Recordings By Spooky Actions

Spooky Actions

Recordings By Spooky Actions

Recordings By Spooky Actions

The Recordings by Spooky Actions cover a wide scope of music from ancient Greek melodies to Native American music and finally 20th century classical masterpieces. You will find a list of their recordings below as well as links to purchase and/or listen to excerpts. If you would like to see a few pages from the scores that were created please see the Music Education Spooky Actions page.

Music of Webern



Bruce Arnold—Processed Guitar

John Gunther—Woodwinds

Peter Herbert—Bass

Tony Moreno—Drums

A New Take on Webern’s Music

When Anton Webern was composing his Five Canons on Latin Texts, he probably wasn’t thinking very much about American improvised music. Yet formal harmonic structure is the original essential European contribution to the character of jazz. And while much of the mainstream of jazz repertoire is still mired in the harmonic concepts of Tin Pan Alley, Spooky Actions, a New York based jazz quartet, have found inspiration in the discipline and muted palette of twelve tone music.

Improv That Reflects the Composer’s Compositional Toolkit.

In their debut CD “Spooky Actions, Music of Anton Webern” the quartet plays through note for note transcriptions of the Five Canons op. 16, as well as the Five Movements for String Quartet, op 5. They then improvise over the pieces. Rather than taking extended solos, the ensemble uses a sensitive and informed interaction to create original music based closely on the spirit and form of the written work.

New Orchestration Brings New Life!

It is astonishing to discover how suited the sonorities of the jazz quartet of drums, saxophone (and flute), electric guitar and bass are for 12-tone music. Indeed, the ears of listeners accustomed to these sounds will find that they are a kind of Rosetta stone; the pristine, compressed structures of Webern’s music take on new clarity and attractiveness, making for extremely accessible listening.

The Origins of “Spooky Actions”

The band’s name comes from the phrase “spooky actions at a distance.” This was how Albert Einstein described the phenomenon of two seemingly unconnected, disparate objects that nonetheless exert a powerful influence on one another. Spooky Actions, the band, certainly personifies this concept, showing how vivid improvisations can be derived from music that is often thought of as “etched in stone.”

The tracks :




Spooky Actions: Live in Moscow DVD


Bruce Arnold–Guitar and SuperCollider

John Gunther –Saxophone, clarinet, flute

Dave Phillips–Acoustic bass

Tony Moreno–Drums


They address Webern’s music on its own terms and shed new light on its strange beauty… Webern will probably always be an acquired taste, but Spooky Actions has given jazz fans a great way to enter his world.
—Andrew Lindemann Malone Jazz Times April 2004

“Spooky Actions” Plays Webern in Moscow

Muse-Eek Publishing announces the release of a DVD by the New York-based ensemble, Spooky Actions. The DVD captures a riveting performance of Anton Webern’s “Five Movements for String Quartet, op 5” at the Dom Cultural Center in downtown Moscow. The band was there at the invitation of music journalist Dmitri Ukhov, who heard the band’s work and decided he must have them play at the Center’s Alternativa Festival. The ensemble played through the five movements, following each up with an improvisation based on the structure of the preceding movement. Camera close-ups of the band reveal their intense concentration and dynamic interactions while playing.

Spooky Actions Repertoire

Spooky Actions has steadily made a name for itself by tackling music that is not part of the mainstream jazz repertoire. In the past they have performed Native American Music, Early Music and most recently they have released a CD of Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time.”

Spooky Actions

The band’s name comes from the phrase “spooky actions at a distance.” This was how Albert Einstein described the phenomenon of two seemingly unconnected, disparate objects that nonetheless exert a powerful influence on one another. Spooky Actions, the band, certainly personifies this concept, showing how vivid improvisations can be derived from music that is often thought of as “etched in stone.”

Spooky Actions plays 2nd movement from 5 Movements for String Quartet

The tracks :

Webern: 5 movements for String Quartet



Early Music

Spooky Actions Early Music with Bruce Arnold and John Gunther


Bruce Arnold—Electric Processed Guitar

John Gunther—Flute, Soprano Sax, Tenor Sax and Bass Clarinet

Mike Richmond—Bass and Cello

Kirk Driscoll–Drums

Modern interpretations of classic early music

“I’ve often thought of music as a vessel of the human spirit, a message in a bottle that can travel across an ocean of time, and deliver a “note” from Bach, or Charlie Parker.” So writes John Gunther in his essay for this latest excursion by Spooky Actions, the band that has taken on modern interpretations of music as disparate as Native American song and the Canons of Anton Webern.

