Friday, October 30, 2009

CDMS looks for finger prints of axions

The finger print that CDMS is looking for: the expected solar axion event rate in a germanium detector depends on the energy of the axions and the position of the sun in the sky. The position of the sun is plotted as time of day.

The theory of strong interactions, known as quantum chromodynamics, predicts that matter and antimatter behave slightly differently, a phenomenon known as CP violation. However, CP violation has never been observed in strong interactions.

In order to save QCD from this dilemma, theorists predict the existence of a particle known as the axion, which barely interacts with matter. While the particle fixes the CP violation problem, experiments have not yet detected any axions.

According to theory, an axion could emerge when a photon traverses a very strong electric or magnetic field. The core of the sun would be a perfect region for the creation of axions. The particles would immediately escape the sun and some of them would travel through Earth.

The Cryogenic Dark Matter Search, which takes place deep underground in the Soudan Underground Laboratory in Minnesota, has searched for axions and set new limits on the properties of these particles. The result made the cover of the Oct. 1 issue of Physical Review Letters.

The primary goal of the CDMS collaboration is the search for weakly interacting massive particles, which are candidates for dark matter particles. But its germanium and silicon detectors, which operate at 40 milliKelvin, are also extremely sensitive to low-energy X-ray photons and hence serve as axion detectors as well. Solar axions that traverse the CDMS detectors would coherently scatter off crystals in the detectors, akin to X-ray Bragg scattering off crystal planes. The interaction probability depends on the energy and the incident angle of the axions.

Determining the incident angle required the precise knowledge of the orientation of the detector crystal planes, which are located a half mile underground, with respect to the location of the sun — a daunting task. Fortuitously, in 1999 the Fermilab Alignment Group had measured the absolute geodesic true North in the Soudan mine to within a few millidegrees of accuracy. The directions of the CDMS crystal planes are also precisely known.

Still, CDMS scientists had to correlate the two measurements, a challenge since the detectors are located inside a vacuum vessel and buried within a massive shield to protect the detectors from background noise. Ultimately, CDMS scientists determined the direction of their detectors relative to the sun to within three degrees of accuracy.


Friday, October 23, 2009

Maryanne Amacher (1943-2009)

The music world lost one of its most bizarre characters today, and I say that with the utmost possible affection. Maryanne Amacher was an amazing composer of sound installations, who occasionally taught courses at Bard. I first encountered her in 1980 at New Music America in Minneapolis. She had, as was her wont, fitted an entire house with loudspeakers, and the staff was in a state of jitters because at opening time she was still fine-tuning. She was an incredible perfectionist, and there was no overriding her exacting judgment. Years later I interviewed her for my history of American music. A Stockhausen student, she was absolutely inscrutable, so intuitive that pinning facts down was an insult to her spirit. My first ten questions having elicited no specific information, I finally asked whether her original sound sources were acoustic or electronic in origin. Her answer: "I really can't say." She was vagueness personified. Yet she was an incredible artist, and my son thought she was the best electronic music teacher Bard ever had. She typically wore bright red overalls and aviator goggles, and I'd be astonished if her wiry frame weighed 90 pounds. After one semester with her, one of my colleagues - an artistic and sympathetic soul, but I understood his frustration - said, "I feel like I'm on the set of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." She did dress a little like Snoopy. She lived in a huge old house in Kingston that was cluttered wall to wall with papers, tapes, and technical equipment, among which one walked gingerly through narrow paths. You closed doors carefully, for fear the entire soggy house would fall down. But she was some kind of genius, and her sound installations, better appreciated in Europe than here, had to be heard to be believed. Like La Monte Young, she had an ear that one struggled to emulate. She absolutely lived for her art. I heard a few weeks ago that she'd had a stroke, then from Pauline Oliveros that she was in a nursing home, and today she passed away. I do hope her work is well documented, because it is absolutely unique and inimitable. We will never hear her like again.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Antiproton Discovery

When the Bevatron switched on at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the fall of 1954, it was the largest particle accelerator ever built, capable of producing energies upwards of six billion electronvolts.

The Bevatron's energy range wasn't chosen arbitrarily, but was specifically picked to provide the right conditions for creating antiprotons, then-theoretical particles as massive as protons but with negative electric charge.

When the Bevatron's first antimatter experiments started that summer, there was a mood of anticipation: Anxious experimenters jockeyed for time on the machine, principal investigators exchanged bets on whether or not antiprotons would be produced, and others just looked on hopefully.

One Bevatron research team made it to the front of the fray. Led by Emilio Segrè, the group's work was divided between two experiments. Researchers Owen Chamberlain and Clyde Wiegand would try to identify antiprotons by determining the masses and charges of particles produced by slamming protons into a fixed target. A second group, led by Gerson Goldhaber at Berkeley and Edoardo Amaldi in Italy, would record the collisions on photographic emulsions and look for the star-shaped energy bursts expected from proton–antiproton annihilation.

Anticipating Twitter by five decades, Wiegand placed a blackboard near the Bevatron's entrance and posted daily updates on the group's progress.

This snapshot shows that as of October 6, 1955 at 4:30 p.m., the group had detected 38 negatively charged particles with the same mass as protons. The ratio at the bottom of the board shows what the researchers were up against: these 38 sought-after antiproton signals had been sifted from a pool of nearly two million particle events.

Wiegand, an avid baseball fan, also took the opportunity to publicize the standings of the ‘55 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers. The score in the upper-right-hand corner may reflect his loyalties: Bums 4, Yanks 3.

The researchers spent two weeks making sure their findings were sound and defensible. Then, at an October 19 press conference, they announced that they had found the antiproton. The discovery earned Nobel Prizes for Chamberlain and Segrè in 1959.

The Bevatron kept producing physics for nearly 40 years, until the beam shut off in 1993. Demolition of the structure began in July and will take until 2011 to complete.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Quantum computers could tackle enormous linear equations

A new algorithm may give quantum computers a new, practical job: quickly solving monster linear equations. Such problems are at the heart of complex processes such as image and video processing, genetic analyses and even Internet traffic control. The new work, published October 7 in Physical Review Letters, may dramatically expand the range of potential uses for quantum computers.

The new quantum algorithm is “head-smackingly good,” says computer scientist Daniel Spielman of Yale University. “It is both very powerful, and very natural. I read the abstract and said, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’”

In the new study, Aram Harrow of the University of Bristol in England along with Avinatan Hassidim and Seth Lloyd, both of MIT, propose that large datasets of linear equations could be encoded in quantum forms, such as the spins of nuclei, individual atoms or photons. Such a system would allow quantum computers to handily solve problems made up of billions or even trillions of variables (such as the x’s, y’s and z’s that plague algebra students).

“Solving these gigantic equations is a really huge problem,” Lloyd says. “Even though there are good algorithms for doing it, it still takes a very long time.”

A trillion-variable problem would take a classical computer at least a hundred trillion steps to solve, Lloyd says. But with the newly proposed algorithm, a quantum computer could solve the problem in just a few hundred steps, the researchers calculate.

Strange quantum mechanical principles that operate on very small scales give quantum computers their immense number-crunching power. One of the strangest physical properties, called superposition, allows a single quantum bit of information to represent both a 0 and 1 at the same time, while a classical bit can only represent either a 0 or a 1. Performing a mathematical operation on a single quantum bit, or qubit, is like doing many operations simultaneously, says Lloyd. “You don’t have to read all the data individually — you can read aspects of them all at once,” he says.

Lloyd and his colleagues plan to test the algorithm in the lab by having a quantum computer solve a set of linear equations with four variables. After that, Lloyd says he plans to look around for “more fun problems to solve.”

Spielman says that this newly proposed algorithm is exciting because it hints that quantum computers may have many more hidden talents. “It’s given me a lot of hope for quantum computing,” he says.


Monday, October 12, 2009

John Zorn: The Working Man

Think of John Zorn, the American composer, alto saxophonist and conceptualist, as a juggler. Zorn keeps aloft a plethora of radically different projects while also heading up his own label (Tzadik) and acting as artistic director at the Stone, his own cutting-edge performance venue in Manhattan’s East Village. A restlessly creative spirit with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy, Zorn is, at age 55, experiencing unprecedented productivity in a career that dates back to the mid-’70s, when he began experimenting with like-minded improvisers and musical renegades on Manhattan’s Lower East Side who, together, forged an alternative movement that would be identified by critics as the “downtown” scene.

“I feel like things are really flowing now, like I’ve hit kind of a peak and I’m riding it,” confessed Zorn during an interview at the Ukrainian restaurant Veselka, a favorite East Village haunt for artists, thinkers and assorted bohemians. “I’m riding the wave and the wave is taking me further. People have told me that with Virgos, your life is like a crescendo. It begins and it slowly gets better and better and better. What better life to have?”

