Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris. Left: Photo: Elena del Rivero.

“I’ve forged ahead fueled by resistance. A lot of times, the more resistance I met, the more courage I got.”Butch Morris

I MET BUTCH in October 2003 when I relocated to the East Village. My first night there, I went into the nearest bistro and a soft-spoken man approached me and said, “Do I know you?” A friendship sparked immediately, and we would often sit together in Tompkins Square Park feeding the squirrels and discussing his practice of Conduction. The more I learned about Butch’s practice, the more fascinated I became. In January 2004, he was performing in Madrid at the same time that I was having a show there, and I took him to the Old Habsburg Quarter. Because Butch looked like Morgan Freeman, everybody thought the actor was visiting Madrid incognito, and would stop us on the street. He pretended not to care and left it to me to deny it. Back in New York, he invited me to the National Arts Club where David Hammons was being awarded the Aldrich Award. When I saw him dressed up to the nines waiting outside my building, I remarked: “You look like a king!” to which he replied, “I am, and this part of the town is my kingdom.” The everyday experience of living and participating in the East Village was especially important to Butch; he was so rooted in its life.

With his intellect and capacity for concentration, he had a magician’s power, able to penetrate all strata of human knowledge. Even though he came from jazz, his genius and charisma mastered all sorts of musical instruments. Baton in hand, he mixed and combined traditional styles, molding them into a unique sound experience through his Conduction. And like a true romantic he walked his mission in life alone.

Work, and more work—that was the way to engage Butch. Because he was always in search of perfection, nothing pleased him more than a good performance. On a 2008 postcard from Rome he wrote: “Rome is mine” and underneath it: “twice.” (Or his comment when he returned from Lisbon in 2009: “I killed them.”) For him, the only thing better than conducting was more conducting, like Ella with her singing. So when in 2006 I was finishing Chant, my memorial to 9/11, I invited Butch to collaborate. He asked if I had any original sound from Ground Zero. I had plenty: While salvaging my work after my studio on Cedar Street was damaged, I had been recording the cacophony of sounds from cranes hosting debris. With that material he produced the sound piece Bring Light. We also spoke of an opera The Paraclete based on the story of Heloise and Abelard, but I do not think it got finished.

Butch was a persistent iconoclast and a visionary, loving and generous to musicians, from Brandon Ross, Graham Haynes, Zeena Parkins and Shelley Hirsch to the hundreds, young and experienced, who performed with him all over the world. For those of us privileged enough to hear the Maestro make music live, he took us to a place that—while channeling his origins—spoke of the essence of sound beyond categories. Butch Morris, an American treasure…

Elena del Rivero is an artist who lives in New York.

On the evening of Sunday, March 24, in New York, Nublu will feature an evening dedicated to the spirit of Butch Morris with a performance by Brandon Ross and a screening of Black February, a film by Vipal Monga documenting a series of concerts performed by Morris in February 2005.

Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris playing the cornet at Tin Pan Alley in NYC in 1987. Photo: Catherine Ceresole.

LAST MONTH my friend Butch lost his battle with cancer. Lawrence “Butch” Morris was a visionary musical thinker and practitioner who invented a new way to create live music through a vocabulary of gestures and signs. Situated between live composition and free improvisation, he described his method as “an improvised duet for ensemble and conductor.” He named it “conduction” and even trademarked the term. For him, Conduction® was a way to be creative and spontaneous with large groups of musicians. Since 1985, Butch directed over 140 conductions, collaborating with over five-thousand musicians in twenty-three countries. In 1995 he released Testament: A Conduction Collection, a ten-CD box set documenting his work.

The conductor, a figure of authority, seems out of place in the world of improvisation. But Butch managed to balance structure and spontaneity in the most natural way—he was a catalyst for improvisations. The purpose of his conducting was not to impose structure, but to listen and bring out what he heard and liked in a group of improvising musicians. It was a form of exchange and intimate dialogue. Musicians had to first learn his lexicon of gestures, and many resisted. Butch enjoyed pushing musicians outside of their comfort zone and disrupting their habits, but after twenty-five years he had fans and followers worldwide. The London Improvisers Orchestra is an example of his legacy in the UK. First assembled for the London Skyscraper tour in 1997, its members still play monthly. Butch in action was always mesmerizing: alert and sensitive to what was going on, shaping the music, not imposing anything but, through his ears, guiding the musician with sharp precision.

I met Butch thirty years ago when we were both performing in John Zorn’s game piece Track and Field. Backstage after the performance Butch was warm and radiated positive energy; we became friends instantly. Over the years, we collaborated on many projects, and his friendship and support meant a lot to me. We regularly performed together when he was still playing the cornet, and I played in ten of his conductions.

Butch was very personable and had many friends, yet he was discreet, even a little aloof. Sometimes he liked to disappear for a while, “gone fishing” as he said. His first album, from 1978, was called In Touch . . . But Out of Reach. There was something profoundly solitary about him, like a monk fervently seeking a grander vision. When Butch was not on the road, he could often be found at Casimir, a French bistro on Avenue B, just around the corner from where he lived on East Seventh Street. His neighbors were Elliott Sharp and Zorn, part of a talented community of artists who have nurtured me since the early 1980s. We all participated in each other’s projects and the sense of community was made palpable through the music.

