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x0x International artist finds his niche in Turkey

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  • Ahmet Toprak
    x0x International artist finds his niche in Turkey * Based in New York, Morris career expanded globally once invitations started requesting that Morris
    Message 1 of 1 , May 6, 2000
      x0x International artist finds his niche in Turkey

      * Based in New York, Morris' career expanded globally once
      invitations started requesting that Morris incorporate his method
      of 'conduction' with international styles of music abroad
      * With a diverse group of musicians, instruments and sounds of
      Mehter music dominating the mood, the performance actually
      resembled what Morris said it would; a microcosm of its society

      Sabrina Korber

      Istanbul - Turkish Daily News

      In conjunction with the quickly developing arts and culture scene in
      Istanbul, an innovator of jazz has found his niche among the city's
      chaos. Lawrence D. "Butch" Morris, an internationally recognized
      composer and conductor of improvised music, has been continuing his
      projects in Istanbul and adding a whole new dimension to the city's
      already diverse offering of jazz artists.

      In an exclusive interview with the Turkish Daily News, Morris
      explained his signature method of "conduction," how it fits into
      Istanbul's jazz scene and some of his projects for the future.

      Returning to Turkey after two years, Morris has been a visiting
      lecturer and a composer in residence at Bilgi University for 18 months
      and has been asked to continue his instruction for another year. After
      conducting the David Murray Big Band with the Izmir Symphony in June
      1998 and the "Double Skyscraper" projects in Istanbul in October 1997,
      Morris decided to return for a longer period when Positif Productions
      helped to find him a university position in order to introduce his
      innovative ideas to maturing artists.

      His 27-year career has encompassed theatre, dance, film, video and
      television in both concert and recording settings. Based in New York,
      Morris' career expanded globally once invitations started requesting
      that Morris incorporate his method of "conduction" with international
      styles of music abroad.

      Morris has been workshopping his method of conduction into a form of
      expression for a number of years and decided long ago to devote his
      life's work to the art.

      "Conduction," or conducting improvised music, may sound like a
      paradox, but according to Morris, who invented the art, "conduction"
      is a process in which he brings order to improvisation and bridges the
      gap between composer-improviser and the classically-contexted
      musician. Explaining that improvisation is not a random process,
      Morris says he brings order using a series of commands or "vocabulary"
      to conduct the musicians and to help establish the sound of the
      ensemble. The difference between a classical conductor and himself,
      Morris says, is that a classical conductor rehearses the composed
      piece, whereas Morris rehearses a vocabulary that brings order to the
      piece, without notation.

      Many had the chance to witness this unique vocabulary and sound on
      April 1 in Istanbul with a 15-member ensemble -- none of whom had ever
      played together as a group before this time -- composed of classical,
      Turkish and jazz musicians. After only one rehearsal, although Morris
      or any member of his band had no idea of what the actual product would
      turn out to be, the ensemble and Morris managed to produce two
      "conductions."

      Morris' project entitled "New Mehter Culture" uses the Ottoman
      Empire's tradition of Mehter music, which is known for its culturally
      significant sounds of spirituality and warfare originating from the
      Ottoman Empire's Janissary (professional soldiers, some being personal
      servants of the Sultan) bands. The Akbank Jazz Festival explained that
      Morris' intention was "to create a ceremonial atmosphere that is a
      contemporary continuation of 'Mehter' as sound, spirit and mystique."

      With the diverse group of musicians (some more experienced with
      Morris' vocabulary than others), instruments and sounds of Mehter
      music dominating the mood, the performance actually resembled what
      Morris said it would; a microcosm of its society.

      Starting out as unsure and timid from either lack of experience or the
      unexpectedness of what the resulting product would be, the first
      conduction seemed to be a crucible of diversity incorporating
      classical, Turkish and Mehter sounds, and subsequently bordering on
      chaos. The second conduction allowed the musicians a bit more freedom
      in their creativity which did not necessarily eliminate the sounds of
      confusion, but added character and personality to the performance.
      After hearing a conduction, it is easier to understand the method
      through Morris' psychological terms and one can walk on the streets of
      Istanbul imagining that Morris' artform is indeed representative of
      the society's characteristics and sounds.