On a Tuesday morning in early February I met Zorn at the Ontological-Hysteric Theater at St. Mark’s Church in the East Village for a dress rehearsal of “Astronome: A Night at the Opera,” his audacious and powerful new musical/theater collaboration with renowned playwright and avant-garde theater pioneer Richard Foreman. A mind-boggling visual explosion featuring a relentless flood of psychedelic, dreamlike imagery and sacred Jewish symbolism, it is fueled by the unbelievably intense soundtrack of Zorn’s Astronome, performed by his extreme hardcore noise trio Moonchild (Joey Baron on drums, Trevor Dunn on fuzz bass and Mike Patton on wordless banshee-scream vocals). The music is so loud and intense, in fact, that warnings are announced before each performance at the Ontological-Hysteric Theater, along with offers of free earplugs for the faint of heart. (The production was filmed for future DVD release which will be available on Zorn’s label Web site,

That Friday night I attended the U.S. premiere of Zorn’s new Masada sextet, an expanded edition of his long-running Masada quartet (Zorn on alto sax, Dave Douglas on trumpet, Greg Cohen on bass, Joey Baron on drums), augmented by outstanding pianist Uri Caine and Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista. This group, which combines elements of the classic Ornette Coleman quartet with the Eastern European flavor of traditional klezmer music and Jewish sacred music, is undeniably in the jazz camp, albeit traveling on its own unique tributary off the mainstream. Their invigorating sextet set at the Abrons Arts Center on the Lower East Side, marked by some stellar individual soloing and an uncanny group-think, represented a new level for this band that Zorn formed 15 years ago. Caine brought aspects of both Cecil Taylor and Bud Powell to the table while Baptista colored the proceedings in typically wacky and intuitive ways, resulting in a decided raising of the bar over all other previous Masada performances.

The following night, Saturday, Zorn debuted new material with his surprisingly accessible group the Dreamers (Kenny Wollesen on vibes, Marc Ribot on guitar, Baron on drums, Dunn on bass, Jamie Saft on organ and piano). While Moonchild may be in the ultra-extreme zone and Masada may come across as challenging to the uninitiated, the music of the Dreamers is relaxed, engaging and downright delightful. A blend of pop, exotica, funk, surf rock, minimalism and world music crafted as little three-minute melodic gems, it is the yin to Masada’s yang.

It’s hard to imagine that the music I witnessed on these three separate occasions over the span of a week was conceived by the same mind. And yet, it’s only the tip of the iceberg for the remarkably prolific Zorn. As the head of Tzadik (since 1995), he also shepherds new bands onto the label, providing them an outlet and nurturing them under the auspices of his Radical Jewish Culture series, Film Music series, New Japanese series, Oracle Series (promoting women in experimental music), Key series (promoting notable avant-garde musicians and projects) and Lunatic Fringe series (promoting music and musicians operating outside of the broad categories offered by other series).

And then there is Zorn’s own incredibly rich, pre-Tzadik legacy: an extensive discography of well over 100 recordings as a composer of string trios and string quartets, film scores, game theory pieces, chamber pieces, classical works and meditations on Jewish mysticism, British occultist Aleister Crowley and pulp-fiction author Mickey Spillane (1987’s Spillane), as well as tributes to figures like Ennio Morricone (1986’s The Big Gundown) and projects as a leader with the bands Naked City, Painkiller and Spy vs. Spy (which performed hardcore renditions of Ornette Coleman compositions).

Some of Zorn’s jazziest playing on record can be heard on such recordings as 1986’s Voodoo by the Sonny Clark Memorial Quartet, 1988’s News for Lulu and 1992’s More News for Lulu (featuring interpretations of tunes by Kenny Dorham, Sonny Clark, Freddie Redd and Hank Mobley), as well as recordings with the great early ’60s Blue Note organist Big John Patton. He also makes a cameo appearance alongside his all-time alto sax hero Lee Konitz on the 1995 set The Colossal Saxophone Sessions, playing a version of Wayne Shorter’s “Devil’s Island.”

In 2006, Zorn received a MacArthur Fellowship grant (a five-year grant of $500,000 to “individuals who show exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect for still more in the future”). And in 2007 he was the recipient of Columbia University’s William Schuman Award, an honor given “to recognize the lifetime achievement of an American composer whose works have been widely performed and generally acknowledged to be of lasting significance.” He was more than deserving on both counts.

Zorn has also edited a series of books titled Arcana: Musicians on Music, which contain essays by various colleagues including Derek Bailey, George Lewis, Bill Laswell, Steve Coleman, Dave Douglas, Nels Cline, Fred Frith, Wayne Horvitz, Marty Ehrlich, Vijay Iyer, Elliott Sharp and dozens more. The fourth Arcana book is due out this spring, as is a new recording by the Dreamers, their third on Tzadik.

Notoriously leery of interviews, Zorn nevertheless granted this sit-down and subsequent photo shoot for JazzTimes. He was unusually forthcoming and positively bubbling over in anticipation of the opening of “Astronome: A Night at the Opera,” which, as of our interview, was scheduled to run through April 5.

I spoke with Zorn a few days after his gig with the Dreamers at the Abrons Art Center.

JazzTimes: Your output over the past 30 years is staggering.

Well, I’ve been busy. I guess it’s really hard to stay current with what I do because I put out like five, eight, 10 CDs a year. Most people who try to write about what I do just don’t have any sense of the scope and the range. And even if they were given a pile of 25 CDs or something, a lot of them just aren’t equipped to deal with something that’s as far-ranging as the Crowley String Quartet performing “Necronomicon” on the Magick CD and then to what you saw with Richard Foreman, the Astronome project, really heavy rock, to jazz-based music with people like Dave Douglas and Joey Baron, to the film scores to the Dreamers and on and on. There’s a lot of different music and unless you’re open to all that and acquainted with it in the first place, it’s just going to go in one ear and out the other.

JazzTimes: I read somewhere that this is all the result of what you call “an incredibly short attention span.”

Well, that’s just some 1980s hype where Nonesuch Records was attempting to sell me as some kind of postmodern phenomenon. It’s their job to sell product, and in order to sell product they need to market you in a certain way. But I don’t think that that is a very intelligent analysis of why someone likes a lot of different kinds of music. It’s not a matter of having a short attention span, it’s a matter of living in today’s world and being a curious, creative, open-minded, intelligent individual who appreciates greatness for its own sake without putting it into any kind of academic or cultural box.

JazzTimes: And what you bring to it is this incredibly intense focus, which is a rare commodity these days.

That’s who I am. For instance, I just got off the phone with the census bureau and they asked me how many hours do I work in a week. And my answer, basically, was I work 24 hours a day. Even when I’m sleeping I’m working. I’m talking with you, I’m working. I get up first thing in the morning, the computer goes on, I’m answering e-mails. I go out to lunch, I have a discussion with someone, it’s about music, it’s about art. I go to a museum. Even in the cab I’m on the phone doing business. I’m always working. My life is making work. That’s why I’m here. People are surprised that it’s possible to get as much work done as I do. It’s very simple. I choose to work. I don’t go on a vacation. I’m not interested in that.

JazzTimes: I found it very revealing the other day when we were sharing a cab ride and I made some reference to Seinfeld.

Right. I’ve never even seen it.

JazzTimes: And I remember thinking when I said that, “He probably doesn’t even have a TV.”

Right. Well, this is actually not so difficult to understand. The world is filled with distractions, and we understand why it’s good for the government, especially in an administration like Bush’s, to bamboozle people and keep them distracted from getting together and saying, “Wait a minute! What is going on here?!” I choose not to be distracted. I figured out, I guess sometime in the past 20 or 30 years, exactly what it was that was very distracting about our society and what was stopping me from making work. And I managed in a very simple way to cut that out. I’m not sticking my head in the sand; I’m just eliminating anything that gets in the way of making work. That means a lot of sacrificing, even to the extent of, you know, having a family. You have kids, you have to devote half your life to your children to be a correct parent. I can’t do that. I am devoted to my work. So my children are the compositions, the records, the performances. And my family? That’s the musical community. And that’s why it’s not an unusual thing for me to create the Stone or create Tzadik. That’s what a father would do to put clothes on the back of their children or make sure they get to a good school or protect them if they’re being bullied.

I’m here to help the community that nurtured me. And that’s why no TV; that’s why I don’t read magazines or newspapers. I focus on the art that I’m doing. That’s my gift for the world; that’s why I’m on the planet. I’m not a hard-liner and I understand how difficult it is to survive in this world, but at the same time I think the reason I created Tzadik, the reason that the Stone had to happen, the reason that these Arcana books are coming out, the reason that I continue to create work to the extent that I do, is because I created my own avenue.

JazzTimes: I got the impression from seeing the Dreamers the other night that you’re a guitar maven in a certain way because you seemed to take such great delight in some of Marc Ribot’s slashing guitar solos.

Well, I’ve worked with some amazing guitar players in my time: Fred Frith, Arto Lindsay, Bob Quine, Derek Bailey, Henry Kaiser, Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot. Right there is kind of like a history of experimental guitar in the 20th century. Those are great names; these are really amazing players. And I’ve always had a very close relationship with guitar players.

JazzTimes: Did you ever have a personal connection to guitar? Did you ever play the instrument yourself?

