University Of Chicago Press, 1993
"New Musical Figurations" exemplifies a dramatically new way of configuring jazz music and history. By relating biography to the cultural and musical contours of contemporary American life, Ronald M. Radano observes jazz practice as part of the complex interweaving of postmodern culture--a culture that has eroded conventional categories defining jazz and the jazz musician. Radano accomplishes all this by analyzing the creative life of Anthony Braxton, one of the most emblematic figures of this cultural crisis.
"I am viewed as the Negro who has gone outside of the categories assigned to me."
"I am interested in the study of music and the discipline of music and the experience of music and music as an esoteric mechanism to continue my real intentions."
"I'm seeking to have an art that is engaged as a way for saying, 'Hurray for unity'."
“For me the most basic assumption that dictated my early attempts to respond to creative music commentary was the mistaken belief that western journalists had some fundamental understanding of black creativity—or even western creativity—but this assumption was seriously in error.”
"I know I’m an African-American, and I know I play the saxophone, but I’m not a jazz musician. I’m not a classical musician, either. My music is like my life: It’s in between these areas."
"All great artists are beyond category"
The aesthetic, social, and cultural history of music generally over the past century in the (so-called) 'Western world' not only represents an enormously complex, complicated, and contentious creativity and innovation but is rooted in and deeply dependent upon a vast array of generic and idiosyncratic styles, traditions, genres, idioms, methodologies, and expressive identities. These structural, spiritual, and analytical modes of music making encompass a very broad and expansive territory of human concerns, issues, and expectations within the larger society, as well as profound individual emotional and psychological needs and desires that are simultaneously embodied and represented by these (creative) musical acts in public concert and collaboration with others (both like-minded and opposed). These conscious and subconscious attempts to engage, enhance, critique, celebrate, and transform society and culture via the immense environmental forcefield and sustained focused power of sonic intervention and expression in all of its many permutations and elliptical methods (whether they be encrypted or encoded in the formal "traditional/conventional" vocabularies and systems of melody, harmony, and rhythm or via other paths of producing and reproducing sound constructs), constitute what is "meant" by the term "music" in our time (zone).
Thus the 'classical' and 'popular music' traditions, styles, conceptions and forms of composition and improvisation (be they described/defined by the imposed advertising and thus commercial labels of "Jazz", "blues", rhythm and blues", "pop", "gospel", "funk", "hiphop" etc. et al) have served as a largely deceptive yet accepted means of identifying and classifying what sound formations can and "should be" used to convey these powerful sonic messages within the institutional structures and strictures established by the self appointed arbiters of musical taste and consumption. However there has always been throughout this highly volatile, contradictory, and conflicted history a significant number of sonic pioneers, adventurers, and creative activists who have openly challenged this status quo and have educated us all to the power, beauty, and necessity of asserting alternative notions of what we can and choose to do with our collective (and individual) sonic legacies and inheritances. No matter what specific or general "fields" these 'planters of sound' happen to harvest we not only know their names (they are indeed legion!) but we absorb, inhabit, embrace, and greatly benefit from their creative and visceral gifts embodied in the art and science of their sound. In the U.S. and beyond they have come from every cultural, "ethnic", spiritual. and gender enclave on earth and have been instrumental (get it?) in openly confronting and transforming our very lives. Many sterling examples abound: Armstrong, Ellington, Coleman, Ives, Stockhausen, Henderson, Morton, Schoenberg, Monk, Glass, Stravinsky, Stitt, Gordon, Silver, Washington, Holiday, Basie, Sinatra, Hendrix, Parker, Sun Ra, Fitzgerald, Vaughan, Carter (Elliot, Benny, and Betty), Franklin, Mayfield, Marley, Fela, Jackson (Mahalia and Michael), Partch, Varese, Gershwin, Hindemith, Bartok, Dylan, Wilson, Cowell, Prince, Berry, Davis, Coltrane, Powell, Rollins, Blakey, Shorter, Tatum, Webern, Copland, Hancock, Williams, Stone, Webster, Young, Robeson, Gaye, Wonder, Taylor, Robinson, Warwick, Johnson, Bacharach, Wolf, Hooker, Hopkins, Waters, James (Elmore and Etta), Khan, Mitchell (Blue and Roscoe), Smith, Abrams, Ayler, Mingus, Dolphy, Gillespie, Xenakis, Cage, Kirk, Brown (James and Clifford), Shepp, Roach, Lincoln, etc. et al...
Thus it is no surprise that one of the major names in this grand pantheon (and has been now for nearly 50 years!) is Mr. Anthony Braxton who tirelessly works and creates within an immense omniverse of influences, inheritances, and legacies culled from a colossal living archive of sound in all its many dimensions and in all the worlds he and we inhabit and live in. We owe Anthony and his many legendary forebears, contemporaries, colleagues, and peers a very deep and lasting debt that can only truly be repaid by listening...Happy birthday Mr. Braxton and to the rest of us: ENJOY...
While doing personal research on this extensive tribute and retrospective in honor of Anthony Braxton's 68th birthday on June 4 I ran across this very good news item (see below). So hearty congratulations are due Brother Braxton who is not only an outstanding multi-instrumentalist, musician and composer but a very fine person as well. For once the well worn accolade/cliche "it couldn't happen to a nicer or more deserving guy" actually applies in a number of different ways. To say I'm sincerely happy for him and all that he has thus far accomplished in an extraordinary career and life would be an understatement. Well done Anthony...
Wesleyan University’s Anthony Braxton Wins $225,000 Doris Duke Artist Award
Anthony Braxton, the John Spencer Camp Professor of Music at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, received a 2013 Doris Duke Artist Award. The award program, established in 2011, supports performing artists in contemporary dance, theatre, jazz, and related interdisciplinary work. The award comes with a $225,000 honorarium.
Professor Braxton is a composer, saxophonist, and educator. He won a MacArthur Foundation genius award in 1994. During his long career, he has released more than 100 albums.
This is a great piece about "Jazz"/Jazz if only because it actually forces the reader to THINK for a change and to REFLECT about what the music is, has been, and could be--a process known historically as "listening to the music" ...Just like Anthony Braxton (and every other great and innovative musician IN the "Jazz"/Jazz tradition) ya really gotta love that truly creative impulse in ALL of its (multi)dimensions (in another parallel context the legendary Amiri Baraka identified it as "the Changing Same")... WORD!
Braxton & Jazz: IN the Tradition
by Kevin Whitehead
[Lightly adapted from a talk given at Wesleyan University, 16 September 2005, as part of “Anthony Braxton at 60: A Celebration”]
Today I want to talk about Anthony Braxton’s relationship to the jazz tradition, a loaded topic which calls for a few disclaimers up front.
The “Braxton at 60” concert series, concentrating on his compositional output, makes it clear his interests stretch well beyond jazz, which barely figures in the programming. As Braxton once said to Steve Lake, “Jazz is only a very small part of what I do.” He prefers his music to be looked at in totality, and not separated into discrete genres.
By talking about him in a jazz context I don’t seek to discount or ignore his activities in other musical areas, or reduce him to a jazz musician only. I accept Ronald Radano’s view that Braxton has developed his music along twin paths as a jazz-oriented improviser and experimental composer, two areas that frequently overlap. Musical genres are convenient handles for talking about tendencies, but to think any music must conform to a single clear-cut category is to confuse the handle for the suitcase. As Braxton would say, don’t confuse the “isms” for the “is.”
As some jazz watchdogs have given him a frosty reception at times, let’s start by reviewing the cases of other musicians who’ve found themselves in similar predicaments, starting in 1943. Duke Ellington had premiered his suite Black, Brown and Beige on a program at Carnegie Hall, and critic John Hammond slammed the concert in the pages of Jazz magazine. A compressed version of his comments: “During the last 10 years [Duke] has... introduced complex harmonies solely for effect and has experimented with material farther and farther away from dance music. … But the more complicated his music becomes the less feeling his soloists are able to impart to their work. … It was unfortunate that Duke saw fit to tamper with the blues form in order to produce music of greater significance. By becoming more complex he has robbed jazz of most of its basic virtue and lost contact with his audience.”
Now, it’s a bit shocking that John Hammond couldn’t hear any blues content in Black, Brown and Beige, but he wasn’t the only one to have difficulty with Ellington’s suites. Few commentators perceived any cohesion in them, and the jazz literature had to wait 30 years for Brian Priestley and Alan Cohen’s analysis of BBB which highlighted its thematic unity on several levels. (You can find their article, and Hammond’s review, in the Duke Ellington Reader, edited by Mark Tucker, an excellent sourcebook on Ellington’s expansive art and its problematic reception. By the way that anthology also makes it clear that Duke had his critical supporters from the beginning. The myth of critics always missing the point needs deflating, but not here today.)
Ellington’s response to such criticism typically took one of two forms. The first was to sidestep the whole issue by taking jazz out of the equation: as in his famous retort, “There are only two kinds of music, good and the other kind.” Or, “I don’t write jazz, I write Negro folk music,” which is not much of an evasion.
