(This is the text of a booklet introducing Anarchestra to participants at the High Mayhem festival october 2005.)
We all instinctively know how to make music (if you can walk or chew
you have rhythm, if you can converse you have a sense of pitch).
The exclusionary mentality of our society has convinced some of us that
we lack a necessary "talent" for it and has created a technocracy, an
elite, that it regards as musicians. This is the same mentality
that generates religious monopolies on "truth", political monopolies
that determine what we do with our environments, and economic
monopolies that dictate the material circumstances of our lives.
Exclusion is the basis of coercive power relations. It derives
its apparent legitimacy from a system of thought based on negative
relationships of difference (us/them, it/other, etc.).
Music is ours -not theirs or mine or his or hers or yours.
"Ours" means everyone’s -not "not theirs" or "not yours"- just ours (in
its most universal and non-exclusive sense). When we are less
than all of us we aren’t we anymore, but a mirror reflecting otherness,
someone else’s "them". In that case the music is
always "theirs". Our music belongs to all of us and none of us.
A valuable distinction can be made between populist and popularist.
Populist music is about its participants (this is what "folk" and
"blues" used to be). Popularist music is about its consumers.
Music played by specialists (technocrats) for mass consumption is
popularist. Music played by people for their own enjoyment is
ETHOS; What’s the point?
In social terms, the desire of Anarchestra is to collectively celebrate
a "feast" (ranging in impact, situationally, from a party to a street
riot) rather than present a spectacle (such as a rock concert or a
The hope is to get everybody –not just the "specialists" known as
musicians- involved in the process of music making at an intuitive,
Having different instruments available, a range of choices of what one
can do to make sound and what sounds one can make, can enable people to
enter the process of organizing sound at a less constricted point
than those traditionally codified by theorists (temperaments etc.),
builders of standard instruments (types of required techniques), and
technologists. That these instruments are unfamiliar and simple
to operate can remove the self-limiting sense of expectation that
causes people to think they "don’t know how". The truth is that
no one knows how –even a Stravinsky or a Charles Mingus is basically
groping with limitless possibilities.
The desire is also to blur and even eliminate the widely accepted
distinctions between the acts of composing, orchestrating, directing,
performing, etc., to generate music rather than "manage" it.
This music cannot be controlled or dominated by a single person.
Anyone who wishes to involve themselves in it contributes to the whole,
effecting it according to their own nature. The only challenge to
the players is their willingness to participate.
A TENSION SPAN
It has long bothered me that women seem to be largely excluded from
contributing to our musical culture and it occurs to me that the
reasons for this lie in our traditional methodologies and the
environments for exploration we have developed. In other words,
maybe it isn’t that "women have lower musical aptitudes than men" (this
is the received cultural idea), but that what we have come to think of
as music has lower aptitudes for the contributions of women -that the
traditional systematic approaches have evolved over the millenia to be
exclusionary of less systematic methodologies. Brain function
research suggests that men generally have a smaller corpus callosum
(the area of the brain that connects the two hemispheres and allows
them to communicate -the "extreme male brain" is autistic), and tend
more to systematize, i.e., think linearly, while women tend more to
empathize, i.e., think laterally. I’m sure this is a vast
oversimplification, but it may provide some useful clues.
Personally, I suspect that the shortcomings of our science and our
technology (to say nothing of our politics) derive from the same linear
prejudice that values binary rejection-based (either/or, yes/no) logic
over complex, inclusion-based (and/all),
Playing a single instrument generally requires musicians to think
linearly, how their sounds and techniques impact the flow of the music
in a progressive sense –repetitions, echoes, the changes within
similarity. The instrument itself is single system. While
playing multiple instruments doesn’t deny linear thinking, it offers in
addition the option of thinking laterally, of shifting the elements
that make up the sound.
Musical culture, particularly that of collective improvising, has
tended in the past to promote soloists, perceiving the individual
(linear) voice as the primary context of "creative" expression.
Over the last decade or so (owing largely to the widening availability
of sound processing technology) this has begun to change and in newer
music there has been more emphasis on ensembles than solos (although often the ensemble is a solo). This
is the semi-editorial (lateral) thinking a samplist, turntablist, or
effectist engages in, moving across and around the sound spectrum
rather than through it with a limited range of sonic potentials.
The difference between using instruments to engage in this (as opposed
to technology) is the dependence on the direct physical involvement of
the performer. To me this seems as if it might offer a kind of
linear (corporeal) continuity simultaneously with a lateral one, making
neither exclusive of the other. One of the drawbacks shared by
traditional instruments and modern devices is that they were designed
(by males for males) to require specific skills.
MEDIATIONS - The Edge of the Stage
All of our musical experiences (and almost all of our human exchanges)
are mediated to some degree. Some of this is inevitable: language
mediates, culture mediates, the tools with which we communicate mediate
between us. Insofar as mediation is inevitable, it is empowering
and enabling. Extended beyond its usefulness, it impedes
communication and generates alienation. Mediation can be either a
doorway or a (closed) door. The social culture of capitalism
implicitly mediates everything. The ethos of consumerism creates
its profits from successive layers of mediation (resorting to
–essentially absurd- concepts like "intellectual property" which seek
to materialize and define the abstract and indefinable for the purpose
of facilitating trade - which largely functions on impedance, i.e.,
scarcity). This has become so deeply engrained in us as habit
that we hesitate to question it or challenge its influence on the ways
we live our lives.