      Morris says the product should reflect each musician's identity as
      well as the ensemble's collective identity. But despite overwhelming
      applause, some members of the audience were hesitant to accept this
      claim.

      Some received the performance as another experimental artform being
      exported, with Morris' name, to a culture that hasn't fully developed
      its own innovative artforms on a more global scale -- a test of
      subscribers so to speak.

      For others, it was hard to classify the concept as art mostly because
      Morris' philosophy behind conduction, allowing musicians to create
      freely within an ensemble that he is directing was not evident in the
      performance. They questioned if the conduction and its specific
      vocabulary completely allow the musicians to freely improvise
      according to their own creative instincts?

      Saxophonist and jazz artist Ilhan Ersahin, a member of the Mehter
      ensemble, has worked with Morris twice before in New York. "Playing
      with Morris is difficult, challenging. His vocabulary and the way he
      conducts brings out other sides of your work as a musician. He brings
      your way of thinking to a higher level of creativity," Ersahin said.

      "If you're practicing any aspect of art, it is important to free your
      mind," said Bass Clarinetist Oguz Buyukberber, who worked with Morris
      a year and a half ago and believes that Morris' system allows a
      musician that freedom, but with construction and in a real-time,
      organized way.

      "Essentially, you become one with your instrument and an instrument
      that 'Butch' as a conductor performs, but you are free [to
      improvise]."

      Buyukberber sees the system as a circular interaction; what a musician
      puts out effects Morris' improvisation in his conduction and
      conversely, the vocabulary Morris signals affects the musician's
      improvisation.

      Playing with Morris' Istanbul Ensemble for over a month, Buyukberber
      knows how far Morris' method of conduction can go as long as the
      system is practiced.

      A practiced artform

      According to Morris, the art of conduction, not necessarily known by
      the same name, has been known and used since 2400 B.C. and was seen
      again in cave drawings in the 1600s. Unfortunately, "the powers of
      government in music have kept it from becoming a true discipline,"
      which seems to be Morris' goal.

      In addition to his already experienced career in "pioneering
      conduction" and to his contributions at Bilgi University, Morris is in
      the process of obtaining a "registered trademark" on conduction in
      order to keep the method in its truest form. He explains that if
      someone else tries to teach the method, without correct knowledge of
      its makeup, the artform could be lost. Therefore, Morris does not see
      an end to developing his art.

      Morris has already practiced conduction with a variety of musical
      genres, including Western classical, flamenco, mainstream jazz and
      mainstream free jazz players that "represented or expressed all of
      those communities, bringing their reflection to this method," Morris
      said.

      After being asked to go abroad, Morris was motivated to figure out how
      his system worked with an international definition of music, break it
      down and adapt his method to keep its personality.

      In Istanbul, Morris seems to have accomplished that, while
      incorporating the personalities of other talented musicians, not only
      in his ensembles. In a recently released project, Morris directed
      Turkish band Laco Tayfa's debut album, "Bergama Gaydasi" (Pergamum
      Bagpipe). During which, he challenged the group to keep the spirit of
      their live performance in the album's recording, which Morris says
      they achieved, and he believes brought the status of the band to that
      of a "cultural phenomenon."

      Other future projects for Morris include a festival dedicated to his
      work in Tivoli, Italy, where he will conduct an ensemble of 30 people
      next year, a "song cycle" in Zurich and both theater and film projects
      are also in the works. Beginning in May, Morris will be conducting an
      ensemble every Tuesday night at "Babylon" in Istanbul.

      Although his artform may be bordering on unconventional, new and
      unfamiliar to many, his enthusiasm for its development is enough to
      want to experience at least one conduction. "I don't know where it'll
      go, it's growing," he says, "but when you find a mode of expression
      that you can see no end to it in your lifetime, that is the most
      motivation for living."
      __________________________________________________________________

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