Yeah, I used to play it when I was a kid, sure. We all played guitar. I played bass in a surf band. I learned Beatles, Stones and Beach Boys tunes on guitar. I was really into surf rock when I was like 10 years old. So sure, I played guitar, bass and all like that. And in a way, the guitar is what the violin was in the 18th-19th century. It is the voice of the people; it’s a very important instrument. If you’re going to be a composer today you have to understand not just what the guitar can do but what the electric guitar can do, because that is one of the new instruments of the 20th century, along with the drum set and the electric organ and the saxophone, and now, the turntable. These are new instruments and you need to include them in your language. It’s here, it’s available.

If Mozart were alive today, believe me, he’d be incorporating all those instruments and writing for them. And he would also be listening to all this different music that is around. It’s not an unusual thing for a creative person to be interested in creativity. People who grew up at the time that I did, in the ’60s, we loved all different musics. We loved rock, we loved jazz, we loved classical, we loved world music. We had a hunger for anything new. We’d make little mix tapes on cassette that had all these different styles of music. That was like a very special thing. We’d play them at parties. Now, that’s normal, that’s the iPod shuffle. Everybody listens that way now. So in that sense, we have really succeeded. It’s like our generation, our kind of impetus of loving all these different things, that is kind of the new way to listen to music.

JazzTimes: It’s true.

And one thing that I have to say, which is interesting on kind of a socio-cultural level of how this music has been misunderstood-understood, marginalized-glorified, this is a new music. There is a music that is kind of post-’60s and that music is a very pluralistic music, a music that incorporates and accepts all these different influences. These people that we’re talking about, whether it’s Fred Frith, Marc Ribot, Wayne Horvitz or Uri Caine, these are people that love all kinds of music and listen to all kinds of music. And they had access to all kinds of music and created something with that, with all their loves. And it’s a new music. Maybe Uri’s a little more in the jazz camp coming out of Philly with his background, maybe Fred Frith is a little more in the rock-folk camp. Everybody has different roots in different places. Ultimately, I thought of myself as more of a classical musician who then got involved with different kinds of players.

But the music is not jazz music, it’s not classical music, it’s not rock music. It’s a new kind of music that was loved by people like yourself and other writers who were on that scene in the late ’70s-early ‘80s. You loved this music, you were stimulated by it, it said something to you because it came from your experience. But where can you write about this music that you love? What are the outlets? The only outlets were jazz magazines. Even though it didn’t belong in that tradition or in that format, it was the only format that there was. So I feel like that created a deep misunderstanding in what this music is. People started judging this new music with the standards of jazz, with the definitions of what jazz is and isn’t, because stories about it appeared in jazz magazines. And now I’ll do a gig at the Marciac Jazz Festival and I’ll get offstage and Wynton Marsalis will say, “That’s not jazz.” And I’ll say, “You’re right! But this is the only gig I’ve got, man. Give me another festival and I’ll play there.”

JazzTimes: Well, he couldn’t possibly have said that about Masada.

Actually, he said it about electric Masada, which, admittedly, is pretty out there. It has elements of [my game piece] “Cobra” in it, it has elements of my conduction kind of stuff. Plus, Ribot and Saft really take it to a little more of a rock area, and there are always some structural elements of classical in there. Some people want to try and define it and say it’s related to Third Stream.

JazzTimes: What you’ve created with Tzadik is a label identity that is like ECM or Blue Note, Prestige, Windham Hill, where if there were any record stores left, Tzadik would have its own bin.

Well, that’s a thought. And a lot of record stores do have a Tzadik bin, which is kind of one way to do it. We have almost 450 records on our label already and there has not been one dedicated article or feature in any United States magazine or newspaper on this label. Is that incredible? And of course the answer is simple: We don’t send review copies out, we don’t play the game, we don’t kiss ass, we don’t put ads in newspapers or magazines, and if we don’t scratch their back they’re not going to scratch ours.

JazzTimes: And yet you have cultivated this pretty sizable audience around this label.

Some of our records sell 40-50,000 copies. And it’s a worldwide audience. Of course, some sell 500 copies. But it’s structured in such a way that the ones that sell help the ones that don’t sell. So we manage to stay afloat in kind of a socialist paradigm.

JazzTimes: Bruce Lundvall has the same scenario happening at Blue Note, where the successful million-sellers like Norah Jones help the more esoteric projects.

He continues to do what he believes in and it works in the marketplace. I was never a believer in applying for grants. I don’t like to put my hand out to somebody and say, “Please help me.” I just went and did what I did and I managed to survive in the marketplace. I understand how some people can’t do that and need the grant process, but I find the grant process itself is so demeaning. Immediately, it’s like you’re asking daddy for a handout, you’re being judged by people who have no right to judge you, and if you do get the grant it’s usually half the money you asked for two years too late. By that time, you’re already onto something else.

I’ve seen artists on Tzadik who tried to get grant proposals through to make a more ambitious record, and I’ve seen new records get completely derailed for five years. In one case, I said to an artist, “Look, I’ll give you a little extra money. Let’s find a way to do it just on our own.” And he said, “No, I want to do it right, I want this extra money. Let me wait.” And I said, “Well, what if you don’t get the grant?” Five years later we’re still waiting. And the fact is, he’s already on to another thing.

JazzTimes: What is the average budget for the records you do on Tzadik?

At first it was just always $5,000; now we’ve gotten a little more flexible with it. Now if someone breaks even on their first record we’ll give them $6,000. If they break even on their second record we’ll give them maybe $7,500. If they break even on their third record, we’ll up the ante a little bit. But if their first album doesn’t break even we either reduce the budget or say, “Let’s wait until this one sells more and then we’ll do a second record.” But we try to be very economical in the way we work because we can’t afford not to. The music we’re making is meant for the world; it’s meant for everybody to enjoy. But I’ve learned that some projects that I do, like the Dreamers, will do very well. We’ll sell 20-30 thousand copies of that because it’s popular music that people can really enjoy. But if I’m going to do an esoteric project about Aleister Crowley with the “Necronomicon” string quartet or something that’s really more challenging, which I’m compelled to do and these artists are compelled to do and the world needs, I’m not so naive as to think that that’s going to sell 30,000 copies. With a younger unknown artist, something esoteric like that will sell 500 or 1,000. With me, maybe it’ll sell 5,000, but it’s not going to sell 30,000. And that doesn’t break my heart anymore because ultimately this music is for the few. It’s meant for everybody, I want everybody to love it and enjoy it as much as I do, but I can see that that’s just not possible.

JazzTimes: So business is good with Tzadik?

As the music industry crumbles before our eyes and major companies are now going belly-up and people aren’t buying CDs, Tzadik is standing like a fucking oak! We have very modest sales, we break even every year ... maybe make a little, lose a little, but we basically break even every year. So we’re still standing here and sales are pretty consistent. We did really well this past year. People that believe in this music purchase this music.

JazzTimes: Let’s talk about the Dreamers. I was delightfully surprised by this group. Where is this charming music coming from?

Well, it comes from my love for music that does delight and charm. I am a big fan of Les Baxter, Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman, the pioneers of exotica. I’ve been a fan of that music since I was young. It was part of my upbringing; it’s there. You can hear elements of it here and there in my music over time. You hear it in Bar Kokhba; even in things like Godard and Spillane there are moments that sound like that. This Dreamers project, I think, was bringing together all of these beautiful musics that I love, from world music to surf music to exotica music to different kinds of funk and blues. I put all of these things together and created something that, for me, was meant to charm and delight.

JazzTimes: And you did it within these three-minute little gems of melody.

Yeah, little instrumental gems. You and I grew up at a time when there were instrumental hits. Henry Mancini, Jack Nitzsche, Miklós Rózsa—they did film scores but they also had hits that were played on the radio. But the concept of the instrumental hit has almost completely disappeared because greedy record executives understand that vocal music is going to sell five times or 10 times more than instrumental music. That’s just the way it is.

JazzTimes: I think the Beatles phenomenon made people in the industry go a bit crazy. They saw the money that could be made with vocal groups.

It did indeed. And I don’t know whether the Beatles themselves are responsible for the disappearance of instrumental music. I wouldn’t put it that way. Because at that time, “The ‘In’ Crowd” was an enormous instrumental hit for Ramsey Lewis, Max Steiner’s “Theme From a Summer Place” was enormous. There were tons of great instrumental hits back then. Maurice Jarre’s “Lara’s Theme” from Dr. Zhivago was a hit, “Telstar” by the surf band the Tornados was an enormous hit in 1962.

JazzTimes: Al Hirt, Duane Eddy and Herb Alpert all had instrumental hits in the early ’60s.

Yeah! This was music that was backed by record companies, promoted by record companies, who were just trying to make some money. And they managed to make money with that music. And were fine with it. Now they’re just not gonna waste their time with it when they can make so much more money with a vocal performance. So instrumental music doesn’t have the same impact on our culture that it used to, and I’m sorry about that. It still has an impact on me, though. I devote my life to instrumental music and the Dreamers is just another form of instrumental music.

JazzTimes: You mentioned Martin Denny and some others as having an impact on you growing up. What about Burt Bacharach?