Those of us who find ourselves dissatisfied with the condition and
direction of our world might benefit from examining the instances of
mediation that we’ve been conditioned to take for granted or accept as
common practice. On a case-by-case basis we will likely find many
of them to be needless impediments to what we actually wish to be
The separation between performers and audience is an instance of
mediation. It may or may not serve an artistic purpose, but the
incentive for it as a template of how we make music derives not from
art but from the commercial neccessity of dividing those who pay from
those who are paid (the same template applies to the division between
instructors and students, "pastors" and "flocks" , etc., although the
medium of commerce may not take monetary form). Similarly, the
division of those present into ‘musicians’ and ‘non-musicians’ is a
merchandizing concept that has (d)evolved into accepted (unquestioned)
social practice. In societies not permeated by the structures of
capitalism and fascism music was (is?) an expression of community in
which all were welcome to participate (to whatever degree -including
non-participation). This includes, subject to local variations,
drum circles, gamelans, choirs, etc. of villages, tribes, and cults.
This is where music made by groups came from. The impedance of
imposed mediations has driven it nearly to extinction (few of us have
ever had a truly communal musical experience and fewer still but
rarely). In the ecology of our ethos as humans it is an
endangered species of experience and we should ask ourselves if there
is any benefit to its extermination.
The point is not to imitate existing, historical, or even imaginary
tribalisms but to generate and express tribalism / community as we
experience it in the here and now (as ourselves complete with our 21st
century baggage). We don’t need to aspire to pre-conceived ideas of
collectivism, but to discover how our particular collectivism construes
The roles we assume in our interactions are other versions of
mediations which tend to perpetuate themselves through practice and
come to be accepted as inevitable mostly from the creative inertia with
which we approach our modes of living / making music. The sonic
specializations of our instruments and the techniques required to play
them are both an outgrowth and a generator of the mediations between
makers and receivers of music. In the technocracy-based musics of
the westworld – "classical", "jazz", and "electronica" – these
impedances have become so pronounced as to be largely alienating.
With the switching of instruments everybody impacts the sound and the
direction the music takes. With the non-identification of
individuals with instruments the tendency to assume roles is less
pronounced. The music is guided by ears and situations rather
than by the technocratic histories of the performers – even though such
histories are not excluded or discouraged.
The accessibility of a variety of instruments encourages participants
to effect the music sonically through their choices of timbres and
ergonomics rather than implementing specific strategies related to
their specific instruments, to assume roles temporarily as their need
is perceived (and to abandon them), and to approach the music
wholistically from a variety of functions and viewpoints.
The non-specificity (in traditional terms) of what the instruments do
and the non-complexity (simple physics) of their sounds encourages the
participants to accept the sounds as they are made. Harmonies (of
form, of content) are discovered rather than implemented (a metaphor
for multicultural acceptance), achieved through consensus.
The blendings of the sounds are not mediated (through processors), the
edges are not rounded off, because the kinds of blending achieved
through processing tell us less about ourselves than the kind achieved
The challenge of producing music without the mediating templates of
pre-conception, hierarchic direction, homogenizing processes, etc. is
one of re-acquiring (ceasing to repress) our most innate human skills
ANARCHISM: a clarification
To my simple mind there are three basic social/political dispositions.
One sees the world in terms of the things and places it controls. This
is capitalism, a society of laws that define and defend private
property. "Who we are is what we own."
Another sees the world in terms of the people it controls. This is
fascism (or fundamentalism or totalitarianism), a society of rules that
define (and coerce) the behaviours of others. "Who we are is who we
The third disposition sees the world in terms of the way it responds to
the people and situations it encounters. This is anarchism, a society
of stimuli that promote discovery, responsibility, and co-operation.
"Who we are is how we treat people."
All societies blend these dispositions together to varying degrees.
There is not and possibly never will be a purely capitalist, fascist,
or anarchist society. Humans will always want to possess, to judge, and
to co-operate. The type of society a group of people produce is a
question of emphasis.
Anarchy does not mean disorder, it means without hierarchic rule. As a
philosophy it advocates an order that evolves from mutual co-operation
and adaptation as distinguished from an order imposed (from above) on
non-equals by a boss, a ruler, a priest, or a state. It assumes the
responsibility and creativity of all of its participants, trusting them
to invent needed forms and methods in response to situations rather
than coercing their co-operation through institutionalized power or
threat. At its simplest, it expects an individual to see other
individuals as trustworthy co-contributors rather than rivals or
minions, embracing differences instead of fearing them, generating a
society (or body of work) created by voluntary participation.
The essence of anarchism is the productive intersection between ungoverned possibility and individual responsibility.
"There is no theory. You only have to listen."