This is a blog devoted to music on the edge - experimental, underground, alternative, subversive, or just plain weird - new music that tries new things, or old music that broke old rules. It's a place to discuss ideas, share discoveries, to think about what makes music interesting and challenging but still good to listen to. Join in and have your say!!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

ADHD in music: John Zorn's 'The Bribe'

Brilliant music, like brilliant children, can have ADHD and can drive you spare and yet can still be awesome. It sends you running in all directions, chasing it, being chased by it, this way and that, and then, just when you think it has finally run out of puff and you’re going to have a chance to sit down and catch your breath, it runs off in a completely different direction again, and off you go, after it.

Welcome to the world of John Zorn’s The Bribe.

John Zorn has composed, performed and produced a truckload of music and it’s always, always interesting – drunkenly staggering between the boundaries of free jazz, classical avant-garde, experimental klezmer, and unmedicated madness.

The Bribe is in three parts and was created for three radio plays produced in 1986 by the New York avant-garde theatre company Marbou Mines. The music, for the most part, is in small bursts of restless, erratic energy – 26 of them, no less – over almost 80 minutes.

It utilises Zorn’s usually eclectic conglomeration of instrumental sources – in this case, Zorn’s alto sax, plus reeds, trombone, harp, guitar, piano, organ, turntables, bass and percussion.

Some tracks are less than a minute long. Most are no more than two or three. A handful are longer. But whether they’re short or longer, the music is always shifting its pace, never resting anywhere for more than a couple of seconds, one moment sauntering beside the sleaziest of New York’s street crime, the next marching alongside a carnival parade of visiting freaks.

Zorn subtitles The Bribe as ‘variations and extensions on Spillane’: Spillane itself an iconic sonic drama that John Zorn produced in 1987 in tribute to Mickey Spillane, the bad boy author of American hardboiled crime fiction.

It is that fast, fleeting world of sex and violence, of dark streets and smoky lights, where everything is in black and white, where forbidden fun and guns thrust their pelvises into one another, that world where banality is art and where nothing needs your attention for more than fifteen seconds – and thank god for that because in twenty you might well be dead – it is that world that is so brilliantly, so darkly, so uproariously celebrated here on The Bribe.

Whatever vices you have overcome, The Bribe will make you take them up again. By the end of it you will have a cigarette hanging out of your mouth, a glass of cheap booze in your hand, and you will be standing on a dark, dingy street corner waiting for your next fix – of sex, of drugs, of anything: it doesn’t matter really because, ten seconds later, you’ll be done and looking for, and lusting in, something else.

The Bribe is released, like all John Zorn’s music, on Tzadik.

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