Audeze chats with composer, performer, and musical thinker John Zorn

February 20, 2023

Born and raised in New York City, John Zorn is a composer, performer, artist, and musical thinker who has forged an independent path through stylistic domains that range from the classical avant-garde to jazz, film soundtracks, and many popular idioms. A central figure in the Downtown Scene since 1974, his work is remarkably diverse, defies academic categories, and draws inspiration from Art, Literature, Film, Theatre, Philosophy, Magick, Alchemy, and Mysticism as well as Music. 

John Zorn at EastSide Sound with his Audeze LCD-4z headphones
"Everything is more fun with Audeze headphones. The depth and accuracy is astonishing. It’s like listening in 3D!"  - John Zorn
Here's our chat with John:
Can you pick out any highlights from your work that you're particularly proud of?

As every project is special to me, I prefer not to think in terms of ‘highlights’ - so here are a selection of recent CDs, released between 2021-2022:

Suite for Piano


Les Maudits

New Masada Quartet 

Teresa de Avila


A Garden of Forking Paths


Heaven and Earth Magick 




How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on these days?

Always was and always will be—composer.

How did you get started in music?

About 1960, improvising alone on the piano at my aunt’s and my grandmother’s homes. Soon after, putting ensembles together with friends and composing music for them. That same basic process continues today. Music, Art, Literature, and Film continue to be the safe space that helps me make sense out of the madness.

What kind of music did you listen to while growing up and how has that progressed?

Growing up in the 50s and 60s during the LP boom, radio, television, and film, meant a huge range of music was available to me - and my curiosity was inexhaustible. I listened to everything and soaked it in like a sponge—Classical, Avant-Garde, Film Soundtracks, Rock, Jazz, World Music, Folk, Pop Music, Easy Listening, Country and Western, Old Timey, Blues, etc etc. That same curiosity has never left me.

Can you name any factors that influenced the course of your musical life? Heroes, role models, moments, interactions, etc?

Everything I have ever heard—everything that I have ever seen and experienced—everyone I have ever spoken to and played with has been an influence.

Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?

As much of my work is detail oriented and fairly complex, mixing a recording can often be very stressful. The recent revelation that has helped me feel more confident about decision making in the studio mixing process was discovering the clarity and accuracy of the Audeze headphones.

Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?

Pencil and paper.

Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire toward a similar path artistically?

Take risks—one cannot transcend anything by staying on safe ground.

Music is not about you or me—music is about WE.

Tradition is neither dogma nor doctrine—tradition is a community of spirits.

Demand excellence at all times.

Strive to go beyond limits.

Never let words stop you from doing what you believe in.

Don’t bang your head against a closed door—just try another door.

Challenges are opportunities.

Associate with positive, inspiring people.

Build a great team—true power is collective.

Always show appreciation and respect.

Be dedicated, work hard—if you devote yourself to music you will be making devotional music.

It’s more important to understand than to be understood—being understood is overrated.

Mystery is at the heart of all great works of art.

How long have you been working with headphones, and how do you typically use them in your workflow?

First pair I got was in 1964 - a pair of closed back David Clark headphones with volume controls on each side. 

Used mostly in aviation and by the military, these cans were made for high-noise environments—like my parent’s home—and they functioned very well in aiding me to escape the 3-ring chaos I grew up in—and focus more intensely on music.

How have your Audeze headphones affected your work?

With the highly complex and contrapuntal nature of my much of my work the mixing process can often be a bit stressful. The precision of the Audeze headphones really takes all the guesswork away from mixing decisions and saves a lot of time and energy. Everything is more fun with Audeze. The depth and accuracy is astonishing. It’s like listening in 3D!

Can you tell us what you've been working on with them recently?

My last two recordings were mixed with Audeze—444 which was written for Brian Marsella on Fender Rhodes, John Medeski on Hammond organ, Matt Hollenberg on guitar, and Kenny Grohowski on drums—and The Fourth Way with Brian Marsella on acoustic piano, Jorge Roeder on acoustic bass, and Ches Smith on drums. Recording and mixing engineer was Marc Urselli and mastering was done by Scott Hull at Masterdisk, who I have been working with since the 1980s!