See previous entry if you missed it...
Tying Up Loose Strings to Create New Ones
By Benjamin Jones Cohen
“I really think that a form of music criticism has not yet been practiced which is suitable for chance-determined or indeterminate music----or even process music," (1) John Cage said in 1988, five years before his death. According to William Duckworth, the interviewer who’s question inspired Cage’s Statement: “…the year of his death may well become the “textbook” date for the end of the avant-garde…” (2) As the turn of the century came and went, his prediction rang true. In the artistic academic setting on the surface Cage existed in a vacuum. It appears that Cage has been sacked by his assumption that “most people don’t think.” (3) As the most visible artist in the Post-Modernist Avant-Garde musical movement his opinion may have contributed to the result that Duckworth predicted. That may also be why there were no critics that appeared suitable to Cage as a viable source of true intellectual critique. As the great vacuum sucked Cage up to the heavens, or wherever he went, if he went at all, at the time of his death the possibility for suitable criticism and “textbook” appreciation was sucked up with it. The avant-garde however was not killed in the process. No the resilience of art as a spirit of it’s seemingly own dictation had already set forth in executing a plan that would keep the avant-garde alive and even bring it to the people who Cage may or may not have had considered thinkers. Three musicians who are still working within Cages definition of music are, Mike Patton, Masami Akita and John Zorn.
A vehicle of the media Cage refused to even watch sparked the unlikely role of events that has lead the revolution to keep the Avant-Garde alive. A year after Duckworth’s interview, MTV began to play a video by the San Francisco band, Faith No More (FNM), entitled “Epic.” In the video prancing around like a clown, suited up in: oversized multicolor shorts, basketball sneakers, a staggered metal hair cut, and a tractor pull t-shirt promoting his high school band was Mike Patton. This is how most of the European and the US teenage population first became aware of FNM’s new lead vocalist. He would become the facilitator and “guardian of the bridge” to and for most new appreciators of Avant-Garde music.
By no means is he the leader to fill Cage’s shoes however. It may need to be someone who is purely concerned with noise, as Cage seemed to be. Japan has had a healthy and appreciated Noise movement for decades now. The leader of this movement hands down is a band called Merzbow, named in reference to the sculptural instillationist, Schwitters. Marzbow consists of one musician, Masami Akita. He however has trouble arriving at a Cage like level of artistic appreciation even in the Japanese advanced Avant-Garde movement by American standards.
The artist with the most potential to truly take what Cage started and spread it around the world as well as improve upon the theories Cage applied to music may be John Zorn. Zorn is a member of the Manhattan style contemporary jazz movement. He has a world wide following as well as two very successful Indy labels to promote and distribute the works of other artist. Zorn has the mind Cage was seeking to properly analyze Avant-Garde music. Zorn maybe too nice of a guy to be the critique Cage sought. So far he has not made it into those elusive textbooks.
Cage’s death may have freed the Avant-Garde movement to allow for Patton, Akita and Zorn to make serious steps in expanding Cage’s definition. Clarifying the ideas that he was unable to make clear to people outside the Avant-Garde circle he helped to form. They have certainly brought Avant-Garde to a sparse, but worldwide populace. Cage seemed to be fearful of vernacular music and the pop music world. Patton, Akita and Zorn in their own ways have helped to begin a healing of relations between the Avant-Garde and Pop, Rock and Jazz. In Cage’s life he may have been too pessimistic to desire a coming together of modern musical theologies. He may have felt the niche he carved was better off on it’s own, away from other contemporary musical movements. His passing has let the Avant-Garde out from under his shadow to intertwine with other music not as an influence, but as a public counterpart.
