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Reading Losev. Jazz and senescent civilization.


Author: Andrey Solovyov

Part one: “Syndrome of tireness”

À.F.Losev

My interest to jazz rose from envy – having barely acquainted myself with jazz music I clearly understood that its events already belong to the past. As well as people of older age I adored the creations of Ellington and Parker, Davis and Coltrane, but there always was that feeling (and frankly, I did envy) that I would never be able to experience the pleasure which experienced contemporaries and coevals of those giants. But this feeling doesn’t mean that there haven’t been any changes in jazz music. Even not having new trends and names, jazz has changed drastically as a social phenomenon, and these changes are still interesting to observe.

Depending on a certain country jazz has always been interpreted differently. In Russia it has been regarded as a symbol of spontaneity, improvisation, creative freedom as well as dialogue and interaction. If rock music has been associated with remonstrance and rebellion, jazz has embodied the ability to accept reality with certain criticism and irony.

It’s also important that jazz has been perceived as an American (a bit later as European) art, in other words as an attribute of foreign culture with differently cultivated values.

Once we made a historical step forward to freedom (excuse me for such pathetic words but I do like to think of it in this way) attitude to jazz began to change even more rapidly than jazz itself. We extended the boundaries of our world and it became more open, and nowadays it’s absolutely impossible to divide art into ours or not-ours just because it was created in different shrinking corners of our planet. The main change in jazz music which reflects its status today can be shown with the help of a simple formula: this music, for every one living in this world, stopped to be a result of another civilization.

It’s interesting and indicative fact that trampling on the spot (movement in a circle) which jazz is experiencing now in the country of its origin, gives even more accentuation to that “velvet revolution” which took place in our minds and finally changed the whole world of jazz music.

There’s still a reminiscent of those times when jazz in our country was regarded as a sort of underground art, counter-culture and aesthetic nonconformity. The most popular model to describe this type of art was a conception of “carnival” or “laugh culture”, adopted by our researches from M.Bakhtin. Jazz was converted to a kind of city folk culture, full-blooded and cheerful, opposed to the officially existent culture (feudal or medieval – if using Bakhtin’s terminology).

Gladiator. Ancient Roman Headstone.

It was possible to point out serious aspects of the problem “jazz and totalitarian society” by using this approach. The main matter here was driven to inferiority, defective state of mind of a man in his interaction with spiritless society, while the artist was always a tightrope-walker balancing between official and unofficial art. It’s weird that being born as a reflection of jazz life “in a particular country” this model is quite effective while analyzing a range of phenomena typical for the western art, where a fine line separates commercial and non-commercial, mass and elitist music.

Though the further we go from the age of stagnation and authoritarianism the more inapplicable M.Bakhtin’s method becomes. It goes to the backstage because it loses its strength and universality.

Is there another harmonious and elegant model that would be able to supersede the theory of “laugh culture” and become the cultural basis for research of contemporary, so many-sided post-modernism in improvised music? We are likely to give more definite answer after the time, but certainly not now. Although even today it’s clear that similar crucial points generally related to excessive information and tiredness of those having aesthetic dialogue, took place in the history of culture before. It’s also an important fact that Russian input to the attempt to link our reality to early ages was pretty significant.

One of such models, which shows historical and cultural prospect for deeper understanding of present situation, will become the main topic of this article.

One of “jazz books” which deserves attention as well as Bakhtin’s work devoted to Rabelais is the book by A.Losev named “Hellenistic-Roman Aesthetics”. This book completes his multi-volume work devoted to antique perception of the beautiful. Some of revelations and conclusions made by our prominent philosopher based on fading Greco-Roman society, to my opinion, closely relates to the situation in art, and music in particular, which we have nowadays.

Gladiator Borgeze, Antique Sculpture, 100 B.C.

As well as Bakhtin’s book, Losev’s work is devoted to the matter of reflection, interlace and communication in aesthetic mind of official and unofficial, serious and cheerful (what actually make us project his research to the reality of the present). Though Losev unexpectedly reveals another type of mass thinking which is not the same to the “carnival” one (but many authors have started to call “carnival thinking” as universal phenomenon of human civilization and look for its roots in the East and the West, in America and Russia).

