(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 populist.

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 football game).

The hope is to get everybody –not just the "specialists" known as musicians- involved in the process of music making at an intuitive, organic level.

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.


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), methodologies.

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 doing.

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 itself.

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 without it.

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 and methodologies.

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 rule."

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."
-Claude Debussy



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