EPs / Cassettes / Singles
John Zorn: The Book of Heads
In which Hamburg-based guitar player and teacher Christoph Funabashi offers his take on John Zorn's The Book of Heads, a set of thirty-five etudes the composer wrote for Eugene Chadbourne in 1977. Preceded by Marc Ribot's version recorded in 1995 for Zorn's Tzadik imprint, Funabashi's recording is only the second complete version of the work to have been issued as a recording, and it's also the first schraum release to feature the playing of a single performer. Squeezing thirty-five pieces into fifty-one minutes, Funabashi recorded everything live and used four guitars (acoustic and electric), balloons, metal objects, styrofoam, music boxes, and violin bows to bring the material to life. Most of the pieces are in the one- to two-minute range (fourteen less than a minute) so things happen fast, with Funabashi moving rapidly between settings of radically contrasting character—some noisy, some bluesy, many collagistic, and many defying categorization altogether. The idea that an etude focuses on the exploration of a particular technique is borne out by wide-ranging material wherein scrapes, bowings, strums, and scrabbly, post-punk flurries appear alongside classical patterns and high-pitched drones (a snippet of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” even sneaks its way in).
Zorn's compositional approach in the mid-‘70s was characterized by a restless channel-surfing quality, and one hears repeated evidence of the style in The Book of Heads. Translation: boredom never sets in when Funabashi presents such a rich range of sounds and when the pieces appear and then disappear so quickly. The material asks the guitarist to draw upon the full range of his abilities and to be open to the experimental left-turns that repeatedly occur in Zorn's material. Whether it be exploiting the guitar's percussive potential while delicately picking its strings (as he does on one of the longest pieces, the sixteenth) or coupling tremolo shadings with scratches and dissonant stabs (as happens in the twenty-first), Funabashi's background in indie rock (between 1994 and 2002 he played in the bands Scare Your Girl, Ölkrise '73, and Nelson) and classical guitar and composition study (at the Arnhem Institute for the Arts and the Dutch Messiaen Academy) serve him well in enabling him to meet the music's challenges with seeming effortlessness.