It’s becoming more and more complicated to apply “carnival” or “laugh” model to modern music. What’s the difference between situations to which “carnival” or “Hellenistic-Roman” models can be applied to? The researcher of “laugh” model, V. Kormer gives rather convincing explanation: “Dancing on points of fate, the history seems to be ready – in order just to test – to play its stages from the very beginning, differently.

Pushkin would have itched with his hands had he seen such vacancies in plot-composing. World famous myths in front of your own eyes became overgrown with fresh stories crying out to be put on paper. Every louse dreamed to be a Napoleon. Just a little bit more further and Raskolnikov would say: everything is permitted. Everything was shaking. Everything was balancing on the edge of prodigious abyss: what if?…. The enormously assumptive existence was taking the breath away”. It’s not our knowledge whether Pushkin had such way of perception or not, even if not, the given quotation still illustrates the effect which appears when one plays with historical memory. In this game the consciousness doesn’t only develop but amuses and entertains itself combining different possibilities.

It’s true that carnival, laugh, ironic perception goes along with insight of openness of historic process, deep understanding of oncoming changes. It’s difficult to judge how stable this disposition is, but it’s evident that it appears only in certain epochs. Sooner or later, it’s inevitably superseded with serious and even heavy awareness of the reality.

What situation does the Roman type of aesthetic consciousness develop in? How is it similar to our times when the feeling of unpredictable historical process is almost lost? A.Losev gives the following characteristics: “Emperor Rome is the country of utter absolutism, the kingdom of government mysticism in which there is no individual, he or she is regarded just as a small screw in a global machine and his/her importance depends only in his/her ability to adjust to the world’s unity”.

Even not so profound historic knowledge about a human being lived in the Hellenic period gives understanding of how his consciousness is captured by excitement, enthusiasm, hysteria, voluptuous passion and ecstasy mostly due to the mentioned above absolutism government.

Roman Coin of Nero’s Times

The mystery of synthesis between absolutism and excitement is based on Roman feeling of life and beauty, which only instinctively understands social. Losev thinks that in societies based on “Roman absolutism type” (I guess the comparison with small screws in the given quotation is no surprise – as the book was published long before “perestroyka”) the synthetic alloy of consciousness dominates: the spiritual life is inseparable from nature, physical and emotional state of an individual (as it becomes evident in the medieval Christianity, raising the idea of moral and spiritual perfection), that’s why Hellenic art (and we used to be taught that it’s an example of spiritual purity) isn’t separated from man’s element, it’s just dissolved in the circulation of everyday life.

Given the situation, the object of Roman aesthetic consciousness is not “the isolated and solely existent art, but life itself” – writes Losev, – here, they don’t kill by using deceitful tricks but shed the blood and praise the real death”. The quotation refers to the aesthetics of Roman amphitheatres and gladiators’ duels.

It’s unlikely for modern art to reach that initial Roman intensity, but we can’t deny that aesthetic aspects more and more gets into the reality and merges with it. And there’re no strings attached to totalitarianism or absolutism (which we talk a lot about trying to find historical links) the matter is in preferential direction of cultural life into independent branch.

The “carnival consciousness” exists only in a situation when cultural life and material world stay distant. Understanding of the distant is based on Christian study (and vice verse – mythological thinking places God and a man in the unified circulation of the world’s processes not having an idea of ultramundane and transcendental God, as it was clearly brought out by K.Levi-Strauss, thus crating conditions for interlacing of spiritual and material, culture and reality).

In order to “decrease”, make ideology, religious and artistic foundations in compliance with carnival thinking, they have to be raise to a certain height, be universally accepted in this role. The contemporary western society hardly can reveal such an experience of divine and spiritual reverence (though it’s quite educated, piety full and religious). There the atmosphere of the material world ties the cultural life with invisible threads, pulls it neareê thus making it its slave and servant.