Along the California costal freeways winding their way North are signs for the last community before the Oregon border. The signs are a curiosity to most Californians growing up representing a destination that most never travel to. It has a lot to do with the name of the Humboldt County city on the sign, “Eureka.” Mike Patton was born in a neighboring town Arcata, CA, on January 27th, 1968. xIt is a good 8-hour drive north of San Francisco so there is a definite isolated sense that comes to people who live in Humboldt’s small mountain community. There is still a skeptical interest in life outside Eureka by the locals. Two questions are often asked by them, as the Arcata Avant-Garde folk/country band Dieselhed did in one of their songs: “Is there life outside, beyond Eureka? A better home?” Patton in hindsight said; “I didn’t even want to travel. I was scared, yet I hated Eureka and Humboldt County. It was very confusing, and everything wound up being a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. I just didn’t like it there at all. There was absolutely nothing to do; yet I knew I’d be leaving at some point in my life to do something. But there was a definite lack of ambition, and even having a band was an avoidance tactic. Avoiding making friends, avoiding girlfriends all that stuff. There was a huge fear of failure and anything I did was a replacement for something else.” (4)
Fear was the main component in Patton’s childhood. “I remember mostly just being scared of everything. Scared of not getting good grades, scared of not going to school, just a time spent jumping from security to security. Staying at home with my parents on Friday nights rather then going out with friends.” So Patton sought a path with the least risk, “…so that meant that mediocrity was a great place for me to be.” (5) His childhood choice for a carrier path was that of a Weatherman. His ticket out of the small town he was afraid to leave.
As exciting as the prospects of being the local weatherman or even a national weatherman would be, Patton would stumble upon the one thing he would find enough ambition in to use as a vehicle out of town. In 1985 he began to sing with three friends: Bassist; Trevor Dunn, Guitarist; Trey (Scummy) Spruance and Drummer; Jed Watts. Patton, whose main part in the ensemble, was at lead vocals is a natural built singer, able to mimic and work in an infinite range of sounds. They named themselves after a character in short 1950’s educational film, about manners in a grade school cafeteria. They saw it on an early episode of “the Pee Wee Herman show,” it was also part of Herman’s stage act. The name of the character was “Mr. Bungle.”
There is a small yet consistent supply of cultural diversity provided by the California State University, Humboldt State. Most of the college students were from the San Francisco Bay Area and were there to smoke local weed and listen to Reggae, along with their education. They were up in Humboldt, because they didn’t fit in with the Oakland hip-hop scene or with the gutter punks in the lower Height and Berkeley. The local community was a typical logging, post hippy, rural mountain, and cultural environment. For Eureka teens the best possible backlash against their parents and a College community, they viewed as a foreign invasion, was the escapism Heavy Metal provided. At first Mr. Bungle embraced this logic. After all Patton sought mediocrity and this was it as far as his community went.
So Bungle recorded the low-fi death metal demo “The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny.” The first track appropriately entitled “Grizzly Adams,” after the 1982 television program of the same name about a Mountain Man Grizzly Adams and his bear, was a melancholy introduction into typical North Eastern folk/country vernacular. Then the bottom drops out and a “Slayer” inspired metal and noise takes over. Halfway through the demo it seems that boredom takes over and elements of Ska, "Fishbone" influenced rap and kazoo inspired polka is force-fed in-between the hard grinding, hyper fast, gutsy yelling, guitars and drums. The patchwork, “LEGO” style displayed in their first recording would be the formula that would be a staple in their work through out their collaboration with each other. It would even become the basis for their philosophy that would lead to Patton specifically having a role in the Avant-Garde movement of the past decade.
Bungle followed up their first demo with three more over five years: “Bowls of Chili,” adding horns to help with the diverse demands of the different styles they were quilting together. “Goddammit I Love America,” according to the band this was “a Fishbone rip-off,” in reference to the black LA eclectic Ska band. “OU818,” most of which ended up in one form or another on Bungle’s first LP release from Warner Brother’s Records.
Music to them became a puzzle. In a single song you could find elements of Ska, Metal, Hip Hop, Funk, Polka, Clown Music, Swing, Rock ‘a Billy and Punk. Over the top and intertwined were the increasingly bizarre lyrics of Patton. As afraid as he had been growing up, he was equally forward and risky in his lyrics. He would consciously deal with the perverse use of sex and violence in pop culture. He was absurdly graphic and mutated in his lyrical content. He predated the gross saturation of sex and violence that was shown in the 1990’s media with a level of content that only now is beginning to be matched by the mainstream. Patton however maintains he was simply taking in the absurdity around him and spitting it out on the microphone: “The deviancy thing came by default, getting out seeing things, doing things, having people tell you things. Everything I did was normal to me.” (6) He was however recording these demos prior to the “gangster rap” movement in pop music and the heights of television’s Jerry Springer show.
