve been seeing is really fucking depressing and I don’t see anything turning it around. I see enormous corporations acting like slave masters, like the return of the pharaohs. I see co-opting all around. I see McDonald’s everywhere. I see the destruction of what you and I love, the small mom and pop stores—people that love the music and that’s why they have their store. I see that being replaced by Tower, HMV, Virgin. And then I see conglomerates; giant corporations merging together to get even more powerful, like that big thing that just happened with Polygram and Universal. So what are we gonna have in another hundred years? We’re gonna have the world owned by one corporation. We’re gonna have all the artists signed to this one label and anyone not signed to this one label is going to be outlawed. We’re gonna have art police running around looking for small labels and independent artists that are not tied up. And we’re gonna have an inquisition. I mean, we basically have an inquisition now.
But then there are people like yourself and Tim Berne who have taken it upon themselves to push their statements forward on their own terms with their own independent labels.
I agree, but we’re all too rare. I mean, I’m doing what I believe in. I’m trying to do what I think is the right thing, the honorable thing. I’m trying to support the music that I believe in because nobody else is either able or interested in doing it. But do I think that in the new millennium that that is going to take over? No, I’m not so naive as to believe that we can turn the world around. I think this is the way the world has been since the first caveman picked up a rock and knocked someone over the head and said, “I’m the king of the hill.” Greed is a basic part of human makeup and greedy people are usually the ones that push everybody around. And in the time of the pharaohs it was done with violence. Today it’s done in much more insidious ways. It’s done with brainwashing and brain-control. These marketing guys who are at the head of all these companies, they’re really the ones that are spoon-feeding everybody shit. And I don’t really see much hope of turning that around because they’ve been thinking about how to fuck us for so much longer than we could imagine thinking about. They think about that as long as we think about making good music.
I remember when I came to New York in 1980 there was a lot of excitement in the air regarding the music scene. Columbia had just signed James Blood Ulmer and Arthur Blythe and there seemed to be a ray of hope that the major labels might actually begin dealing in more adventur ous terms.
ZORN: But what happened? They put out a couple of records then they dropped everybody. That’s a cycle that happens every 15-20 years.
And then Wynton Marsalis came along.
ZORN: Well, I don’t want to get into personalities and pit people against one another. I think there’s a lot of what Wynton is doing that’s great. I think that solo he took on that Citizen Tam record—have you heard that? That’s fucking smokin’! I mean, this guy can play his ass off. But we’re not talking about musicians. I think for the most part musicians are saints. They give and they give and they give and they get very little back. And if someone manages to get something back, I champion that. They deserve everything that they can get because I think they really put their lives on the line and are giving. I’m talking more about the world that we live in, the machines that we have to fight. I do think that history is going to have to be rewritten in the next hundred or so years, as it always has been. People that were really popular in their time eventually disappeared and were forgotten. And people who struggled and did it the hard way and concentrated on the music and tried to make something great, eventually their work came to light. It’s often well after they’re dead. It’s rarely in their lifetime and if it is in their lifetime it’s at the end of it, like Harry Smith getting an award the year he died. That’s beautiful in a certain sense and a fucking tragedy in another sense. And, of course, most of the people who are dropping his name now have never even seen any of his films. That’s the world we live in. I don’t see that changing. We have to accept it. It’s very unfair but it ain’t gonna change. We’re not gonna have a fair world in a hundred years. Maybe we’ll see the collapse of capitalism as we know it. Maybe democracy will slowly change and become something that one would hope the people want. But I think that the people who are in power, those kinds of people are always going to be in power. Those kind of people are always going to be pushing everybody around, lining their pockets with everybody else’s money and ripping everybody else off and feeding everybody shit because they believe that people wanna be told what to do. And the sad thing is, most people do wanna be told what to do. They don’t want to get out there and make choices for themselves. That’s another part of human nature. Always has been, always will be.
But now there is more opportunity for independent labels and artists to get their stuff heard through various mediums like the Internet.
ZORN: You want a ray of hope here in what I’m saying, don’t you?
Well, I’m seeing it happen.
Some people thought that Columbia signing [avant garde saxophonist] David S. Ware was a very hopeful sign.