Roman Coin of Nero’s Times

In our country, EIA having absorbed a lot from the Eastern culture, the purified spirituality, able to exist solely (at the same time beyond any government and ideology) proved to be “subordinated” in its essential principals and wasn’t able to find the main position in our system of values. (As for all possible forms of adopted and exotic aspects of cultural life, at which UFOlogists, astrologers and totalitarian members of sects draw our attention, they only straighten the pagan dependence of spiritual and physical world, but in our case we talk about culture and life).

It’s possible to say that both Bakhtin and Losev admit three levels of human existence: the upper level – is the level of universality, absolutely above-personal; the lowest leve – is the area of individual immanent existence; the middle level – is the area of real historical sociality which appears in a person during drastic social reorganization.

In the “Roman” model we come across the variant of synthetic ambivalence of a human consciousness; private intimate level adjoins here to ultimately universal level. And the creative “silver line” drops out. It raises the state of historical satiety, and the indifference to social changes becomes dominant. The “carnival consciousness” is also ambivalent, though its ambivalence exists at the middle level. It’s a reflexive historical experience which searches the opportunity for reflection and achievement of personal and universal simultaneously.

Bakhtin has once said that “all dramas of world’s history were staged in front of laughing people’s chorus”. Although we have to admit that history knows a lot of mise en scenes in which most of actors were just supernumeraries, deprived of any desire to profane and mock. In this case the historical drama obtains totally aesthetic sense, it takes place in front of enormous, tired, satiate stadium audience; “the public doesn’t say a word” – means that it greets the competitors of bloody battle with frantic roar. It demands panem et circenses!

A Statue of Emperor Nero

One ambivalence (“carnival”) is easy to be mixed up with another (“triumphal ”); The “Blues style Rapsody” played by hundreds of pianists at the open party of the Olympics somewhere, let’s say Los Angeles, would be regarded as an event of quite another scale in comparison to the creation of Anthony Breakstone “For Four Orchestras”. But how long will the sense of difference between these two exist?

It’s notable that even Losev can’t sometimes find criteria and arguments to draw the contrasting line between the phenomena of antique art. First of all we have to pay our attention to such broods of Roman aesthetics as “secular” games on the one hand, and “amphitheatre” on the other. The “secular” games, artificially (ideologically) inspired spectacular events, were opposite to gladiators’ fights and circus performances (with their spontaneous and democratic spirit). At the same time the real events and real elements of “secular” games, Roman Holidays and Emperor’s triumphs coincided not having any distinctions (just the same as the concert given in honor of Day of Militia has no distinctions from Kourekhin’s pop-mechanics even thought they are created under influence of different semantic impulses).

Part 2: «Tot-Art»

There are quite enough examples illustrating that “carnival” and “triumphal” multidimensional forms are being mixed up. “First time I was traveling by rail not as “dignitary” alarming everyone with dozens of special telegrams though out the entire journey, but as the unknown, traveling together with Emergency Action Force” – V.Kramer quotes Lenin (not John Lennon!) and comments on it: “Taking into account that the action takes place in 1922, when Lenin is already a well-known person through portraits within the whole country, then disguise, make-up, and kind of a masquerade while interacting with fellow travelers were needed – here we come across a typical carnival travesty”.

A.F.Losev

In his opinion, Stalin’s attitude to “the right” and “the left” has the same carnival nature. He has absolute freedom to change “the right” into “the left” or crown whoever it might be with the title of “the right” or “the left”. “You ask which inclination is the worst? Both of them!” – and once again laugh and burst of applause, Stalin’s speeches are every now and then met with laughter”.

Taking into consideration the given examples we can make a paradoxical conclusion: “Stalin can be regarded as a “classical” representative of carnival sense cultivated on the ground of historical dialogue overburden with imposture complex”. In the base of its mistaken conclusion lies, as we already know, the desire to interpret typical triumphal two-dimensional nature (“sociality which knows no history”, according to Losev) as “carnival” ambivalence.

The one mostly efficient analysis for both Roman “triumphal” aesthetics with its spiritually-material syncretism and contemporary post-modernism can be based on the theory of “Total-art” or “Tot-art”.

In a wide sense the notion “tot-art” gathers all objects of aesthetic creativity which don’t have a strict line between art and reality (or in which there is no barrier between mercenary-oriented work of mind and live “inapplicable expediency” as Kant would say).

Andrey Solovyov
Roman vacation

Enthusiasts of free-jazz of the 60-s and their successors (just like representatives of impressionism in painting – actually similar instances can be found mostly in every types and trend of art) have never stumbled into “tot-art”: somehow their creation can be regarded as a peak of “pure art” – parody, irony, travesty always aim to hedge the area of art from alien elements thus keeping the aesthetic territory in absolute purity. In controversy, post-modernism collage is based on a weary acceptance of aesthetic qualities in any aspect of reality (in other words, reality forfeits a status of a “model”, “essence” – everything is seen as if created on purpose).

In music “tot-art” first appeared in a form of noise art: “noise music”, first having positioned itself as “music conñrete”, quite for a long time was an autonomous and self-isolated art. So it seemed completely impossible to imagine merging of noise music with jazz (on the other hand, rock was open for such kind of blending: Hawkwind, Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa etc.) Insolence of noise music, as far as I’m able to judge, was conditioned by activists of conñrete trend who urged forward to find applicable form for noise in music.

The change of historical milestones, which took place during the period of post-modernism, marked the widespread slogan absolutely unacceptable for the first generation of noise-makers: sounds like art and is a part of art but is not music. “Radiotheatre, for instance”, – will exclaim a quick-witted reader, and won’t be far from truth. (Russia even here marches ahead the planet: mukhomor’s “Golden Disk”, “Communism” by Egor Letov, and of course albums “Mine field in the mane of the 8th of March” and “Blazing Inferno” by Sergey Zharikov).

The word – a verbal sound-maker, – would be in the main aim in this trend of art – not-music trend named by Rudolf Ebner who is famous for his verbal “stagings” with typically “talking” radio-theatrical names – “Radiorgasm” or “Institute of Psyco-hygiene”. Such experiments with words, radio-based music are sometimes made by other representatives of motley-noise aesthetics like Merzbow, Frank Dommert, C-Schulz, Due Process, G-Park, Frank Schulte.

Though noise is a part of contemporary art, it has become a style making notion, it might seem strange, only due to jazz players – John Zorn and David Moss who gave a weird name to one of their project “New York Objects and Noise”. The main idea of this project was “tot-artish” in it nature as they tried to bring to the European stage not only excitement of jazz capital of the world but also rush and special not-music noise of streets of New York.

It’s clear that “noise art” is not the only and probably not the most important trend of “tot-art”. For us its main input is seen in its energy leading to the freedom of “not-music” which sounds highly aesthetically. This sound reflection explains the range of interactions between post-modern culture with circus (amphitheater, square), theatre, painting – the spring of street performances, just between everything that is within limits of rules acceptable for “yes-music “.

Gladiator on the arena

Nevertheless, tot-art is more like a formal or ideological achievement and to describe it we are unlikely to turn to Bakhtin or Losev, or other philosophers. In tot-art we are more interested in features that underline its historical peculiarity (its affiliation with specific notions that are constantly being brought back to modern life by a wheel of history).

The feeling of excessiveness was always an inseparable part of post-modern period, though this feeling was always preceded with aesthetic deed which at the same time had been brought about in an artistic creation.

For our (as we have already mentioned a little bit “Asian”) perception the biggest source of excessiveness is created by a number of elements which we call “America” (not to touch the real America – good God, no! – the motherland of coca-cola and juicy hamburgers, though we can judge it here without bias as such notions as “abundance” and “satiety” for decades have been regarded as American way of assimilating reality).

Frankly speaking, I deliberately do not put “Europe” in quotes, as it’s as rich as transoceanic Super state and doesn’t yield to ways of self-saturation. Here Nabokov comes to my mind: he compared Europe to conservative, philistinely wise and prudish “triangle” played between heroes of “King, Queen, Jack” while America was personified in “Lolita”.

