John Cage
John Zorn
J-S Bach


Positions I

[1] In 'Coordination and Convention: The Organization of the Concert World' (1987), American sociologist Samuel Gilmore describes the relationship between the organizational structure of a musical (sub)world and artistic conventions. For this, he compares the music world surrounding the grand concert halls and famous orchestras of Midtown Manhattan ('repertory concert music') with the music world of Uptown Manhattan that is concentrated, to a large extent, around Columbia University ('academic composition'), and the music world of Downtown Manhattan ('the avant-garde milieu'). (Is this the world of John Zorn? I'll return to this.) 'I examined the production processes in one type of art world, the 'concert music world', which is the name used by performing rights organizations (e.g., ASCAP and BMI), to designate what is generally considered to be classical or art music and differentiate it from jazz or popular styles', Gilmore writes (Gilmore, p.212). Gilmore does not name John Zorn as a member of the Downtown avant-garde scene. (Is it because he is more of a jazz or pop musician?) Instead, he mentions minimalists such as Philip Glass and Steve Reich.
'Each sub-world is a wholly encompassed organization of concert producing activities with a relatively distinct identity from the other sub-worlds' (Gilmore, p.213). The link that relates them is the degree and type of musical conventions used in concert activities. He points to the inadequacy of explanations of musical activities that focus exclusively on the individual, and that neglect the complex web of social relationships in which individual identities are formed and transformed. Participation in either the Uptown or the Downtown world leads to different musical values (interpretation and technical virtuosity versus innovation and radical challenge to established conventions). Gilmore's proposition: The more complex the concert organization is, the more constrained the artistic innovation; the simpler the organizational structure is, the more innovation is allowed (cf. Gilmore, p.210). Midtown productions are large-scale, incur high costs and require a large number of concert collaborators. Downtown concerts, on the other hand, are small-scale, the costs are (therefore) low and can operate by maintaining a small, interpersonal organization of collaboration (cf. for instance Gilmore, p.215, table 1). According to Gilmore. And he mentions Glass as a representative of the Downtown concert world.

[2] Let's digress here for a moment. For instance to recall that Glass' opera, Einstein on the Beach, was performed at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1976, the year in which the opera was written, after more than 30 successful performances abroad. (Gilmore writes about the Downtown scene: 'Few composers have more than 10 performances a year, and even composers who have immediate access to their own concert spaces perform infrequently.') 'This was hardly one of the many experimental works predestined for the lofts and galleries of downtown New York', Glass writes about his first opera (Glass, p.32). His third opera, Akhnaten, had its American premiere in 1984 at the New York City Opera and was performed some 20 times within six months.
Glass recalls that preparations for this mammoth production, Einstein on the Beach, started as early as 1974. In Music By Philip Glass, he cannot resist drawing repeated attention to the enormous organizational worries. 'Putting on opera is a tremendous enterprise involving literally hundreds of people - orchestra, chorus, soloists, sometimes dancers, all the backstage people, designers, builders, fitters - the list goes on and on', Glass writes (Glass, p.138). This meant that Glass worked with a team from the inception of each project. 'To produce an innovative work on a large scale requires organization and skills that its authors have no time for' (Glass, p.46). 'Division of labor' is a key phrase found in his memoirs. The composer, theater producer and choreographer are all supported by directors, administrative staff, stage managers, international theater agents and producers ('As such, the musical division is collapsed,' Gilmore writes, describing the Downtown scene.) And let's not forget that Einstein on the Beach sure was an innovative work within the concert music world. The work marked a turning point in the history of American music-theater. Innovation and organization go hand in hand; they support each other. One is a condition for the other.
Do I have to go on? For instance, to compare Gilmore's remark, '… events tend to be small and production costs are fairly minimal' with Glass' refutation that Einstein on the Beach cost 'about $900,000 on salaries, travel, living costs, equipment expenses, administration and so on - actually a very modest amount for the number of people, time worked, distances traveled'. Or should I compare Gilmore's statement that most composers '…are not paid or are paid only small amounts for concerts' with Glass' remarks concerning the commission, i.e. the money for the composer, that had to be found in the Netherlands when the Netherlands Opera commissioned him to compose another opera (Satyagraha). To be sure, Einstein on the Beach was written for Glass' own ensemble and this supports Gilmore's observation of a small community with small collaborative concert groups, illustrative of the Downtown concert world. This makes the coordination of innovative practices more feasible. Glass' second opera, Satyagraha, however, was scored for a more conventional orchestra: strings, woodwinds, organ, six solo singers, and a chorus of forty. 'It should be for my orchestra, chorus and soloists, people trained and practiced in the singing of traditional operas,' Hans de Roo, the director of the Netherlands Opera, told Glass (Glass, p.87). Gilmore: 'There is a highly specialized division of labor between composers and performers. Performers start to specialize very early in their careers and have little or no contact with living composers' (Gilmore, p.217). An utterance, perfectly applicable to Glass and the Netherlands Opera. However, Gilmore writes this when he begins to describe the Midtown sub-world, whereas Glass was offered as an example of the Downtown scene. One more example. According to Gilmore, the organization of interaction between composers and performers in Midtown takes place through open, formal distribution processes. Composers of new pieces lose touch after they publish, and often do not know who performs their work (cf. Gilmore, p.218). His description of the Midtown concert world seems to agree quite well with Glass' remark that he is often not involved in all the productions of theater works containing his music (cf. Glass, p.163).

[3] Maybe Glass' operas are exceptions. Maybe Philip Glass is an exception. But once more, call to mind that it is Gilmore who mentions Glass explicitly as one of the core members of the Downtown scene. And, according to Gilmore, it is precisely these central figures that can be examined separately in order to explore the internal relationship of social organization and aesthetic practices, in order to compare the differences between subworlds. His own example, however, seems to prevent Gilmore from proving his thesis that artistic innovation and complex organizational structures tend not to occur together. With particular regard to Einstein on the Beach, a solid and extensive organization was the precondition for creating an innovative opera.
I'm not intending to reverse Gilmore's argument by claiming that Glass is actually a member of the Midtown or the Uptown scene. By giving a short comment on an example I want to show that the tri-partition Gilmore makes is not discrete. Gilmore, though, is also aware of that: 'Each sub-world is a wholly encompassed organization of concert producing activities with a relatively distinct identity from the other sub-worlds. This does not mean that these sub-worlds are completely separate and autonomous' (Gilmore, p.213). They have overlapping peripheries and only partially distinct cores; Gilmore only shades his first statement, thereby creating an opportunity for escape through which even the core members can disappear.

[4] Is this non-discreteness of the musical sub-worlds the reason he does not mention John Zorn? Or, did Gilmore have foresight, anticipating the moment when it would be very difficult to categorize him? He must have known Zorn. His most famous album up until the year Gilmore wrote his essay, The Big Gundown. John Zorn Plays the Music of Ennio Morricone, was released in 1985. Cobra, together with some 43 other albums to which Zorn contributed, had already been released.
Why did he not mention Zorn? Because Gilmore would have had great difficulty maintaining his idea about core members and periphery. Let's read Gilmore's findings regarding the Downtown sub-world once again. Even more closely this time. And confront them with information about Zorn. (Here, I have deliberately chosen the time until 1987 in which to write about Zorn and his work.)

(a) In the Downtown scene 'many concerts are produced by only one musician, a composer/performer who plays his own music exclusively. As such, the musical division of labor is collapsed' (Gilmore, p.219). Recalling his career in music, which started in the mid-seventies in downtown New York, Zorn says in an interview, 'I started promoting my own concerts. I'd just go into a coffee shop and say, 'Hey, can I play here on Friday?' And they'd go, 'Well, yeah, why not?' I'd make my own posters and put them around. That was 1974. I kept making my own posters until something like '83 or '84. And  it was really a great period. No one would come to my gigs, but I just loved the opportunity to be able to play, and to compose and then perform it' (Duckworth, p.457).
Zorn may be regarded as a paradigm of the 'composer/performer'. But can we say - more generally - that being a composer and performer simultaneously is a characteristic of a music sub-world (classical or art music) clearly separated from jazz and popular music as Gilmore says (see above)? Does not this criterion subvert the division of the music world in three sub-worlds? Being composer as well as performer is very typical in the jazz, blues, and pop traditions; it was there all along, while in the classical world the separation between composer and musician became more distinguished. So the core of the Downtown classical sub-world is already infected by a characteristic which places it in a twilight zone or on a boundary between classical music, jazz, and pop music. The outside (jazz and pop influences) is already on the inside (classical music); the inside (the very heart of the Downtown scene to which Glass and Zorn, for example, belong) is already on the outside (both Zorn and Glass find themselves on the outside or on the edge of the Downtown concert world).

(b) 'Downtown concert practices are not conventionalized. Notational practices are highly varied and change frequently ... The primary musical activity is radical innovation in both compositional and performance techniques' (Gilmore, p.214).
Zorn promotes rather unconventional relationships between performers and their instruments and, especially in his solo performances, he introduces some alternative musical instruments (honking, squeaking and tweeting toys, duck calls, water whistles). His composition (Is it a composition in the traditional sense? Zorn questions the dichotomy of improvisation versus composition. According to Zorn, both are ways of putting music together. Also, there is not a great difference in the opposing ends of the linked opposition, spontaneous versus carefully considered because both improvisation and composition are based on a concept, a style with which the performer/composer lives (cf. Duckworth, p.461).), Cobra, consists of an elaborate set of rules recorded on index cards that determine who plays when, but does not determine the resulting sound. Colors and (abstract) information on the index cards indicate what will happen; cues mark the transition from one musical adventure to the next. Zorn acts like a prompter, in between a conductor and a referee, holding up and changing the cards. Somewhat similar innovative composition and notation techniques are also to be found on Spillane: there is written music, but much of it is not notated in any conventional sense. Zorn uses numbered file cards sometimes only marked with certain indications: 'Harlem nightclub', 'blues guitar and backup', 'shoot out'.

(c) Another characteristic of the Downtown concert world is that 'composers know who they are writing for, and thus can explain, face-to-face, the techniques and intentions of their composition' (Gilmore, p.220).
Direct contact with musicians plays a very important role in Zorn's working method. While composing, he imagines not just the instruments, but first the musicians. Zorn says, 'On the Morricone record [The Big Gundown, MC], deciding who did what was more than just deciding this should be two guitars; it was deciding that I wanted this to be Quine and Jody Harris, because they're two people who have worked together, developed a certain rapport. So it's a matter of players and personalities' (Lesage, p.27-8). Zorn knows the musical languages his fellow musicians speak. On that basis, he tries to find the right balance for a band. Not always in terms of the instruments or, sometimes, not even just in terms of the sounds that they make. More important to Zorn are the personalities (cf. Duckworth, p.462). In another interview he confirms this strong emphasis on personal contribution: 'I work with musicians and I try to get the best out of them ... I play the game according to their rules' (Gagne, p.525). This even means that once he has chosen the players and the right chemistry turns out to be missing, he will not go ahead.
His face-to-face contact is very apparent in Cobra. With expressive gestures, Zorn commands this game piece. He communicates the parameters of this work to his players by eye or by cue. His role is to set up rules so that the people in the band have to make decisions; they have to communicate - with Zorn and with each other (cf. Jones, p.146-7).

(d) 'When larger performing groups are called for, the performers recruited are also often composers. Not surprisingly, these performers frequently contribute to the compositional development of a piece' (Gilmore, p.219). In The Death of the Composer, I expand upon the great interest with which Zorn chooses the right musicians to play his compositions because he is aware that each interpreter leaves his own signature on a performance. In fact, they become a kind of co-composer. Cobra especially - as an indeterminate score - acquires the character of its performers. It is a composition that allows the players to devise and invent musical situations. 'Each performance will be drastically different in sound and structure as the participants bring in their own private perceptions, past experiences, instrumental techniques, and interpersonal attitudes', Zorn says. (One example: on the CD version of Cobra, turntable player Christian Marclay inserts a Wagner quotation. In an interview, Zorn points out that he did not tell Marclay to use Wagner. 'That particular piece was chosen by Christian right then. He wanted to use it, he used it. I had nothing to say about it. In Cobra, the musical materials are completely up to the performers' (Strickland, p.133).) There are a lot of reasons to call somebody into the band in a game piece. One very important reason Zorn gives is that a particular musician has 'a lot of compositional ideas' (Gagne, p.521).
'The performers recruited are also often composers'. It is difficult to find a musician with whom Zorn works who is not a composer. Elliott Sharp, Anthony Coleman, Eugene Chadbourne, Ikue Mori, Derek Bailey, Eric Friedlander, Bill Frisell, Joey Baron, David Moss, Charles K. Noyes ... The list is endless.