And yet the fiercely independent artist persists in the face of this adversity and in some cases continues to thrive.
ZORN: There will always be independent artists, there will always be some freak that says, “This is not right, I’m gonna do it my way.” There will always be experimental music. There will always be people who wanna listen to it. But I just don’t see them taking over the world, you know? Maybe when I was 22 years old I thought we were gonna take over the world, that this was the real music. But now that I have a perspective and I’m 46, 1 look back and I say, “Look at the his tory.” Look at thousands of years of how it’s been and how people are manipulated and how greed functions in our society.
How do you see your own place in the scheme of things?
ZORN: I look out at the world and I see chaos. And that’s kind of the formula for being an outsider. You don’t want to be an outsider, you want to belong and you’re burdened with these human frail ties. You need companionship; you need food and drink; you need a nice place to sleep; you want to be understood even though you’re doing something that’s a lit tle difficult; you want your work to be appreciated; you want to be loved. We’re burdened with this. But what we’re doing is we’re creating something that is a little bit scary to most people. It challenges their view of the world. Most people think the world is a perfectly ordered place and they love it. The outsider looks at that and goes, “Man, this is chaos. This makes no sense at all.” And then, they try to tell the truth. And they’re compelled to tell the truth. They can’t help but tell the truth by some inner sense of responsibility.
But you seem to be thriving in spite of the way things are.
ZORN: I’m not particularly unhappy with where I am right now, or with the scene itself. I think this is an incredibly exciting time for real music. I think there’s a lot going on. And I see new generations com ing up being influenced by some of the things that I’ve done and by some of the people that this scene has given birth to. And that’s a beautiful thing. That means that we will never die. That means that death is kind of impossible as this spirit gets passed on in a real, meaningful way. The truth will always be there but you can’t force it down people’s throats. They have to be ready to see it. And, you know, there’s the machine and here we are. And I don’t think it will ever be reversed. I do feel that it’s a lot easier to keep your head clear from greed if you’re not involved with major corporations. When I was working with Nonesuch for a short period of time, I got wrapped up with the same shit of like, “Why does Bill Frisell have a bigger budget than me?” I mean like, that’s something to think about? I could feel greed growing in me like a cancer. And for me, personally, it’s very hard to deal with that kind of shit. Maybe Wynton Marsalis can deal with it; maybe Bill Laswell can deal with it. You know, Bill can sit back and laugh at those fuckers and con ‘em and take ‘em for a ride. He’s great at talking that talk. But it makes me sick to my stomach, you know? I’m better off as an independent. I’m better off doing it on my own terms. I wonder what would happen to Wynton if he started his own company and did it his way. That, I think, would be a very exciting thing—if he didn’t have to answer to anybody or listen to anybody’s subtle brainwashing—you know what I mean? He’d just have to answer to himself. That’s what I’d like to see, more of that. More of people who are in power taking the initiative to do things on their own without the help of these greedy motherfuckers. Because, you know, money is money. But it’s tainted money. There’s something really evil
about those multi-national corporations.
Is the term Jazz” even valid anymore?
ZORN: The term “jazz,” per se, is mean ingless to me in a certain way. Musicians don’t think in terms of boxes. I know what jazz music is. I studied it. I love it. But when I sit down and make music, a lot of things come together. And sometimes it falls a little bit toward the classical side, sometimes it falls a little bit towards the jazz, sometimes it falls toward rock, some times it doesn’t fall anywhere, it’s just floating in limbo. But no matter which way it falls, it’s always a little bit of a freak. It doesn’t really belong anywhere. It’s something unique, it’s something dif ferent, it’s something out of my heart. It’s not connected with those traditions.
What tradition do you feel close to?
ZORN: The avant garde. I would like to see the avant garde, experimental music being accepted as a genre in and of itself. I would like to see avant garde/experi mental sections in the major conglomer ate record stores. Not just in the stores that have intelligent buyers like Other Music or Amoeba on the West Coast— small stores that are run by people who believe, who hire people who know the music, where you can go to the store and say, “Tell me something interesting,” and they will. Remember that? Those were the days of great record stores.
You worked in one [SoHo Music Gallery] in the early ‘8os.