Of course! Most of what he did was vocal but harmonically he was way advanced, and also in terms of time signatures, he was always experimenting. And he had a few instrumental pieces that were absolutely wonderful that I love. Sure, Bacharach is absolutely an influence. There are so many influences in the Dreamers. And again, each piece is kind of a unique little thing, its own little world.

JazzTimes: I thought I may have also heard some MJQ and Dave Brubeck influences in there too.

Yeah, Ramsey Lewis and Booker T & the MGs, the Meters. These were all amazing instrumental bands. You can hear some of that influence in there as well. So you know, the Dreamers is a charming project of beautiful music. And it’s been very successful. It’s a kind of very beautiful world that I hadn’t dealt with before, but elements of “Cobra” or Electric Masada are still in there.

JazzTimes: The sound of the Dreamers is engaging rather than challenging, like Masada.

You don’t always have to challenge the audience. Sometimes you want to challenge the musicians to keep them engaged in what you’re doing. And that’s something that’s always been at the forefront of my modus operandi. I don’t just write music, I write music for musicians to play. I want them to be psyched about what they play. I want them to be engaged, because if they’re bored, the audience is going to be bored. I want them to be on the edge, to be surprised, to be delighted. I want to have fun up there. Ultimately, it’s all about love—if we love each other and we love what we’re doing, some of that love is going to go into the audience.

JazzTimes: You have already released several volumes of Masada CDs since 1994, but you’ve really taken it to another level with this new sextet edition of the group.

I think you’re right. I think that the concert you saw the other night was one of the best concerts we’ve ever done. It’s like the old joke with the Masada quartet: “What was our best gig? It’s the next one.” Because it was always getting better. But I felt like we kind of hit a plateau a little bit with it in 2007 and I said, “Well, maybe the quartet is really done. Maybe we’ve accomplished what we can accomplish. Maybe it’s time to put this to bed.” And then I was asked by the Marciac Jazz Festival to put together a slightly larger group. They asked me what if I added a couple of people to Masada and I said, “I can’t add anybody to the quartet. The quartet is the quartet, that’s what we do.” But then I thought, “Well, if I was going to add someone I would probably ask Uri and Cyro.” So we tried it at Marciac and it was unbelievable. We didn’t even have any rehearsal time. I just passed the charts out and said, “OK, just watch me because I’ll be conducting. Let’s just do it.” And it was one of those magical clicks on the bandstand that sometimes happens. So yeah, this band is taking off again. After 15 years of doing this music, we can still find new things.

JazzTimes: And certainly Wynton can identify this new Masada sextet music as jazz.

Absolutely. With Uri’s presence, that is clear. It’s the most jazz-sounding thing I’ve ever done.

JazzTimes: And that connection to Ornette’s quartet, which comes in and out.

It’s in and out. Maybe it’s not there as much as it used to be. I think there’s as much Miles in the approach with Dave and Uri and in the way the group kind of breaks down to a single solo piano once in a while, or trio sections within the context of the group before coming back together. There’s always a lot of surprise there. So, yeah, it is definitely stronger in the jazz tradition with Uri in the band. And I think Uri and Dave have a really strong hookup. They’ve worked on a lot of projects together and Uri has also played in Dave’s quintet, so there’s some magic formula going on there. And then you add Cyro Baptista to the mix, crazy Cyro with all his sounds. I’ve been working with Cyro for 27 years and he never fails to surprise me from night to night.

JazzTimes: I remember you guys doing a duet at your former club the Saint back in 1981.

There you go! Yeah, man. And this is another thing that I think is important to mention is the longevity of these relationships that I’ve had with musicians. When I find someone to work with, we continue to work together because we believe in the same things and we love doing what we do. If Bill Frisell were still living in New York, I’d be working with him still. But he moved out to the West Coast and it’s just too hard to get together. So it’s been Cyro since ’81, Joey Baron since ’84, Dave Douglas since ’94, Uri more recently, and then you’ve got Ribot, Greg Cohen, Mark Feldman, Erik Friedlander, Trevor Dunn, Mike Patton … these are all people that I continue to work with. It’s a tight community; it’s a real community. It’s a community the way we see the bebop community was in the ’50s or the existentialist community was in Paris or the abstract expressionists in the ’40s in New York, which was a community of people that got together, that talked about art, that were inspired by each other and that created a very strong artistic statement that had impact on the society. We’re doing the same thing. We’re living in the same area, we’re meeting all the time outside of musical situations, we’re talking, we’re communicating.

This is a real scene in the best definition of that word. It’s creative, it’s inspiring, there’s less competition and more encouragement. Marc Ribot is delighted when I do well. I’m delighted when he does well when he does a project. It’s good for everybody. When Ribot’s onstage, I want him to play his best. I’m not trying to throw banana peels under him to slip so that I can smoke him onstage. That’s not the point. We’re all focused on music and we all want each other to sound as good as we possibly can sound. And when I get people in my projects, I feel like they sound the best that they can sound. They’re killing! And that’s what I want, that’s what I encourage. And that’s what the compositions are meant to do.

JazzTimes: You know who you sound like now? Joe Zawinul. He would say the same thing, man. He’d always say, “My band, I put this band together for these guys to be killers!”

That’s right. And there’s a lot of other people that don’t think that way. The band is about them. They’re the leader, it’s all about them; they don’t want anyone to sound better than them. So they keep them under wraps, they push them down, they don’t give them solo space. They don’t let them express themselves. You need to have a certain rein on people so that the compositional integrity is kept intact. You know, there’s a frame around a composition and there are things that belong in the frame and things that don’t. And it’s the bandleader-composer’s job to make sure that everything fits. But the most important thing is to keep that balance, where everything belongs but the players are injecting themselves into the work and doing their best. Duke Ellington was a perfect example of that.

JazzTimes: And Frank Zappa.

Yes, though Zappa in the earlier years. Then it got a little different for him. He got more and more into control. For me, in his later years, his best record is Jazz From Hell, where it’s all done on a Synclavier.

JazzTimes: Yeah, I think his comment at the time was, “At last, I’ve found my perfect band.”

There you go! It’s him playing everything. Well, I don’t think that way. Because the lesson I learned from Zappa was that you treat your band members like royalty. You give them as much money as you can afford to give them on the road, the best situations in the hotels, treat them to meals, thank them for their work, appreciate their creativity and just thank your lucky stars that they’re in your band working with you.

JazzTimes: I’ve read that Ellington loved his band and always treated his musicians well.

I think that’s really one of the secrets of making great music that is not unique to the 20th century. I think Mozart understood that, I think Bach understood that. I think that great composers were performers and understood what it was like being in a band. And they wrote for players who could get onstage and feel excited about what they were doing because they just looked fucking great doing it. No one wants to look like a fool onstage; you want to look good. You want to play music that makes you look good, and I think composers understand that too. And the ones that have a sense of the performer side of it are the best composers, the ones that came up in a band. Ellington never stood in front of a band waving his arms; he was playing piano, he was part of the group. When Steve Reich came up, he was always playing percussion in his group and still does in a lot of cases. Phil Glass too. They understood what it was to be a performer, and that made their compositions so much more deep. That’s something I never wanted to lose.

JazzTimes: And here you are about to turn around another Dreamers project in just a few months.

It’s very easy to do. You just do it. I’ve been lucky but I’ve always thought pragmatically. When I was starting out 35 years ago, I worked with the few people that I knew—Polly Bradfield and Eugene Chadbourne. Then [trumpeter] Toshinori Kondo came along, Tom Cora came along, Fred Frith came along ... all these people slowly began entering the picture. And as we got to be friends, then I kind of expanded my ambitions or my vision. But I never dreamed of doing an opera on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera, you know? I’m not someone who wants to write something and then have it sit around for 30 years. I want to write for the people I know, I want to make something that’s possible, that can be made. So I worked with whatever I had at hand. And I made it work. And at first it was the game theory pieces (1980’s Pool, 1982’s Archery), because I was surrounded by improvisers. Then I got to know people like Bill Frisell and Joey Baron, who could do anything. So then I created music like Spillane or Naked City for musicians who could do anything. Then I got to know Fred Sherry and a bunch of classical musicians and I started writing more classical stuff. I think the job of a composer is not just to write music but to write it for musicians who can get onstage and present it to an audience in the best possible situation. Following it through is part of a composer’s responsibility, to see that that child is nurtured in a proper way and is presented to the world in the best possible light. You know, you educate the child as well as you can so that they can go out prepared to deal with this cruel and pernicious world we have. Same thing when you create a piece of music. I don’t really believe in the idea that you just write it and then you put it on the shelf, the way Charles Ives did. I write it for people I know, I get the best people to do it, I find the best possible venue, we rehearse it the best possible way and then we present it to people in as pure a way as possible. And now I feel like what needs to be added to that equation is also a kind of education of the audience. I think it’s important to speak about the music, to make it understood or possible for it to be better understood. Which is why I started these Arcana books, this series of books that have musicians writing about music. There’s four volumes of those already.

JazzTimes: In the tradition of Art Taylor’s Notes and Tones?

