This CD reissue of "Archery" marks a significant looking back in the wake of the compositional and band-leading techniques of John Zorn. Zorn became infamous in the 1980s for his game pieces, resulting finally in the classic work "Cobra." "Archery," first entitled "Cycling," was the first of the large-scale works based on games -- which are played like games. "Archery" is for 12 players, all of whom play in combinations of duos and trios. Zorn originally included quartets as part of the strategy but decided, after trying to figure out all the various permutations of instruments and players that this was too ambitious -- or too much a pain in the ass to worry about in the time he had to work in (the man was on deadline). After much in the way of trial and error, Zorn came upon three stages to realize the best integration of players and possibilities of expression: clock events, solo events, duo-trio offerings, and 12 divisis. There are many systems at work here. One of which was the score itself marking 208 combinations of duo and trio improvising, and there are the divisis. These are literally changes in directions that can be called out by any player at any time and move the groupings through the various internal grouping changes until a solo happens or another divisi is called. Gradually, not only are all 208 combinations played through in overlapping grandeur, but also the various players that challenge even what they thought possible extract solos coming from them. Those solos come from taped sounds as well as played instruments, from human voices stretched into absurd tonal palettes, and musical instruments being nearly dismantled in the process of being actually "played."
Ah, but what does it sound like? Sometimes it sounds "musical," whatever that means. Mostly, it does not. It sounds like a game, it sounds like people eagerly willing to paste their own creativity onto a graphically notated score that doesn't tell them what to play, just how much time they have and in what combinations they must work together in order for the work to be finished. Chaos? Nah. More like mischief and exploratory hooliganism. Zorn's anarchic democracy creates possibilities not just for sound and solo that were heretofore unrealized, but, as evidenced by the extra CD included of the piece's rehearsal, could never exist again. To listen through both CDs of the recorded work is to encounter a work of timeless humor and grand vision. For Zorn proved more than the sum of his many influences, as early as 1979 when he composed this work he was an original. This is cartoon soundtrack music, but the cartoon is Western musical history as it falls in on itself while trying not to lose its tuxedo. This is musical and cultural terrorism with a smart-ass grin on its face as the opposition puzzles bemusedly before being murdered in its sleep. "Archery" then goes straight to the heart of all people once held sacred and reorganizes it to look like reality. The package, as with all Tzadik releases, is stellar, full of three inserts, production notes, and a replica of the original score. If you allow it to, it will change the way you listen to music -- and maybe watch TV, too.