(e) 'In terms of scale, the number of potential participants available for a given concert in Downtown is much smaller than in Midtown. Several composer/performers characterized the sub-world as a community where everybody knows everybody else ... Downtown performers tend to participate in only a few groups and establish long-term relationships in these ensembles' (Gilmore, p.220).
Over the years, Zorn has become a central figure in the Downtown scene, a dedicated and tight group of musicians playing in ever-shifting bands and improvisational circles. When he arrived in New York in 1974, he began networking with musicians throughout the East Village. 'I was performing in my little apartment on Lafayette Street, meeting musicians one by one. The downtown improvising scene didn't exist at that time. I met all the musicians I work with one by one over the years' (Strickland, p.139). Contemplating the results of his social activities, Zorn concludes: 'I really feel like I've created a small society: a way of working. People fit into it - they like it - they have time off and then they're called to perform ... It's like Hakim Bey's concept of a TAZ, a Temporary Autonomous Zone: a moment separate from society, which creates its own rules ... Some people can enter it and some can't, but regardless of that, it has validity, it's organic, it's alive, it has life in it' (Gagne, p.514).
Do permit me a slight diversion, a (lateral) branch (as in that of a river or an olive tree). 'Some people can enter it and some can't'. That is the implication of Zorn's meticulous screening. To play with him, every musician needs a musical and social password, a Shibboleth. Shibboleth is about the difference between inside and outside, about crossing a threshold. This threshold, this Shibboleth, is John Zorn. He gives access to a certain community, or better, he is the place where the decision is made about the right to enter a certain society. (In Great Jewish Music, I consider at length my choice of the Jewish word Shibboleth. This password used by the Israelites to keep their enemy on the outside seems to apply very well to Zorn: like Zorn himself, almost all his fellow musicians are Jews.) Shibboleth is both a word of benevolence and a word of violence: a sign of union and a verdict of exclusion and discrimination. Some people can enter and some cannot.

(f) 'Concerts in Downtown are produced under much less economic pressure than Midtown. Events tend to be quite small and production costs are fairly minimal. Many concerts are held in 'lofts' where Downtown musicians live. In addition, most composers/performers are not paid or are paid only small amounts for concerts' (Gilmore, p.221).
Zorn has been toiling away in the performance spaces and lofts of the Lower East Side for close to 14 years (cf. Jones, p.149). 'My first performances in New York were in his theater [Richard Foreman's Theater of Musical Optics at Broome street on lower Broadway, MC] and in my own apartment', Zorn recalls (Gagne, p.514). This experimental theater producer, Foreman, taught Zorn the love for doing things under adverse conditions and on small budgets. And although he was making next to nothing (Duckworth: 'Were you making any money by this point?'  Zorn: 'No, nothing. Nothing at all' (Duckworth, p.459)), Zorn seemed to be quite happy and willing to make hardly any musical concessions. In a burst of nostalgia, Zorn says: 'We were working on our own music, in our own little clubs, putting our own little posters up, and developing our own audience'.