ZORN: Record stores used to be a power ful source of information. I used to go to Discophile when I was a teenager and say, “What’s new in the experimental/classical bin?” And the guy would say, “You gotta check this out, it’s amazing.” In ‘82, I went to Bleecker Bob’s record store and said, “What have you been listening to? What’s the outest hardcore you’ve heard?” And he’d say, “You gotta hear this Die Kreuzen record. It was on my turntable for six months, couldn’t take it off.” Now you go to Tower and you get these morons that are working for minimum wage that don’t even know where Phil Glass goes. I mean, they don’t know shit about Shinola and they’re working at record stores. Some times they’re even buyers and they don’t know what they’re talking about! So no one is getting educated. I’m talking about real grassroots education. That’s where I learned most of my important shit—listen ing, talking to people, exchanging informa tion. Again, I really believe that this music would probably have a better chance of reaching the audience that appreciates it and selling better if there was an avant garde/experimental section in Tower or HMV. It would be a great clarification of where this music is coming from. Hope fully, that will happen in the future.
What do you think about the potential of MP3, where every musician has his own Web site, where people can download new music, like John Zorn. com?
ZORN: That’s a beautiful idea. But do you really think these large corporations are going to let that happen? Because these are some greedy motherfuckers and they’re gonna find some way to fuck everybody. People who know how to manipulate other people are always going to be around and they’re always going to be working for those companies and they’re gonna know how to twirl some shiny object in front of some artist and get their fucking publishing away, and get them off their independent dot com and get them onto Warner Bros. Everybody could have their own little record company, it doesn’t cost that much to put shit out. But I get phone calls all the time, I get tapes all the time and I talk to them and say, “Man, you should put this shit out yourself. I’ll run it all down to you on how to do it.” And you know what? They don’t wanna do it! “Man, all I wanna do is make music, I don’t want to think about the business.” And they are ripe for getting ripped off. And most people are re ally like that. They’re honest musicians with integrity that just don’t want to deal with the business. They don’t want to have their own dot com. And as long as people are like that, they’re victims. That’s been going on since day one.
But more musicians are taking the respon sibility to deal on their own behalf
ZORN: Boy, I would love to think that. But I don’t think so. I mean, I would love to think that in 500 years everybody’s gonna have their own Web site, everybody’s gonna have their own thing. But I don’t care if material things disappear off the planet and we’re just dealing with brain-waves, there’s gonna be someone who knows how to manipulate that to make more money than anybody else. You know what I’m saying? Power is a drug. Money is part of that. But it’s just the instrumen tality of that. I don’t care if there’s nothing on the planet at all and we’re just spirit, there’s gonna be some fuckin’ spirit that wants more than tf~e next one.
You have gained a lot of notoriety in recent years with Masada.
ZORN: It’s a beautiful band, a pow erful band.
Do you ever feel strange being on a jazz festival bill with Masada?
ZORN: Masada relates to jazz music. It’s my pleasure to play that music on that kind of bill. In fact, it’s exciting to me. And people who never heard it at those festivals might get turned on. Like at the Chicago jazz Festival, which we just played a couple of weeks ago. It’s a free open-air festival and there were over 10,000 people out there listening to us. We got to play on a bill with Phil Woods, who is one of my all-time heroes. And I got to hang with him a bit, which was great. But is that happening more and more? No, it’s a freak; it’s one in a mil lion. To throw the weirdos a freak gig once in a while. People will listen, they may enjoy it. Maybe they’ll even go out and buy a record and get turned off. Or maybe they’ll keep following. But we’re talking about really insignificant numbers of people.
You’ve traveled a lot with Masada and spread the word by taking the music to the people, much in the same way that Frank Zappa spread his own message.