And so many other people who collected writings and put them out there for people to help get an insight into how an artist or how a musician thinks about their work, their life, their relationship to the world. Because I think there’s way too large a gap between the world and the artist. I feel like we live in parallel universes and there’s really very few instances where a bridge is created to cross that divide. But I feel like that’s the writer’s job, in a sense, to create that bridge so that there can be understanding. But it’s a difficult world for writers now. Where can you place a piece? Who will give you enough space to do something really intelligent and insightful? You have to churn out these small little pieces on a deadline. You don’t have time to really do the research or speak to the artist or do the thinking through.

And even if you do, what they want, what sells best, is a hatchet job. It’s rare that I’ll read an insightful introduction to someone’s work that steers the younger audience toward something that they may be curious about that really may change their life around.

I would say it came about in a very natural and organic way. It just kind of happened.

JazzTimes: Similar to your encounter on the street in the East Village with Richard Foreman, which led to Astronome: A Night at the Opera?

Same thing. I’ve known Richard since 1974 when I first went to his theater and just flipped over what he was doing there. A friend of mine was in the play and they’d let me into rehearsals, so I’d watch his procedure. I stayed at his theater during the day so I could practice the sax, and I answered the phone for him and took reservations, I took tickets at the door. So I’ve paid my dues with Richard Foreman. He’s one of my heroes, one of my mentors. And I’ve known him for 35 years but I never thought about collaboration until way, way after I met him ... 30 years or more later. We met on the street one day and he said, “Why don’t you write me an opera?” And I said, “Well, maybe I will.” And whenever I’d see him for the next year or so he’d say, “Hey Zorn, where’s my opera?” And I finally was convinced, “He really wants it! I’m gonna write it for him. And it’s gonna be amazing, it’s got to be. I can’t go to him and give him something that’s weak. He’s my hero.” So with Lou connection to him goes way back. I was at the Exploding Plastic Inevitable events at the Dom on 8th Street back in 1967 when I was like 13, 14 years old, and I saw Velvet Underground there. So Lou was one of my heroes for a long, long time.

JazzTimes: So you had a chance encounter with him on the street?

Yes, that’s exactly true. What happened was we got to know of each other a little bit, I think, because of (producer) Hal Wilner. Hal included me on his Kurt Weill record (1985’s Lost in the Stars) and Lou loved my piece on it (“Der Kleine Leutnant des Lieben Gottes“). And Hal came to me and said, “Lou heard it and he said, ‘Wow, that track was amazing. It’s like turning the pages of a book...each page is something new.’ And I thought, “That’s a really beautiful way of saying what’s going on in that arrangement.” Because I was doing my block style thing on that piece with the radical jump-cuts. So there was some kind of connection there. But then I’m not gonna call him out of nowhere ... "Wow, he likes my stuff. I’m gonna go send him a package.” You just don’t do that, you know? But then in 1992 I asked him to perform at the first Radical Jewish Cultural Festival in Munich. I called him out of nowhere because he kind of knew who I was at that point and I said, “Lou, I want you to do a set at this Jewish festival. Would you do it?” I think I might’ve even had Hal do it because I was shy. And Lou said, “Yes, I’ll be there.” So he performed at this Jewish festival I put together with Ribot and a bunch of other players. And it was amazing. Laurie Anderson was playing at the same festival, and I had known Laurie for years, going back to the old Kitchen days. And at the airport we were all there together and I said, “Lou, I want you to meet Laurie Anderson.” So I introduced them, actually. Then they became real tight. They’re married now, it’s the love affair of a lifetime. They’re so incredible together. So there’s another kind of little connection. Anyway, in the early part off 2007 I was coming out of the St. Mark’s bookshop, I saw Lou across the street and I said, “Lou! How are you, man? It’s great to see you in the East Village. You look great!” And he just got a big smile on his face and we just started talking. We talked about Michael Dorf’s upcoming 20th Anniversary Knitting Factory concert at Town Hall and I said, “Are you gonna do that?” And he said, “Yeah, actually.” Lou said he would donate profits to The Stone, so I thought maybe it would be cool. And I thought, “Well, if he’s donating profits to The Stone, that’s a great enterprise. So I’ll do it too. Then he said, “Maybe we should do something together?” And I said, “Yeah, you could even just read poetry or something and I’ll just play behind you.” And he said, “There’ a real tradition to that. That would be sweet.” What eventually happened on stage was I sat in with his band. And it was not even planned. It was, “Well, we didn’t rehearse anything, we really shouldn’t do it. If you want to play with me you’re welcome.” And right before he went on he sent someone over... "Hey John, come over to the dressing room with Lou.” And Lou said, “Why don’t you just play on one of the pieces. It’s in D minor.” So I played and ... boom. We clicked and he loved it. That’s where it started. I sat in with him again at the Highline Ballroom, which was great. I was supposed to play two songs, I went to the soundcheck, I ended up playing almost a whole set. Then we did a duo improvised concert (January 10, 2008) as a benefit at The Stone and he invited Laurie to sit in with us. And then bit by bit it happened very slowly and very organically. So you could say our relationship started back in 1966 when I saw the Velvet Underground play at the Dom. And it just took 40 years to get to the point where it is now. When the time was right, it happened.

JazzTimes: Have you and Lou recorded together yet?

We did a benefit CD for The Stone (Issue Three on Tzadik), which was a recording of a live gig. And I also asked him to put guitar on a piece of mine on the Music for Children record. It’s kind of a wind machine drone piece and he loved it. He’s the master of feedback and drones, so I had him do that. He was just going to play on the climax, the last five minutes of a 20-minute piece. But he said, “I want to play on the whole thing. I love it. I’m so inspired. Let’s do it.” We recorded at his house ... boom! It was done. And then the Song of Songs thing also happened. I was doing a project setting the Biblical “Song of Songs” from the Old Testament, the “Shir Ha-Shirim,” to music. I created a vocal backdrop with five female voices singing and I wanted two people reading the text from the “Song of Songs” (the allegorical representation of the relationship of God and Israel as husband and wife). And I wanted two lovers to recite this so I asked Lou and Laurie. I said, “You know what? You two are the perfect lovers to read the “Song of Songs” in this piece. And they said, “We would love it.” So we did it down at the Abrons Art Center, the place you saw us play a couple of nights ago. We did that last February, 2008. They loved it. We took it to Italy. You know stuff just kind of happens. It’s not any kind of weird machination, it’s just all very organic and it’s growing at a very slow way. And it feels right. I don’t want to take advantage of anybody and I certainly don’t want them to feel taken advantage of. So these are going to be things that happen, you know, when the time is right. And they’ll be little special events in themselves.

JazzTimes: And you continue to nurture all these different relationships over time.

Lou and I, you seems like we text message back and forth or speak almost every week now. We go to lunch when we can. I’ve been to his house many times to experience what his world is, and he has an amazing world and great people working with him and for him. It’s a whole organization how he has it worked, and it’s very inspiring. Because you know, I basically do everything myself. But through him I’m learning that it is possible to find people that can really help. Like Kazunori (Sugiyama) is someone who really helps out with Tzadik. Without Kazunori there wouldn’t be a Tzadik. So yeah, the thing with just happened very slowly and it feels good.


Mystery Solved: The Dark Side of a Moon

Two-faced. Dust-generating moons seem to have dirtied one face of the saturnian moon Iapetus.

Iapetus has a dirty face, and it's getting dirtier every day. That's the conclusion of astronomers studying Saturn's oddest moon, a sort of yin-yang symbol in space that's almost pitch black on one side and icy bright on the other. Iapetus's bizarre coloration has been a mystery since Giovanni Cassini discovered it in 1671, but now scientists have fingered the source: a newly discovered gigantic dust ring encircling Saturn--the largest ring in the solar system. Fed by dust from embedded moons, the ring steadily deposits dirt on Iapetus's once-clean façade. "It's nice to finally see a smoking gun that tells us exactly what happened," says ring specialist Joseph Burns of Cornell University.
Planetary scientists announced their discovery today at the Division for Planetary Sciences annual meeting in Fajardo, Puerto Rico. Anne Verbiscer and Michael Skrutskie of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, and Douglas Hamilton of the University of Maryland, College Park, reported that images taken by the infrared Spitzer satellite orbiting Earth revealed the giant dust ring.

The ring is vanishingly faint but broad, with the band extending 17 million kilometers beyond Phoebe, one of Saturn's moon. That dwarfs the solar system's previous record holder, Saturn's dusty E ring, which is supplied by the icy geysers of the moon Enceladus. But the micrometer-size dust doesn't stay in the ring forever, the group points out; it drifts inward, coating the leading face of the first sizable body it encounters, which is Iapetus.

Hamilton and his colleagues also tracked down the source of the dust. At least three dozen or so "irregular" satellites, including Phoebe, whiz every which way within the giant ring. As wandering asteroids and comets hit these objects, they kick off debris, which in turn collide with other debris and strike yet more satellites. So the grinding down of irregular satellites produces the dust ring that rains onto the leading face of Iapetus. "It all fits together neatly," says planetary dynamicist Jack Lissauer of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

The grind may not just be happening at Saturn. All four of the outer planets have swarms of dust-generating irregular satellites. Planetary scientist Bonnie Buratti and colleagues at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, reported at the meeting that their ground-based telescopic observations show that the leading faces of the two outermost large uranian satellites--Titania and Oberon--are somewhat darker than their trailing faces. Voyager mission scientists had seen similar contrast on Jupiter's outermost major satellite Callisto. So, Buratti and colleagues suggest, Iapetus is not the only moon having dust kicked in its face by neighbors.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Morning Concert: Nicolas Slonimsky (April 26, 1979)

A live guest appearance on KPFA by Los Angeles music lexicographer and former conductor Nicolas Slonimsky. He talks with KPFA's Charles Amirkhanian about his family roots, superannuation, Varese, Ives, semism, pandiatonicism, and the extreme avant-garde in music.

Giant Dust Ring Is Discovered Around Saturn

The Spitzer Space Telescope has discovered the biggest but never-before-seen ring around the planet Saturn, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced late Tuesday.

The thin array of ice and dust particles lies at the far reaches of the Saturnian system and its orbit is tilted 27 degrees from the planet's main ring plane, the laboratory said.

JPL spokeswoman Whitney Clavin said the ring is very diffuse and doesn't reflect much visible light but the infrared Spitzer telescope was able to detect it.

Although the ring dust is very cold — minus 316 degrees Fahrenheit — it shines with thermal radiation.

No one had looked at its location with an infrared instrument until now, Clavin said.

The bulk of the ring material starts about 3.7 million miles from the planet and extends outward about another 7.4 million miles.

The newly found ring is so huge it would take 1 billion Earths to fill it, JPL said.

Before the discovery Saturn was known to have seven main rings named A through E and several faint unnamed rings.

A paper on the discovery was to be published online Wednesday by the journal Nature.

"This is one supersized ring," said one of the authors, Anne Verbiscer, an astronomer at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Her co-authors are Douglas Hamilton of the University of Maryland, College Park, and Michael Skrutskie, also of the University of Virginia.

Saturn's moon Phoebe orbits within the ring and is believed to be the source of the material.

The ring also may answer the riddle of another moon, Iapetus, which has a bright side and a very dark side.

The ring circles in the same direction as Phoebe, while Iapetus, the other rings and most of Saturn's other moons go the opposite way. Scientists think material from the outer ring moves inward and slams into Iapetus.

"Astronomers have long suspected that there is a connection between Saturn's outer moon Phoebe and the dark material on Iapetus," said Hamilton. "This new ring provides convincing evidence of that relationship."

The Spitzer mission, launched in 2003, is managed by JPL in Pasadena. Spitzer is 66 million miles from Earth in orbit around the sun.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009


by thurston moore

No matter how you listen to it JAZZ is ostensibly about FREEDOM.

FREEDOM and the MYSTERY surrounding it.

And, like MUSIC, it is an ABSTRACT.



FREEDOM is not just another word for nothing left to lose.

We know this from MESSAGES beamed from the space-lantern of his cosmic highness SUN RA!
The MESSAGE was clear:


To freely improvise a solo within a structural context may have begun with a young Louis Armstrong in the early 20's. As a boy he grew up in New Orleans hearing and seeing musicians both black and white cultivating a celebratory and spiritual vibe.
They were flowers in the dustbin.
Slaveships stole the horns and drums. The captured African would not be allowed to communicate as they had.
Upon THE FREEDOM ACT the freed slave sought and fought for the EXPRESSION oppressed.
Jelly Roll Morton, like Louis Armstrong began to record compositions of PURE BLACK AWARENESS. Both these men had been witness, early in the century, to BUDDY BOLDEN - a man who supposedly blew the cornet so masterfully (and so loud!) that his legend was rampant. He supposedly recorded upon a cylinder (pre-vinyl format) and it has yet to be found!!
Ideas of improvisation, live and on recordings, became increasingly more sophisticated and political throughout the 40's, 50's and 60's. From Lester Youngs' twisting reedy tones to Charlie Parkers spurious key changes and (along with Miles Davis, Max Roach, et al) hyper-fast note-fly.
John Coltrane was the man. With the introduction of the long-playing record, people like Trane could experiment and extend their playing for posterity.
The vinyl communicated around the world. Trane's SOUND was BEAUTIFUL and COMPLEX and inspired all who received it. Trane himself was duly inspired by some of the most far-out musicians of the then burgeoning jazz avant-garde. Chief amongst them was Sun Ra & his Arkestra.
Factions of experimentation abounded throughout the 50's and 60's. Trane, Ra, Ornette Coleman and his white plastic alto playing notes and tones at once beautiful and harsh. Thelonius Monk, Lennie Tristano, Charles Mingus and Eric Dolphy composing and playing music inspired by whole worlds of experience (blues, eastern and western classical, religion, etc.)
Music like no one had yet imagined would emanate from the wild hearts of those such as Albert Ayler and Cecil Taylor.
These are all names of artists commonly associated with the avant-garde jazz underground of the 20th century. They all recorded fairly prolifically throughout their lifetimes (and some, like Cecil Taylor, continue). But there were so many more musicians performing and recording so-called "new" music at the time. It happened mostly in the late 60's/early 70's with the concept of artist-run collectives coming into fruition.
To play jazz totally FREE and ORGANIC was a gesture whose time had come in the 60's. It was SOCIAL and POLITICAL for reasons involving relationship, race, fury, rage, peace, war, love and FREEDOM.
We search for artifacts from this underground constantly. They were arcane and obscure at the time and are even more so today. No record labels are reissuing this stuff (some are e.g.: Evidence Records reissuing all of Sun Ra's independent Saturn label releases).
Here's a list of ten (out of hundreds of) LP's recorded in total grassroots fashion from the FREE-JAZZ underground. These are fairly impossible to locate and if you want to know what FREE-JAZZ may sound like you can get CD's of certain crucial classics where this music was allowed to exist: John Coltrane-Interstellar Space (Impulse/MCA), Ornette Coleman-Beauty Is A Rare Thing (Atlantic/Rhino), The Art Ensemble - 1967/68 (Nessa, PO Box 394, Whitehall, MI 49461), Sun Ra-various titles (Evidence)


1. DAVE BURRELL - Echo (BYG 529.320/Actuel Volume 20)..

In the fall of 1969 Free Jazz was reaching a kind of nadir/nexus. Within the industry it was controversial. Classic traditionalists (beboppers included) were outraged by men in dashikis and sandals jumping on stage and just BLOWING their guts out creating screaming torrents of action. Most musicians involved with this crying anarchy could get no bookings beyond the New York loft set. The French lovers of the avant-garde embraced this African-American scene wholly. This recording is one of many in a series of LP's with consistent design. BYG released classic Free Jazz documents by Archie Shepp (at his wildest), Clifford Thornton, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Grachan Moncur III, Sunny Murray, Alan Silva, Arthur Jones, Dewey Redman and many others. A lot of these cats are present on this recording where from the first groove it sounds like an acoustic tidal wave exploding into shards of dynamite. If you can locate Alan Silva's "Lunar Surface" LP (BYG 529.312/Actuel Vol. 12) you'll find a world even that much more OUT.


Milford may be one of the most important players in the Free Jazz underground. He enforces the sense of community as a primary exponent of his freely improvised music. His drumkit is home-made and he rarely performs outside of his neighborhood. When he does perform he plays his kit like no other. Wild, slapping, bashing, tribal freak-outs interplexed with silence, serenity and enlightened meditation. This LP was manufactured by the artists in 1967 and is recorded live at Yale University. The interplay between Milford and Don (piano) is remarkable and very free. There's a second volume which also is as rare as hen's teeth.

3. ARTHUR DOYLE Plus 4 - Alabama Feeling (AK-BA AK-1030)

Arthur is a strange cat. Not too many people know where he's from (Alabama is a good guess). He resided in New York City in the 70's and showed up in loftspaces spitting out incredible post-Aylerisms. Mystic music which took on the air of chasing ghosts and spirits through halls of mirrors (!). He hooked up with noise/action guitarist Rudolph Grey who was making the current No-Wave scene and with Beaver Harris (drums) they played gigs in front of unsuspecting art creeps apparently not "hip" enough to dig, let alone document, the history blasting their brains. Arthur did release this lo-fi masterpiece and it's a spiraling cry of freedom and fury. AKBA Records released a number of classic NYC loft-jazz sessions, most notably those of label boss Charles Tyler, a screaming tenor player who also blew with Rudolph in the late 70's/early 80's. Arthur continues to play/teach etc. in Binghamton, N.Y. and recently released in 1993 "More Alabama Feeling" on yours truly's Ecstatic Peace label (available from Forced Exposure/POB 9102/Waltham, MA 02254)

4. SONNY MURRAY - Sonny's Time Now (Jihad 663)

Sonny was the drummer considered to be the first to realize and recognize and perform, on drums, pure FREE jazz. He played behind and along with Ayler early on and Cecil Taylor. He constructed groups which always flew and raged with spiritual abandon. He took time as an abstract and turned it into free motion. This recording is super-lo-fi and is awesome. On it play Ayler(tenor) and Don Cherry (trumpet) as well as Leroi Jones (now known as Amiri Baraka) reading a killer poem called "Black Art". This music is very Ayler but more fractured and odd. Like a lot of these records there is only a front cover with the back of the jacket blank. Whether this was done for economic or artistic reasons is unclear. Jihad was a concern of Leroi Jones and anything released on this label is utterly obscure. The only other title I've seen is one just called "BLACK AND BEAUTIFUL" from the mid-60's which is Leroi and friends sitting on the stoops of Harlem chanting, beating drums and celebrating Leroi's "poems" ("The white man/at best/is..corny!") There was an ad for Jihad in an old issue of Jazz & Pop magazine which announced a Don Ayler (Albert's amazing trumpet-playing bro) LP but I've yet to meet anyone who's actually seen this. "Sonny's Time Now" was reissued a few years ago in Japan (DIW-25002) on CD and LP (with an enclosed 7" of two extra scratchy tracks!) but even that is near impossible to locate. Recorded in 1965.

