In the 1970s, Brian Eno developed a system for producing records and working with bands whereby he would write rules or maxims on index cards, and pull one at random whenever things in the studio ran the danger of becoming too formulaic.
One of them read "Learn your formulas, then abandon them."
This is a profound notion, not at all unlike the advice Miles Davis gave to his young, befuddled side musicians: "Play what you don't know; Don't finish your phrases; Pose a question with your solo, and then answer it."
American avant-garde musician John Zorn may have been thinking along these lines when he came up with the idea behind "Cobra," a work written and first performed in 1984. According to Wikipedia, Zorn "conceived ['Cobra'] as a system with very detailed rules but with no preconceived sequence of events, or game piece, for a group of musical improvisers and a prompter The composition consists of a set of cues notated on cards, and rules corresponding to the cues that direct the players what to do. The number of players, instrumentation and length of the piece is indeterminate. Because there is no traditional musical notation and the players improvise, the piece may sound radically different from performance to performance."
So the possibility for random acts of beauty -- and their necessary opposite, improvisational train wrecks -- has been written into the piece. That's brilliant.
At 8 tonight in Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center (341 Delaware Ave.), Zorn's "Cobra" will get the full treatment from a troupe of our city's most daring musicians. Wooden Cities -- Brendan Fitzgerald, Dan Bassin, Nathan Heidelberger, Zane Merritt, Tyler Borden, Michelle Purdy, Aaron Staebell, Evan Courtin, Ethan Hayden, Michael McNeil and Steve Baczkowski -- will augment their reading of Zorn's work with solo/duo/trio takes on pieces composed by Elliott Carter and John Cage, as well as original work penned by the band's own Heidelberger and Bassin.
Tickets are $10 general, $7 students and seniors, and $5 Hallwalls members.
Tadaaki Naganuma McCartney, known as "the Japanese Paul McCartney," returns to Buffalo to perform at 8 p.m. Saturday in the Sportsmen's Tavern (326 Amherst St.). Naganuma's longtime friend and musical collaborator Geno McManus will host the show, and area musicians, among them Cathy Carfagna of the Outlyers, guitarist/bassist Jim Whitford, and guitarist supreme Doug Yeomans, will join in the festivities. The program will be "all Paul," including, naturally, Beatles, Wings and solo material.
A big show of hard-hitting blues-based rock takes place at 8 p.m. Wednesday in the Tralf Music Hall (622 Main St.). The Yardbirds and Vanilla Fudge will tag-team on the psychedelic acid rock and dirty garage-blues. The Yardbirds -- the launching pad for three of the greatest guitarists in rock history in the form of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, who will obviously not be in attendance on Wednesday -- still boast founding members Chris Dreja and Jim McCarty. Vanilla Fudge, whose cover of the Motown classic "You Keep Me Hangin' On" is one of the most bombastically beautiful and dramatically absurd pieces of music ever laid to wax, is comprised of all three original members -- Carmine Appice, Mark Stein and Vince Martell. Tickets are $37 advance, $42 day of show (box office).