Thus Losev in Chapter “Roman Triumphs” describes purely American perception of exquisite delight which boarders upon perverted satiety of post-modern aesthetically overfull reality.


Andrey Solovyov. Roman vacation

“When, for instance, the Emperor Titus was coming back after having destroyed Jerusalem, people from all over the world were gathering to celebrate the triumph, and the eternal city was so crowded that it was almost impossible to move around. Enormous treasures taken out from Palestine were carried in triumphal procession in front of people driving them to the peak of exaltation. Babylon carpets, Syrian covers, Phoenician wool, Persian textiles, Indian brocade, purple byssus, Pontian cotton, holy covers from the church of Jerusalem, cups, vases, other sacred vessels taken from Altars, heaps of copper and ivory statues, basketful of golden coins – all these was carried in a glorious march which blinded and ravished the crowd. Different masterpieces – property of the East – blink in a motley picture in front of astonished people. Here are elephants, unusual for Rome camels and their guides, black and shaggy Nubians, and black-maned Mesopotamian lions, tigers and hyenas, panthers from Arabia, trots, bears and wild donkeys. Then the kingdom of plants marches through. All possible sorts of plants from the East ably replanted into silver bowls, so live and blossoming, like in a magic dream going before the eyes of the mystified crowd. For the greater glory of Titus! – Peals ecstatic crowd, – The winner, the father of the land be praised! And nobody pays any notice to children who were run over, to screaming women chocked to death by the crowd. The Emperor’s Rome – is a very powerful, spectacular, authoritative, beautiful though absolutely inhuman idea”.

Here recurs to memory the inseparable trait from the picture “America”: you’ll be dying in a street – and people will be driving past in luxurious limos and no one will ever stop…

American excessiveness came into new music as sublimation and ousting of aesthetic need for freedom. These or those measurements of freedom has always existed in vanguard art – it itself was the fight for human dignity (in this sense they have got lots of creative people in “black music” and we’ve got so-called “underground”), for independence from commerce (independent musicians there, and those supporting elite art in our country).


Andrey Solovyov. Roman vacation

But sooner or later all these measurements of freedom were implemented in life through information and technical or political transformations. The reality played a dirty trick to vanguards, it gave to any presence of freedom in art the status of “freedom from” – lets take, for example, the experience of “independent” record companies that had been created on the basis of mutual help and creative corporate support.

Some of them (commercially successful, like EMC, which also had been started as independent one) developed the idea of “not-music” up to the commercial variant of sound wall-paper of “no-music-at-all”. Others became the instrument of obsessed individualists who got the opportunity at rather small expenditures, and at recent time they became minimal, to replicate (in excessive quantity as it eventually turned out) any overcome of their fantasy. Such an unexpected metamorphosis.

The freedom gained by post-modernism, as it turned out, had been converted to tyranny each time when there was no need to struggle with impacts against it. The “freedom from” official or commercial art oppression (or just politics or ideology) turns to a sort of post-modern aesthetic satiety as soon as this outer aggression cedes.

Losev calls antique art “plastic”, it’s symbolized by sculpture or statue. In his opinion, sculpture, as no other art which deals with man’s body, comes to that line at which aesthetic pleasure goes along with utilitarian perception of beauty, at which personified implementation receives beyond-personal sense: “If hypocrisy, either personal or social, hadn’t interfered with people’s mind, they would have understood long ago that even Plato, Pythagoreans, Homer had already been the examples of ontological sadism and perverted debauchery since as if there’s no personal experience, all that is taken for as an absolute, would be beyond-personal or impersonal aspects of reality. The antique sculpture itself is brought to life by this mystic lechery of idealized flash and those soldiers of Karakuls and Maksimine as well as bloody-delightful heat of passion of Caligula, Commode, Geliogabale that symbolize only Roman syncretic antique sculpture aesthetics”.

Gladiator Borgeze, Antique Sculpture,
100 B.C.