His other response was to argue for a broader view of jazz than his critics applied. In a 1947 interview found in the Reader, Ellington calls jazz “The freest musical expression we have yet seen. To me, then, jazz means simply freedom of musical speech! And it is precisely because of this freedom that so many varied forms of jazz exist. The important thing to remember, however, is that not one of these forms represents jazz by itself. Jazz simply means the freedom to have many forms.”
This was a more constructive rejoinder, I’d argue, if only because Duke’s frequent appearances at jazz festivals and album titles like Jazz Party in Stereo make it clear he never really broke with jazz. Indeed a key part of his musical mission was to expand the resources available to jazz improvisers, and to composers seeking to harness their energy.
The jazz-watchdog files also contain cases where musicians who made a reputation in jazz are criticized just for playing other kinds of music. The way Herbie Hancock’s ‘70s funk was assailed by jazz fans as treasonous is a good example. As I’ve said before, for some folks jazz is like the mafia: once you’re in there’s no getting out, and don’t ever go against the family – as if jazz existed to restrict rather than expand a musician’s creative options.
In extreme cases, the minders of jazz purity may simply cancel the offending musician’s jazz credentials. (We’ll get back to this.) In this regard there are striking parallels between the Dixieland revival of the 1940s and the rise of neo-bop neo-conservative musicians in the 1980s. In both cases, recent developments in the music were discounted as outside the scope of the Real and True Jazz, and said musicians went back 15 or 20 years in search of appropriate stylistic models – even if ‘40s Dixieland doesn’t sound much like King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, and Wynton Marsalis’ fine early quintet with its pre-plotted rhythmic change-ups misses the daring of the spontaneously mutating arrangements of Miles Davis’s mid-‘60s quintet.
Faced with charges of stylistic illegitimacy, some musicians retreat from the battle, just to avoid a fight. Charlie Parker told Down Beat in 1949 that “‘bop is something totally separate and apart’ from the older tradition.” Which is a funny comment from a guy who liked to quote the classic “High Society” clarinet solo all the old New Orleans players knew.
Anyone who’s followed Braxton’s reception in jazz will recognize the thumping parallels laid out here: a broad-ranging and ambitious musician is accused of being unfaithful to jazz principles or his African-American roots.
But in Braxton’s case there’s a new wrinkle. Here we have the singular case of a musician widely perceived as a driving force behind jazz in the 1970s, recognized as a leader in every sense, who a decade or so later was branded a heretic, without having changed the basic thrust of his music in the meantime. It’s a case of moving the goal posts after the receiver has spiked the ball.
As Braxton told me in 1993, and has told many others in similar terms, “I’m not a jazz musician. I could not have done my work without the great continuum of trans-African music, the restructural music, all the way up to Ornette Coleman.” But: “By 1979, or even before, I started to move away from that term, when I began to understand that they were redefining the music in a way that would not include me. So I accepted it, because I was tired of the controversy. I only wanted the right to do my music.”
Fair enough. But today I want to reintegrate Braxton into the jazz continuum. I mean, I’m a jazz person, and I want him for us. Why not? He still plays jazz when he wants to, and jazz has been enriched and influenced by his contributions, so it’s a no-brainer.
Jazz is after all a good fit for his musical appetites, for instance a strong desire to improvise with others. It’s part of what he sees as music’s function, to bring people together in a socially positive context.
Braxton is a superb free improviser, thanks in part to his ability to remember what his collaborators play and to develop it as thematic material. (Listen to his duets with German pianist Georg Graewe – Duo Amsterdam ‘91 on Okkadisk – to hear him with another musician who can play that game.) Still, Braxton’s drawn less to unstructured play than to the idea of “navigating through form,” mostly cyclical forms of his own devising. And jazz is a perfect vehicle for mediating between the impulse to improvise and to compose, on cyclical frameworks. And given that Braxton is an African-American from the south side of Chicago, where jazz musicians were handy role models for creative youngsters, you can understand the attraction.
One obvious point of departure is the album of jazz standards In the Tradition, recorded for SteepleChase in 1974 when Braxton was hastily recruited to replace Dexter Gordon on a quartet date with Gordon’s swinging rhythm section with Tete Montoliu, NHØP and Tootie Heath. It was Braxton’s decision to play standards for ease of communication – a strange thing, back then, for a musician who already had a rep for being the outest of the outcats (although he’d recorded a couple of standards already). Braxton showed it was possible to honor bebop phraseology while approaching it from a direction you didn’t expect – for example wailing (and swinging) through the Charlie Parker vehicle “Ornithology” on contrabass clarinet.
One important aspect of Braxton’s personality and musical persona is, he’s a very funny guy. His pieces, and his use of extremely low and high-pitched instruments often carry a whiff of breezy jocularity that’s easy to overlook in serious discussions of his music. (And of course that jocularity is something he shares with such American masters as Armstrong, Fats Waller and Dizzy Gillespie.)
Anyway, the album In the Tradition was a pacesetter. Its title became a catchphrase for experimental improvisers honoring and testing themselves on classic jazz material; Arthur Blythe made one such record that even had the same name. And Braxton himself has returned to standards programs often since then, including programs targeting specific composers like Monk and Andrew Hill.
“Ornithology” is credited to Bird on the LP sleeve; it’s more often credited to trumpeter Benny Harris. So like Miles Davis’s “Donna Lee” it’s one of those typical Parker tunes attributed to someone else – that is to say, built around Parker’s language as an improviser. For Bird, as for Monk, or Steve Lacy, the composition and the improvisation should make a tightly integrated package – you don’t just play the tune and ignore it when you solo over the chords. Or to put it another way, new sorts of written lines will inspire improvised responses that address those written heads on their own terms.
And Braxton has always been interested in material that spurs improvisers into new ways to be creative, and integrate the composed and improvised. You can look in vain in his five books of Composition Notes published in the late 1980s for any mention of a tune’s chord changes – the usual means of organizing improvisation on a jazz theme. Generalizing about his composing is tricky, given the hundreds of pieces he’s written, but it’s safe to say Braxton’s pieces for improvisers focus more on the shape of the line than an underlying harmonic scheme.
When commentators reach for adjectives to describe Braxton’s music, the first word that comes up is “angular,” that is to say, sharp-angled, that is to say, often characterized by quick sequences of wide intervals. A classic example is “Composition 6F” (aka “73 degrees A Kelvin”) recorded a couple of times with the Braxton/Corea/Holland/Altschul quartet Circle in 1970. As Braxton’s detractors have helpfully pointed out, this approach parallels certain tendencies in 20th century composed music; one might hear kinship with, say, the short last movement of the Webern “Concerto for Nine Instruments (Opus 24)” from 1934.
But “Composition 6F” doesn’t really sound like that, and the ear tells you why immediately. Even when Webern adopts a peppy Stravinskyian beat, there’s none of the propulsive rhythmic energy and focus that are at the root of Braxton’s piece. Indeed, as Braxton says in the Composition Notes, the akilter rhythm pattern is what really matters, not the melodic contour; he even proposed a revised version of the score that would specify the rhythms but not the pitches. And the specific function of that written line is to put the players into a unique vibrational space for improvising – in the same rhythmic zone as the composed line.
“Composition 6F” was the first piece in his Kelvin series of repetitive music structures one might roughly characterize as minimalist – minimalism being a style of composed music whose influence in jazz has been far greater than is generally acknowledged. (There’s a good doctoral thesis in that for someone.) But the particular sort of momentum “6F” has – a saw tooth rhythm, with a few quick sextuplets or other ‘tuplets thrown in to push things off kilter for a second – is typical of many Braxton pieces, including far more recent ones in the Ghost Trance sequence, like “Composition 245” as heard on Delmark’s Four Compositions (GTM) 2000.
A certain kind of hectic momentum is a major part of Braxton’s esthetic, and one not necessarily incompatible with swing. Take for example 1975’s “Composition 52,” as played by a Braxton quartet with Anthony Davis, Mark Helias and Edward Blackwell on Six Compositions Quartet (1982) (Antilles). One thing I particularly like about that record is that there are pieces like “52” where Davis on piano is clearly playing on chord changes, at least sometimes. Until I started working on this talk I underestimated the attraction of playing on chords to Braxton, and indeed one of the notable things about his many standards programs is how gleefully he enters into that particular game.
In “Composition 52,” we may note in his improvising the serrated rhythms and angles, and some of regular syncopations of ragtime amid the ‘tuplety subdivisions of the ground beat. That’s typical Braxton, and there’s no mistaking its rhythmic sophistication or drive. That he values momentum may be inferred from a few of the master drummers he’s employed or recorded with, including Blackwell, Heath, Steve McCall, Philly Joe Jones, Max Roach, and Victor Lewis.
When even non-wind players enter the realm of pieces like “Composition 6F” and “52,” they are apt to favor breath-like phrasing. The robotic music comes alive, which of course is the point: improvisation breathes life into formal structures. And jazz from early on has sought increasingly challenging material to test and inspire the improviser – even if it means breaking with long-established practice. (Not for nothing does Braxton cite Ornette Coleman’s example.) Braxton’s lines all but preclude a solo made of old-school licks learned at Berklee.
