Violence In Action is an expanding collection of games designed to manipulate elements of musical improvisation. It was founded by Lachlan Kerr in 2010 in Sydney to bring together a wide variety of musicians from disparate backgrounds to play and develop the games as a collective, as one would expand on the vocabulary of a shared language.The central concepts of Violence In Action are inspired by the work of John Zorn and Frank Zappa, though all games so far contained in the manual have been created by Lachlan Kerr, except where a shown in brackets after the name of the game.The game names are written on large prompt cards that are used by the conductor to signal to the players when a new game is beginning. A system of gestures has also been developed by the current VIA line-up in Sydney, combining ASL (American Sign Language) and signs created by the group in the place of prompt cards. Most games work on a system of ACTIVIST and REACTIVIST, whereby one musician (the ACTIVIST) is designated as the leader of the improvisation and the other musician(s) (the REACTIVIST) gives responses in relation to them in accordance with the rules of the game.

Below is a copy of the introductory text of the Violence In Action Manual, November, 2010 edition:

"VIOLENCE IN ACTION gets its name from a subversive take on the term "Violence of Action," which refers to the climactic point in CQC (Close Quarters Combat) defense/offense as used by the U.S. Marine Corps. This connection also acknowledges the game's link with John Zorn's remarkable work in the Game Piece "Cobra," which, itself, was based on a war strategy game of the same name.

VIA is not a singular game. VIA is a myriad of small games of varying complexity that make up the elements of a performance of the work. It may be said that VIA is like a martial art where any player in the context of the group must come to terms with a vast array of different skills and techniques that must be employed in endless combinations to survive (avoid getting a black dunce cap, as the case may be.) It may also be said that VIA is like a language comprising of gestures, words and idiosyncratic responses that the players and the conductor use to both limit and free the improvisational music that is the outcome of the work. Like Zorn's Cobra, the game makes use of prompt cards and gestures. The latter exist as tools of both the conductor and the players, the former representing a movement from one game to the next. The games are built around the premise of sound, each game engineered to deal with the sonic based responses of the musicians (as opposed to representation of constructs with roots outside of music, ie: The rules of a game of cricket applied to a saxophone quartet.) The result of this mentality is the opportunity to explore music more directly, to have very specific control over harmonic and rhythmic qualities, meaning the games can evolve into a series of related rhythms and melodies that are pleasing from a traditional music perspective as easily as it can collapse into an atonal nightmare of sonic expurgation. It is this process of the manipulation of improvisation that allows a performance to pass through the "fatal funnel."

In CQC, when an offensive is made on a building, the group must breach the "fatal funnel." This, in essence, is the entrance of the building. This is the most dangerous moment for the assaulters as they are in the shadow of the door and can easily be picked off by the defenders within the room, locking the attack in a state of unchanging violence. I have seen (and been in) many musical improvisations locked in their own fatal funnel, stuck in a limbo where the sound seems to have explored all nuance to the point of exhaustion; the players themselves losing all their spontaneity to the lumbering movements of the ensemble. It is as though the piece is trapped in a slowly rising and falling breath of shapelessness, determined to live beyond its welcome. In a way, the wider synechdochial game of VIA is to try and break through the fatal funnel. At all costs. The games give the opportunity for improvisers to rapidly, if not instantly, change their direction, alter their state and wield time more specifically; to arm themselves with new tools to aid in the avoidance of the pitfalls of sound forged platitudes when/if they are recognised. Although, this all makes the premise seem much more serious than it should be. It is, after all, a game.

It would be my greatest wish that you or anyone else who picks up this manual may be able to sift through it and have some fun with fellow players (traditionally musicians, but maybe you can find a new application) exploring the systems of Violence in Action. Perhaps you will find better ways to approach some of the games, perhaps you will invent totally new ones. The hope is for Violence in Action to continuously grow and change, like any other language, with the protean input of an expanding culture of individuals shaping it to fit their own purposes. And if you do end up doing this, please keep us in the loop. We'd love to hear about the ugly new game you've invented, mainly so we can try it out, ourselves.

Lachlan Kerr. 18/10/2010."