In October my wife and I were sitting with Butch on a bench in Tompkins Square Park, shortly after his release from the hospital. He told us he wouldn’t be around for very long. He knew he was dying yet he was surprisingly calm about it, still making plans. He was writing about Conduction® and worried about not having enough time to finish. I hope someone will publish his revolutionary ideas so they can reach a broader audience.

The last time I saw Butch, in December, he was wearing a coat I gave him years ago. The long camelhair coat made me look like a banker, but on him it looked glamorous. He always dressed with flair and elegance. We kissed and hugged, and then he was gone.

Christian Marclay is an artist based in London and New York.

On the evening of Sunday, March 24, in New York, Nublu will feature an evening dedicated to the spirit of Butch Morris with a performance by Brandon Ross and a screening of Black February, a film by Vipal Monga documenting a series of concerts performed by Morris in February 2005.

Screenshot of Image Atlas search for term “Aaron Swartz.”

IN 2012, I created Image Atlas in collaboration with programmer Aaron Swartz. Aaron was the founder of Demand Progress—which launched the campaign against Internet censorship bills (SOPA/PIPA)—as well as developer of and a contributing editor to The Baffler until his untimely death in January 2013.

Image Atlas investigates cultural differences and similarities by indexing top image results for given search terms across local engines throughout the world. Visitors can refine or expand their comparisons from the fifty-seven countries currently available, and sort by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or alphabetical order. Image Atlas interrogates the possibility of a universal visual language and questions the supposed innocence and neutrality of the algorithms upon which search engines rely.

In the process of completing Image Atlas, Aaron and I took turns searching terms. Inevitably, we also searched our own names. At the time, Aaron’s image only appeared in a few results, almost exclusively in the United States. His image now populates every result globally. His story has reached millions as his struggle with the government regarding freedom of information continues to proliferate.

A memorial page has been added to Image Atlas in his honor, at

  • Screenshot of Image Atlas search for term “Demand Progress.”

  • Screenshot of Image Atlas search for term “Prosecution.”

  • Screenshot of Image Atlas search for term “SOPA.”

  • Screenshot of Image Atlas search for term “Tragedy.”

Taryn Simon is an artist living in New York.

Rebecca Morris and Raoul De Keyser. Photo: Greg Kozaki.

THE CUMULATIVE EFFECT of experiencing Raoul De Keyser’s work twice during the spring of 2001 (at the Renaissance Society, Chicago, and at David Zwirner, New York) struck me deeply. I was incredibly excited by Raoul’s paintings but overwhelmed by them too, flooded by an intense longing to be an artist who could make a body of work like his. Here was a career’s worth of art at play, a way of composing and building an image that was personal yet also utterly open and generous. It was plainly visible that this was something he had developed for himself, and over time. I wanted that. At seventy, he had the years; at thirty-two, I did not.

I went home to LA and painted a lot. I named one of those pieces For R.D.K. It doesn’t look like Raoul’s painting per se, but it has the spirit and the lean-styled confidence. It’s a funny story—three years later, in 2004, I would meet his art dealer, Barbara Weiss, fairly randomly. When I learned she was Raoul’s German gallerist, I freaked out. I felt very American in my unbridled enthusiasm, but she seemed charmed, and we connected. Later I began working with Barbara, and she bought For R.D.K.; it became a connection between the three of us. This painting was shown in the group exhibition “Ambigu” in St. Gallen, Switzerland, in 2010. Raoul’s work was also in the show, and my painting was hung in a room with his, a moment I still savor. At the exhibition, I met his son Piet and grandson Niels; later that summer my now husband, Greg Kozaki, and I made a plan to visit Deinze, Belgium, and meet Raoul.

The importance of this afternoon for Greg and me is unparalleled and stays with me still: the delicious lunch laid out on a bright blue-and-white-checkered tablecloth, the monkey tree framed in a window looking out from the living room, the garden hose outside the house, the door handle that led to the garden path.

Raoul was very kind and showed us his new paintings hanging on the white brick wall of his studio, awaiting an upcoming show in London. During lunch, he kept sneaking off to bring us old catalogues and posters to take home as gifts. His graciousness was touching and inspiring. Frankly, it was all a little crazy for us.

Rebecca Morris and Raoul De Keyser. Photo: Greg Kozaki.

Once again, I was struck by the daily practice and power of painting, its tremendous rewards over time. Seeing the location of Raoul’s life, a new level of connection unlocked for me: I saw time itself. The years were here in this house, all around. The house hummed with this energy. I was reminded that you cannot fake the process of your own arrival as an artist. It’s not a “look” to achieve in your work, and you cannot will it into being.

I think Raoul knew we had made a long trip to see him. I told him he had a lot of fans—many admirers in the world these days—that he was a “big hero.” Piet told us Raoul enjoyed hearing this kind of thing and repeated it to his father a little louder in Dutch: “You are a big hero!” Raoul nodded in double time, acknowledging his delight at having heard it in both languages.

He turned eighty shortly after our visit. I was forty-one. We left Deinze feeling excited and buoyed, so glad for this amazing day and the chance to immerse ourselves in the generosity of Raoul’s life and art.

Rebecca Morris is an artist living in Los Angeles.

This article also appears in the March 2013 issue of Artforum.