And his innovations go way beyond the shape or rhythm of a line. Some of his pieces call for musicians to isolate certain registers, or specific attacks or strategies at different times. Even when he uses familiar devices, he flips them on their backs or sides. A piece may emulate bop phrasing or celebrate Count Basie or evoke the good feeling he got as a kid spying his father at a Chicago street parade in the middle of a work-school day. But the source material is always transformed – as with Ellington, come to think of it. Like Duke he paints a picture of the community in action: an ideal community with room and tolerance for collective and individual initiatives.
In the Composition Notes, Braxton lays out unconventional strategies for improvisation built into many pieces: a call for drummer and bassist to play opposing rhythms, or for a soloist to play in deliberate opposition to the ensemble – encouraging you to hear the music in several layers or dimensions at once: the Charles Ives principle, as I hope it’s known in Connecticut. Even in solo saxophone pieces he’ll create the illusion of spatial distance, juxtaposing very loud and very soft passages, as if coming from different points in space: a self-contained call-and-response sequence. Or he’ll ask a soloist to improvise up to a written theme rather than away from it – so the composition seems to flower from the improvising, rather like the way Charlie Parker’s tunes sound like they began as improvisations on familiar chords. (“Ornithology” takes off from a line Bird played with Jay McShann.)
In time Braxton’s regular collaborators internalized such procedures and could apply them to any material in the band’s book. One reason why many of us cherish his 1986-1994 quartet – the one with Marilyn Crispell, Mark Dresser and Gerry Hemingway – was that they really knew the rules of the game.
Incidentally around the same time, a similar process was going on independently in Holland, with Misha Mengelberg and ICP. The musicians would take procedures Misha instructed them to use on certain pieces, and then apply them on their own initiative in any appropriate spot. The whole band would then pick up on that, so the boss’s esthetic becomes a self-sustaining musical system – a perpetuum mobile. ICP really perfected this in the 1980s, but Braxton was already working toward and through such ideas in the ‘70s.
Not long after making In the Tradition Braxton signed with Arista records, a major major label at the time, for whom he made a series of nine high-profile albums, which include memorable time studies for quartets; “Composition 58,” a big band march that sounds like John Phillip Sousa having a breakdown over a skipping record which remains one of Braxton’s best-loved compositions; an even better march for quartet with George Lewis on trombone (“6C,” recorded live in Berlin in 1976); a duet with Muhal Richard Abrams on Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag”; a saxophone quartet for which Braxton kindly brought together three-quarters of what would soon be the World Saxophone Quartet, who never remembered to thank him for it. He also got to record “Composition 82” for four orchestras, and “95” for two pianos, so he didn’t only get to document only the jazzy stuff.
In the 1970s Braxton was also on the road a lot, playing festivals, and getting his live music documented. Beginning with his late-‘70s concert recordings you can hear his genius for assembling a set of music, using the various collage structures and multi-dimensional opposition strategies just mentioned. Say what you will about Braxton’s swing micro-timing, he’s a master of macro-timing. The way a good drummer makes a single bar swing with internal surges and hesitations, Braxton can make the overarching structure of a whole set swing like that one bar. And on the micro-level, the various layers of activity from moment to moment provide a vibrant listening experience that little in jazz can equal. With his Crispell/Dresser/Hemingway quartet in particular, he got into complex layering of independently written pieces that fit together as aspects of one giant mega-composition, analogous perhaps to the way the seemingly disparate parts of Ellington’s suites fit together.
The composer has stressed how the multiple levels on which these performances work can help us deal with modern life in which we’re bombarded by more and more sensory input. To be able to follow a quartet performance where, say, the pianist is playing a totally notated composition, the saxophonist is improvising a solo line, perhaps off another tune, and the bass player and drummer are playing two different “pulse tracks” – dynamic, syncopated rhythmic patterns – to be able to follow that is not so different from listening to your iPod while flipping through the cable channels as you check your email while waiting for your phone to ring.
In Braxton’s (or Mengelberg’s) collage structures and constellations of events and mutable forms, one may recognize certain ideas creeping in from the classical avant-garde of the ‘50s and ‘60s, the whole big Earle Brown to Stockhausen mix. But then it’s only natural that Braxton’s varied musical influences and tastes infiltrate each other. By the late 1960s, he was already melding separate musical disciplines in open soundscapes. As Braxton points out, we all have cosmopolitan backgrounds, and are under the sway of many influences from diverse cultures, which open up new ranges of possibilities – which is where he runs into 1943 John Hammond-type objections from certain listeners, for opening up the possibilities too much.
I speak mainly of Wynton Marsalis and his allies Stanley Crouch and Tom Piazza – not so many people, really, although they’ve certainly been diligent about trashing Braxton over the years.
You can understand the predicament Braxton’s music created for educated young musicians who’d polished the whole jazz school bop-to-Brecker skill set till it shone like the good silverware. Braxton was raising a whole other set of options that required a very different conceptual toolbox. That was bound to make people uncomfortable. I don’t think that’s grounds to vilify a musician who never sought to do anyone any harm, but if you were looking to hype a derivative composer like Wynton as modern jazz’s big thinker, you may find it necessary to brush back the competition.
So, as mentioned earlier, they raised what amounts to the old Dixieland argument against bebop: these strange new procedures are not what real jazz is about. But this position rests on an absurd premise: that jazz should be kept pure, when it had evolved and taken shape as a mutt form.
Starting around 1900 the music’s creators applied the improvisational impulse to any material within earshot: hymns, street cries, field hollers, march and social dance and blues forms, the classical themes that ragtime and jazz pianists would extemporize on, barnyard animal impressions, handclap patterns harking back to West African polyrhythms, Islamic isorhythms, modified Congolese beats arriving via Cuba – and myriad echoes of Sousa-type concert bands, with their a cappella breaks and virtuoso solos in contrasting hot and sweet styles, and said solos’ operatic high-note endings. Also the syncopated songs of Tin Pan Alley which often embedded quotes from other tunes, the exquisite vocal timing of black vaudeville comic Bert Williams, the rhythms of trains and the sounds of new technology.
Think of Jelly Roll Morton’s car horns on “Sidewalk Blues,” Armstrong faking the sound of a skipping record on “I’m Not Rough,” and the nasal speech-like brass solos on Ellington’s early classics, resembling a remote voice heard over a telephone. Braxtonian multi-dimensionalism was already part of the music by 1926 and ‘7.
That’s why I call jazz a mutt. The hound can really run, but no amount of wishful thinking or ethnic cleansing can transform a mutt into a pure breed. To suggest that jazz, to honor its heritage, limit itself to only certain specific episodes from its own past is absurd – like asking a jury to disregard a witness’s earlier remark. As Braxton put it in 2001: “Every music is still relevant – whatever the projection.”
No one has to tell Braxton about the richness of the jazz tradition – he teaches it at Wesleyan. His eight CDs of standard tunes for quartet, recorded in 2003 and released in two boxes on Leo, demonstrate his broad tastes in jazz material: tunes from the 1920s, bossa novas, and pieces by Cole Porter, Wayne Shorter, Monk, Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Eddie Harris – and the unfashionable Dave Brubeck, whom Braxton has long championed, a musician whose endearingly clunky timing turns some jazz fans off.
Every Braxtonian has heard the objection that he’s not the swingingest jazz musician, and I’ll concede as much. But if someone else swinging harder than you cancels your jazz credentials, there’d only be one jazz musician left: Billy Higgins? Jelly Roll Morton may not have been the swingingest cat of the 1920s, but we recognize him as a jazz master for his restructuralist tendencies. His Red Hot Peppers records of 1926 had the conceptual daring to reformulate much of what jazz was and had been constructed from, adding lowbrow humor and the sounds of the modern city.
Braxton’s compositional language began with his saxophone language, in which I’ve always heard the sharp-angled, against-the-grain improvising of Eric Dolphy, who recorded a few solo pieces in that time before Braxton made solo recitals fashionable. The leaps that bookend Dolphy’s 1963 solo take on Victor Young’s “Love Me” make the parallel explicit.
Anyone who, say, attended last night’s solo concert knows Braxton can play the heck out of the saxophone. To quote from something I wrote last year, “Like all great jazz musicians he understands that timing, timbre and note-choices are intimately connected: how slowing the rhythm ever so slightly, sputtering that note, and placing it just off center pitch, all work to give it triple impact. His tone may be aggressive or growling one moment, parched or disarmingly vulnerable the next.”
“He may stomp on the offbeat like a ragtime pianist. Sometimes his line will attack the rhythm head-on; sometimes it’ll slide backwards over the pulse, moon-walking on ice; sometimes he’ll divide a fast phrase into complex groupings ... or speed up in the middle of an already speedy phrase.” His accentual patterns are more complex than the alternating strong-weak strong-weak accents of your average sure-fire swinger.