Back in 1986 Faith No More was on a shoestring budget tour and hit Eureka to play at a pizza parlor in front of a crowed of six. After the show Patton gave FNM’s drummer Mike (Puffy) Bordin a copy of “The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny.” He said while handing it to Bordin, “This is what music around here sounds like, from this region.” From there it fell into the hands of Jim Martin FNM’s Guitarist. Martin would call Patton’s parent’s house and rave about the poor quality demo.
At the end of 1988 FNM, a now regular on College Radio in the US and a legitimate hit in Europe, had professional differences with lead vocalist Chuck Mosely. They auditioned other west coast singers such as Soundgarden front man Chris Cornel. Bordin put in a call to Patton, for him to come down to San Francisco and “practice,” under Martins insistence. Patton’s need some encouragement as well, because of his fear of leaving Humboldt County, which he received from Spruance.
Patton joined FNM with the condition that he can be given 6 months off every year to work with Bungle, a decision that would prove to have been shrewd and crucial. He had developed a diverse high quality singing style for a 21 year old. It was a surprise to FNM, because all they had ever herd was Bungles first demo. Patton wrote and sang the lyrics on the spot over the music, which had already been laid down. It was quite a different process from the “LEGO” style song writing Patton and Bungle had developed. With the addition of Patton, Faith No More was able to complete the recording their third album “The Real Thing” at Studio D in Sausalito, CA. A grueling tour schedule lay ahead for the naturally shy and reclusive Patton. Fame was not instantaneous. FNM was relying on their popularity in Europe to pay the bills. Their friendships and mini tours with other bands such as Metallica, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Soundgarden helped with their exposure in western States. It wasn’t until Warner Brother’s, owners of Slash records, FNM’s label, flexed their muscle with MTV to put “Epic” in heavy rotation that FNM became the 1990 sensation that turned Mike Patton into a teen idle. This happened in the midst of FNM’s second European tour in a year and the band had no idea that they had suddenly become an over night success. A concept that would fly in the face of all that the band stood for.
Mr. Bungle was not the only band in California that was experimenting with what would later be identified as anti-genre music. Bungle had admittedly appropriated concepts from Fishbone. Anthony Keddis of The Red Hot Chili Peppers accused Patton of stealing his act, although it was latter established that Keddis lacked the range of ability Patton possessed to threaten Patton’s carrier. FNM’s close proximity and relations with east bay weirdo funk rock band Primus also lead to a clumping of Bungle with these bands. FNM was already interested and established in the ideals of Anti-Genre rock, prior to Patton joining the band. That was one of the reason’s he joined in the first place. All of these bands along with lesser known bands such as Nuclear Rabbit were developing in ways that contradicted the ideals of the Pop music business. When FNM was suddenly propelled into MTV fame their seven years of work in the anti-genre philosophy was ripped away from them. They were considered an over night success and not only that, but they had a genre they belonged to, Funk Metal. A genre that has broadened into Hip Hop Metal, which now features such scapegoat’s for violence in America’s youth and money making non-artistic MTV bands such as Limp Bizket and Korn.
The weight of being MTV’s poster boy, weighed on Patton heavily and just as he had used his obtuse lyrical content in Bungle to counteract his fears and boredom, he would do the same thing on tour with FNM. Patton’s on stage antics began to become the main story, as appose to the musical performance. He would urinate, masturbate, and even cut himself, just to keep from falling under the spell of fear and boredom from the repetitive nature of touring. He would use his position to promote Mr. Bungle over Faith No More, which began to cause riffs in the bands cohesiveness. The time he set aside for Mr. Bungle would prove to change the relationships in the band and their artistic integrity, but not their new found pop music status. They would produce three other albums over the next seven years: “Angel Dust,” heavily influenced by Bungle’s “Lego” style of song writing; “King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime,” presenting FNM’s best song writing and greatest technical achievement; “Album of the Year,” a quality album, but a clear display that they had done all they could do as a group. After touring for Album of the year FNM released a Best of Album and thus nailing the coffin on the bands history. Most of the members of the band have gone on to work on uniquely diverse projects since.