Raison d’être for Spooky Actions

“Perhaps embedded in the intervals and sequences of the melody and rhythm are the thoughts and emotions of the composers themselves” he continues. Thus he states the raison d’être for Spooky Actions, and its continued mining of diverse repertoire for examination and re-interpretation. (The name Spooky Actions is derived from a comment by Albert Einstein, in which he noted that certain seemingly unrelated objects could nevertheless exert a powerful influence upon each other. He called these relationships “spooky actions.”)

Spooky Actions

Spooky Actions the band, is John Gunther (winds) and Bruce Arnold (electric processed guitar). The two musicians who both teach at New York University met, jammed and felt an immediate musical affinity. When Gunther started bringing in both early and modern classical music to improvise over, they were inspired to start making their own transcriptions, and to create a series of recording projects. Their first release, “Spooky Actions; Music of Anton Webern” was an informed and sensitive inquiry into the muted palette of Webern. Critics wrote:
“….they address Webern’s music on its own terms and shed new light on its strange beauty. (Jazz Times) and “Adapting music of this complexity, written for ensembles of highly different instrumentation, is not the easiest thing in the world to do. Luckily, these players are up to the task.” (Cadence)

Native American Music

Their next project “Songs of the Nations” found them immersing themselves in Native American melodies. Again, their respectful approach produced a memorable CD: “Spooky Actions” made sure that their additions stayed far enough back in the mix that the listener is still wrapped in the Native American experience” (Improvijazznation)

The Band

The group (currently including Kirk Driscoll on drums and percussion, and Mike Richmond on Bass and Cello) now turns its attention to a selection of beautiful Early Music. Arnold’s guitar, processed through the object-oriented computer program SuperCollider, creates an atmospheric and luminous matrix in which Gunther’s playing (soprano and tenor sax, flute and bass clarinet) by turns ruminates and soars. Both Driscoll and Richmond demonstrate what great musical interaction is all about.

The Repertoire

The repertoire covers a wide swath of time, including as it does the “Skolion of Seikilos,” one of the earliest examples of written music, from the 2nd century BC, to the “Canzonet 1,2, & 3” of Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643). Other pieces are “De Virginibus O Nobilissima Viriditas” by Hildegard Von Bingen (1098-1179), “Vergine Bella” by Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474), a Gregorian Chant, “Alleluya (Nativitas) by Perotin (c. 1200) and “Ode from the Kanon for Easter Sunday” a Byzantine Chant from the 8th Century AD.

Message in a Bottle

The result is a CD that can comfort, transport and inspire the listener. And while that is not surprising, since this music was originally designed to do exactly that, what is astonishing is that Spooky Actions has done it again–examined the essence of a piece of music, and made it their own, without removing its heart or intent. As Gunther concludes: “We bring them into the present and frame them with our own life experiences. And so we place the message back in the bottle, and cast it back into the deep.”

The tracks :


Spooky Actions Songs of The Nations Volume One by Bruce Arnold and John Gunther

Songs of the Nations Volume One


Bruce Arnold–Guitar

John Gunther—Woodwinds

Thomas Buckner—Baritone

Kirk Driscoll–Drums and Percussion

Music of Native America is Interpreted by Avant-Jazz Group Spooky Actions in “Songs of the Nations Volume One”


New “Spooky Actions” Release

Muse-Eek Publishing Company is proud to announce the release of the latest project by jazz group Spooky Actions. In “Songs of the Nations,” melodies from the Sioux, Arapaho, Zuni, Teton Sioux, Chippewa and Cheyenne nations are given spare and sensitive arrangements that bring out their singular beauty.

The origins of “Spooky Actions”

Spooky Actions (Bruce Arnold, guitar and John Gunther, winds) derives its name from how Albert Einstein described the way particles separated by great distances could still exert effects upon each other. The group demonstrated this concept in its debut CD “Spooky Actions, Music of Anton Webern.” Of their ability to interpret and improvise over that composer’s highly distilled palette, the critics said:

What the Critics are saying about “Spooky Actions”

“…they address Webern’s music on its own terms and shed new light on its strange beauty” JAZZ TIMES
“Spooky Actions has plumbed the goldfish bowl of Anton Webern’s works and found pearls.” DOWNBEAT

“…though there are few brave enough to tackle Webern … they navigate the transition between score and improvisation adroitly. A fascinating experiment.” CADENCE

The Music

Spooky Actions has now turned its attention to Native American music and a fresh and subtle synthesis has arisen from the group’s efforts with these simple but lovely melodies. Drummer Kirk Driscoll has built rhythmic settings based on the linguistic cadences of each song, and Bruce Arnold has drawn on an array of atmospheric sounds and guitaristic riffs to complement them. Gunther’s expressive saxophone and flute musings add exactly the right amount of melodic support to baritone Thomas Buckner’s inspired readings. Highlights are the opening “Dog Feast” with its upbeat and catchy refrain. The CD then transitions into the airy “Ghost Dance” with Arnold providing shimmering effects. John Gunther gets to shine on the only instrumental, “Behold the Dawn” and the cyclical Chippewa lullaby. And although most Native American music is perceived as relentlessly pentatonic, the stunning Zuni lullaby that closes out the set defies cliche, and could just as easily have been penned by George Gershwin.

