Sunday, August 8, 2010

Angel on the Highway - A Night in Köln with John Zorn

Early in 1994 one of those crazy rumors that you only hear in California started circulating the grapevine. Apparently on at least 2 occasions motorists had been stopped on the highway by an "Angel" and had been told that on June 17th the " last trumpet would blow." The Archangel Gabriel would be the one to do the honors though I'm not clear if the Angel told this to the motorists or if it was assumed.

This refers to a passage from the Book of Revelation (8:2) :

“And I saw seven angels who stood before God, and to them were given seven trumpets.”

The angels proceed to sound these trumpets, and each is accompanied by terrible judgments upon the earth. The seventh trumpet heralds the reign of Christ (cf. 11:15) The phrase in verse 2, about the angels “who stood before God,” is a clue to our mystery, for in Luke 1:19, Gabriel states that he “stands in the presence of God.” This is perhaps the linkage which serves as the basis for the idea that Gabriel will be the one to sound the last trumpet. But again, Scripture is not specific on this point, though we can enjoy viewing it with what a former pastor of mine calls our “sanctified imagination.”

The above explanation, courtesy of David Winkler, provides the Biblical basis for Gabe's final trumpet solo.

Hard to believe, but this rumor gained some credibility among the open-minded. Maybe not as widespread as the Y2k fear or the notion of the world ending in 2012, but somewhere along those lines. I found it interesting but also dismissed it.

June 17th, 1994 found your humble reporter in Köln, Germany getting ready to mix a night of John Zorn related music at Koln's Musik Triennal. Most of the performances were held at the magnificent Philharmonie concert hall, described as:

The giant, round and simultaneously beautiful concert hall radiates with a light wood interior and the red upholstry of the seats. Astounding are the lighting and audio systems recessed in the ceiling. The hall lies, incidentally, underground between the Dom (cathedral) and the Rhine in the Dom-knoll.

The final act, Painkiller, played at a nearby club.

Earlier in the day, I took a walk on Köln's quiet and pristine streets meeting up with, then walking along the Rhine river to the venue. Beside the hall was an equally new museum - both buildings were less than 10 years old. Outside the museum I saw a poster with John Zorn on one side and Pierre Boulez on the other. I thought, 'how cool is that?' Zorn up there right beside a pioneer, icon, and one of the world's foremost exponents of contemporary avant garde music. I took a snapshot of the poster, which I still have.

Waiting in the spacious dressing room at the Philharmonie that night, I suddenly remembered the angel story and that today was June 17th, the day the last trumpet was to blow. I went over by Zorn, sat down, and proceeded to relate the story then told him that today was the day it was supposed to happen. He took it in with interest.

Afterward, I went to the other side of the room to get something. I swear to God, Goddess or whomever, that not less than 5 minutes later the sound of a trumpet blowing came out of the dressing room loudspeaker at a rather healthy volume. Zorn and I just looked at each other from across the room in surprise and incredulity. The timing couldn't have been spookier.

The trumpet, which played again about 5 minutes later, was the Philharmonie's sound cue for the audience to take their seats. I was unable to determine if an Archangel had played it, but the experience certainly jolted me into a highly alert and attentive state.

It turned out to be one of the most profound nights of musical communication for me of any event I've either worked at or attended.

First of all, the sound system and acoustics were extraordinarily spectacular as was the lighting effects. I, of course, had the best seat in the house.

Every performance carried some "angelic" significance for me. During the opening act, whomever operated the visuals made figures of 5 pointed stars (pentagrams) float, dance, and morph into various colors, sizes and shapes around the circular hall.

I don't have a program book to recall all the groups and performers, but as I remember it, next up was The Sirius String Quartet. The Sirius connection is well known to fans of Robert Anton Wilson, Kenneth Grant, and/or to visitors to the Dogon land of sub-Sahara West Africa.

They were followed by Zorn's piece called Lacrosse, an improv game piece, where, as I understand it, the musician soloing 'passes the musical ball' to another musician through a signal, maybe just by looking at them. The music gets passed around like a lacrosse ball. The Joycean in me transliterated this as 'la cross' ie the cross, which contains much magical significance. Zorn played reeds on this one, and I remember guitarist Mark Ribot as part of that group. I later recorded Ribot with Tom Waits for the Mule Variations album.

The last group, Naked City, performed an avant garde ambient piece called Absinthe, a piece that I'd mixed for cd. My memory has it that Zorn conducted this live performance. Absinthe is the psychoactive spirit that inspired, Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine, Toulouse- Lautrec, van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, and Aleister Crowley. Naked City's rendition that night certainly conjured the absinthe spirit, known in literature as the Green Fairy.

After the program at the Philharmonie was finished, Zorn and I hopped into a large white van for the short drive to the nightclub where Painkiller was to go on. I asked Zorn what else he was doing and he mentioned his groups Masada for which he had an electric version and an acoustic version. I asked what the name Masada referred to? He told me that it was a mountain in Israel that had been the site of some important battles and defences against the Romans. I remember being acutely aware at the time of how incredible this was to get a valuable lesson in ancient history as we drove through the night in-between musical transmissions. The Angel was working overtime.

The Painkiller set was just what the doctor ordered. Loud and powerful. Adventurous and intense. Zorn, with original players Bill Laswell and Mick Harris, rocked it out like nobody's business. Scanning the net moments ago, I noticed a bootleg version available on cd. The site grades it as A+ which sounds about right to me.

Back in the hotel room afterwards I still felt pretty amped and wired from all the musical information and energy. I flipped on the tube trying to relax and chill out. Only 2 channels tuned in on the dial. One had a panel of ex-drug addicts .... boring! The other was the televised historical event of O.J. Simpson's famous "car chase" in Southern California.

Yes, it was also June 17th, 1994 when this bit of arcane history unfolded as part of the O.J. Simpson dramatic fiasco. I heard some people interpret his low speed car chase as the manifestation of "the last trumpet blowing" though I confess that the logic of this escapes me. Yet everyone will have their subjective experience that day. Maybe for some, O.J. Simpson matched the story. He did seem "accompanied by terrible judgments upon the earth." as Revelations quoteth, so who knows?

Perhaps another Biblical reference relates more to my observations that night:

Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)

I didn't sleep, and I was changed by John Zorn's music that night.

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