After the touring for “The Real Thing,” Patton joined Bungle in taking a copy of “OU818” to a John Zorn’s Masada show and handed it to him hoping he would agree to produce their first self titled LP. Zorn enthusiastically agreed and with Patton’s newfound fame and the proven abilities of the great John Zorn as their producer, Bungle signed a long-term contract with Warner Brothers. The production process was heavily influenced by Zorn’s theological techniques he had developed as an Avant-Garde Noise and Jazz composer and musician. The process of working with Zorn opened the members of Bungle’s eyes to the diverse artistic integrity in the Avant-Garde movement. The ideals of the Avant-Garde complemented and clarified Bungles own philosophies. Spruance went on to articulate in two Manifestos’ of sorts entitled “First Grand Constitution and Bylaws” and “Second Grand Constitution and Bylaws.” The basic fundamental ideal presented behind the cryptic writing’s in the Constitution and Bylaws is that Bungle and the members of Bungle set out to discard the confines of Genre and the pre-Cage definition of music. The strongest statement musically in support of this theory is Mr. Bungle’s second album “Disco Volante.” The album rivals the diversity and lack of predictability of any anti-genre or noise musician to date. It is their tip of the hat to the Avant-Garde and their presentations of the “bird” to the mainstream music populous.
In between working with Bungle and FNM, Patton also began to deal with his individual theories pertaining to the Avant-Garde. He first worked with Zorn on a project entitled “Elegy.” This is were he learned to better interpret thematic concerns in other mediums as well as capture the feeling of these themes and present them in the musical context of the Avant-Garde. He then subsequently composed two solo projects on Zorn’s label, Tzadik. The first was recordings of 34 compositions in which Patton appropriated found sounds as Zorn does with his “File Card” method and mimicked them with the diverse range of his voice. It was appropriately entitled, “Adult Themes for Voice.” The second utilized Zorn’s “Game Piece,” method of composing and utilizing other musicians. The theme was that of food and he even used food or utensils in the preparation of food to produce the sense of an authentic five star meal. This album is entitled “Pranzo Oltranzista.” His work in a pure Avant-Garde manner would only be a precursor to his intentions musically once FNM disbanded.
Upon Faith No More’s brake up, Patton was left with an established place in the musical landscape and the funds to work within that realm freely. His primary focus would now be Mr. Bungle. The weight he had carried for years as FNM’s front man and the fear he had overcome by seeing the world through FNM’s success had created an instantaneous change in Patton. Mr. Bungle set out to produce an album that was thematic. They chose California tourism as their topic and painted with sound a landscape that reflected all aspects of their subject matter in a style and with the level of musicianship only Mr. Bungle could create. The album’s name reflected the simplistic design of the cover; they called it "California."
Patton, in addition, started an artist friendly label, Ipecac, with his personal manager and former Alternative Tactical Operational Manager, Greg Workmen, who also is the personal manager to Jello Biafra of the bay area punk gods the Dead Kennedys, owner of Alternative Tentacles and former Green Party Presidential Nominee. Ipecac’s first release was a project that merged the fundamental background of Patton’s musical history, Heavy Metal and the methods and ideals he had learned as an Avant-Garde composer. He composed 30 short pieces that were designed to contain the essence of scenes in the 1920 French crime novel series, “Fantomas.” He designed the songs to be presented as if they were panels constructed together on the page of a comic, each song representing a comics page. His passion for comics he found in hindsight had been an inspiration for the “Lego” method Bungle had taken on. He then cast, just as Zorn has done throughout his career, an ensemble of musicians he felt could properly perform his composition. He chose fellow Bungle mate Dunn, Ex-Slayer drummer Dave Lembardo and Melvin’s guitarist Buzzy Osborn. It was dubbed a super group by the press, but to the musicians it was a chance to take a style of music they loved to play and attach a level of artistic integrity to it that had never existed before.