Our personal connection to Native American Music

“It started with one song,” says Bruce Arnold. “But as we worked together we all realized that Native Americans had affected our lives profoundly. Most obviously, Thomas is married to a woman who is half Mohawk, and so he attends powwows regularly. We found out later that Kirk is part Cherokee. John and I both grew up in areas that had significant Native populations – John in Colorado, and myself in South Dakota … and we had pretty vivid memories of how bad things were for them. So when the CD was done, we knew it just wouldn’t be right to make money off their music.

Muse-Eek Publishing has selected the SuAnne Big Crow Memorial Foundation to be the recipient of all profits derived from the sale of the CD.

The tracks :


Spooky Actions 5 Movements for Piano Arnold Schoenberg with Bruce Arnold and John Gunther

Arnold Schoenberg’s 5 Piano Pieces


Bruce Arnold–Guitar

John Gunther—Woodwinds

David Phillips—Bass

Tony Moreno—Drums

Schoenberg’s Pivotal Opus 23 Arranged for Jazz Quartet

Spooky Actions plays five piano pieces by the father of 12 tone music

Arnold Schoenberg’s five pieces for piano, brief as they may be, are considered to be milestones in the composer’s development of his innovative 12 Tone theories. Opus 23, like much of Schoenberg’s music, is highly organized with intricate rhythms, angular lines and dense harmonies. The jazz quartet Spooky Actions presents these pieces meticulously transcribed and improvised over, on “Spooky Actions/Arnold Schoenberg Five Pieces for Piano Opus 23” (MSK 142). Herein the band continues in its tradition of incorporating music from other genres into the jazz sensibility in order to examine new sounds and improvisational directions.

Improvisation and Schoenberg

The result is a startlingly fresh sound, one that is accessible perhaps due in part to the way modern jazz has opened the ears of a generation of listeners to new timbres and structures. That the band can improvise over these complexities is a tribute to their musicianship and their respect for their source material. (They tend to improvise so faithfully to their source’s constructions that one critic, who shall remain nameless, once disparaged the band for not improvising when of course, they were!)

John Gunther Speaks:

John Gunther, who did the lion’s share of transcription and arranging, best describes the process of creating the CD in his eloquent liner notes:

Adapting and performing Opus 23 to jazz quartet presented unique challenges. The extreme range of low and high notes on the piano had to be re-distributed among guitar, sax, and bass. The number of notes that could be played at one time – ten fingers, ten notes on the piano – also had to be accommodated in some novel ways, mostly by Bruce (guitar) as Spooky Actions has basically 7 or 8 fingers or notes that can sound at one time. Despite these challenges and with very few exceptions, we play all the notes in Schoenberg’s score. Tony Moreno had the biggest challenge in creating a concept for playing drums with this music – something for which there is no precedent.

Each movement of the composition is followed by an improvisation in which we utilize the musical elements of the movement we just played, such as quoting directly from the 12-tone row or fragments thereof. In addition, there are small bits of each movement that are expanded upon to give the ensemble a framework to improvise within.

In the first improvisation, the group improvises off of segments of the row and returns to the composition as a sort of Coda

The second improvisation is done over a repetition of the last 8 measures of the 2nd movement. The last measure forms a sort of riff or musical landing point.

The third improvisation features an extended drum solo that leads into a repetition of the 5th measure of movement 3, and then a restatement of measures 2-4 by the bass and guitar. By isolating and repeating one measure of the original composition, some fascinating harmonies are brought to the fore.

Improvisation 4 begins with a rubato bass improvisation that leads into an ostinato based on the second to last measure of movement 4. The 9-note motive is played once and then immediately in reverse forming a two-measure ostinato.

Improvisation 5, is again based on measures from the preceding movement 5. The melody, somewhat uncharacteristic of Schoenberg at first hearing, is nonetheless a repetition of measures 15-17 and forms an intriguing composition on its own.