It’s a more complicated task to find the same figurativeness in music, but in fight for “perfection” vanguard of the 60-s (free jazz, for instance) struggled for a dividing line between beauty and delight. Vanguard had never pushed forward the idea of that the beauty would safe the world, as to its understanding the beauty was eaten away not by aesthetic, but by real, sensual pleasure. Had never before the culture come to the understanding of art as a game, sensible without any aims, as it had in vanguard art of the XX century (and if we accept the idea of freedom, improvisation and communication – as in free jazz of 60-s and 70-s).

Excessiveness, as a category of post-modern period, finds itself first of all in return of pleasure into art. The freedom here means the unlimited access to the beauty. Too much of the beautiful eventually leads to the tyranny based on the aesthetic soil. There’s no doubt that today’s post-modern artists are the representatives of a civilized society. Their “tot-art”, idolization of creativity freedom, idle search for artistic experience do not cross the border of aesthetic area.

Roman amphitheatre is quite another matter. Here, the artistic infinity, hunger for pungent feelings, fancy for pleasure find the way to reach the reality of life. Unless we deny hypocrisy, reject Hellenistic extremes and evaluate Roman “Totalitarian art” within aesthetic categories, the post-modern “tot-art” with its artistic extremes will acquire a status of artistic creativity.

“We read Losev’s thoughts about emperors’ triumphs, and there’s indeed something very scaring but at the same time very beautiful found in a mind of a person who lives like a beast but feels himself as a God. If one is killed just to satisfy the desire of others to look at his distorted face at the edge of death, then nothing can be found in this aesthetic but absolute perception of the social outer-existence which is accepted only through personal emotions. And if there is outer-existence, then any type of deformation is possible; if it’s a personal emotion then it’s a pleasure, if it’s an absolutism, then it’s a whim…”

The evolution of improvised music not only reproduces all these notional interlaces, identified by Losev and based on aesthetics of late antique period, but also allows to establish links of these notions now, at present times, and to find direct cause-and-effect relations of events. Free jazz has already rushed into music world as an “inconsequent phenomenon of art existence”.

Roman Emperor Commod

Having freed itself from the burden of reality, the pure art of early vanguard found itself defenseless in front of any inner “deformations” (Losev). Pathos of self-expression, tireless submergence into depth of ‘the self”, anarchic self-legality of art (it’s envious how easily the word “creative” was placed in the titles of these and those artistic undertakings) have converted the new improvised music into a kind of “art of personal experience” which turned out to be too weak to attack fiercely the pleasure under the banner of which innovators had once united themselves without any hesitation.

Raising to the absolute different artistic ideas (like, for instance, principle of “total improvisation”) new jazz in several simple moves has won the game named “absolutism means whim” (Losev). And once again the pendulum principle has worked out – from one aesthetic extreme (“negative aesthetics”) new improvised music evolved into another (excessiveness of “tot-art”).

But lets go back to controversy character of “total aesthetics” which is described by Losev: “the essence of the matter is that godlike Julius was a homosexual, he was riding the chariot harnessed by necked women, exactly that Geliogabal who had taken the name of the God of Sun so franticly and voluptuously worshiped”.

Part 3: Multiplication of John Zorn

John Zorn – one of the most notable heroes of New York noise stage – can be called a collective image characterizing decline of music civilization. Zorn, infected with virus of pop-aesthetics, wouldn’t probably make way to many of radical and scandal independent artists in compromiseless “tot-art” experiments. During the last two decades he has managed to respond to almost all major ideas and manifestos of jazz pantophagy. More over, many of his records immediately became the samples of music post-modernism and got wide-spread popularity.


John Zorn

The peculiar refraction of “sculpture” approach in Zorn’s experiments can be stated in his address to aesthetics of cartoons. In cartoons the modern civilization gets close to a certain level of out-of-body synthetic reflection of reality which can be compared to late antique perception. As well as sculpture once being the universal ideology in Rome, cartoons bring to a modern life feeling of a mythological unity: the reality seems to be involved into a whirlpool of real-unreal combination, into irresponsible limitless transformation of objects.