Violence In Action uses a conductor to shape and manipulate the improvisations of the group. This nominated individual is not playing an instrument at the time they are conducting. Sections further down will discuss methods of how a conductor can be chosen/rotated within a performance. The following are physical signs that determine the parameters of the improvisation. A Prompt could be a game change or an effect such as the silencing of the whole group. A Prompt card is a large physical card with the name of the game on it.

  1. Raised hand: The conductor is about to issue a new prompt, all players should continue in their current states but be aware that there could be a change signaled by the conductor at any moment.
  2. Prompt card raised in the air: The conductor will hold the card above their head to make sure its clear to all players what the next prompt is before it is put into action.
  3. Pointed finger: The finger will point to the participant(s) who are to be involved in the next game
  4. Prompt card is pressed/slapped against the chest: The game is activated by this gesture, all those involved in this game must begin to play. (In the event of using the Sydney VIA system of gestures, the conductor will slap their chest with both hands to signify the commencement of a game.)
  5. Circle drawn above the head: This signifies that all players should be aware that they will be involved in the next prompt.
  6. Circle drawn in front of the body: This signifies to the relevant players that they are to continue the state they are currently in as opposed to joining a new and separate game the conductor may be starting with other players.
  7. Conductor makes the gesture of shooting themselves in the head: All players are free of any game parameters, they can play however they like until the next prompt.
  8. Conductor makes a gesture of shooting an individual player: Individual player is free of any game parameters, they can play however they like until the next prompt.
  9. Closed fist: This silences the players affected by the gesture.
  10. Open hand: This activates sound from all the players again after a mute.
  11. Open hand moving up and down vertically: The higher the hand is, the louder the players must be, the lower, the quieter.

Certain games have specific hand gestures that create certain responses. These will be listed under the game, itself.


The games are divided into different groups that have a particular feel, purpose or were simply developed at the same time as other games in that group.
The current groups are Chains, Knots, Filters and Satellites. Part of the game details will feature how many ACTIVISTS (the leader of the game) and how many REACTIVISTS (followers of the leader) can be involved in the game. The first player the conductor points to when assigning the game will always be the ACTIVIST.


This description of the Chains games is given in the Violence In Action Manual, November, 2010 edition:

"The following games that make up "Chains" all have a common thread, that is, they have a thread. They mostly come from an origin of action followed by reaction not unlike a Cakewalk or "Call and Response" music, in general. This differs from other game pieces in as much as the dynamic can shift a little more rapidly and the emphasis is not on polyphony and surge but on the construction and interaction of independent moments."



The ACTIVIST plays a short moment. The REACTIVIST responds. This continues indefinitely with the ACTIVIST affecting the REACTIVIST's response by playing louder or quieter, higher or lower. The result should be short bursts of sound that bounce back and forth between the two players.



The REACTIVISTS have to watch and listen vehemently as they wait for the ACTIVIST to play a moment. The goal is for the REACTIVISTS to play along synchronously with any sound produced by the ACTIVIST.



The ACTIVIST plays a drone. The REACTIVISTS choose drones and washes in response in chain order from the source. It must be a singular choice with not a great deal of oscillating. Once all REACTIVISTS have played a note the ACTIVIST can choose a new drone for the REACTIVISTS to respond to.



Similar to GLACIER except that the drone is replaced with simple melodic patterns that become progressively more complicated as the next REACTIVISTS in the chain add layers of tone and volume. When the SNOWBALL reaches the end of the line, the moment holds, only stopping when the ACTIVIST stops. The ACTIVIST can then choose to begin a new SNOWBALL.



All players create trembling sounds. The ACTIVIST is the swarm leader. Everyone will respond in relation to their pitch, volume and speed.

SWARM with the conductor as the ACTIVIST: (Paul Murchison/Mark Heath)
This arrangement of SWARM requires the conductor to denote themselves as the ACTIVIST. By opening their arms to smaller or greater width, they conduct the volume of the SWARM. By moving their arms up and down, they conduct the pitch.



(Instructions for this game are written as though the group is made up of 5 musicians in a line.)
The ACTIVIST (1) plays a short moment like in ricochet, the moment is echoed by the REACTIVIST (2) then, the next REACTIVIST (3) echoes the response of 2. This continues down the chain until 5 has REACTED. Once 5 has REACTED, 1-4 will all echo the response of 5. Once this has happened, 5 becomes the new ACTIVIST and the chain moves in the opposite direction.