The jittery nature of his improvising is one thing that bugs folks who like their swing nice and round all the time, but that’s no reason to ignore everything else going on, in terms of thinking on one’s feet, and improvising complex phrases while honoring the tune – all that good stuff his detractors claim to be for. The idea that jazz’s rhythmic development is already complete, and 4/4 swing is the only way to fly is ridiculous: how can the development of a living music ever be finished?
Braxton’s influence as a saxophonist since the 1970s has been much greater than the jazz folks give credit for. I was going to compile a list of saxophonists who bear his influence, but let me just mention one: in Greg Osby’s up and down beat-parsing and shifting accents, one can hear a lot of Braxton creeping through. (That’s true of Osby’s old ally Steve Coleman too.) The connection to the ‘80s M-BASE saxophonists is particularly interesting because Osby hears how those accentual patterns relate to hip-hop. (You can hear all this come together in his “Concepticus in C” from Zone.) But then jazz usually comes to grips with pop music of its time, one way or another.
You could even talk about a Dolphy-Braxton-Osby rhythmic continuum, if you like – Greg’s low opinion of Dolphy notwithstanding. Osby’s style is on one level a more limber version of the master’s angularity.
So anyway, I say, as long as Braxton has done so much to add new tools to the improviser’s and bandleader’s arsenal, since he’s such a keen student of the music and such a striking horn player, since he’s a fundamental influence on many of today’s players (not least his many successful former students from Mills and Wesleyan), let’s make it official and reaffirm his connection to the jazz fold he never really left – even as he remains free to operate outside of jazz.
There’s another reason for that reaffirmation, which we writers don’t talk about enough. The jazz wars of the early ‘90s, where the gatekeepers decided to purge Braxton from the ranks? Those guys lost that war. At Lincoln Center, they finally let in Misha Mengelberg and recently paid tribute to ‘60s Coltrane, if not Anthony Braxton. And many of the so-called young lions who were assumed to share Marsalis’ outlook have shown that their interests are considerably more broad – look, for example, to funk records by Roy Hargrove or Terence Blanchard or Branford Marsalis, or Christian McBride’s salute to Steely Dan. It sometimes appears the only jazz musicians who haven’t flirted with funk are Wynton Marsalis and Anthony Braxton.
Turning back the clock is always a loser’s game, except at the end of daylight savings. That’s how the jazz wars played out in the ‘40s, and in the ‘90s. The music will keep changing as long as it’s alive; and in the last 35 or 40 years no one has pumped more oxygen into jazz than Braxton. For that, jazz might be a little more grateful.
Nobody can really speak for jazz, but as long as some people make the attempt, and since I have the podium, Anthony Braxton, jazz welcomes you back. Like you never even left. Even if you reject it, you can’t change that. Mr. Braxton: Thank you for your music sir.
© Kevin Whitehead 2011
Uploaded on Sep 16, 2008
INTERVIEW WITH ANTHONY BRAXTON - North Sea Jazz 1997:
Radio 6 / NTR reporter Co de Kloet talks with Anthony Braxton in Holland, North Sea Jazz 1997
MUSIC OF ANTHONY BRAXTON ON YOUTUBE:
INTERVIEW WITH ANTHONY BRAXTON IN NEW YORK 2006:
ANTHONY BRAXTON ON CHESS, MATH, AND MUSIC:
LECTURE BY ANTHONY BRAXTON
MUSIC SEMINAR IN INSTANBUL, TURKEY:
Part 1 of 6
Anthony Braxton was born in Chicago (Illinois) on 4 June 1945.
An American composer as well as well as a highly versatile musician who plays various saxophones, clarinet, flute and piano he has created a large body of highly complex work.
While not known by the general public, Braxton is one of the most prolific American musicians/composers to date, having released well over 100 albums of his works since the 1960s.
Among the vast array of instruments he utilizes are the flute; the sopranino, soprano, C-Melody, F alto, E-flat alto, baritone, bass, and contrabass saxophones; and the E-flat, B-flat, and contrabass clarinets.
Braxton studied at the Chicago School of Music and at Roosevelt University. At Wilson Junior College, he met Roscoe Mitchell and Jack DeJohnette.
After a stint in the army, Braxton joined the AACM.
After moving to Paris with the Anthony Braxton Trio (which evolved into the Creative Construction Company), he returned to the US, where he stayed at Ornette Coleman's house, gave up music, and worked as a chess hustler in the city's Washington Square Park.
In 1970, he and Chick Corea studied scores by Stockhausen, Boulez, Xenakis and Schoenberg together, and Braxton joined Corea's Circle.
In 1972, he made his bandleader debut (leading duos, trios, and quintets) and played solo at Carnegie Hall.
In the early 1970s, he worked with the "Musica Elettronica Viva", which performed contemporary classical and improvised music.
In 1974, he signed a recording contract with Arista Records.
One of the first black abstract musicians to acknowledge a debt to contemporary European art music, Braxton is known as much as a composer as an improviser. The output ranges from solo pieces to For Four Orchestras, a work work that has been described as "a colossal work, longer than any of Gustav Mahler's symphonies and larger in instrumentation than most of Richard Wagner's operas."
His 1968 solo alto saxophone double LP For Alto (finally released in 1971) remains a jazz landmark, for its encouragement of solo instrumental recordings. Other important recordings include Three Compositions of New Jazz (1968, Delmark), his 1970s releases on Arista, Composition No. 96 (1981; Leo), Quartet (London) 1985; Quartet (Birmingham) 1985; Quartet (Coventry) 1985 (all on Leo), Seven Compositions (Trio) 1989 (hat Art), Duo (London) 1993 & Trio (London), both on the Leo record label.
Critic Chris Kelsey writes that "Although Braxton exhibited a genuine if highly idiosyncratic ability to play older forms (influenced especially by saxophonists Warne Marsh, John Coltrane, Paul Desmond, and Eric Dolphy), he was never really accepted by the jazz establishment, due to his manifest infatuation with the practices of such non-jazz artists as John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen".
The timing of this crowning achievement couldn't be better for Braxton's most recent professional goals: he is the founding Artistic Director of the newly incorporated Tri-Centric Foundation, Inc., a New York-based not-for-profit corporation including an ensemble of some 38 musicians, four to eight vocalists, and computer-graphic video artists assembled to perform his compositions.
The ensemble's debut at New York's The Kitchen sold out the last and most of the first two of three nights, through the press excitement it generated; the reviews--in Down Beat and the Chicago Tribune (John Corbett), the Village Voice (Kevin Whitehead), and the New York Times (Jon Pareles)--ranged from positive to ecstatic.
Most importantly, the musical success of the event inspired Braxton to pursue the “three-day and -night” program concept for this ensemble, including lectures/informances, and splinter chamber performances, around the world.
The second New York event, indeed, expanded on the concept: The Knitting Factory presented six nights of Anthony Braxton and his music, in all the variety of its vision. The first night showcased the composer's solo alto saxophone playing; the second his treatments of jazz-traditional material, both as reeds player and pianist; the third, his music for solo piano, and for synthesizer and acoustic sextet; the fourth showcased his new “Ghost Trance” music for small-to-medium groups; and the fifth and sixth his large-ensemble music, including Composition 102, with giant puppets. As with The Kitchen, all six nights included a full house and enthusiastic response.
This successful first season paid off: the second season has been virtually paid for by grants from the Mary Flagler Carey Charitable Trust and the Rockefeller Foundation in New York City. It will feature the world premiere of the four-hour opera Trillium R at the John Jay Theater in New York, and the theatrical Composition 173 (for actors, improvisers, and ensemble) in collaboration with New York's Living Theater members, at The Kitchen.
Anthony Braxton is widely and critically acclaimed as a seminal figure in the music of the late 20th century. His work, both as a saxophonist and a composer, has broken new conceptual and technical ground in the trans-African and trans-European (a.k.a. “jazz” and “American Experimental”) musical traditions in North America as defined by master improvisers such as Warne Marsh, John Coltrane, Paul Desmond, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, and he and his own peers in the historic Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM, founded in Chicago in the late '60s); and by composers such as Charles Ives, Harry Partch, and John Cage.
He has further worked his own extensions of instrumental technique, timbre, meter and rhythm, voicing and ensemble make-up, harmony and melody, and improvisation and notation into a personal synthesis of those traditions with 20th-century European art music as defined by Schoenberg, Stockhausen, Xenakis, Varese and others.
Braxton's three decades worth of recorded output is kaleidescopic and prolific, and has won and continues to win prestigious awards and critical praise. Books, anthology chapters, scholarly studies, reviews and interviews and other media and academic attention to him and his work have also accumulated steadily and increasingly throughout those years, and continue to do so. His own self-published writings about the musical traditions from which he works and their historical and cultural contexts (Tri-Axium Writings 1-3) and his five-volume Composition Notes A-E are unparalleled by artists from the oral and unmatched by those in the literate tradition.