Patton would then collaborate with Masami Akita on a project they would call Maldoror. The album was entitled “She” and it focused on both men’s career-long studies of the erotic. “She” is a pure Avant-Garde noise album in the style of Japanese Low-Fi. The relationship bridged a connection between the two pop icons of the Avant-Garde world.
Masami Akita is the premier Avant-Garde Noise musician in Japan. Akita considered noise to be the primitive and collective consciousness of music. Born in Tokyo in 1956, Akita graduated from the Tamagawa University, majoring in Painting and Art theory. He has used his degree as a foundation for his music and his main monetary career as a writer. He writes articles and books on Japanese historical architecture, Post Modernist Culture, Avant-Garde Music and Erotica.
Erotica is the main subject mater he chooses to influence his music. In 1981 Akita formed his solo project Merzbow. The name Merzbow was inspired by a series of work by a German collage Artist, Kurt Schwitters, entitled “The Cathedral of Erotic Misery.” Schwitters’ technique of collage has helped in giving Akita ideals for the process in which Merzbow’s music is created as well as sharing a common interest in the erotic. There is logic to his focus on the erotic and pornography as a basis for his work. He has been interested in and influenced by Surrealism and that movement’s embrace of the concept that "Everything is Erotic, Everywhere is Erotic". Akita strives to compose real surrealistic music in a non-musical way. He has said, "there is no difference between Noise and Music in my work. I have no idea what you term "Music" and "Noise". It's different depending on each person. If "Noise" means uncomfortable sound, then pop music is noise to me." This distaste of Pop music is in direct contrast with, Patton’s taste. It is unfounded whether or not this was an issue when they recorded “She” together. They do however share in exploring the concept of erotica and that was the primary focus of “She.” To Akita pornography is the unconsciousness of sex. Akita interprets noise to be the unconsciousness of music. Merzbow works on the fundamental belief that Noise is the most erotic form of sound. To Akita porn is much less the misogynist ideal of an expression of freedom, but more so a symbol of claustrophobia and oppression. Akita also shares in another of Patton’s passions although this came to him as an influence later in his career. "I'm influenced by death metal from the early '90s. My biggest influence was grind drumming. So, I liked bands with good drummers like Morbid Angel and early Napalm Death. For Merzbow, it's more abstract influenced as speed or grindcore, the edge guitar sound of death metal.” This has lead Akita to hope that his work is being picked up by “many pimply faced metal punks,” a concept that Patton expects more and fears more with regards to his own work.
As Merzbow, Akita, has produced over 50 albums to date. Merzbow produces work without the aid of a computer. Akita is concerned with the ideals found in DADA and the ready maid. Merzbow’s music consists of found sound recorded on low-fi audiocassettes. He began to get involved in international cassette trading as a way of acquiring various sounds. Akita would also make sounds from what he referred to as the “scum” that surrounds his life, a direct reaction to growing up in the overpopulated hustle and bustle of Tokyo. People who fall asleep in cities often have the experience that they need the noise outside their windows to fall asleep. It is a form of security. He wanted to react to that by creating silence through over running your senses with noise. This is what is called “White Noise.” For Akita he found pleasure in this kind of noise. He would use his anti-use of electrical equipment technique to acquire and create noise. He would use found objects such as a broken tape recorder or broken guitar and use these to recreate found noises. Akita also made sure he was incorporating his muscles and body movement into his compositions. He is against using computers as a tool to create his music. Akita considers his process of composing mechanical automatism, not improvisation. It is the result of strictly physical processes. Just as many modernists and postmodernists had before him, action became a critical element. Noise was his action.
Akita has preformed with the assistance of his wife, Reiko A, in four continents. There is a myth among the American noise audience that Japan has a large well-respected Noise scene. Akita would be able to pay his bills by a full time commitment to this medium if that were so. Japans Avant-Garde audiences have traditionally consisted of middle class men and just recently consisted of a growing younger underground music type crowd. Akita has said that American audiences are larger and much more receptive, as well as, more clever than Japanese audiences. This may be in part to Cage’s work over the past decades in America as the father of Western Avant-Garde. Frank Zappa who has been a huge influence on Akita also created a tolerance and understanding in U.S. audiences. It is, however, over the last decade a result of the work that Patton and Zorn have produced and performed in the U.S. that noise audiences have grown in size and sophistication. With the distribution opportunities that Patton’s label Ipecac and Zorn’s labels Avant and Tzadik have created for Merzbow. Zorn for example made 1930 available in the U.S., it is considered to be Merzbow’s most important work.
