by carl wilson

T-Dot Thrillz: Cobra Cabana

Zoilus comrade-and-associate Misha Glouberman (best known as host of Trampoline Hall) is getting ready to do another of his sets of "classes," which are always fantastic intellectual exercise and delightful social blowouts all at the same time. In the past, I've studied group vocal-noise improv, "How to Get Really Good at Playing Charades," and the nature of happiness in Misha's series, which he teaches without ever seeming to be teaching.

The very best class I've ever done with Misha, though, was his one-night "Open Cobra" project, where somehow a huge room of mostly non-musicians learned to play John Zorn's 1980s "game piece" Cobra to a pretty decent level of competence, in a few hours. The whole thing unfolded like a little miracle. (Read an account of the night by Eye's Dave Morris.) The YouTube clip above shows Zorn and other NYC downtown '80s luminaries playing Cobra, from Derek Bailey's BBC series on improvisation.

Now, Misha is planning to do a longer (maybe six-part) version of that process. And though I can't take part (goddamn book deadlines), if you're in Toronto, I highly recommend you do. It's for performers and non-performers alike.

As Misha says, "I'm really interested in noise improv as a participatory activity that people can do for fun. You don't have to have done anything like this before, you just have to want to. The class will be entirely vocal - no instruments, just voice-noises. We'll spend some of the time working on general vocal-noise-improv, some working specifically on Cobra. I'm still finalizing the details of time (hope to start in the next few weeks), schedule (probably 6 or so consecutive Wednesdays or Tuesdays or something like that), price (some variation of PWYC), and place. If you might be interested in knowing more about the series, drop me a line. How/whether/when I can do this will depend on what I hear back from people, so if you might be interested, don't just wait to hear more news, email me and let me know."

So don't hesitate.

For another taste of Cobra's sting, you can check out Misha's "Open Cobra" collaborator Joe Sorbara's new monthly Cobra event with musician-participants from AIM Toronto, as part of the Now Lounge Sunday improv series, this Sunday, April 1 at 2 pm, pwyc.

Toronto turns out to be Grand Cobra Central. The Cobra Cabana. Who'd'a thunk?

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, March 28 at 12:18 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (4)



hey - the bailey thing looks fantastic but, uh, a minor point of pedantry: channel 4 isn't the same thing as the bbc. (back then it was an independant channel with a rep for being 'artier' or 'poncier', now it's one that mostly does big brother spinoffs. sigh.)

the bit of max roach lecturing a class of little kids is great.

Posted by thos on April 1, 2007 6:26 AM



That's why I like improvisation! It's more like "a pickup soccer game or a round of Scrabble with your siblings" and less like something from the canon (although it spawns doctoral theses and boxed sets like everything else). Games are serious matter, by the way; just look at little kids.

Posted by Michelangelo on March 31, 2007 3:23 PM



Part of what I like about the "game piece" is that it does raise that question. By merging the playing of a game and the performance of a score, it throws into question the status of Art as something superior to a sociable activity, as something higher and of greater purpose than a pickup soccer game or a round of Scrabble with your siblings. Or, looked at the other way around, it suggests that the high-spirited interaction of the players is a higher purpose in itself, and that worrying about the point of art or the point of life is, well, beside the point.

I'm not at all saying that's its whole content, just that it's one of the themes I get from it.

Posted by zoilus on March 29, 2007 1:34 PM



I'd'a thunk. Right now, Toronto has one of the most active scenes of creative improvised music-making in the world and, while Cobra won't appeal to everyone that falls under that umbrella, its operations are appropriate for a bunch of improvisers who have developed specific instrumental vocubularies -- the kind of player Zorn had exactly in mind when he composed the game. Furthermore, Cobra seems to have had its heyday in New York (and is perhaps no longer voguish there) but, here, the process of learning the rules -- and Joe and Misha are to be lauded here -- is both novel and stimulating for many (mostly younger) players. Learning the game has certainly focussed certain aspects of my playing.

I'd like to elaborate a bit on the answers to the "what's the point?" question in the Eye review, and to make a distinction between what Misha's priorities seem to be and an alternate point of view. It's possible to approach Cobra simply as a participatory, fun game, and it's also possible to approach it rigorously as a composition and to make really kick-ass music through its rules. The first, in my experience, is very easy to achieve (and I'm all for fun), but the second is exceptionally difficult and takes as much rehearsal and preparation as any sophisticated composition or more. The game piece is ingenious, as I hear it, because it can work satisfyingly on either or both registers given a degree of sympathy within a given ensemble. These dual registers are nicely encapsulated in the name "game piece."

Posted by Scott Thomson on March 29, 2007 11:50 AM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson