berlin cobra #4

19 Feb 2006 - 21:00

berlin cobra #04

sabine vogel - curator

elisabeth king - accordeon

fernanda farah - voice

ernst karel - trumpet

boris hauf - sax

derek shirley - bass

erik schaeffer - drums

aaron snyder - drums

ethan schaffner- banjo

augustin maurs - cello

alexander frangenheim - bass

sabine vogel - flute

ignaz schick - turntables

nathan fuhr - prompter

**** 2 SETS !!! 

1. Set : 21:00

2. Set : 23:00 ****

“I created Cobra to make beautiful music. I quit doing it because it makes monsters out of people”. John Zorn to Nathan Fuhr (March 1999, New York)

> more text !

Vlucht Magazine, April 2004 

(unabridged version of print text) 

text: Francisco Gonzalez 

photos: Nesrine Khodr 

Collision Palace’s Nathan Fuhr 



I finally met Nathan Fuhr (27) by chance in Amsterdam at OT301, where I 

spotted him behind the DJ table for a dance festival closing party. He is the 

leader of Collision Palace, a large collective of musicians (and dancers too on 

occasion) from a genuine mix of stylistic backgrounds, whom he directs in 

the exploration of different improvisation languages. He has played bass in 

Cobra (John Zorn's most notorious "game-piece") with Zorn himself in New 

York, before moving to Europe and instigating the Amsterdam-based Collision 

Palace (an apparently democratic endeavor, as he admits to not being keen 

on the name of the band, but was out-voted!). I attended some of their 

rehearsals before seeing them live in two splendidly different Cobra 

performances in 3 days, at the Bimhuis and OT301. 

Nathan is the artistic director and conductor of the ensemble, but to my eyes 

he is much more a performer himself. His way of gathering the band 

members’ energy and redistributing it back via specific signals and 

movements has more to do with dance, martial arts, or even shamanism than 

with simply prompting (Zorn’s term for the DJ-like director of Cobra). This is 

not free or even interpretive improvisation; the visceral clarity and physicality 

of his directing almost seem to declare war on the well-run territory of improv 

sans language, which is not to say that he does not balance such command 

with moments of making himself fluid or invisible, trusting players’ own 

commands, letting the music just breathe, or even sharing laughter (with 

people on and off the stage). He brought Cobra as it should be but rarely is; not as a demonstration of a game system (which is admittedly very 

entertaining and engaging in itself) or a representation of its legendary creator, 

but fully present and recognizing the immediate unique chemistry and latent 

interactive potential of 13 diverse individuals assembled on the stage in front 

of him, and using Cobra as a language through which their creative energies 

flow, collide, synergize and grow exponentially. 

And there is a certain social alchemy at work here too in the way he brings 

these people together, in that these are all first-class musical personalities 

well-known from different respective scenes in Holland (including commuters 

from Paris and New York) who otherwise might never be found in the same 

room together. It is from the beginning a highly combustible presentation of 

personal comfort zones shared, stretched, resculpted, or sometimes simply 

violated until their individual borders are transcended into the birth on an 

elevated (occasionally even ecstatic) collective level of "comfort zone" 

redefined. This presentation was framed and drawn into harmony by Fuhr's 

way, upon entering the space, of establishing terms in non-verbal 

communication with audience and his ensemble alike, palms together just 

below present eyes, with the grace and selfless air reminiscent of an Indian 

classical musician— a balancing yin to the red-hot yang energy of the 

performance itself. 

Upon my observation in one of our conversations of energy as a core aspect 

of the work, his face lit-up, because although Collision Palace is playing via 

different preconceived improvisation systems (they've also done projects with 

Fred Frith, Robert Ashley, Alison Isadora, and include works of Pauline 

Oliveros, Frederic Rzewski, and a premiere by Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth in 

their repertoire), you can tell Nathan is slowly developing his own language, 

and it is definitely through the concept of energy. 

When I asked him to describe a CP concert in one sentence, he replied 

without hesitation: “We take risks, brew synergy, and go for blood (or Zen in 

the case of Oliveros or Isadora!)— and make sure to have fun sharing as 

much joy as possible along the way.”