Sunday, March 29, 2009


Cobra!!  This is my cobra post on the blog.  For those not in the know, Cobra is an improvisational game, written by great New York composer John Zorn, out of a multitude of other game pieces that came before it, like fencing, archery, or lacrosse even.  Cobra is his most popular piece in the idiom, and has been performed with Zorn and recorded with him many times over the past twenty years, since it's original inception in 1985.  I was fortunate enough to have a connection with the composition professor at UNC, Paul Elwood, who has performed the piece before, and had an extra set of the rules available for me to scan, study, recopy, and put together a student ensemble to perform it.  On top of that, the rules were compiled by a pianist named Stephen Drury, that has performed the work with John Zorn, and written a pretty comprehensive "score" from conversations with the composer.  This lines up, because Paul Elwood is bringing Stephen Drury as a guest artist in a few weeks, and he will be conducting the piece with our group.

  I have put together a group of eighteen people, including myself, off an on rehearsing this piece for several weeks leading up to this, and believe we are "ready."  We will have one rehearsal with Stephen Drury to work out the kinks, and essentially have an hour to an hour and a half performance with him.  Some of the rules were vague, and I need to still compile a list of questions I have for him, but other than that, the players are solid and this will go well.

Putting on John Zorn's Cobra is one of the most musically rewarding experience I have had to date, and bringing something like this to the seemingly conservative jazz school of UNC is a great experience.  I was nervous about this school when I got here, but finding some of the musicians that I am currently working with, I realize that there are people that can think outside the traditional "box" and can continue my work with continuing music as a progressive art, rather than as museum piece (i.e. Wynton Marsalis and his Lincoln Center vibe).  Although saxophonist virtuoso Ellery Eskelin put it best by saying that these schools of music are arguing over which one is right, Wynton arguing that music that is 55 years old is the "true jazz" or New York Downtown artists saying that 45 year old music is the "true music," like the Ornette/Free Jazz scene.  Ellery's point is that you can use all of that as material to grow from equally, without prejudice one way or another.  His own music comes from his influence of his parents, his mother being a blues organist, and his father an eccentric songwriter, but I digress.

So I am hoping to videotape our performance of Cobra and find someone good with computers to help me slice it up and put it online, on youtube/google videos.  There are existing John Zorn versions of Cobra here, and here to check out.  There are non-Zorn versions of Cobra here, here, and here.  My main complaint with the non-Zorn cobras, or "amateur" cobras as John Zorn puts it, is that they don't interact with the conductor, and it is the conductor that arbitrarily makes all the calls in the game.  I am personally trying to realize it as best I can, with the fullest letter of the rules, so I can play it with Stephen Drury conducting, and then also conduct it myself at a separate performance.  Either way, I will update this blog when the performance happens, and if I can get it posted online eventually.  So check out the videos if you like, and check out the music of Ellery Eskelin, and have fun with music, outside of judging it for what it should or shouldn't be.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Leonard Cohen and Poetry Project

After receiving a gift a few years ago, I have read and re-read Leonard Cohen's "Book of Longing" a collection of the musician/former Buddhist monk/poet's musings, lyrics, observations, and sketches from the past fifteen years.  I was reading through this again today, after recently getting an idea for combining music and poetry, that I will bring up later in this post, but came upon some great words:

Mercy Returns Me

A woman I want -
An honour I cover -
A place where I want my mind to dwell -
Then Mercy returns me
To the triad
And the crisis of the song.


the road is too long
the sky is too vast
the wandering heart
is homeless at last
-Leonard Cohen

These are basically notes to myself, but if anyone reads this, I hope they find enjoyment in the text. Leonard Cohen has a whimsical yet self-deprecating view of the world that is both humorous, enlightening, and humbling all in the same line.  Very human poet, voicing his common feelings to the world.

Continuing on my reference from earlier, I am currently involved in several projects, as well as very busy with school, but had an idea for a summer goal.  So I will as best as I can think, describe the goal, so I can come back to these writings and work on them more over the summer.  I would like to take a dozen poems or so of various authors I enjoy, and write music for them.  The poets I had in mind were Leonard Cohen, Rumi, Basho/Issa/Buson the great Haiku writers, Kerouac's haikus as well, Allen Ginsberg, Charles Bukowski, William Blake, Samuel Beckett, and a few more once I do some more research into the concept.  Off and on on this blog, like today, I will be posted poems with information on the poet, for catalogueing poems I find that may work well for this project.  
More on the actual project...  My goal is to have a different person recite and/or sing these poems, which are poems that "fit" with the given person selected to vocalize the text.  I will keep in mind the kind of poet when thinking about the music for the separate pieces.  For instance, Jack Kerouac uses spontaneous writing, with minimal editing, especially in works like his novel "On the Road."  To me, the music for Kerouac's haikus I select should be more towards the end of free improvisation, or a very simple rough sketch with emphasis on improvisation.  William Blake, in my mind, would have music behind it that would be more through composed.  I want every piece in this project to have a different ensemble, based on the text, with some pieces being solo (Solo Bass, Solo Vibes, Solo Percussion, in example), and if I can manage it, have some septet/octet pieces.  The instrumentation will honestly depend on the musicians that I can find that will be around in Greeley, CO over this summer, but will work with varying sounds as best I can.  I will try to incorporate more multi-tracking, and a few electronics, but mostly this will be live acoustic music working with voice.  Depending on the length of the poem, the text may be repeated several times, like in the short haiku form, or a long form poem would not have a repeat.  