[5] Why all this information? Why try to prove that Gilmore could have labeled Zorn a core member of the Downtown music sub-world? One possible answer: to make something clear about the position Zorn has in this sub-world, to situate his position. Why not take advantage of the findings of a serious researcher to give Zorn the position he deserves, at the heart of a dazzling music world? However, look at the title: Positions. There is more than one. Zorn can be situated on the inside of the Downtown concert world, a name given to a music sub-world that differs from jazz and popular music worlds (cf. Gilmore, p.212). But the specific albums I mention above - Spillane and especially Cobra - as well as the performances I'm referring to, are all about improvisation, improvised music, usually closely related to jazz music. And can't we say that a tribute to Ennio Morricone also means a tribute to popular music? Even Gilmore himself, talking about performers who are shown to be co-composers (see 4), introduces with this a musical element generally not associated with a music world that is clearly separated from the jazz and pop scenes.
Zorn is in the center of the Downtown classical music world, although he barely has any connection to classical music. He is on the inside, but as an outsider. In order to protect the inside, to make clear that what is located, not on the edge or in an overlapping periphery, but - almost ideal typical - in the core of the Downtown concert world, we could position a person who comes from the outside, who always operates from a place (or non-place) situated between classical music, jazz, and pop music. Zorn (like Socrates) is a pharmakos. When Gilmore wants to accomplish his mission ('The cores of concert production in each sub-world can be analyzed separately'), he has to drive Zorn out of the center. He has to chase away the outsider who brings in many aspects that do not or cannot belong to the core of the Downtown concert world. He has to expel John Zorn (an a-poria, a no entrance, instead of a Shibboleth, a password), an almost exemplary model of this inside, because the core of the core of the Downtown sub-world is already permeated by its own periphery.
Gilmore has to expel Zorn because of Spillane. Because Spillane is also about improvisation, jazz and rock. Because Spillane is released by Elektra Nonesuch, ostensibly a classical music label and more closely related to the Uptown scene. Because Spillane contains the composition 'Forbidden Fruit' played by the classically trained Kronos Quartet that I presume Gilmore would classify among the Uptown concert world. Because in Spillane, the borders between jazz, pop and classical music dissolve, the dividing line between the emphasis on continual innovation and the development of virtuoso techniques (a difference between Downtown and Midtown according to Gilmore) is abolished, and the cooperation of  Uptown and Downtown musicians ('Forbidden Fruit' is a piece for string quartet, turntables, and Japanese voice recorded by the Kronos Quartet, Christian Marclay and Ohta Hiromi, the latter two representing the Downtown scene) reveals that the boundaries between the three distinguished concert worlds is not discrete, even when we take an exemplary model of the core of one of these worlds (and I tried to demonstrate that a composer proposed by Gilmore is not a good example any more than Zorn is).
Positions. Of course, a musician like anyone else holds more than one position (guitarist instead of pianist, jazz instead of pop musician, performer instead of composer, etc.). Here, however, it is impossible to talk about different positions in this sense. Zorn's position as a musician differs within itself. He is both at the heart of the Downtown concert world and on the periphery. That means he is neither in the center, nor on the periphery. Or, when he is on the inside Gilmore sketches (performers being (co-)composers at the same time), he is already on its outside (performer/composer as a stronger characteristic of the jazz and pop worlds, worlds Gilmore tries to exclude but seem to resonate at the very heart of the Downtown concert world).

[6] Why this modest initiative (modest because a great deal more could be said if we had more time, if Gilmore's work were the central point of this essay) to deconstruct Gilmore's theoretical framework? I turn to Jonathan Culler's book, On Deconstruction, for some help and insight. Following Derrida, Culler states that reflection upon theoretical results and institutional frameworks is necessary. The questioning of these theoretical and/or institutional structures can be seen as an act of politicizing what might otherwise be thought of as neutral frameworks or neutral research (cf. Culler, p.156).
Classifications such as Gilmore's are produced by acts of exclusion (for example, the division of the music world in a classical, pop and jazz sub-world). Of course, one frequently finds general agreement, but a consensus adduced to serve as foundation is not given, but produced, produced by these acts of exclusion. Since deconstruction is interested in what has been excluded and in the perspective it offers on consensus and convention, there can be no question of accepting consensus and convention as the truth or restricting truth of what is demonstrable within a system. It tries to keep alive the possibility that attention to the marginal, the periphery of a system, might yield ideas that contradict the consensus, ideas that are not demonstrable within the framework yet developed (cf. Culler, p.153). The inversion and displacement of hierarchical oppositions open for debate the institutional arrangements that rely on the hierarchies and thus open possibilities for change. Deconstruction's most radical aspects emerge precisely in a theoretical reflection that contests particular institutionalizations of a theoretical discourse. It's analyses have potentially radical institutional implications (cf. Culler, p.159).
Deconstructive strategies do not lead to new foundations. They have no better theory to offer, but are attuned to the aporias that arise in attempts to reveal the truth. For instance, the truth about the Manhattan concert world. Deconstruction does not lead to new foundations. However, working within and around a discursive framework, producing reversals and displacements rather than constructing on new ground, it can definitely lead to changes in assumptions, institutions, and practices (cf. Culler, p.154-5).