John Zorn himself pointed out that cartoons attracted him first of all with absence of time references: there artificial and theatrical course of events conquered the real and spontaneous flow of time. In his interview to Howard Mandel the musician sets out his understanding of discrecity: “I’ve got a linear manner of work. I operate with blocks. I got this ability while listening to Stravinsky and music from cartoons. Something begins and ends, then another event marches in and ends, then something else takes place. In my music I try to drive it to extreme, the highest possible level. One event is pursued by another in the manner people are unable to get at once “.


James Blad Almer, one of the creators of «nothing-wave»

The artistic freedom, supported by the shortened time period, had promised truly aesthetic pleasures. Perhaps the most outspoken, cynically-sadistic violence had found implementation in the old Zorn’s album “The Dig Gundown”, made as a patchwork of Ennio Morricone music written to movies. Morricone’s music has nothing to deal with cartoons but in its background one can always find the idea of Hollywood excessiveness. This fact gives freedom to the most optional interpretation, even provokes to.

There’s an original cinematographic linearity traced in Zorn’s “Godard”, which was inspired by the shots of a famous French film director. I think it has been said enough to catch and fix the moments of “cinematographic sculpture” and then trace then in such Zorn’s creations like “Naked City”, “Cobra”, “News for Lulu” and others. I would like to underline that while talking of replication I do not mean the method or techniques of music creation (collage, poly-stylistics, patchwork, etc.), I have in mind the specific disposition, air of all-permission, interosculation of real and artificial in events succession, mythological (combining “odds and ends”, as Levi-Strause would say) method of creation of objects and situations, but what is the most important – is the return to sculptural, late antique in its nature “mystically perverted godlike flesh” (Losev) at which the uncertain ideas of life, death, time receive image implementation.

James Blad Almer

Zorn pays great attention to the way of play. Though he is not interested in a play itself which normally lies in the basis of art, he is more interested in construction, limitless freedom of a combination belonging to the artist. Zorn started such experiments in early 80-s and it finds proof in his creations “Archery”, records with “Locus Solus” and a sole project “The Classic Guide To Strategy”. The overall result of all this can be called “Cobra”, which we have already mentioned above.

Actually “Cobra” – is a special play for the sanctified, which shows itself as cycle of ritual actions. The first album of “Cobra” belongs, to my point of view, to the most radical experiments of Zorn in which he managed not to let in any knowledgeable dissemination. Resonant movement of that disc, which audience undertook as an end in itself, put a label of “noise stage” on Zorn and his co-thinkers from Lower East Side, although musicians themselves tented to argue, constantly and reasonably, to this kind of labeling. All these things make the disk to be an example of pure symbolism and unlimited sound combination.

John Zorn

To some extent, the saxophone duet of John Zorn and Ned Rottenberg can be regarded as a great supplement and finalizing experiment of music expressionism and minimalism to those formal searches. The work of Valentina Ponamoreva “Live in Japan” which was recorded with the help of Zorn and his Japanese co-thinkers shows how successful Zorn’s search for inner logic of music interplay was. In Zorn’s discography this album was rather ordinary, but for our audience following the creative works of Ponomareva, it was an outstanding example of close touch of “Known – Unknown”: The music of transoceanic innovator sounds in an understandable frame of references.

A special attention shall be given to Zorn’s album “Spy Versus Spy”, an interpretation of Ornette Colman music. I would describe Colman’s music as something in between solemn ritual of hunting the totem (the only day when a tribe which had been honoring the beast-father, trapped it and cooked and eat it with pleasure and excitement) and amphitheatre where the stands demand to martyrize the gladiator and enjoy his death (Losev: The emperor Claudius adored tortures. He ordered to kill even those who fell accidentally as he liked to look at the faces of the dying”).

In Zorn’s music we always get a feeling that he wants to overstep the limit line. He makes his “heroes” in a very short period of time to go the whole way from its very beginning till the very end leading to total self-destruction and self-denial. Now it’s high time to mention that early free-jazz was inspired by the dream of ecstasy and transcendence in which it hoped to get its real creative face.