ZORN: Zappa was a very special person. He was really articulate; he really cared about politics. He had a lot of things going for him. I can’t step in Zappa’s shoes. I’m not politically aware. I don’t read newspa pers; I don’t read magazines; I don’t watch television. So I have no idea. Zappa was on top of everything, man. He was really amazing. I’m not really an articulate, polit ically minded, forward thinking person with goals that wants the world to be this way or that way. I’m not an interesting in terview in that regard. I wish I was. I wish there was someone who could be there in Zappa’s place. I’m not the guy. For me it’s more about doing things than blabbing about it. And that’s another reason why I put a moratorium on interviews. I just felt that not only was I being manipulated or misrepresented or cut down, I also felt that, in general, I just didn’t have that much to say, really. I do music. And a lot of times I don’t really understand fully what it is that I’m doing at the moment. I under stand 10 years later what it was. I gotta go on intuition a lot of the time. And I can’t always explain articulately exactly what it is that I’m doing with this new piece. I’m working on a piece now. I’ve never done anything quite like it; I’ve never composed in this way, really. And I feel like I’m taking some chances. But I don’t have the an swers to what this ‘piece is going to be or what it’s supposed to be. I feel like I’m going on a trip and I’m discovering it along the way. You get back from a trip and you don’t fully understand what you’ve seen until maybe a few years later, and then you realize, “Oh, wow, that’s how that touched me, that’s how that affected me.”
And to distill it down to one word for the purpose of categorizing music to fit into record bins somehow negates the journey.
ZORN: Well, those people who cate gorize are in the business of selling this shit. There is a business side to all of this nonsense, after all, and we’ve got to deal with that. They’re gonna be selling it so we gotta com municate to them in some kind of way. That’s why I’m hoping that maybe there’ll be an experimental section in major record store con glomerates in the near future.
Are you aware of how you have influenced younger musicians just by your own exam ple, by living the way you do and producing music on your own terms?
ZORN: Well, that’s a beautiful thing to say. I hope that that’s true.
Because you are 46 and there are 23-year-old musicians who are being fiercely independent today because of the groundwork that you laid 20 years ago. I’m thinking of [saxophonist] Briggan Krauss, who has mentioned you in interviews as a huge in fluence. By example, you have helped him and other young musicians like him to be brave enough to do what they do, against all odds.
ZORN: Yeah, well, that’s what it takes— courage. It takes more courage than most people have. There’s less than one percent of people like that, but the world could not exist without them. The world would not move forward without them, and I really believe that. I think the outsiders, the indi vidualists, the people who have a messianic belief in themselves and are able to stick with their vision despite all odds—and be lieve me, Bill, every day of my life I’m haunted and tormented by the voices of people that are saying in my ear, “Maybe you’re wrong.” But the people that can stick with that, they’re the ones that are re ally going to make a difference in the world. And they will always be a small number and I’ve always aspired to be one of that number. I think about the people that I admire, people like Jack Smith, who lived in a small apartment right over here on First Avenue and died of AIDS 10 years ago. I worked with him for about eight years in the late ‘70s helping him with his theater performances that never more than 10 people attended. And, I mean, this was some of the greatest shit I ever experi enced. Here was a guy my age performing for 10 people. And I think about John Cage not getting an orchestra commission until he was over 50 years old. When he was my age he was still working as a dishwasher, you know? I think about that and I say, “Those are the models. I’ve gotta live up to that.” And if I can in any way inspire some one else, then the line gets passed on and that’s beautiful. That’s great. I really hope that it’s happening.
Do you think this music, whether it’s called the avant garde or experimental music, can be promoted properly and sold in greater numbers?
ZORN: Every once in a while someone comes along who thinks that they can sell this music to a large group of people, but that will never happen. By definition it’s for a small group of people. And I’m perfectly fine with that. I have no bitterness.
What is certain is that this continuum will go on from your mentors through you and on to the next generation.
ZORN: That continuum will happen, but it will stay very small. But as far as jazz music is concerned, which is a very different sub ject from my continuum, it’s in the hands of very conservative, greedy people. And it looks pretty bleak. There will always be a few things like that incredible solo that Wynton took on that Citizen Tam record. And that’s great that that’s there. I wish he did that all the time. But if he did that all the time maybe he wouldn’t have a major record contract, maybe he’d have to give up too many things that he’s unable to give up tight now. Or maybe he’s just not into doing that kind of music. Whatever it is, it’s his choice. I mean, he’s an intelligent person. But I do feel that getting involved with these greedy money people, these slave masters, these pharaohs, can be very damaging to your health. You can catch that disease. Greed is a very infectious thing. And you gotta be really insulated and really careful and really keep your head clear to avoid it.
