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John Zorn and Mike Patton Metropolitan Museum of Art, September 28, 2013 Reviewed

John Zorn and Mike Patton

  Works of art that have stunned viewers into stupor for centuries beset the eye from every angle within the walls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art – walls that have met a day in which their variegated, worldly, and dignified prisoners greeted waves of music of matching caliber. The sixtieth birthday celebration for MacArthur Fellow John Zorn could be considered a conjugal visit for the museum’s collection of breathtaking art. Numerous musicians who have contributed to the massive body of Zorn’s work performed throughout the day, including singer and abstract vocalist Mike Patton, most known for his work as the lead singer of Faith No More. While your correspondent could only reach the event for the last two performances, it was as clear as could be that the compositions of John Zorn matched the majestic setting of The Met measure for measure.

Introduced by John Zorn himself (unequivocally identifiable in camouflage pants), Mike Patton contributed to the celebration by presenting Litany IV, a piece for solo voice from Zorn’s Six Litanies for Heliogabulus. Before beginning, John Zorn allowed Patton to collect himself and provided a disclaimer regarding the severity of the piece, and the Roman history behind the album. The shrapnel from the artillery-esque assault of Litany IV was visibly shocking to the unknowing members of the audience. Or at least, I would imagine that this was what happened. My jaw remained dropped for the entire piece, and my eyes never left Patton’s heaving figure. Writhing with convulsions, Mike Patton tapped into his experience and executed the piece with pained precision. The speakers were at a loss, doubling over in feedback as Patton’s screams echoed in the perfectly acoustic venue. Stripped of the amplified skin, the man animating the beast leapt through at the breakdown of the sound equipment; the brutal assault of the performance not in the least bastardized by the man behind the curtain. The technical failure of the amplification was handled most professionally, for Patton’s focus during the piece was impeccable, sound failure or not. Speaking with the mutant after the presentation of his gift, Patton explained that the pages of music that he turns through throughout the song, laid out before the sepulchral breaths that signal his start, are littered with his own code of scribbles. Without going into detail, Patton described his code modestly, as though his ability to transcribe the track is not reminiscent of Mendeleev’s first draft of the periodic table.

Mike Patton overall? Incredible.

John Zorn finished off the evening playing “The Hermetic Organ: Office No. 10” on the Appleton Organ of The Met’s musical instrument collection. The medieval hall was thick and thriving with eager listeners, focused on sketching or reading, and waiting reverently for Zorn to appear. When the anticipatory tension of the audience reached its climax, the creeping introduction of the pipe organ clandestinely cut in to the combined cacophony in the hall, and all fell silent. For the entire piece, the most spellbound tension reigned over the voluminous and suddenly docile hall. The pleasing beginning of the organ solo soon fell away to a nearly imperceptible churning beneath, some horrible injunction of peristalsis within the pipe organ. As the majority of the audience had their eyes closed, it would have been natural to infer that the walls were expanding and contracting with the animation of breath, such was the sound that came from the boy and his organ on the balcony above. And the dissonance begins. Even with the volume level of the organ remaining mostly the same, the audience member still fell deeper and deeper into the clutch of the conjuror’s music, mystic stillness and bustling activity frozen in the sustained pulse of the pipe organ. Suddenly applause. The spell is broken. In an instant and an eternity, the music fell apart. The listener was not given notice, for silence and sustention both received starring roles in the piece. For all we knew, the pause could have been only the next in the series of sinusoidal dynamic troughs that gave the piece a monotonous and unending momentum. Yet, roaring applause, standing and soaring ovations. John Zorn stepped from the bench, raised both hands to the ceiling, and saluted.

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