This description of the Knots games is given in the Violence In Action Manual, November, 2010 edition:

"The games in "Knots" are more harmonically focused than the previous games in "Chains," they mainly work around the ideal of cycling motifs or loops that interact or change based on the rules in the particular game."



The ACTIVIST makes a sustained sound. The REACTIVISTS echo it in a chain, growing quieter with each player. When it reaches the opposite end of the chain, the ACTIVIST can start a new echo. The REACTIVIST should aim to start their echo just as the sound of the ACTIVIST is fading out, to give it a sense of the sound flowing from one individual to the next.



The ACTIVIST creates a cycling staccato motif. The goal for the next player in the chain is to play in the gaps between notes of the previous player.



The ACTIVIST (DRUMMER) assigns different participants to different parts of the kit. Assignments are made by the ACTIVIST pointing to the REACTIVIST with a drum stick, then to the part of the kit they are to play in tandem with. IE: A guitarist to the hi-hats or a keyboardist to the floor tom. The players must play in conjunction with their assigned instrument as they would in MIRROR.




The CONDUCTOR denotes the start of a loop (Head Tap) by one of the players. And then the end of the loop (Chin Tap.) Other players can the be invited into this loop (In Tandem = Fists next to each other) or can initiate a new unrelated loop (Split = Fist next to palm.)

See Filters for other uses and functions of LOOPER.

TEACHER (Gene White)



The ACTIVIST (TEACHER) creates a metered pulse (tapping foot, nodding head, e.t.c.)
The ACTIVIST then plays a simple pattern that the REACTIVIST (STUDENT) has to learn and respond to them in a similar fashion to Call & Response. The REACTIVIST has three shots at getting it correct. If the REACTIVIST plays the pattern correctly, the ACTIVIST will then add additional parts to the pattern. The ACTIVIST can choose to pass or fail the REACTIVIST with a thumbs up or thumbs down, then they can move on to another REACTIVIST.


This description of the Knots games is given in the Violence In Action Manual, February, 2011 edition:

"The games in "Satellites" are based on the concept of group conduction mixing with the central conductor. Small satellites of autonomy within the group allow for greater specificity within these improvised works."



The ACTIVIST PLAYS a series of notes in a pattern. Over the gradual rotation of the four notes, the REACTIVIST will search to find the notes themselves. After they are
found, they can then choose to play the notes in tandem or in separation of an octave or in a repeating harmony/disonance from the ACTIVIST's melody. When they have found this, the melody is permanently locked. The ACTIVIST can then gradually slow the rhythm of the pattern down into oblivion.



The ACTIVIST can create a simplistic looping melody/rhythm and teach it to a REACTIVIST of their choice. Once the ACTIVIST is happy that the REACTIVIST has
learnt the loop, they can cease playing along, leaving the REACTIVIST to continue playing it themselves. They can then move on to another player, building a series of
melodies that become interwoven.



The ACTIVIST plays out a rhythm. The group then begins to loop the rhythm indefinitely.The ACTIVIST can then change the tuning of specific players by using the
gesture to step them up or step them down (TUNER.) All players begin on the note of concert C.


ACTIVIST: Conductor

The Conductor performs impromptu gestures and physicality not currently existing within the manual. The REACTIVIST(S) respond(s) to this however they see fit, creating a foley track for the movement


This description of the Knots games is given in the Violence In Action Manual, November, 2010 edition:

"The group "Filters" are a branch of GAMES that can act as an "effect" on another game. The conductor can use them to facilitate more specific change in the performance."


When the KALEIDOSCOPE prompt card is rotated clockwise or anti-clockwise, the pitch of the musicians' playing ascends or descends in accordance with the card.

KALEIDOSCOPE: Tempo (Jacqui Kerr)

When the KALEIDOSCOPE prompt card is rotated clockwise or anti-clockwise, the tempo of the musicians' playing speeds up or slows down in accordance with the card.


LOOPER can also function as a filter. If an interesting texture is found in a game, it can be looped, indefinitely by the same tap on the head/tap on the chin procedure. This, in effect, kills the game and turns it into LOOPER.


When a fist knocks on top of an open hand, pitch will go up one semitone. When a fist knocks under an open hand, the pitch will go down one semitone.

Violence In Action by Lachlan Kerr is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.