Monday, April 12, 2010

John Zorn's "The Last Supper"

January 23, 2009—The impressively prolific John Zorn has recently released his 22nd (!) volume of music for films, The Last Supper (Tzadik). It is scored for percussion and a small group of vocalists. That might not sound very exciting on the first blush of things, but this is no ordinary music. The vocals are in the wordless, post-Swingle Singer mode and much of what they sing is loosely in the hocket style, which some medieval composers and the Pygmies of the Congo region of Africa have in common. Hocket involves phrases where individuals or specific groups are responsible for particular notes in a phrase, in alternation back and forth. The results for this Zorn creation are repeating and varying lines where male and female vocalists work together to create mesmerizing and musically fascinating results. Zorn is no dogmatist so this technique is used but not overused. The percussion ensemble functions as a contrasting accompaniment to the vocals and also has spots where it takes over and provides layered rhythmic grooves that hypnotically reinforce a kind of primal quality that is apparently an important part of the film.

This music is not run-of-the-mill minimalism, new age tribal drum circle stuff, or anything else of the common run of musics that can be heard ad nauseum as backdrops for modern films or just as backdrops. Neither does the music sound like an afterthought to the film. It stands on its own as a very interesting and innovative musical space. I must say it’s one of my favorite things thus far this year and you should listen to it if you want to shake yourself out of the doldrums of everyday sameness.

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