Lower East Side Stars. Eliott Sharp and John Zorn

Musicians of post-modern new jazz (or neo-modern post-jazz?) have discovered that transcendence and ecstasy are closely linked to the loss of personality limits, limits of “the self” (a break through “nothing that lasts”, begins and ends in the same humdrum world though turned inside out). In compositions from the album “Spy Versus Spy” each music image, each character “becomes overripe” – each short story once having reached the climax falls down into the abyss of hysteria and destruction. There’s no matter what we start from, which intonation we originate from – the result of this development, this “move through”, and break through “to another side” is always the same – tiredness, satiety and coming back to zero.

Zorn’s creations give to this scheme a universal, encyclopedia work out. Each of his projects is like evaluation of those ideas which he discloses in music reality (not surprising that most of them are symbols of freedom, independence, renewal which are widely represented in jazz and vanguard experiences, though here might be a “pop” perception of freedom).

John Zorn

The already mentioned disc “Spy Versus Spy”, for instance, is expressed in the following way: there are two dozens of Colman’s creations each of which lasts only for one and a half minutes (some of them even shorter than a minute). Their sound organization is almost the same – the theme in unison with the band is played in a madden, furious tempo, then come two repetitions of flash improvisation (maximum notes in a time unite) in which all band plays. It’s not difficult to note that it’s just a survival test for two Colman’s ideas summarized by Zorn in harmony and melody concept: the principle of two improvising voices and introduction of the “movement” (meaning pressure and energy) as a full music category.

Our researcher Nikolay Dmitriev has justly noted that the typical feature of post-modern jazz, and of Colman’s “wave of nothing” in particular, should be considered the unfinished images, omission, halved revelation of main ideas. Seems that Zorn pays attention indeed to that peculiarity of Colman’s creation – he immerges his themes, typical intonations into abyss of limitless music verbosity (indeed aesthetic, “tot-art” action, the same Roman sadism, an emperors revenge).

Ornett Kolman
ancestor of harmolodic

It’s also evident that Zorn’s experiences can be traced in his other works, those recorded. Zorn’s conceptual approaches to classic jazz or blues are not sufficiently understandable amongst audience. Jason Weise, for example, tends to think that “Sonny Clarck Memorial Quartet”, the idea mutually developed by John Zorn and Wayne Horvitz, was nothing but an attempt to reconcile with traditional jazz audience. Other disc “News for Lulu” is always ranked (in my opinion mistakenly ranked) as carnival creation which follows the traditions of European mock aesthetics (and the disc itself was recorded in Europe). But here we must point out that Zorn’s idea is much deeper than trivial mocking of narrow-mindedness of traditional jazz and adjoin music genres.

Classic Jazz (as it’s understood by enlightened community) has been giving birth to the idea of its renewal and liberation for quite a long time. The idea was, to large extent, tied to sensuality, to rehabilitation of corporal in music culture (in literature we can find alike reflection in Herman Gesse’s novel “Steppe Wolf”. Zorn points out in old and customary music exactly this instrumentation and within one concert shows extremes which had never been revealed by traditional jazz.

The same scenario can be traced in “Spillane”,- the album recorded together with famous blues guitar player Albert Collins. Here Zorn’s “trip to blues”was a reasonable testimony of the idea that “blues is a heart of jazz” which turns into musician’s confession who has just understood the wise truth and at the same time the vulgarity of this thesis. Implementing his idea, Zorn in his naughty manner always gives his comments regarding “the stomach of jazz” as well as its kidneys, liver and bowels.


Roman Emperor Neron

The result of all these researches turns out to be the same, which always repeats itself – aesthetic reality viewed through the tot-art creations which stops to be distinctive. It becomes a reflection of a creative man and takes vengeance on him showing nothing but his worn-out, fed-up face.

“Interaction”, “communication”, “dialogue” – all these notions so valued by representatives of modern music haven’t become guide to action at present situation. At least they just showed for a very short time their different sides hidden before. Alas, the freedom has slipped away again.

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