The idea for the project came from a trio gig that the fellow "Matts" and myself performed with a middle school english class.  The kids would read poems they wrote, and then the musicians would talk about it quickly, and then come up with a soundscape for the second reading of the same piece.  I want to try this with a poem or two, have it read by itself, and on the next reading provide music, and if given a third reading of the same poem, expand the music even more.  Anyways, I lot of my thoughts put down about the project that I can add to later, but the important thing for me is to keep this archived so I can return to it later and work with to eventually realize an album of music working with these various poems.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Pauline Oliveros

On recommendation from a friend, I bought the back issues of "Signal to Noise," journal of improvised and experimental music.  It features wonderful artists from Elliot Carter, to Anthony Braxton, to George Clinton, to the current issue I am reading today, with Pauline Oliveros.  By the way, to order all the back issues, 50+ magazines, costs a measly 80 affordable is that!  So Pauline Oliveros is an electronic composer, accordionist, music philosopher/theorist.  You could say she was at the start of early electronic music, as well as early minimalism, and add free improvisation, that she cites she was doing with composer Terry Riley in 1956.  I read a book by her not too long ago titled, "Software for People," featuring her collected writings, pieces, observations, sketches, etc...  What inspired me was her search for Deep Listening, discovering an awareness of listening to everything, all the time, regardless of how minute the sound.   For awhile I was trying out her idea of taking five or ten minutes out of your day, and writing down every possible sound that you are hearing, to the smallest degree, such as your own breath, heartbeat, or even the blood flowing in your veins.  The point is to practice your "virtuosic listening" abilities, by deepening your awareness of the sounds around you.  I bring all this up because of a piece mentioned in this article with her, talking about a composer she worked with named Ramon Sender.

"Sender's "Tropical Fish Opera" placed the the performers in front of an aquarium of full of tropical fish.  The idea was to put staff lines on the aquarium...and the fish were the notes. You'd play them as they went by and appeared on the staff lines." 
-Pauline Oliveros

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Notes for Self

After much thought, I have decided to officially start a blog.  I realize I type like I talk, so if anyone does read this, assuming I eventually make this public, then I apologize for my stream of consciousness.  I have decided to start this, to mostly archive for my own uses what I am checking out currently, linking things via video or websites, or just naming certain things to keep a personal record.  I am voraciously trying to learn more about the world, from different points of view, and usually through my own warped vantage point, but who of us can say we have a "normal" vantage point.  All experiences are of the self, and I am sure I would be confused if suddenly given the ability to see the world from someone else's eyes.  I digress...

The title of the Blog comes from two Samuel Beckett quotes, "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better," or "Go on failing. Go on. Only next time, try to fail better." Both quotes are inspirational to me, even given the apparent darkness that weighs with them.  I feel my own life has been a series of failures, but as long as I can fail better each time, then I am winning this game called life.  A good friend of mine once told life was a game, so viewing life like this makes it easier to detach yourself from it, as far as giving it values of good and bad.  From being a pseudo follower of Buddhism, I am trying to find a middle path, and the more I can not be affected by the bad, as well as not be completely over-joyed with the good, the better balance I can set for myself, and hopefully avoid suffering as best as possible.

So moving on with what I set out to do in this blog, was give a snapshot into what is on my mind, mostly as far as what I am thinking about, without going into unnecessary specifics.  Said Snapshot of the evening consisted of listening to a new 180 gram vinyl reissue of Joy Division's "Unknown Pleasures."  After a few friends and a few PBRs, the listening changed to selections from Sonny Rollins' "Sonny Meets Hawk" featuring Don Cherry, Billy Higgins, Henry Grimes, Paul Bley and the great Coleman Hawkins, as well as Albert Ayler's recording of performing at John Coltrane's funeral.  It's hard to take the ending of that, when Albert stops playing his saxophone, and starts screaming, yelling, singing, crying, all at once...

The blog will continue another night, for it is late, but a good record of what has begun, and what is to come...