J-S Bach
John Zorn
Education
John Cage
Deconstruction
Outwork










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Hymen

[1] Great Jewish Music: Burt Bacharach is not Zorn's first, nor is it his only tribute to a composer. His interest in and admiration for several musicians and composers from very diverse musical worlds are shown in a number of his recordings. In the series, Great Jewish Music, Zorn pays attention to Serge Gainsbourg and Marc Bolan, in addition to Burt Bacharach. With the occasional quartet, Total Loss, he pays a tribute to Dutch pianist and composer Misha Mengelberg in October Meeting 1987. 'Der kleine Leutnant des lieben Gottes' in Lost In The Stars is Zorn's self-willed transcription of a Kurt Weill song from his opera, Happy End. News For Lulu (named after a Sonny Clark composition) contains arrangements of the works of four (and almost forgotten) hard bop musicians: pianists Sonny Clark and Freddie Redd, trumpet player Kenny Dorham, and tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley. (According to jazz critic, Joachim Berendt, this record contributed more to their rediscovery than the 'classicist' tributes that should, in fact, have been responsible.) Undoubtedly, his best known homage is The Big Gundown (1985). With many fellow musicians and some notable others (among them, organ player, 'Big' John Patton and harmonica player, Jean 'Toots' Thielemans), Zorn plays the film music of Ennio Morricone in his own (deconstructive) way.
I add one more. Spy Vs Spy. The Music of Ornette Coleman. In a more detailed explanation of this CD, Zorn says in an interview: 'The idea of doing Ornette in a trash style started to germinate in my mind and I began pushing it - especially when I realized we were going to make a record. If I'm going to do a recording of Ornette's music, I want it to be the way I did the Morricone. I've got to bring something new to it, I've got to bring it up to date; but it's got to come from the inside - not a totally alien agenda imposed on it from the outside ...  I think it's the best tribute that I could have done to someone who was absolutely one of my biggest heroes. And whether he likes it or not, I don't care. I really feel I did his music justice' (Gagne, p.523).
I include this quote here for three reasons. First, I think that this citation can be applied equally as well to Great Jewish Music: Burt Bacharach. Second, it says a lot about the relationship between the original music and Zorn's tributes. This quote lays open the whole problematic nature of inside and outside, which is so important in the work of Derrida as well (as a theme and as a strategy). Third, once more it becomes clear that deconstruction is not a linguistic tool to get a grip on musical utterances, but that deconstruction articulates itself within music, in a musical way. (cf. Deconstruction In Music and my comments and criticism on the New Musicology). Here, the problem of inside and outside does not exist primarily in a discursive discourse among musicologists or music theorists; it is a musical task that Zorn has to resolve within music. Through the philosophy of Derrida, I want to establish the analogy between a textual deconstruction and Zorn's musical deconstruction (Can we say it is 'his' deconstruction?) in his homage to Burt Bacharach.

[2] The opposition of inside vs. outside is a frequent returning point of Derrida's interest. An example is found in his writing about the hymen. Hymen, the virginal membrane, but also the consummation of a marriage. (In Greek and Latin mythology, 'hymen' refers to the God of matrimony and to a hymeneal song.) As a protective screen, as an invisible veil, it stands between the inside and the outside of a woman, and consequently between (male?) desire and fulfillment. As a (con)fusion between two people (marriage), however, there is no longer any difference between desire and satisfaction. So, hymen both implies communion and hinders this communion; it is both barrier and interaction. Hymen is a fusion that abolishes contraries, for example, the difference between desire and its accomplishment. But hymen is also the fold of a mucous membrane that keeps them separate (cf. Dissemination, 209-18).
It is not a matter of choice here. If we would choose between the two, there would be no hymen. Hymen is neither fusion nor separation, but stands between the two. Neither inside nor outside, but between the two. 'It is an operation that both sows confusion between opposites and stands between the opposites at once' (Dissemination, p.212). And it is the 'between' that counts. It outwits, as Derrida says, all manner of dialectics.