Braxton is also a tenured professor at Wesleyan University, one of the world's centers of world music. His teaching career, begun at Mills College in Oakland, California, has become as much a part of his creative life as his own work, and includes training and leading performance ensembles and private tutorials in his own music, computer and electronic music, and history courses in the music of his major musical influences, from the Western Medieval composer Hildegard of Bingen to contemporary masters with whom he himself has worked (e.g. Cage, Coleman).
Braxton's name continues to stand for the broadest integration of such oft-conflicting poles as “creative freedom” and “responsibility,” discipline and energy, and vision of the future and respect for tradition in the current cultural debates about the nature and place of the Western and African-American musical traditions in America. His newly formed New York-based ensemble company is bringing to that debate a voice that is fresh and strong, still as new as ever even as it takes on the authority of a seasoned master.
Anthony Braxton (b. June 4, 1945) has boldly redefined the boundaries of American music for more than 40 years. Drawing on such lifelong influences as jazz saxophonists Warne Marsh and Albert Ayler, innovative American composers John Cage and Charles Ives and pioneering European Avant-Garde figures Karlheinz Stockhausen and Iannis Xenakis, he created a unique musical system, with its own classifications and graphics-based language that embraces a variety of traditions and genres while defying categorization of its own.
His multi-faceted career includes hundreds of recordings, performances all over the world with fellow legends and younger musicians alike, an influential legacy as an educator and author of scholarly writings, and an ardent international fan base that passionately supports and documents it all. From his early work as a pioneering solo performer in the late 1960’s through his eclectic experiments on Arista Records in the 1970’s, his landmark quartet of the 1980’s, and more recent endeavors, such as his cycle of Trillium operas, a piece for 100 tubas and the day-long, installation-based Sonic Genome Project, his vast body of work is unparalleled.
In 2010, he revived the Tri-Centric Foundation which had been dormant for 10 years. In 2011, he released his first studio-recorded opera Trillium E; that year also saw the 4-evening Tri-Centric Festival (held at Roulette in Brooklyn), which was the most comprehensive portrait of Braxton’s five-decade career yet presented in the United States. Braxton is a tenured professor at Wesleyan University, which has one of the nation’s leading programs for world and experimental music, and his many awards include a MacArthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a 2009 honorary doctorate from the Université de Liège, Belgium, a 2013 Doris Duke Performing Artist Award and a 2013 New Music USA Letter of Distinction. His next four-act opera, Trillium J, will be premiered in April 2014 at Brooklyn’s Roulette, headlining a two-week festival of Tri-Centric music.
Bio | The Tri-Centric Foundation
New Braxton House Records
Chicago's saxophonist Anthony Braxton (1945) was the creative musician who displayed the most obvious affinity with western classical music, scoring chamber music (both for solo instrument and for small ensembles), as well as orchestral music, that seemed aimed at extending the vocabulary of European music rather than the vocabulary of jazz music. If his was jazz music, it was the most cerebral jazz ever.
Better than any other jazz musician, Braxton represented the quantum leap forward that jazz music experienced after free jazz opened the doors of abstract composition. The music that was born as an evolution of blues and ragtime suddenly competed with the white avantgarde for radical redefinitions of the concept of harmony. Following in the footsteps of John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen, Braxton introduced new graphic notations to capture the subtleties of his scores, and even titled his pieces with diagrams instead of words. He invented new ways of composing and performing music. He also loved to write about his musical theory.
As a virtuoso of woodwind instruments (particularly of the alto saxophone), Braxton worked to extend the timbre and the technique. But, unlike his predecessors, Braxton was motivated by science rather than by emotion. Originally inspired by John Coltrane, he impersonated Coltrane's antithesis.
In 1967 Braxton formed a trio with violinist Leroy Jenkins and trumpeter Leo Smith, the Creative Construction Company, that gladly dispensed with the rhythm section, with melody and with traditional harmony. Three Compositions of New Jazz (april 1968), that also featured Muhal Richard Abrams on piano, contained the 20-minute Comp. 6E, the manifesto of Braxton's style (at the same time abstract, visceral and geometric). The record sleeve provided the graphic scores of the music, that looked more like mathematical equations, and explained the chance-based technique that were incorporated in those scores (a` la John Cage's aleatory music). A few months later Braxton became the first musician ever to record an album of saxophone solos, For Alto (february 1969). This groundbreaking double-LP album contained eight extended pieces (each cryptically dedicated to a musician), culminating with another 20-minute juggernaut, Comp. 8B. His playing showed little respect for jazz traditions, but a lot of curiosity for textures and patterns. While this was mostly music of the brain, it was performed with an almost hysterical intensity. Braxton himself seemed reluctant to continue the project.
The trio's contemporary Silence (july 1969), released only six years later, contained Jenkins' 17-minute Off The Top Of My Head and Smith's 15-minute Silence, two pieces that were less radical and more obviously in the free-jazz vein. The French album Anthony Braxton (september 1969) sounded like an appendix to the trio's music, with Smith's ten-minute The Light On The Dalta and Jenkins' nine-minute Simple Like, but also included a new Braxton vision, the 20-minute Comp. 6G. The line-up consisted of the trio plus drummer Steve McCall. It looked more conventional on paper, but Braxton played all sorts of woodwinds, Smith played horns and siren besides trumpet, and Jenkins toyed with viola, flute, harmonica, etc. Adding pianist Muhal Richard Abrams and drummer Steve McCall, Creative Construction Company (may 1970), released in 1976, was mainly taken up by a 34-minute Jenkins composition, Muhal. The second volume (same session) was, again, a colossal Jenkins track, No More White Gloves.
In the meantime, Braxton had formed Circle, a quartet with pianist Chick Corea, double-bassist Dave Holland and drummer Barry Altschul. Their first document, Circulus (august 1970), credited to Corea when released as a double-LP in 1975, contained three lengthy collective improvisations titled Quartet Piece. Circling In (october 1970), again credited to Corea when released as a double-LP in 1978, was a less cryptic recording, highlighted by Chimes and Braxton's Comp. 6F. The Complete (february 1971) offered more of Braxton's compositions employing Holland, Altschul, Corea, plus trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and multiple tubas, in different settings. The Gathering (may 1971), the first studio album credited to Circle, contained only one 42-minute Corea composition, the title-track, and each of the four members played multiple instruments.
Relocating to New York in 1970, Braxton became the recognized guru of creative music. Together Alone (december 1971), released in 1975, inaugurated the series of Braxton duets. This one was with Joseph Jarman (both alternating at multiple instruments), highlighted by Jarman's 14-minute Dawn Dance One and Braxton's 15-minute Comp. 20.
Finally, Braxton gave For Alto a successor, and it almost sounded like everything he had done in between the two masterpieces was merely a long rehearsal. Saxophone Improvisations Series F (february 1972) was again a double-LP collection of lengthy tracks dedicated to musicians. The longest, 104 Kelvin M12 (or, better, Comp. 26F), was dedicated to minimalist composer Philip Glass, and for a good reason: the influence of minimalist iteration was strong, lending the album its hypnotic, otherworldly quality. Braxton's process was obscure and often not very musical, but the concentration was worthy of a physicist discovering a new substance. These pieces openly unveiled the process of distortion, variation and repetition that underlay the neurotic, claustrophonic feeling of Braxton's music.
The three-LP live album Creative Music Orchestra (march 1972) introduced a new side of Braxton. Four trumpets, four saxophones, tuba, piano, two bassists and two percussionists performed twelve Braxton compositions.
Town Hall 1972 (may 1972) included the 35-minute Comp 6P for Braxton, Altschul, Holland, Jeanne Lee (vocals) and John Stubblefield (woodwinds).
Braxton's new quartet, that basically replaced Corea's piano with Kenny Wheeler's trumpet (keeping Holland and Altschul), debuted on Live at Moers Festival (june 1974), a double-LP that contained six of Braxton's cryptic and overlong compositions.
But the prolific Braxton was recording non-stop, rarely replicating the powerful atmosphere of his masterpieces: Four Compositions (january 1973) for a trio with percussionist Masahiko Sato and bassist Keiki Midorikawa; First Duo Concert (june 1974) and Royal (july 1974) with British guitarist Derek Bailey; Trio and Duet (october 1974), that contained Comp 36 for Braxton (clarinets), Smith (trumpet) and Richard Teitelbaum (synthesizer); New York Fall 1974 (september 1974), that contained Comp 37 for a saxophone quartet (Braxton, Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake and Hamiet Bluiett), Comp 38A for saxophone and synthesizer (Richard Teitelbaum), Comp 23A for sax-violin-trumpet quintet (Wheeler, Jenkins, Holland, drummer Jerome Cooper); Five Pieces (july 1975), that contained Comp 23E for the quartet (Braxton, Holland, Altschul and Wheeler); etc. Most of these albums were trivial, although each contained something that opened new directions for experimental music.
Braxton returned to the most ambitious idea of his career with Creative Orchestra Music (february 1976), six relatively short pieces for a mid-size ensemble that constituted his most eclectic output yet.
