J. Brackett, John Zorn: Tradition and Transgression

This is a "non-review", a few remarks, about the book that could be about music games/game pieces, but isn't.1

[…] there are still some gaps, most notably the absence of any extended discussion relating to Zorn's game pieces […]

So, what's in the book? First of all, "Tradition and Transgression" is not a catchy biopic tagline, but a lens through which a few aspects of John Zorn's art are consistently described. The text chooses diverse topics, the first chapter focuses on "brutal" album covers from the Naked City period, then follow notes on occult influences; the third chapter is about homages for non-musician artists through gift theory after Marcel Mauss and the fourth examines how Zorn composes upon other music, mainly Igor Stravinsky (the only chapter that relies on some heavier music theory).

For casual fans of John Zorn the book might be semi-approachable but interesting, including also the more general Introduction that signals recurring themes from the thought of Georges Bataille and the Epilogue that circles on The Gift album. Music gaming fans get a few fun moments too, description of the (playing? tarot?) cards included in the booklet of the DAO album, Xu Feng game piece fitted into broader 'naming after actress' trend of Zorn, or "Name that tune" shout-out in the section regarding composition technique based on quotations, and the paraphrase from Bataille himself2:

"luxury, mourning, war, cults, the construction of sumptuary monuments, games, spectacles, arts, perversive sexual activity […] have no end beyond themselves" and are therefore understood as transgressive.

Game pieces that were not

Interestingly, the lens that is successfully used for the above-mentioned topics could also fit to John Zorn's game pieces, which were created within a relatively young, but already a tradition of "free jazz" and were indeed twisting the basic premise of this genre. What's more, John Zorn's creations, especially Cobra, now form the established tradition asking to be transgressed. It would be great to have Cobra in the wiki library not only to cherish it, but in some respects also to go against it.

The book doesn't only mentions singular transgressive acts, but also the specific "tradition of transgression" (continuation of the avant-garde) and the overall 'spiral of gifts' which is based on building upon previous work. As a final sidenote, let's notice, that it is indeed really great that the culture of tabletop games formed where intense inspiration is accepted and respected, often with transparency. Hopefully we can contribute to these tendencies in the world of music games too.

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