Review of Dither plays Zorn, John Zorn’s Olympiad Vol. 1, Tzadik, 2015
“I never told anyone anything. I set up rules where they could tell each other when to play. It’s a pretty democratic process. I really do not have any control over how long the piece is, or what happens in it. “
John Zorn in Talking Music, William Duckworth, From Capo Press, 1999, p. 462
John Zorn’s game pieces have been a fundamental moment for his musical training as a composer, as a musician, as an improviser, and also as a cultural animator within a musical scene that in the 1970s was being created in New York City, under a great economic and political crisis. The result of this effort was a series of pieces based not on writings or well-defined scores, but on a series of instructions, rules that allowed a group of musicians with special features and ability to create music every time different, based on respect for these rules and their mutual musical and social interaction.
A lot of these passages have been effectively documented in the great cd box published by Tzadik in 1997 and titled “The Parachute Years 1977-1980” and now it seems that after many years Zorn has found a new generation of musicians interested in reproposing these works, but redefining them in a new and creative way.
“Now, almost 40 years later, a new generation of musicians have appeared, who are perfectly suited to execute these challenging and artful compositions. They are both improvisation composing and realizing both written music and open forms – musicians who deeply understand the dynamic dynamics of working togheter as a team, which is so crucial in performing these largely community-based compositions.
John Zorn, 2014, in the booklet accompanying the cd.
The Dither Electric Guitar Quartet is the first team of this new generation to afford the difficult task of “playing” these “extravagant compositions”.. Three are the songs they play: Curling, Hockey and Fencing for eight full tracks. In fact, because of the possibilities of these open structures, all the passages have been recorded two or three times, demonstrating the wide range of possibilities and choices available.
The result is a cd that I found to be really entertaining, with such a challenging but at the same time not sad or “dry” music. There’s a sense of fun lurking around all the music and I promise you’ll enjoy yourself searching for all the quotations and music digressions it contains. The Dither plays very well and they certainly don’t make us regret the first generation of musicians who played these songs almost 40 years ago.
The design of the cd is also very nice, the inside booklet seems to follow with the intelligence and elegance the formal structure of the game pieces: the texts are divided, fragmented and mounted in precise sequences that force the reader to a fun “literary pursuit” so that we can read them. My compliments to the great designer Chippy (Heung-Heung Chin).
This is the first volume of a new series and I’m waiting for, with some anxiety, the new cds that will follow. Zorn never stops to surpise ourselves, as always.