Avant and Tzadik were developed in early 1990’s to create a central hub for John Zorn to produce and distribute his own work as well as the work of various musicians in the worldwide contemporary Avant-Garde musical movement. The task of producing all of John Zorn’s work prior to both labels inception has just recently been completed, almost a decade later. Zorn was born in New York, NY on September 12th, 1953. Zorn by the age of ten was trained in the playing of piano, guitar and flute. Zorn had discovered traditional and Avant-Garde classical compositions and began composing his own at the age of 14. He has sighted Cage as an early influence along with other composers. By the age of 16 his parents had begun searching for psychological help for Zorn on account of his increasingly Avant-Garde compositional style.
Zorn has said it wasn’t until he picked up the Saxophone that he became interested in Jazz. He was a literal instantaneous natural with regards to this instrument. Just as Patton was built to sing, Zorn was built to play the Sax. Naturally, John Coltrane became a significant influence. He attended classes at Webster College in St. Louis were he discovered experimental Jazz, as well. He dropped out after a year and moved to Oregon to live with his brother. He spent his time staying in both San Francisco and Oregon developing his initial theory of composition, “The Game Theory.” He would perform his compositions in small venues to very miniscule crowds. “The Game Theory” is an experiment in a controlled process of improvisation. He would develop elaborate rules for musicians he would hand pick to perform these compositions. Usually musicians who were experienced improvisationist, as well as, musicians he was familiar enough with to predict a basic outcome to their production in the context of the improv. Zorn would use his rules as “on,” “off” switches. Dictating a basic outcome that he would envision ahead of time with a relatively accurate prediction. The style in which these compositions came across depended upon the musicians he selected, but were influenced heavily by Zorn’s obsessive appetite for television as a child, specifically Warner Brother cartoons and musical scores of these cartoons, composed by Carl Stalling. Zorn returned to New York after a few years on the west coast. This is where his work began to form a level of maturity that would lead him to larger crowds when performing these improvisational compositions. The primary purpose of the “Game Piece” theory was to tie up loose ends left by early Avant-Garde composers such as, Cage. It wasn’t till recently with his composition “Xu Feng,” a tribute to the Martial Arts actress of the same name, that he was able to truly begin tying up these loose ends. His work with Mills College percussion professor and sometimes Bungle support musician, William Winant and Dave Lembardo ex-Slayer drummer and current Fantomas drummer, on “Xu Feng” illustrates perfectly the control he has developed with his “Game Pieces.” His ability to illustrate the persona and environment created in Xu Feng’s work through the use of instrumental noise has developed into a style of composing that in many ways surpasses the conceptual maturity and intentional control that Cage had with his work.
In the mid 80’s Zorn developed another process theory he calls “File Card.” The first and clearest attempt at this new method of composition was on Zorn’s album “Spillane,” an interpretation of Mickey Spillane’s crime novels and Jean-Luc Godard’s films and their fragmented compositional style. The “File Card” method consists of appropriating found compositional segments from life around Zorn and transcribing them on file cards. He would then put them in an order that would suit the subject mater he was inspired by for that particular composition. Then he would sit down with hand picked musicians and record the replicated music in the order of the file cards. This would become a very important way for him to compose when he became more interested in Japanese culture and music. Spallini along with a “Game Piece” composition entitled “The Big Gundown” catapulted John Zorn into fame within the Avant-Garde music scene. With the new attention he was free to split his time in Japan and New York in the late 80’s.
In Japan he began an Eclectic Noise Ensemble with Japanese composer Yamanataka Eye called Naked City. Many consider Zorn and Eye to be twins separated at birth. Zorn’s “File Card” theory became the major way in which they composed music. The ensemble was much more Jazz and Rock influenced. The song structure and components had an uncanny similarity to the “Lego” method that bungle had developed, just a few years earlier. Naked City was heavily influenced by American and Japanese television, American death metal, Kabuki Theater, Contemporary Jazz and Noise. Through Zorn’s relationship with Bungle there would be a resurgence of appreciation for Naked City half a decade later that would help in producing the audience appreciation and size Merzbow would experience in the U.S. As well as, bring Zorn and Patton’s work along with other musicians produced on the Avant and Tzadik labels to the attention of a larger and more diverse American audience that had already been interested in Bungle and the more accessible of Patton’s previous works.
Zorn’s interest in television and subsequently film had lead him to begin writing “Film Works.” Compositions for films, some of which existed and some of which did not. The most important film he helped in creating and produced a soundtrack for was “Gene Tyranny,” a film documenting the experiences of Jews on Kristallnacht, The Night of Broken Glass. He would later on deal with other issues in thee Jewish community, the most controversial of which was Gay’s in an Orthodox community.
His focus on what he refers to as “Radical Jewish Culture,” lead him to team up with fellow Manhattan Style, Jewish, Jazz musicians Joey Barron, Greg Cohen and Dave Douglas to form Masada. Masada has since become an international success with it’s melting of traditional Yiddish music, Manhattan Jazz and Avant-Garde Noise. Masada has provided an opportunity for a permanent place in Jazz folklore along with Zorn’s Jazz heroes such as Coltrane.
His respect from a cross-section of the world Jazz and Avant-Garde audience, as well as, American experimental rock and Noise audiences has elevated him to a status as a spokesperson for a worldwide movement in the continuation of Cage’s theories. When he sheds light through his work, commentary or production of other artist and all mediums there is a respect that is instantaneously placed on the worldwide audience familiar with Zorn’s work. When he composes a piece that is dedicated to an individual he has the ability to capture the essence of that person as he did for the Poet, Marguerite Duras and the Visual Artist, Marcel Duchamp on “Duras:Duchamp.” Just as he is able to bring together a wide range of artists to perform a composition, he is able to bring a wide range of people to appreciate and understand the theories and works of other artist.
John Cage’s thoughts in 1988 were directed toward his contemporary music critics, but they were indications of an over all sense he seemed to project when it came to the understanding and development of the new definition of music he had fostered in the 1950’s. Fifty years after the fact there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Music that is being produced and audiences that are experiencing it contradicts at the very least the very bleakest of Cage’s predictions. As Cage’s thoughts relate to composers there are three musicians who are still working within Cages definition of music are, Mike Patton, Masami Akita and John Zorn.
Mike Patton has utilized his fear and boredom to create a stage persona that peaks the interest of a new consistently desensitized generation of audience members. He has exploited his fame to it’s fullest and still maintained a sense of artistic integrity. His work has embraced Cage’s theory and applied it to all genres of music intertwining them into a more pure definition, one without boundaries and walls. Patton’s work creates connections for members of society, Cage seemed to see as a lost cause when it came to understanding Avant-Garde music. Patton through his Lego method and iconic persona has created a bridge between Pop music and the Avant-Garde ideals Cage created.
Masami Akita as Merzbow has written and preformed music that is embedded in Cage’s concept of Avant-Garde. He has focused on a specific aspect of life, the erotic. He desires to take noise and create beauty as well. His work is very relevant today even after Cage’s death, perhaps even more so. Akita’s has been openly influenced by the culture Cage had a lack of faith in. This is a bridge into the Avant-Garde that feeds it new and relevant life.
John Zorn has been the ambassador in the US that guards Cage’s ideal and provides a safe haven for musicians and audiences in the Avant-Garde world. As well as, expanding the definition and making a contuse effort to deal with problems that Cage was directly interested in. His influx of Jewish, African, and Japanese musical dialogue has only helped in clarifying and expressing the ideals Cage set out to present in his expanded definition of music.
Patton, Zorn and Akita do understand the concepts presented in Cages work and they open the eyes of audiences and critics world wide daily. It is yet to be shown in our textbooks, but it is shown on the shelves of our music stores and home collections in a diverse cross-section of the population worldwide.