And you’ve succeeded in doing that over the past 20 years.
ZORN: Because I don’t deal with those fuckers. That’s how I’ve done it! But if I were still making records for a major label I’d be just as sick as they are. And frus trated. I isolated myself completely, delib erately. Because I asked myself, “How much longer am I on this planet? How much time have I got?” So I choose not to watch TV. Instead, I choose to work. I de cided I have to cut out all distractions so I can concentrate on what’s important. And staying in this apartment has really helped me do that. I could’ve moved uptown to a big place, bought a brownstone, had a garden room and a whole big thing. But I’m very happy here. This is where I’ve done all my really creative work—it’s happened right in this room, you know? This is where Cobra was conceived; this is where Spillane was conceived; this is where I wrote Apor ias. I mean, this is a great room! I’m very happy here. And it keeps me focused. And like Jack Smith, who lived in this small apartment on First Avenue, it keeps me in touch with what’s important, with the peo ple that nurtured me. This is a great neigh borhood with a lot of energy. When this building was built it was for immigrants coming in who couldn’t wait to get the hell out of this neighborhood, but it had a lot of hope in it, you know? This was the jumping off point for people who succeeded in the world out there, who came from Europe and escaped the Nazis. And that feeling of hope is still alive in this building. I feel it. Ginsberg and Kerouac lived in the apart ment on my second floor. There’s a bit of history there. There’s incredible history in this neighborhood. Bird lived down the street. That kind of energy doesn’t go away, even with all these yuppies moving in and mom and pop stores turning into chain stores. That’s what’s scary, the co-opting of the world. That’s why I think eventually it’s going to be one big corporation and they’re gonna be out hunting people like you and me. Insurrection is a dream, but it ain’t gonna happen. Not in our lifetime. They have ‘so many ways of keeping us under control—with drugs, with the media, with language. I mean, these guys have been thinking about this shit for decades and decades—or centuries—how to control the masses. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a chip in every single computer that’s being sold today that actually made it into a camera with a microphone so that every body could be monitored. It would be so fucking easy; you know what I’m saying?
That’s been prophesized Big Brother, no?
ZORN: Absolutely. But you can go cuckoo with that shit. I mean, I’m not that “out.” I isolate myself but I’m still living here in the city. I’m not in some shack somewhere thinking and plotting out all of this shit.
But the point is, you’ve eliminated distraction from your life so you can focus on the work.
ZORN: That’s right. I’m insulated. I think people need insulation. Like before I was talking about how the outsider looks at the world and sees chaos. The person who’s in the world with their regular bourgeois val ues, they see an orderly existence. They’re insulated in their way because they don’t want to wake up and look at the truth. The outsider is insulated in their way so that all that chaos doesn’t destroy them. And that’s the harder road. You know, igno rance is bliss. It’s hard to stay on the out side wanting to be on the inside, climbing up the cliff, just hanging on by your fingernails. I mean, every year I hear how an other musician has gone down, either de cided to quit because he’s so frustrated or was suicided by society. It’s hard. I wish there was more support, more positive en ergy from the critical world toward people that are really on the edge trying to do shit. I wish there was more attention given to that music. It’s tough all around and we just have to stick together. And we will. I’m not going anywhere.
What are your own personal goals for the new millennium?
ZORN: One of the beautiful things in my life is that I don’t really have any goals. I just work day by day and do my thing. I don’t dream about operas on the Metropolitan Opera stage, I don’t dream about that big philharmonic commission. I work with my materi als that I have here at my hand with the musicians that are here and I’m very happy taking little baby steps one at a time.
You’re nor dreaming of the big house in Engle wood Cliffs, New Jersey, with a two-car garage?
ZORN: No, no. I’m happy here with my little two-floor apartment. I’ve been here for 22 years; I’ll be here all my life. I had an apartment in Tokyo for a while and that was a dream. It was a tiny little place that was not much bigger than this and it was like $300 a month, but I let that go. Some times I think about Indonesia—getting a little hut or something. But, come on—I’m a New Yorker. I’m not gonna get on the plane for 20 hours to sit on the beach for a week. That’s a night mare! So I don’t have a lot, really. I’m not that kind of dreamer.