Monday, April 13, 2009

UNC Cobra Ensemble

The performance of John Zorn's Cobra at the Kress with Stephen Drury was a success.  I was able to record it, which you can listen to at as well as videotape it.  I need to figure out how to convert the smaller disc to a dvd, and I'll be set!  Stephen Drury did not think it was a good idea to put it on youtube, because he thought Zorn would see it and get mad.  After the performance he told me that this was the best performance of Cobra that he's been involved with in a very long time.  He also remarked how we should keep the group together, keep playing Cobra as well some other pieces, and try to keep playing once a month at the Kress Cinema, which I am working on currently.

This ensemble has been made up of some of the most intelligent and creative people I have ever had the pleasure of working with, and I hope we can continue this workshop/collective.  I decided I will make a go of it, and try to program other pieces provided that the music can be A) Improvisational to some degree and B) Can be played by any number of players on any instruments.  Already looking into a Christian Wolff piece titled "Edges" which uses some Morton Feldman-esque ideas, and some conceptual ideas, like play around the music, approach the music, instead of always just playing what is there.  Drury mentioned Edges to me, as well as another Zorn game piece which involves rounds, uses cobra calls, and has players individually preselect a list of calls for the prompter to give to the ensemble.  Another idea I had to perform was Terry Riley's "In C" a beautiful minimalist piece that I recorded not too long ago on multi-tracked electric basses.  One of the performers in the Cobra ensemble has the score in C, Bb, and Eb keys, which would make it much easier to play with transposing instruments.  I would like to program Morton Feldman, if I can find an appropriate piece for us out of his repertoire, maybe modify a piano piece of his for the ensemble.

A piece that Drury was telling me about when I first met him in the local coffee shop was Karlheinz Stockhausen's "For things to come" and "From the Seven Days."  I am still finding out about this piece, but from what I remember Drury saying, was that it is based mostly on text and instructions that any actual written music, but we'll find out when the score comes in.  One other piece I have thought about doing, or rather style, is a technique created by Lawrence Butch Morris called "Conduction."  It isn't as much a piece of music, as it is a way to direct a creative ensemble's improvisation using a conductor with specific gestures.  The liner notes for a boxed set of his are missing from UNC's library, but I will try to study those up, which go into detail this system, which seems similar to Cobra, and try my own version out on the Cobra Ensemble.  Butch Morris got his ideas from Sun Ra and Charles Moffett, who both led ensembles in which improvising was structured sometimes with its own conducting. 

This leaves me with just a couple more ideas I want to jot down for my memory archive here.  Another member of the Cobra Ensemble mentioned something about trying to replicate John Zorn's file card music, where very small/quick musical ideas are written on note cards, and played by the ensemble.  I know of it primarily through Zorn writing out movie scene ideas and playing those musically, such as "Lady in a black dress walks into the room."  I believe he uses this specifically in some early game pieces, as well as the record "Spillane."  I have thought about using a lot of the people involved in the Cobra Ensemble to work with me on the poetry project that I am going to do over the summer, since the musicianship and creativity is there.  Eventually I would like the group members to write music for us to play, as well as write music myself, to feature these ideas of controlled improvisation and be able to be played by anyone on any instrument.  Now that Cobra has happened and there was a great reaction to it, I think it is warranted that we can make this a real learning experience for everyone in performing this kind of in the cracks not jazz but not classical music.

The UNC Cobra Ensemble is roughly 18 members strong, with some people graduating and leaving over the summer, and new people coming in, so if anyone is reading this (unlikely but what the hey) and wants to be a part of the group, let me know and you are more that welcome to join us in this pursuit of new music.

1 comment:

  1. Cobra is great fun to play. I used to play with the possibly-now-defunct Austin Cobra Players. A number of group members wrote their own game-like pieces for open instrumentation. You can find mine (Chords, Clouds, Masses, Continents,...) at Also, the Austin New Music Co-op recently presented a concert of game pieces. I'm sure the participants would be happy to share their scores.

    Have fun with cobra!