The tracks :



Spooky Actions Songs of The Nations Volume Two with Bruce Arnold and John Gunther

Songs of the Nations Volume Two


Bruce Arnold—Guitar, Bass, Voice and Processed Guitar

John Gunther —Woodwinds

Thomas Buckner—Voice

Michal Shapiro—Voice and vocal arrangements

Kirk Driscoll—Drums and Percussion

Native American Melodies/Jazz interpretations:

Spooky Actions’ “Songs of the Nations Volume Two”

Songs of the Nations Volume Two

In a follow up to their first CD of Native American songs Spooky Actions has once again come up with enduring melodies culled from their researches, and set them in sparkling, sophisticated arrangements.

A Spooky interpretation

The tracks on the CD are not in any way an attempt to recreate the sound of the original dances, prayers and songs. Rather, the melodies are the building blocks and inspiration for the ensemble to fashion its own interpretations while revealing the loveliness and strength of these tunes.

Spooky Actions is:

The core of Spooky Actions is John Gunther (winds) and Bruce Arnold (guitars and SuperCollider). It has been a fifteen year association, one that started with a meeting at New York University where both were teaching. An immediate affinity was discovered, as both realized they were interested in expanding the jazz repertoire to include material rarely associated with that genre. What followed were a series of CDs ranging from Early Music and Native American Music through the Viennese School and the work of Olivier Messiaen.

Joining Arnold and Gunther on this outing are Kirk Driscoll on drums and percussion, and Michal Shapiro and Thomas Buckner on vocals. Mr. Buckner, who is a well known operatic baritone was personally drawn to this project through his own fascination with and participation in Native American culture. The songs themselves hail from the Chipewa, Omaha, Navajo and Muskegan nations.

The Music

The range of moods is varied, from the upbeat and energetic “Eagle Dance” and
“Prayer of the Warpipe” to the lyrical: “Peace Pact Song,” “Morning Star,” “For Divining the Outcome of a Love Affair” and “Love Call.” “Yee Be Chi Dance” and “Omaha Prayer” are more ruminative and atmospheric. –And there is an almost courtly feel to the closing track, “Hunting Song!”

All the musicians felt strongly about giving back to the people whose traditional heritage was the inspiration for the recording. Therefore as mentioned above, all profits from the sale of this CD will go to the Pine Ridge School, in South Dakota.

The tracks :



Spooky Actions Oliver Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time with Bruce Arnold and John Gunther

Quartet for the End of Time


Bruce Arnold–Guitar

John Gunther—Soprano Saxophone

Aaron Jackson—Piano

David Phillips—Bass

Tony Moreno—Drums

Spooky Actions tackles Messiaen

Spooky Actions (led by John Gunther and Bruce Arnold) is back with their unique take on the “Quartet for the End of Time” one of the most popular pieces of 20th century classical music.

Spooky Actions background

Noted for applying jazz improvisational and textural techniques to non-jazz repertoire, Spooky Actions has so far charted new territory with Early Music, Native American Music, the music of the 2nd Viennese School, and now, the work of Olivier Messiaen. In this recording the ensemble has been expanded to accommodate an arrangement for Jazz Quintet. The lineup is: John Gunther on soprano saxophone, Bruce Arnold on electric guitar, Tony Moreno on drums, David Phillips on upright bass, and Aaron Jackson on piano.


The Quartet was started while Messiaen was in the French army, and completed while he was a prisoner of war in a German Stalag. It is his first and most famous work wherein he integrated his deep knowledge of bird song into his compositions. He was known to rise before dawn in order to hear the first calls and chattering of the local flocks, to steep himself in sounds that were endlessly fascinating to him, and he claimed to be able to identify fifty different patterns specific to European species. The songs, particularly those of nightingales and blackbirds, transported this devout Catholic, and enabled him to imbue the Quartet with grandeur, despair –and hope.

The Challenges

The Quartet presented specific challenges to musicians then and now, written as it was for the specific virtuosos that Messiaen was interned with. The famous 3rd Movement ” Abyss of the Birds” calls for exceptional prowess on the part of any clarinet player (or in this case, soprano saxophone), and transferring cello parts to the upright bass calls for a musician with unusual mastery of that larger, less agile instrument. The addition of drums to the palette of the piece (which is not scored for any percussion) calls for a touch that is exceptionally subtle.


As they have with other classical pieces, Spooky Actions states the original work as written, and then uses that as a jumping off point for improvisation (they have done this with Movements 1, 2, 4, 6, and 7). This requires unusual skill and theoretical understanding of the composition, and as always, Spooky Actions delivers thoughtful and insightful work.

Spooky Actions

The name Spooky Actions derives from a quote by Albert Einstein describing the mysterious ability of two distant and seemingly unrelated objects to exert an effect on one another. In this CD, Spooky Actions, proves that the relationship between modern classical music and modern jazz is not as “spooky” as most people might think.

The tracks :