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New Anti Zorn Initiative

Experiment on non-idiomatic conduction for real-time music creation.

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John Zorn and Lawrence "Butch" Morris have developed two of the most notorious conducting systems for creating musical pieces in real time. The latter developed a system called "conduction," which is based on "ideographic signs and gestures activated to modify or construct real-time musical arrangements."[1] He realizes it through both ad hoc and stable groups of musicians around the world (not necessarily improvisers) to whom he teaches the system and later on conducts. For his part, Zorn wrote the composition "Cobra," which consists of detailed rules for a given group of musicians directed by a prompter[2]. In both cases, as well as in similar attempts, one can find a common characteristic: the existence of a predefined system of signs, gestures, rules, etc., that the musicians should learn in order to participate in the construction of a piece. The conductor thus uses a language in order to give the musicians orders or proposals that the musicians have to perform at least to a certain degree. In contrast, the New Anti Zorn Initiative's main aim (at least with regard to the creation of music in real time) is to try to realize a conduction without the use of a predefined conducting system. 

The New Anti Zorn Initiative doesn't aim to question the validity, legitimacy, or efficiency of "idiomatic" conductions, but simply to explore the possibilities of "non-idiomatic" conduction. The experience cou­ld be interesting for several reasons. For example, since music created through free improvisation pretends to be non-idiomatic, it should be interesting to find a non-idiomatic (or proto-idiomatic) method of conducting that is more empathetic with this way of making music than idiomatic or pre-structured approaches. Even among musicians who usually don't improvise, a non-idiomatic conduction system could improve musical confidence since "mistakes" cannot be made, given that there is not an established way of reading the conductor's gestures. At the same time, musicians would still be required to develop the focus necessary to interpret a conductor's signs in real time. 

Another advantage to a non-idiomatic conduction system relates to the fact that the formalized or idiomatic expressions used by a conductor often serve to encapsulate his or her individual style or intentions. Therefore, an invisible superstructure is present whenever such an idiomatic conduction system is used by someone else. As with any other frame, this superstructure might be helpful or discouraging depending on the person, though in general an individual conducting language is never as inspiring when adopted by another conductor. A non-idiomatic conduction could also be a good alternative for people who want to experience conduction but don't feel especially inspired to learn idiomatic approaches. 

With regard to the improvised music scene specifically, this initiative could make improvisers more sympathetic to conduction systems in general. If the practice of conduction came to be seen as something more at hand, it would blur the line between musicians and the conductor (since, for example, musicians wouldn't need to learn a special technique in order to stand in place of the conductor). 

In this way, the infamous parallelism between orchestra/factory would start to collapse, leading toward several unknown situations. The number of conduction styles and languages could multiply exponentially over a short period of time, becoming as various as the number of musicians. The long process of developing, defining, and improving a personal conduction language or system (something certainly difficult to achieve or simply not desired by many improvisers) could be avoided. On top of this, if conduction became a less-resisted system, musicians improvising in non-conducted situations could start to incorporate different degrees of conduction into their own practice. Were this to happen, the entire idea of conduction, which has been a bit of a taboo among improvisers, could become more accepted, thus expanding the spectrum of possibilities for improvised music. 

-Diego Chamy, July 2010 


Performed on April 29, 2011, at the Niños Consentidos Festival at Exploratorium Berlin.

Ensemble: Carola Ortiz (voice), Johnny Chang (violin, voice), Sam Nacht (tenor sax), Arthur Rother (electric guitar), Alba Gentili-Tedeschi (piano), Christopher Williams (double bass), Diego Chamy (concept & conduction).


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[1] Morris, Lawrence D., Lawrence D. "Butch" Morris - Conduction ® <http://www.conduction.us/main.html>

[2] Who is, in light both of the musical results and the high profile that the person performing this task usually takes, more a conductor than a prompter.