In between these seminal recordings, Braxton wasted his talent in erratic collaborations. Duets with trombonist George Lewis yielded Elements of Surprise (june 1976), dominated by Lewis' Music For Trombone and Bb Soprano, and Donaueschingen (october 1976), dominated by Lewis' 41-minute Fred's Garden. Duets with synthesist Richard Teitelbaum yielded Time Zones (june 1976), taken up by Teitelbaum's Crossing and Behemoth Dreams. Further collaborations accounted for Duets (august 1976) with pianist Muhal Richard Abrams and Duets (december 1976) with Roscoe Mitchell also on reeds.
Dortmund (october 1976) documented the new quartet with Lewis replacing Wheeler (especially in the long Comp 40F), while Quintet (june 1977) documented the quintet of Braxton, Lewis, Abrams, bassist Mark Helias and drummer Charles "Bobo" Shaw.
Among all these mediocre recordings one stood out: For Trio (september 1977), containing two versions of Comp 76 (one with Henry Threadgill and Douglas Ewart, and one with Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman). The sheer number of instruments played by each member of the two trios was unheard of in jazz music.
He revisited two of his greatest ideas in rather inferior albums: Solo (may 1978) and Creative Orchestra (may 1978), that he only conducted (without playing). But then he outdid himself on For Four Orchestras (may 1978), that contained just one colossal piece, the two-hour Comp 82 for 160 musicians and four conductors: the four orchestras surrounded the audience, that was given a chance to hear the chaotic interplay as it strove to evolve towards organic music. Braxton planned to score similar symphonies for six, eight, ten, and eventually 100 orchestras. The Alto Saxophone Improvisations (november 1979) were also more interesting, although a far cry from his two solo masterpieces. At last, his algorithmic music was heading for magniloquent drama.
Two of his best albums of this period were collaborations with veteran drummer Max Roach: Birth and Rebirth (september 1978) and One In Two - Two In One (august 1979).
Performance (september 1979) and Seven Compositions (november 1979) introduced a piano-less quartet with trombonist Ray Anderson.
In the meantime the routine of avantgarde compositions resumed. Composition No. 94 (april 1980) contained two versions of the piece (forward and backward reading) for saxophone or clarinet, guitar and trombone. For Two Pianos (september 1980) contained Braxton's 50-minute Comp. 95 performed by Frederic Rzewski and Ursula Oppens. Braxton returned to the large ensemble for Composition N. 96 (may 1981). Open Aspects (march 1982) was another session with Richard Teitelbaum (now a specialist of computer interaction), but this time it was dominated by Braxton's compositions.
Composition 113 (december 1983) was a new solo album, but different from anything he had done before. First of all, Braxton played only soprano saxophone. Second, the album contained a six-movement suite that told a story. It was one of his most "humane" works.
Four Pieces (november 1981) documents a long lost studio collaboration between pianist Giorgio Gaslini and Anthony Braxton.
The quartet remained Braxton's favorite format, but it began to include the piano. Composition 98 (january 1981) documented a transitional quartet with Anderson and pianist Marilyn Crispell. The quartet consisted of pianist Anthony Davis, bassist Mark Helias and drummer Edward Blackwell on Six Compositions - Quartet (october 1981), and for once the players prevailed over the composer. Four Compositions - Quartet (march 1983) was a more composition-oriented effort by a quartet with Lewis, bassist John Lindberg and percussionist Gerry Hemingway. Six Compositions - Quartet (1984) featured Crispell, Lingberg and Hemingway. Quartet (november 1985) had stabilized with pianist Marilyn Crispell, double-bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Gerry Hemingway, although Five Compositions - Quartet (july 1986) replaced Crispell with David Rosenboom.
The list of experiments was virtually infinite. The Aggregate (august 1986), a collaboration with the Rova Saxophone Quartet, contained Composition 129. 19 [Solo] Compositions 1988 (april 1988) contains 16 brief originals and three standards. Ensemble (october 1988) contained the 41-minute Composition No. 141 for Braxton's saxophones, trombone (Lewis), tenor saxophone (Evan Parker), trumpet, vibraphone, bass and percussion. The Seven Compositions (march 1989) were scored for trio. Eugene (january 1989) collected eight compositions for orchestra. Composition No. 165 (february 1992) was scored for 18 instruments. Two Lines (october 1992) contained duets with David Rosenboom at software-controlled piano. The twelve alto solos of Wesleyan (november 1992) and the Four Ensemble Compositions (march 1993) were, again, pale imitations of past masterpieces. 11 Compositions (march 1995) were duets with a koto player. 10 Compositions (Duet) 1995 (august 1995) documents a collaboration between Anthony Braxton (on various saxes, clarinet and flute) and bassist Joe Fonda. Octet (november 1995) contained Comp. 188, almost one-hour long. Ensemble (november 1995) contained Comp. 187 for a ten-piece combo. Tentet (june 1996) contained the 67-minute Comp. 193. The most fascinating album of the period, Composition 192 (june 1996), was a duet with vocalist Lauren Newton.
Eight (+1) Tristano Compositions 1989 For Warne Marsh was a Lennie Tristano tribute.
However, Braxton's focus was finally changing. Composition 174 (february 1994) was a sort of soundtrack for a theatrical event, scored for ten percussionists and narrating voice. Anthony Braxton with the Creative Jazz Orchestra (may 1994) debuted his Trillium Dialogues M, his version of the opera. Composition 173 (december 1994) was another piece for both actors and musicians. Composition No. 102 (march 1996) was even music for puppet theater. Trillium R - Shala Fears For The Poor (october 1996) contained Composition 162, an opera in four acts for nine singers, nine instrumentalists (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, baritone saxophone, flute, oboe, bass clarinet, clarinet, French horn, trombone) and tri-centric orchestra (alto and soprano saxophones, two trumpets, three clarinets, bass clarinet, two flutes, oboe, bassoon, harp, six violins, two violas, two cellos, two basses, accordion, two French horns, trombone, tuba, three percussionists).
Four Compositions (august 1995) for quartet and Composition 193 (june 1996) for tentet inaugurated yet another strand of Braxton's art, "ghost trance music". And several hour-long compositions performed with the students of his classes indulged in all aspects of his musical exploration: the four-disc Ninetet at Yoshi's (august 1997) for six reed players, guitar, bass and percussion (containing the compositions numbered 207-214); Two Compositions (april 1998) for trio of reeds; Four Compositions (may 1998), notably Composition 223 for 15-piece ensemble, Four Compositions (may 2000) for piano-based quartet, Composition 247 (may 2000) for two saxophonists and bagpipes, Composition 249 (may 2000) with fellow saxophonist Brandon Evans, Composition 169 + (186 + 206 + 214) (june 2000) for saxophone quartet and symphonic orchestra, Six Compositions (january 2001) for duo, trio, quartet, quintet and tentet (the 91-minute Composition 286).
However, Braxton also delivered the shorter improvisations/compositions of 10 Solo Bagpipe Compositions (may 2000), Eight Compositions (march 2001) for quintet, Solo (may 2002). He also recorded a few albums of other people's music.
Braxton temporarily abandoned "ghost trance music" for the live duets with Leo Smith on Organic Resonance (april 2003), namely Comp. 314 and Comp. 315, and Comp. 316, on their next collaboration, Saturn Conjunct the Grand Canyon in a Sweet Embrace (april 2003).
Quintet (november 2004) contains Composition 343 for reeds, cornet, guitar, bass and percussion.
Sextet (may 2005) contains the 68-minute Composition 345 for saxophones, trumpet, viola/violin, tuba, bass and percussion.
Trio Glasgow (june 2005), i.e. the 56-minute Composition 323a and the 60-minute Composition 323b, featured Tom Crean on guitar and Taylor Ho Bynum on trumpets. Its companion was the four-disc set Solo Live At Gasthof Heidelberg Loppem (june 2005), containing Compositions 307-309 and a few covers.
4 Compositions - Phonomanie VIII (june 2005) contains the 35-minute Comp. 301 for solo piano, the 47-minute Comp. 323 A ("tri-centric version" for reeds, electronics, cornet and percussion), and two compositions for large ensemble (reeds, electronics, piano, clarinets, alto saxophones, trumpet, trombone, tuba, guitar, violins, viola, cello, bass, including two conductors besides himself, a synchronous conductor and a polarity conductor): the 56-minute Comp. 96 + 134 and the 65-minute Comp. 169 + 147.
The nine-disc set 9 Compositions - Iridium (march 2006) documented the world premieres of Compositions 350 through 358 (each about one hour long) as performed by his 12+1tet (roughly four saxophonists, trumpet, guitar, flute, viola, trombone, tuba, bassoon, bass, percussion) over the course of four nights in a New York club, the final works in the "Ghost Trance Music" series.
Notable collaborations included: Compositions/ Improvisations (june 2000) with saxophonist Scott Rosenberg, Four Compositions (october 2000) with vocalist Alex Horwitz, Duets (january 2002) with cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, the double-disc Duo Palindrome (october 2002) with drummer Andrew Cyrille, ABCD (july 2003) with bassist Chris Dahlgren, Shadow Company (february 2004) with percussionist Milo Fine, Improvisations (may 2004) with pianist Walter Frank, Duo (may 2005) with British guitarist with Fred Frith.
