SMASH #4 three-month program
organizing desire
Nathan Fuhr
Jun 30 – Jul 18, 2014

A smashing initiation— Group improvisation systems through and beyond John Zorn's Cobra

Cobra is a complex group improvisation game language conceived by John Zorn in— but not of!— music; which is absolutely fun, mind-bending, physical, addictive, often psychodramatically provocative, and forever changes the way one thinks about the potentialities of group improvisation. It is normally executed by 10-14 diverse players of any stylistic background and one prompter— a director at a table of colored cards relaying requests from the players, as well as overseeing the group and instigating ideas which could only come from that omniscient perspective. I played in it with Zorn in New York and have since directed it myself hundreds of times. Over this time I have developed it further into more diverse & refined energetic and social dimensions— working interdisciplinarily and integrating influence from my research & work with languages of synergy & ritual in Africa, from improvisation practices in dance & theater, and the physicality of the language of conducting, which is my background. And after it all, had codified my own gesture system for directing improvisation.

In our SMASH sessions the dancers & musicians will hold absolutely equal roles in the "game", as if there was no difference between their respective artistic mediums. What musicians? Haha. As long as we are breathing, walking, pulsing, menstruating, etc; the seeds of rhythm are inside us all. Each participant will decide if those seeds will break soil as sprouts or flowers or vines or trees or not at all this season. The system can in fact be quite fascinating in the absence of official musicians, as the dancers' audible actions, breath/vocal sounds, speech & natural rhythmic resonance such as the aforementioned (im)pulsed processes and actions become automatically integrated in our perceptions as musical material. In these situations, we also have the option to include recorded music in the interplay, which is controlled by the performers themselves, at a ‘DJ’ station on stage. Any dancer at any time in the game may take the role of DJ, and continue following the same rules as the others, just now as a musician. But know that the richest synergies will come without technology— So, if you ever played a musical instrument, for a week or for a decade, don't find yourself in Berlin regretting you didn't bring it. And of course we've all got voices…; )

We will enter deeper into the complexities and potentialities of the language bit-by-bit each day, so that the process remains experiential & fun rather than a conceptual information overload, keeping the language flexible and organic to the participants. They shall have the opportunity to truly digest the system, thus free to think creatively & proactively with it, coming back each day prepared to use it as a tool to actualize their ideas / desires in the moment, rather than just obey it— they grow to play the game, rather than get played by the game. And dancers may take particularly well to learning & using my gesture system as an integrated aspect of their physicality (for example to run tactics on each other or to challenge the prompter via the advanced guerrilla operations).

The gradual process is also essential for the diverse ensemble of performers to get acquainted with each other, to discover their creative interpersonal dynamics & subtle chemistries, frictions, and alliances which will be the foundation of their strategic tactical maneuvers in the heated fleeting moments of reaction, provocation, idea, & desire. This entire process implicitly empowers the improviser of any level to transcend any unconscious limiting notions of their own creative scope. Be welcome and look forward to a me-transcending module of confluence, eyes-wide-open communication, fluid power exchange, & swimming in interdependence... hopefully full of fascinating mistakes & unsafe successes!

[As we come together each day, bringing the summer sun into the studio with us, we will share the leadership of our rituals of warming-up. Each of us, including myself, is invited to evolve a favorite from their past or create one new for SMASH. Keywords: Circularity, breath, trance, interdependence, rhythm, repetition, game, synergy!]


Nathan Fuhr (Berlin/Dakar) lets music
& dance resonate as a single art based on pulse & breath. He is a transdisciplinary conductor whose precocity and creative instincts eventually led to a rejection of academic structures and penguin suits in favor of a plurality of artistic influences. He holds orchestral conducting degrees from the conservatories of Cincinnati & Amsterdam, and dance diplomas from the Amsterdam School for New Dance Development & L'Ecole des Sables, Senegal.

Concurrent to more than a decade of experience conducting classical & modern music ensembles in New York & Europe, and furthermore directing John Zorn's legendary game-piece of social alchemy & improvisation Cobra, Nathan created the ensemble Collision Palace in Amsterdam in 2002, specializing in the development of group improvisation languages & regularly collaborating with dance. This ensemble performed in the Holland Festival with Fred Frith, premiered scores by Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth and Robert Ashley, and was invited by Steve Reich in The Hague Festival to realize a performance of Coming Together, in which Nathan created a system of conducting combining physical direction & vocal text performance. In the same period, a music theater collaboration with composer Alison Isadora spawned his creation of a conducting technique using the energetic language of Butoh dance.

Berlin seduced Nathan from Amsterdam with the Mobile Academy, where he met choreographer Meg Stuart and was invited in 2005 to lead workshops for her company Damaged Goods in rhythm & trance at the Volksbühne. With Stuart in Brussels in 2007 he co-led a workshop + performance in
group improvisation language research at Kaai Theater. Other workshop performances in Europe under his direction include at Impulstanz Vienna, Centre National de la Danse Paris, European Dance Development
Center Arnhem, Institute Jacques Dalcroze Geneva, Festspielhaus Hellerau Rhythmic Institute Dresden and others.

Currently Nathan is the founding flow sculptor of Demonshaker—an orchestra of six drumsets and one conductor en cercle, to open an energetic portal for holistic dancers and sonic meditators to access synergies of urban healing and transcendence. This project is the occidental re-contextualization of his research & demystification of traditional trance music & ceremonial dance practices in collectivist societies of Morocco, Egypt, & Senegal. Put simply, a celebration
of life and universalization of healing trance, excluding no stylistic or cultural background. Demonshaker has been featured internationally as a workshop and performance in Oaxaca, Mexico at PRISMA Forum, and in Lisbon for UNESCO World Dance Day 2012 in collaboration with Vera Mantero/O Rumo Do Fumo and the city's best creative drummers.
As Nathan's relationship with Senegalese living legend Doudou Ndiaye Rose continued to deepen, the Demonshaker concept began breeding with Senegalese Sabar drumming and dance culture, and spawned in
2012 the Deggi Daaj International Festival of Drumsets and Dance in Dakar, of which Nathan is the Artistic Director. In Dakar he also directs concerts at the International School of Dakar, learns simplicity, unlearns individualism, and surfs religiously.



Diana Mraznikova
Guillaume Bassinet
Lisa Marina Gampp
Marc Seestaedt
Екатерина Баронян

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