[3] Why am I connecting hymen to Zorn's project on Bacharach? Why should I? Am I trying to explain this music by means of certain linguistic, semantic, or philosophical ideas (and with that - reduce it to these ideas)? No, I am paying attention to this hymen because it is not about the word hymen. Derrida: 'What counts here is not the lexical richness, the semantic infiniteness of a word or concept, its depth or breadth, the sedimentation that has produced inside of it two contradictory layers of signification (continuity and discontinuity, inside and outside, identity and difference, etc.). What counts here is the formal or syntactical praxis that composes and decomposes it. We have indeed been making believe that everything could be traced to the word hymen. But the irreplaceable character of this signifier, which everything seemed to grant it, was laid out like a trap. This word, this syllepsis, is not indispensable ... It produces its effect first and foremost through the syntax, which disposes the 'entre' in such a way that the suspense is due only to the placement and not to the content of words' (Dissemination, p.220).
What I want to present is a kind of analogy between hymen and Zorn's tribute. They are both about the 'entre', the in-between, about undecidability. They are both undecidables. This undecidability is not only at work when we look at the different meanings of hymen. This in-between articulates itself within one meaning as well. (Can we speak of one isolated meaning or are the other ones always resonating, present in their absence?) In order to explain this, I return to the meaning of hymen as marriage. In this case, hymen is a sign of fusion, the identification of two beings. Between the two, there is identity. Derrida, however, generalizes his meditations on hymen as marriage in his statement: 'It is not only the difference (between desire and fulfillment) that is abolished, but also the difference between difference and non-difference'. To Derrida, hymen shows itself in the articulation of meaning in general. 'Non-presence, the gaping void of desire, and presence, the fullness of enjoyment, amount to the same. By the same token, there is no longer any textual difference between the image and the thing, the empty signifier and the full signified, the imitator and the imitated'. It is the fusion that is important, not the different poles of the pair. But it does not follow, Derrida continues, by virtue of this hymen of confusion, that 'there is now only one term, a single one of the differends ...  It is the difference between the two that is no longer functional ... What is lifted, then, is not difference but the different, the differends, the decidable exteriority of differing terms. Thanks to the confusion and continuity of the hymen, and not in spite of it, a (pure and impure) difference inscribes itself without any decidable poles, without any independent, irreversible terms' (Dissemination, p.209-10). So although hymen represents fusion, it also, by the same movement, leaves the difference intact.

[4] The songs in Great Jewish Music: Burt Bacharach are (like) hymen. Some aspects of the originals are unveiled, others veiled. (And to be taken out of the song, they must have already been within it). There is a (partial) contact, but no (complete) assimilation. Both fusion and separation, and neither fusion nor separation; (n)either inner (n)or outer. It is connected to and cooperates in its inside operation from the outside. Great Jewish Music: Burt Bacharach moves between difference and identity, but the difference between these two terms, the two poles, is no longer functional.
In Fred Frith's version of 'Trains And Boats And Planes' (Play music), the musical elements are all present, but nevertheless the listener can only catch a glimpse of the original. The original song remains partially hidden behind his 'interpretation'. (Of Interpretation discusses the problems using this word while writing about this kind of deconstruction in music. 'Of Interpretation' is specifically about Gerd Zacher's Die Kunst einer Fuge, but certain analogies with Great Jewish Music: Burt Bacharach are possible). So, on one hand Frith's music (Is it his music? Or Bacharach's? Or both?) brings one into contact with the compositions and musical world of Bacharach; on the other hand, Frith makes a (real or direct) contact impossible because he stands in the way. The perverted repetition of the first two bars (a de(con)structuration of the composition together with the repeated drum pattern generating the idea of a passing train), the squealing infringements of the guitar, and the ever increasing shrillness of the voices are but three examples that maintain a distance. However, everyone who knows Bacharach's 'Trains And Boats And Planes' (Play music) will recognize it in Frith's version. And yet, it is so different from the original. It absolutely puts no effort into resembling the original (no imitation, no mimesis). And yet, it is the same song. This 'representative of the outside' is nonetheless constituted in the very heart of the inside. Frith's 'Trains And Boats And Planes' is located at the boundary between the inside and the outside. Outside from a certain perspective, inside from another. It is not a matter of deciding; that would destroy the working of hymen, the area of tension in which Frith's play between identity and difference takes place.
Concepts such as interpretation or arrangement are no longer adequate to describe projects like Great Jewish Music: Burt Bacharach unless we redefine, refine or accentuate them. That's why I propose in Of Interpretation the term encounter instead of arrangement or interpretation. But more important than suggesting new terms is the care and attention that should be paid when writing on music that in its development escapes from and passes by the discourse about music as it is still generally used. For that, attention to deconstruction can contribute in my opinion, although Zorn seems to eliminate any possibility of writing or talking about his work: 'This music has progressed far beyond the capabilities of our language to describe or notate it'. However, maybe deconstruction is not about description but about de-scription. Writing on music can be considered a hymen: it mediates our contact with the musical world and establishes a distance at the same time.