Solo Willisau (september 2003) documented live solo alto saxophone pieces.
12+1tet (august 2007) was another work for large ensemble. The four-disc box-set 4 Improvisations (Duo) 2007 (july 2007) documents a collaboration with Joe Morris.
The four-disc Quartet Ghost Trance Music (may 2005) contains four compositions performed by Braxton on reeds, Carl Testa on bass, Aaron Siegal on percussion and Max Heath on piano.
Beyond Quantum (may 2008) documents five improvisations with bassist Milford Graves and drummer William Parker.
Quartet Moscow (june 2008) documents a live performance the 70-minute Composition 367B with Braxton on alto, soprano, sopranino and contrabass clarinet, Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet, flugelhorn, piccolo trumpet and bass trumpet, Mary Halvorson on electric guitar and Katherine Young on bassoon. >
The DVD release Nine Compositions 2003 (2008) compiles more of his "Ghost Trance Music": compositions number 328, 72, 74, 23, 190, 75, 292, 322, 327.
The double-disc Improvisations (july 2008) was a collaboration with pianist Maral Yakshieva.
Duo Heidelberg Loppem (march 2007) contains duets between Braxton (on sopranino, soprano and alto saxophones and contrabass clarinet) and bassist Joëlle Léandre.
The six-disc box-set, Standards (Brussels) 2006 (november 2006) collects live performances by a quartet formed with an Italian trio (pianist Alessandro Giachero, bassist Antonio Borghini, and drummer Cristiano Calcagnile).
The Anthony Braxton Quartet (Kevin O'Neil on guitar, Kevin Norton on percussion and Andy Eulau on bass) collected over 60 jazz standards on the multiple-cd sets 23 Standards(Quartet) 2003, 20 Standards (Quartet) 2003 and 19 Standards (Quartet) 2003. New originals surfaced on Composition 255 & 265 (2003), i.e. Composition 255, a saxophone duet with Jonas, and Composition 265, a trio with Jonas and vocalist Molly Sturges, and on Composition 339 & 340 (2007), duets with soprano Ann Rhodes.
Old Dogs (august 2007) is a quadruple-CD box-set that collects four studio inventions improvised by Braxton (here on Eb Sopranino, Bb Soprano, Eb Alto, C Melody, Eb Baritone, Bb Bass and Bb Contrabass saxes) and Gerry Hemingway (who sings and plays drums, marimba, vibraphone, samplers, and harmonica) to celebrate Braxton's 65th birthday.
Creative Orchestra 2007 (september 2007), a collaboration with an 18-member orchestra, includes compositions No. 306, 307 and 91.
Quartet (Mestre) 2008 documents a live performance of july 2008 of Composition 367c by himself (soprano & alto sax, contrabass clarinet and live electronics), Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet, flugelhorn, piccolo, bass trumpet, valve trombone), Mary Halvorson (electric guitar) and Katherine Young (bassoon).
6 Duos (Wesleyan) 2006 (july 2006) was a duo collaboration with trumpetist John McDonough.
Anthony Braxton's Septet Pittsburgh 2008 (may 2008) documents Composition No. 355, accompanied by Taylor Ho Bynum (flugelhorn, trombone, cornet, bass trumpet and piccolo trumpet), Jessica Pavone (violin, electric bass and viola), Jay Rozen (tuba), Mary Halvorson (guitar), Carl Testa (acoustic bass and bass clarinet), and Aaron Siegel (drums, percussion and vibraphone).
The four-disc box-set Trillium E (composed in 2000 but recorded in march 2010) contains his Composition No 237 - Opera in Four Acts for 12 vocalists, 12 solo instrumentalists and a 40-piece orchestra, the follow-up to Trillium A (staged in San Diego in 1985), Trillium M (premiered in London in 1994), and Trillium R (Composition n° 162). "There is no single story line in Trillium because there is no point of focus being generated. Instead the audience is given a multi-level event state that fulfills vertical and horizontal strategies".
Ensemble Pittsburgh 2008 (may 2008) delivered Composition 173, Composition 100, Composition 134 and Composition 165. as performed by 12 musicians conducted by Braxton himself. The double-disc Duets Pittsburgh 2008 (may 2008) was a collaboration with saxophonist Ben Opi that yielded Composition 220 (+ 278 & 29B) and Composition 340 (+ 173).
Credited to the duo Anthony Braxton/Buell Neidlinger, 2 BY 2: Duets (april 1989) was released only a decade later.
Creative Music Orchestra (NYC) 2011 (october 2011) is actually a performance by the Tri-Centric Orchestra conducted by Aaron Siegel, Jessica Pavone and Taylor Ho Bynum, a one-hour suite that also recycles old themes.
GTM (Iridium) 2007 Volume 1 - Set 1 (march 2007) contains Composition No.254 performed by a septet with Carl Testa (bass), Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet), Mary Halvorson (Guitar), Aaron Siegel (percussion), Jay Rozen (tuba) and Jessica Pavone (viola). Volume 1, Set 2 (march 2007) contains Composition No.322. Volume 2, set 1 (march 2007) contains Composition No.255. Volume 2, Set 2 (march 2007) contains Composition No.362. Volume 3 - Set 1 (march 2007) contains Composition No.259. Volume 3, Set 2 (march 2007) containes Composition No.362 Volume 4, set 1 contains Composition No.266 (april 2007) Volume 4, set 2 (april 2007) contains Composition No.348. All of them featured the same line-up.
Composition No. 376, off Echo Echo Mirror House (NYC) 2011 (october 2011), was scored for samples (played by all musicians on iPods) and jazz instruments (five saxes, bassoon, cornet, trombone, tuba, viola, violin, guitar, bass and percussion).
Tentet (Wesleyan) 1999 (november 1999) contains the colossal Composition 235 and Composition 236, performed with James Fei, Brian Glick, Chris Jonas, Steve Lehman, Seth Misterka and Jackson Moore (all, with the leader, on reeds), Kevin O'Neil (electric guitar), Seth Dillinger (contrabass) and Kevin Norton (percussion).
The live Echo Echo Mirror House (2011) contains Composition 347 for a septet with Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet, bugle, trombone), Mary Halvorson (electric guitar), Jessica Pavone (alto violin), Jay Rozen (tuba), AAron Siegel (percussion, vibraphone) and Carl Testa (bass and clarinet) and all of them also on iPods.
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The Tri-Centric Foundation is a not-for-profit organization that supports the ongoing work and legacy of Anthony Braxton, while also cultivating and inspiring the next generation of creative artists to pursue their own visions with the kind of idealism and integrity Braxton has demonstrated throughout his long and distinguished career.
Specifically, TCF encourages broad dissemination of Braxton’s music through creation of, and support for, performances, productions, recordings and other new media technologies. It also documents, archives, preserves and disseminates Braxton’s scores, writings, performances and recordings and advocates for a broader audience,
appreciation, funding and support base for Braxton’s work.
This website also houses New Braxton House Records, releasing monthly download-only albums in addition to the 4-CD box set for Trillium E, the first-ever studio recording of a Braxton opera. Albums released by the old Braxton House imprint (1996-1999) and a curated collection of free bootlegs are also available in downloadable format for the first time.
June releases: Quartet (FRM) 2007 Vol. 1 & 2. Vol. 1 is member download, Vol. 2 is a la carte only. With Anthony Braxton, Erica Dicker, Katie Young, Sally Norris.
THIS MONTH'S RELEASE
(Free to Members!)
Quartet (FRM) 2007 Vol. 1
Recorded on December 6, 2007
Wesleyan Univeristy, CT
For $7.99 per month, TCF members receive a free album-length download every month, in addition to 30% off all back-catalog digital items. Members also get surprise bonuses: exclusive free downloads, autographed merchandise, and invitations to concerts and events. All the proceeds directly support the ongoing activities of the Tri-Centric Foundation.
Home | The Tri-Centric Foundation
New Braxton House Records
Africa: Triangle Land
‘Circle House’ No-1
African Ritual Funeral Music (Dogon Culture: Three Snapshots)
Jola Initiation Ritual: Mapping No-1
Known/The Unknown/and Belief
The Logic of Animate Behaviour
Africa: The Pulse Model Perspective
Architecture Style in West Africa
Cultural Fusion & Composite Reality
‘The First of the Mohicans’
Recognition and Change
Redemptive Transformation No-1
Initial Encounters: (Ante-Bellum/Focus)
Pirandello: Transcendent Strategies
Story-Mythology Progressionism in Asia
The Jew of Malta
Allegory and Form
Poetic Logics: Medieval Period
‘Moor or Less’
Experience and ‘Surprise’
Anthony Braxton Project
This is a collaborative attempt to document all Anthony Braxton appearances, whether recorded or not. Comments, additions, corrections via email to braxtonproject at yahoo.com
Please visit the official Anthony Braxton website
Anthony Braxton is widely and critically acclaimed as a seminal figure in the music of the late 20th and early 21st century. His work, both as saxophonist and composer, has broken new conceptual and technical ground in the trans-African and trans-European (a.k.a. "jazz" and "American Experimental") musical traditions in North America; traditions defined by master improvisers such as Warne Marsh, John Coltrane, Paul Desmond, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, and Braxton and his own peers in the historic Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians; and by American composers such as Charles Ives, Harry Partch, and John Cage. Braxton has developed a unique and personal musical language through a synthesis of those American traditions with 20th-century European art music as defined by Schoenberg, Stockhausen, Xenakis, Varese and others. Braxton’s extensions of instrumental technique, timbre, meter and rhythm, voicing and ensemble make-up, harmony and melody, and improvisation and notation have revolutionized modern American music.
