Some of Zorn's earliest
musical experiments were his game pieces. These aren't compositions in
the typical sense, which are notations of sound, but are rather a set of
very general improvisational rules for a set of improvisors who are working
off of each other. What is being played isn't the idea, but rather how
it is being played. The easiest analogy, which Zorn uses himself, is that
of a sport or game. In football, there is no way to determine what the
outcome of the game will be, however, there are certain rules and guidelines
that everyone must follow. The same is true of Zorn's game pieces. The
same piece could be played twice and sound completely different, depending
on the performers, and the circumstances of the performance.
The exact rules of
these pieces elude me, but I am most familiar with Cobra. In Cobra, Zorn
doesn't participate as a player, but rather as a "promptor" using colored
cards to indicate what the players must do. If players don headbands, they
can form a "guerrilla system" with three members, which is exempt from
the rules for 7 downbeats of the game. Cobra ends up being a controlled
chaos of sets of individuals obeying the cards and their squad leader.
Players can also exchange and share each other's musical textures.
Although it is easy
to dismiss the game pieces as "just noise", in the hands of a talented
series of improvisors they can go fantastic places. The conceptual ideas
surrounding game pieces are also fun to think on.
Live at the Knitting Factory Cobra: Tokyo Operations '94
City // Masada