5. THE RIC COLBECK QUARTET - The Sun Is Coming Up (Fontana 6383 001)

Issued in the UK only in 1970. Ric was an interesting white cat who came to the U.S. to blow some free e-motion with NYC loft dwellers. He's most well known for his amazing playing on the great Noah Howard's first ESP-Disk release (ESP 1031). The whole 1000 series of ESP is critical & crucial to anybody wanting to explore this era of Free Jazz featuring recordings by Ayler, Ornette, Sonny Simmons, Sun Ra, Henry Grimes, Steve Lacy, Sunny Murray, Marzette Watts, Patty Waters, et al. I'm not including any of these in this list as they're all available on CD now (from Forced Exposure, address above). The picture of Ric on the Noah Howard LP shows a man with race-car shades and a "cool" haircut playing his horn while a ciggie burns nonchalantly from his relaxed grip. A very hip dude. And very FREE. His only solo recording is this Fontana LP which he recorded while cruising through Europe. He connected with South African drummer Selwyn Lissack (whatever happened to...) and the UK's famous avant-altoist Mike Osborne and bassist J.F. 'Jenny' Clark (student of 20th century compositionists Lucian Berio and Karlheinz Stockhausen) to create this exceptional and complex masterpiece


Tchicai is a 6'6" Danish/Congolese tenor sax player who, in the early 60's, started blowing minds all across the Netherlands with his radical "music for the future". Archie Shepp encouraged him to come to NYC and join like-minded souls of avant-guardia. Tchicai came over and kicked everybodys ass. Leroi Jones shouted his name and talent loudly as Tchicai hooked up with Shepp and Don Cherry for the New York Contemporary Five and later an even heavier ensemble with Milford Graves and Roswell Rudd called the New York Art Quartet. The NYAQ recorded one of the most crucial sessions for ESP-Disk (esp1004) which had Leroi reciting his infamous BLACK DADA NIHILISMUS (available on CD from Forced Exposure). AFRODISIACA was released in Germany (and in other re-release configurations...supposedly) and is Tchicai gathered with 25 other local-Euro musicians playing a hurricane of a piece by trumpet/composer Hugh Steinmetz. This music gets way way out and has the real ability to take you "there". The echo effect on some of this shit is quite ill in a very analog way. And the way the shit gets that dirty-needled distortion at the end of side one (all 25 cats GOING AT IT!) is beautiful, baby, BEAUTIFUL!!

7. RASHIED ALI and FRANK LOWE - Duo Exchange (Survival SR101)

Frank Lowe has been studying and playing a consistently developing tenor sax style for a few decades now. At present he's been swinging through a Lester Young trip which can be heard majestically on his Ecstatic Peace recording (E#19..from Forced Exp.) In the early 70's, however, he was a firebrande who snarled and blew hot lava skronk from loft to loft. He played with Alice Coltrane on some of her more out sessions. Rashied Ali was the free-yet-disciplined drummer whom Coltrane enlisted to play alongside Elvin Jones and Pharaoh Sanders (and Alice) in his last mind-bending, space-maniacal recordings (check out surely the Coltrane/Ali duet CD Interstellar Space). Elvin quit the group cuz Rashied was too hardcore. Those were the fuckin' days. And Rashied had his own club downtown NYC called Ali's Alley! Duo Exchange is Rashied and Frank completely going at it and just burning notes and chords where ever they can find 'em. Totally sick. Survival was Rashied's record label which had cool b&w matte sleeves and some crucial releases mostly with his quartet/quintet and a duo session with violinist LeRoy Jenkins.


The influence of Free Jazz-era Coltrane, Ayler, Esp-disk, Shepp, etc. on hard drinking, knuckle-biting European white cats is formidable. These guys didn't care so much about plaing "jazz" as just totally ripping their guts out with high-energy, brain-plowing NOISE. Brotzmann (sax, German), Evan Parker (sax, UK), Derek Bailey (guitar, UK), and Han Bennink (drums, Dutch) are a few of the spearheaders of this Free-Euro scene and are caught on this insanely rare early document. The b&w cover has a fold-out accordion post card set of personal images of the musicians glued and paperclipped to its front. Brotzmann went on to help further the critical documentation of the Euro-Free-Jazz scene with FMP (Free Music Productions) Records which still exists to this day. There are over a 100 releases on this label of pure Euro-improv and they all offer remarkable moments. Derek Bailey went on to create his own categorically similar Incus Records in the UK which is also still extant. As is the Han Bennink associated I.C.P. (Instant Composers Pool) Records. The most mind-blasting of these recordings may be MACHINE GUN (FMP 24 CD available from NorthCountry Distr./Cadence Bldg./Redwood, NY 13679) where Brotzmann leads an octet through a smashing clanging wonderland of noise. Improvisation and classic western musics are seriously tended to by a large Euro community and it's all pretty fascinating. Check out the works of Alexander von Schlippenbach, Barry Guy & The London Jazz Composers Orchestra, Misha Mengleberg, Peter Kowald, Andre Jaume, Andrea Centazzo, Lol Coxhill and just about anybody who plays with them.


Marzette was a serious black art cat who resided in downtown NYC when Free Jazz as a NEW cultural revolution was in full gear. He painted and composed wonderful music where some of the coolest locals could flow their flavor. One of the heaviest ESP-disk recordings is Marzette's MARZETTE AND COMPANY (On CD from Forced Exposure) which has the incredible talents of saxist Byard Lancaster (who released an early indie b&w Free Jazz classic out of Philly called LIVE AT MCALLISTER COLLEGE - find it and send it to me..) and guitarist Sonny Sharrock (check his wild influence on Pharaoh Sanders' TAUHID Impulse CD and his own obscure noise guitar masterpiece BLACK WOMAN on Vortex) and cornetist Clifford Thornton (academic NEW MUSIC/Free Jazz "teacher" who released a few crucial sides such as COMMUNICATIONS NETWORK on Third World and THE PANTHER AND THE LASH on America) and the amazing free vocalist Patty Waters (who recorded two infamous hair-raising platters on ESP-Disc). This recording on Savoy was one of a series produced by Bill Dixon, an early associate of Archie Shepp's, who was an incredible composer in his own right. I've heard tapes of Dixon leading Free-Jazz orchestras into sonic symphonic heavens. Very hardcore.

This recording I list because of all its obvious loaded references but it's also quite happening and anything with Marzette, Dixon (especially INTENTS AND PURPOSES on RCA Victor), Byard (careful, there's some clinkers) and Clifford is extremely worthwhile.

10. MARION BROWN - In Sommerhausen (Calig 30 605)
BLACK ARTISTS GROUP - In Paris, Aries 1973 (BAG 324 000)
FRANK WRIGHT QUARTET - Uhuru Na Umoja (America 30 AM 6104)
CECIL TAYLOR - Indent, part 2 (Unit Core 30555)

Five way tie for last? Well, seeing as there's no "beginning" or "end" to this shit I have to list as many items as possible just to reiterate the fact that there was (indeed) a ton o' groovy artifactual evidence to support the reality of the existence of FREE MUSIC. Dig? There's used record stores all over the country (the world!) and they all have the potential to be hiding some of these curios amongst the bins and most peeps just ain't sure of their worth and sometimes you can find 'em really cheap. It's definitely a marketplace of the rarefied so when peeps are "hip" to it expect this shit to be way pricey.

Marion Brown was/is an alto player who made an incredible LP with Tony Oxley and Maarten Altena called "Porto Novo" that just twists and burns start to finish. Marion could really get on OUT as well as just play straight up. Shepp dug him and got him to do some great LP's on Impulse. He had a septet at one point that was especially remarkable featuring Beaver Harris (drums), Dave Burrell (piano), Grachan Moncur III (bone), and Alan Shorter (trumpet). Alan being Wayne Shorter's (Miles Davis sideman/classicist) brother. Where Wayne was fairly contemporary (though eclectic as a muh'fuck) Alan was strictly ill and has two obscuro LP's worth hunting down: "Orgasm" (Verve V6 8768) and "Tes Estat" (America AM 6118). "In Sommerhausen" is Marion in late 60's exploratory fashion and is quite freaky with the vocal whoops of Jeanne Lee. There's another LP from this period called "Gesprachsfetzen" (Calig CAL 30601) which really lays down the scorch.

