over the last 20 (plus) years, conductor, lawrence d. “butch” morris, has been developing a physical vocabulary for guiding ensembles of musicians from all traditions in the co-creation of spontaneous composition - a process/practice/experience he calls: conduction. before performance, each group participates in a multi-day workshop where they are taught this new language - a process full of rigor, specificity, intention, freedom, and depth. in march, 2010, i had the great honor of working with butch in conduction no. 189. it was life altering. truly. he is one of the most inspiring individuals i’ve encountered - pulling from incredible depth with every word, every movement.
words on conduction from butch…
“Jazz has driven the 20th century literally from one end to the other, and it has given birth to many offspring, reinventing it self time and again. No matter how many times it has changed, however, jazz has always been a medium for individual expression and collective interaction with its own characteristic spirit, which is swing, or rather the essence of swing. Born from the elements of spontaneity, momentum, combustion, ignition, propulsion (a sense of continuity), interaction, transmission, and communication, this essence has been called the “extra dimension.”
The orchestral community has often sought out this extra dimension to rejuvenate its traditions. Yet of all the orchestral works written in the past century, only a handful have brought jazz and music for orchestra closer together, or attained the monumental status that each tradition individually holds. In an age when the term ““interactive”” has come to mean ““between human and machine,”” it seems reasonable to hope that an acoustic medium of collective interpersonal intelligence could achieve a greater degree of cross-cultural dialogue and trans-social communication than it has to date.
To find a common ground between orchestral and improvised music, I believe one must return to the fundamentals and identify what is necessary for ‘‘all’’ traditions to coexist. That is, the opportunity for improvisers to improvise and for interpreters to interpret the ““same material.”“
As musicians, we all share a common language. We may speak in different dialects, vocabularies, categories or styles, but the language is music. Whatever the tradition from which it springs, music has certain intrinsic properties beyond harmony, melody and rhythm. Although these properties may ultimately resist analysis, music will always allow musicians to communicate from vastly differing perspectives.
Is this information sufficient to begin a new era of investigation and collaboration?
I believe that the answer is yes!
The most common misunderstanding concerning Conduction® is that it is only for the jazz or improvised music community. This is not true. Although Conduction was incubated within the improvised music community, it has grown not only to encompass the ideas of that community but also to expand beyond them.
To maximize the potential of existing and probable music, I needed to be able to make real-time modifications to written scores, to construct, deconstruct, and reconstruct compositions and to change the pattern or order of sounds, and consequently, the larger form. The Conduction vocabulary made it possible to alter or initiate rhythm, melody, harmony, form / structure, articulation, phrasing and meter of any given notation. Once I established the Conduction lexicon, I could then, eliminate notation altogether to pursue ideas based on collective interactive confrontations for the purpose of constructing composition in real time.
What emerged was encounter, a procedure by which to address composition from an interpretive and / or improvisational point of view as two dimensions of continuous territory. The result is a music that can reflect all known and unknown facts relevant to the sonic world while raising cognition, creativity, and potential to capacity. This music demonstrates a legitimate relationship between a defined compositional logic and collective musical needs that applies to each community I work in.
In fact, Conduction has been successfully achieved not only within Western instrumentation, styles and concepts, but also by utilizing and combining traditional instrumentations from Africa, Asia, Middle Eastern and with contemporary electronic technology.
In its present stage of evolution, Conduction is a vocabulary / lexicon, form and forum, an analogous procedure of musical representation and organization, and a product. It serves as a conduit for the transmission of symbolic information. The process motivates musicians to render, arrange, and construct, as well as to evolve their own vision, model, and tradition, placing idea with idea, working toward a collective organizational goal with responsibility dispersed throughout the decision-making process. Thus spontaneity, momentum, and combustion all work together to produce ignition, propulsion and convection.
To call Conduction an experiment is a grave error. Any time you synchronize the spirit and still give it liberty, you open many doors to the primus. Here the intimate necessity of possibility reigns. Here we find and realize our individual and collective freedoms.
From the perspective of the conductor, Conduction is the art of ““environing”” —- the organization of surrounding things, conditions, or influences. My task as Conductor is to illustrate Conduction in the workshops or rehearsals. By observing the cultural, social, and historical potential in both the individual and the collective, we arrive at a specific momentary logic. This logic will organize itself into the structures and many substructures that (can) exist in a composition.
Jazz is my heritage, my condition, and my tradition. I have inherited it. I will carry it on. At the same time, I advocate for an ensemble of musicians from diverse traditions who share this common ground as servants to music. Our common goal is the extra dimension —- that point where all musicians create on equal footing.
This common ground is not as untested as it may seem. Indeed, Elliott Galkin, in his History of Orchestral Conducting, shows that Conduction and the classical tradition share the same roots. What I learned from this book, years into the development of Conduction, is that “chironomy” existed as far back as 1500 B.C., or even earlier. Galkin writes: “In its earliest applications…chironomy was intended to indicate the course and characteristics of melody through the use of specific spatial movements. In effect, it served as a substitute for notation. The gestures that were devised at that time constituted the earliest system of visual signs by which musical direction was achieved.”
Since the 1950’s, Lucas Foss (Improvisation Chamber Ensemble), Leonard Bernstein (Three Improvisations for Orchestra, Columbia Records LP 6133), Sun Ra, Frank Zappa, Earle Brown, Alan Silva, Doudou Ndiaye Rose, and Charles Moffett are but a few who have broken ground in this area, with more coming to the forefront in recent years.
After more than one hundred-eighty Conductions, I see only potential for Conduction, for music and for musicians and musicianship. When I began I could not imagine where the music and the musician are now with Conduction. But today, I can imagine light years into Conduction as idea, concept, and process…There are many more levels to be achieved.
By no means do I suggest Conduction as an alternative to existing musical-educational methods or styles. Rather, I see Conduction as an investigation of a new social-logic that can unite and enhance existing traditions and a neo-functionalist approach to ensemble music. More than ever, Conduction is a viable supplement for music, musician, and education. I offer this as my contribution to the extra dimension.”
more on butch and conduction HERE.
thank you, butch.