x0x International artist finds his niche in Turkey
- 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
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
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
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,
"Essentially, you become one with your instrument and an instrument
that 'Butch' as a conductor performs, but you are free [to
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
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
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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