The Black Artists Group was an unit not unlike that of The Art Ensemble of Chicago. Except they only recorded this one document and it only came out in France on a label named after the group. This is squeaky, spindly stuff and very OPEN and a good indication of what was happening in the early 70's with members Oliver Lake (later of the infamous World Saxophone Quartet) and Joseph Bowie (Art Ensemble's Lester Bowie's bro, later to start Defunkt).

Tenor saxist Frank Wright may be (previous to Charles Gayle's current reign) the heir apparent to both Trane and Ayler. Unfortunately he had a heart attack a few years back while rockin' the bandstand. All his recordings are more than worthwhile especially his BYG outing "One For John" (529.336/Actuel Vol. 36), his two ESP sessions (on CD from Forced Exposure) and his Center-of-the-World series of trio recordings with Alan Silva (bass) and Muhammed Ali (drums - Rashied's brother, not the pugilist) on the French label Sun. This LP "Uhuru.." is nothing short of killer with the great Noah Howard (alto), Bobby Few (pianist of Steve Lacy fame) and Art Taylor (heavy old-school drummer in free mode) going OUT and AT IT in stunning reverie.

FREE JAZZ of course made a strong impression on the more existential-sensitive populace of Japan. Some real masters came out of the Japanese scene and were influential to some of the more renowned noise artists of today (Boredoms, Haino Keiji). One such Jap-cat is alt-saxist Dr. Umezu who has mixed it up with NYC loft-dwellers on more than one occasion. On this completely obscure, underground release he unleashed some pretty free shit with the likes of William Parker (bass), Ahmed Abdullah (trumpet), and Rashid Shinan (drums). Parker is possibly one of the most important FREE musicians working in NYC. He's got his own constant writing/performing schedule as well as gigs with anyone from Cecil Taylor to Charles Gayle. He recorded one solo LP in the 70's called "Through Acceptance of the Mystery Peace" (Centering Records 1001) which is, as you might've guessed, "good".

I suppose we should wind things up with the king of FREE MUSIC then and now: Cecil Taylor. Cecil started experimenting with sound, new concepts of "swing", open rhythms and room dynamics very early on. He furthered his adventure with music-conservatory studies and applied a master's technique to his fleeting, furious, highly-sensitive pianistic ACTIONS. Today he's almost shaman-like in his mystic noise transploits. He hates record business weasels after years of scorn and neglect (club owners had been know to beat him up after gigs claiming he damaged their pianos) and records now for the aforementioned artist's label FMP. In the early 70's he had his own label called Unit Core and released two crucial LP's: the one listed above and one titled "Spring of Two Blue J's" (Unit Core 30551). This is when his group included two critical figures on the FREE scene. Alt-saxist Jimmy Lyons (now deceased) was a consistent improviser and a perfect player alongside Cecil as was veteran drummer Andrew Cyrille who recorded his own solo (and duos with the likes of Milford Graves and Peter Brotzmann) LP's on various small labels (BYG, FMP, Ictus).

- Thurston Moore

Friday, October 2, 2009

Musical velocimetry

On the 12th of September a pretty spectacular Vectrino application will be on display in London, UK. The three velocity components from a Nortek Vectrino will be fed into a computer, converted to musical notes, and played live by 40 musicians.

Flood Tide, created by jazz trumpeter and composer John Eacott, is a unique open air musical performance generated by the movement of tidal water: a live sonification of tidal flow ( A sensor (the Nortek Vectrino) placed in the Thames reads the river’s tidal movements which are then converted into musical notation and played live by an ensemble of 40 musicians. The piece will last for approximately two hours, and will include string and wind instruments, drums and voices.

Flood Tide is an ambient piece that aims to encourage a new kind of listening- the audience are invited to drift in and out of the music, listening for a while and then moving on, perhaps to return and hear how the piece has changed. Here is a small taste of what to expect from this performance:


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Interview: Ralph Eichler, ETH Zurich

28 September 2009

Ned Stafford/Hamburg, Germany

Last week's announcement that chemist Peter Chen is stepping down as head of research of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich over allegations of data falsification in his research group triggered headlines around the world. Two research papers, published in 2000 and authored by Chen and two members of his research group, a postdoctoral researcher and a doctoral candidate, were withdrawn from publication earlier this year after Chen realised the data had been falsified.

Despite a lengthy statement on the matter from ETH Zurich, many questions over the affair remain unanswered, partly because the university is under court order not to release a report compiled by an independent investigative panel of five chemists.

In an interview with Chemistry World, ETH president Ralph Eichler is asked some of those questions.

CW: It was known as early as 2001 that another research team had failed to reproduce the ETH results in question. But Chen did not request an investigation until January of this year. Can you please explain why it took about 8 years to request an investigation?

Eichler: You do not suspect a fraud in the first place. Many other explanations of the discrepancy with the other measurements have been searched for, such as e.g. miscalibration. Time was also lost because the whole laboratory was moved to another part of the town. In 2008 finally the original experiment was rebuild and the data could not be reproduced. Only then came the suspicion of data manipulation.

CW: Can you please tell me when you first learned about possible doubts about the paper? And when did you first learn that data might have been manipulated?

Eichler: Chen asked me in January 2009 to install a committee to investigate the case and retracted a first paper.

CW: Was Chen the supervisor for the doctoral candidate's thesis?

Eichler: Yes

CW: Your press release says the doctoral candidate first agreed to retract his thesis, but later changed his mind. Can you tell me approximately when he first agreed to retract the thesis and when he changed his mind?

Eichler: We were informed about the change of mind concerning the retreat of the doctoral theses one working day before we informed the public about the data manipulation.

CW: Can you confirm that a lawsuit has been filed against ETH Zurich in an attempt to stop publication of the investigating committee's report?

Eichler: A lawsuit has been filed against ETH Zurich in order to prohibit any publication of the report. In Swiss law, the publication of the document is therefore not allowed until a final decision is taken as to whether the document can be published or not. Swiss law gives individuals the right to request a court to prohibit a publication of a document if they feel that their personal integrity (in German: Persönlichkeit) is likely to be damaged by such a publication. The court competent in our case is the Federal Administrative Court (Bundesverwaltungsgericht). I don't know when the court will decide.

CW: Have any other lawsuits have been filed in connection with the data manipulation case? If yes, can you please tell me more about these lawsuits? Can you tell me who filed the lawsuits and whether anyone in addition to ETH is named in the lawsuits?

Eichler: I hope you understand that given the pending legal procedure, I won't be able to answer your question.

CW: Jeffrey Kovac, chemist at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, US, and author of a book titled The Ethical Chemist: Professionalism and Ethics in Science, says attempts should be made to answer the biggest question, and that is which of the three falsified data. Can you say whether there are any legal options under Swiss law open to ETH, either in criminal or civil court, to help discover who is responsible for the manipulated data?

Eichler: Despite a thorough and independent investigation, crucial documents [lab notebooks and the raw data] are missing. For the same reasons as mentioned above, I can't make any more comments on this point.

CW: You are head of one of the top scientific universities in the world. In the world of science, fraud sometimes occurs. Do you expect your research group leaders to always uncover fraud if it occurs? Or would this be asking too much of leaders who also need to trust their people?

Eichler: Trust is absolutely essential for any research activity. It is not possible for the group leader to control every detail of a doctoral thesis. The task of the group leader is on one hand to ascertain that the work as a whole is consistent and free of contradiction. On the other hand the rules and regulations concerning the supervision of academic work must be respected.

CW: Do you feel Chen, as group leader, bears any responsibility for being a co-author of a paper with falsified data?

Eichler: Chen has taken his responsibility for the manipulation of data that happened in his group ten years ago. He did so because he thought that in his current position as vice-president for research and corporate relations his ability to act would be compromised. We understand his decision which merits respect. We regret on the other hand to lose a very competent member and a highly valued colleague of the Executive Board at ETH Zurich.

CW: Kovac also has posed several questions he feels ETH should now be asking itself, such as was there appropriate supervision of graduate students. And referring to the missing lab journals and data, he says, 'There is clearly a need to review the standards of record keeping.' Can you please respond to Kovac's comments?

Eichler: Many of the questions are answered in the report we are not allowed to release. There is no evidence so far that the rules of record keeping were not respected at the time. We have found out that the missing notebook is the only one of all PhD students of Chen. As far as the standards of record keeping are concerned, they are settled in our Guidelines for Research Integrity and Good Scientific Practice which became effective on 1 January 2008.

CW: Are there any additional comments you would like to make?

Eichler: This incidence made clear, that manipulation of data can theoretically occur in every research team. It cannot be completely avoided with stronger regulations. On the other hand there is a great likelihood that manipulation in science will be discovered one day. This is the other lesson of this case. Finally, trust remains an important and basic value in any research team.