John Zorn In Residence – Crowley At The Crossroads

The Man We Want To Hang [film by Kenneth Anger]
Evocation Of a Neophyte And How The Secrets Of The Black Arts Were Revealed Unto Her By The Demon Baphomet

Mike Patton (voice), Trevor Dunn (electric bass) & Joey Baron (percussion)

Sarah Eyden (soprano)
Synergy Vocals
London Sinfonietta
Brad Lubman

Reviewed by: Rob Witts

Reviewed: 18 June, 2006
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

For the second concert in his Barbican residency (which, consisting of just two dates, was really more of a sleepover), John Zorn explored his fascination with the infamous British occultist Aleister Crowley.

Two new works enclosed a screening of Kenneth Anger’s 2002 short film “The Man We Want To Hang”, an unusually restrained piece by the great film-maker that generates its foreboding entirely through slow pans across Crowley’s creepy, childish paintings and drawings of demonic figures and orgiastic rituals. Zorn’s electronic score mixes high-frequency electronic tingling with bells, chanting and African drumming to atmospheric effect.

The new pieces showed the range of Zorn’s compositional thinking. Moonchild is a hair-raising work that fused the soundworld of heavy metal and alternative rock with the concepts of jazz and the avant-garde in music of scary intensity. Ferociously fast, alternating ritual stillness with Zorn’s characteristic hyperactivity, this is music that few musicians are equipped to perform, but Zorn had a first-class trio of long-time collaborators. Mike Patton’s feral body language was of a piece with the sounds he produced: heavy breathing (shades of Ashley’s ‘Wolfman’), Gollum gibberish and blood-curdling screams. Trevor Dunn’s bass was agile as well as powerful, whether thumping out ritualistic riffs in ‘Possession’ or generating a web of uncanny harmonics in ‘The Summoning’, and Joey Baron drummed like – well, like a man possessed.

Perhaps it suffered by comparison with music of such visceral intensity, but Zorn’s other new work, a commission by BBC Radio 3 for the London Sinfonietta, seemed strangely lacklustre. As its cumbersome title suggests, this was a slice of spooky ritual, with a wordless choir (the pitch-perfect Synergy Vocals) and solo soprano accompanied by harp, guttural contra- and double-contrabassoon and ominous bass drum rumblings. It recalled George Crumb in its re-creation of eldritch rites through unusual timbral gestures, and like Crumb, trod a fine line between the powerfully unsettling and the merely kitsch.

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