Braxton's five decades worth of recorded output is kaleidoscopic and prolific, with well over 150 recordings to his credit. He has won and continues to win prestigious awards and critical praise, including the MacArthur “genius grant” Fellowship. Books, anthology chapters, scholarly studies, reviews and interviews and other media and academic attention to him and his work have also accumulated steadily and increasingly throughout the years. His own self-published writings about the musical traditions from which he works and their historical and cultural contexts (Tri-Axium Writings 1-3) and his five-volume Composition Notes A-E are unparalleled by artists from the oral and unmatched by those in the literate tradition.
Braxton is a tenured professor at Wesleyan University, one of the world's centers of world music. His teaching career began at Mills College in Oakland, California, and has become as much a part of his creative life as his own work. It includes training and leading performance ensembles and private tutorials in his own music, computer and electronic music, and history courses in the music of his major musical influences, from the Western Medieval composer Hildegard von Bingen to contemporary masters like Cage and Coleman.
Braxton's name continues to stand for the broadest integration of oft-conflicting poles in the current cultural debates about the nature and place of the Western and African-American musical traditions in America, poles such as “creative freedom” and “responsibility”, discipline and energy, and vision of the future and respect for tradition. The music of his newest ensembles brings to that debate a voice that is fresh and strong, still as creative as ever even as it takes on the authority of a seasoned master. 2005 was a watershed year, as Braxton celebrated his 60th birthday and the AACM celebrated its 40th anniversary, and in performances throughout the world, Braxton was again recognized as one of the preeminent figures in contemporary creative music.
Index of compositions
Index of issues
Index of personnel
Listing of abbreviations used
While this is the most comprehensive and accurate chronology of Anthony Braxton ever produced, there still may be omissions and errors. Please help if you can.
This project results from the collective efforts of the Anthony Braxton Project, coordinated by Jonathan Piper.
Photo courtesy Jason Guthartz.
Thanks to contributors:
David Beardsley, Kirby Bell, Bart Borgmans, Tom Bowden, Frank Büchmann-Møller, Jean-Philippe Burg, Jan Carlsson, Bhreandain Clugston, Marilyn Crispell, Andrew Raffo Dewar, Andreas Dietz, William Fielder, Michael Fitzgerald, Kevin Frenette, Franz Fuchs, Jason Guthartz, Patrick Herwarth, Timo Hoyer, Larry Kart, Bob Lambert, Dirk de Leeuw, George Lewis, John Litweiler, Alberto Lofoco, Rick Lopez, Ronald Lyles, Terry Martin, Francesco Martinelli, Martin Milgrim, Chuck Nessa, Agustín Pérez, Patrick Pohlmann, Michael Rosenstein, Henning Schenck, John Sharpe, Damon Short, Leo Smith, Jens Tilsner, Jeroen de Valk, Uwe Weiler, David Wight, Nils Winther, Russell Woessner
and Anthony Braxton.
Walter Bruyninckx: 85 Years of Recorded Jazz
Safford Chamberlain: An Unsung Cat, Lanham, MD, Scarecrow Press, 2001.
Michael Cuscuna & Michel Ruppli: The Blue Note Label, Westport, CT, Greenwood Press, 2001.
John Gray: Fire Music: A Bibliography of the New Jazz, 1959-1990, Westport, CT, Greenwood Press, 1991.
Graham Lock: Forces In Motion, New York, Da Capo Press, 1988. (GL)
Tom Lord: The Jazz Discography, v. 5.0 2004, v. 6.0 2005, Lord Music (Lord CDROM)
Francesco Martinelli: Anthony Braxton - A Discography, Bandecchi e Vivaldi, Pontedera, Italy, 2000. (FM)
Erik Raben: Jazz Records, 1942-1980,
Ronald M. Radano: New Musical Figurations: Anthony Braxton's Cultural Critique, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1993.
Michel Ruppli: The Atlantic Label, Westport, CT, Greenwood Press, .
Hans Wachtmeister: A Discography & Bibliography Of Anthony Braxton, Stocksund, Sweden, Blue Anchor, 1982. (HW)
Peter Niklas Wilson: Anthony Braxton
The Chicago Defender
The Chicago Tribune (CT)
Down Beat (db)
Jazz & Pop (J&P)
Jazz Journal (JJ)
The Los Angeles Times (LAT)
The New York Times (NYT)
The Washington Post (WP)
Anthony Braxton Discography by Jason Guthartz
The Chicago Jazz Archive at the University of Chicago
Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies
U.S. Library of Congress
This chronology was produced using BRIAN, a computer discography database program created by Steve Albin. BRIAN is a significant step in the field of jazz research and holds much potential. I encourage discographers to investigate this program. Steve has been incredibly helpful in terms of technical support and in custom-tailoring this program.
Back to www.JazzDiscography.com
Vol 4, No 1 (2008)
“What I Call a Sound”: Anthony Braxton’s Synaesthetic Ideal and Notations for Improvisers
by Graham Lock
“See deeply enough, and you see musically.”
“Tuned to its grandest level, music, like light, reminds us that everything that matters, even in this world, is reducible to spirit.”
Flick through the pages of Anthony Braxton’s Composition Notes and you’ll soon encounter some striking visual imagery. In Composition #32, for example, “Giant dark chords are stacked together in an abyss of darkness” (CN-B 375); Composition #75 will take you “’from one room to the next’—as if in a hall of mirrors (‘with lights in the mirrors’)” (CN-D 118); in Composition #77D slap tongue dynamics “can be viewed [as] sound ‘sparks’ that dance ‘in the wind’ of the music” (189); enter the “universe” of Composition #101 and you’ll discover “a field of tall long trees (of glass)” (CN-E 142).1 While it is not unusual for composers to employ visual images when discussing their work, Braxton’s descriptions are clearly not illustrative in the sense of, say, Vivaldi’s poems for La Quattro Stagioni or Ellington’s droll explanations of his song titles. Rather than describe scenes that the music supposedly evokes, Braxton appears instead to offer extremely personal visualisations of the musical events and processes that are taking place in his compositions.
Further evidence of this highly individual perspective can be found throughout his work. Each of the five volumes of his Composition Notes begins with a list of “sound classifications”: these are types of sounds that Braxton identified early in his career and compiled into a basic musical vocabulary. There are nearly 100 classifications, ranging from “curve sounds” to “gurgle sounds” to “petal sounds,” and he gives each one its own visual designation. [FIGURE 1.]
Figure 1. Examples of Sound Classifications listed in the Composition Notes.
© Synthesis Music.
More eye-catching, and certainly more remarked upon, are his composition titles, also listed in the Composition Notes and, of course, reproduced on his CDs and LPs. Instead of using verbal titles, Braxton assigns each work a visual title: a diagram, comprising a mix of lines, shapes, colours, figures, numbers, and letters, which encodes both the structural and what he calls the “vibrational” elements of the music.2 [FIGURE 2.]
Figure 2. Examples of the composition diagram-titles, showing [top row] the use of colour and perspective (#69Q, left), and figuration (#105A, right), [second row] subtitles (#110D, left) and a story image (#122, right), [third row] landscape (#142), and [bottom row] photo collages (#184, left, and #187, right). © Synthesis Music.
Add to these his frequent use of graphic and symbolic notations, his recollection that as a young man he would draw the solos of his favourite saxophonists, and his striking claim that he actually sees each of his compositions, “as if it were a three-dimensional painting” (Lock, Forces 99-102, 152), and it is clear that visual factors play a significant role in Anthony Braxton’s conception of music.
My aim in this essay is to further explore this engagement with the visual, and in particular how it impinges on his compositional and performance practices via his creation of alternative notations. I have chosen to focus on a selection of these graphic scores for a number of reasons: one is that they represent the point at which visual elements impact most directly on the music; a second is that, compared to the much-discussed diagram titles, they have been rather overlooked; a third is that whereas Braxton has consistently refused to discuss the titles, saying they concern mystical areas that language is unable to address, his Composition Notes necessarily make reference to the alternative notations he uses, and so help to elucidate the role of the visual in his music. Braxton has also been willing to discuss at least some aspects of such scores in greater detail, and I will be including extracts from an interview I conducted with him in Brussels in February 2003. Finally, I want to consider, albeit briefly, whether these alternative notations, in drawing on such disparate sources as European Romantic mysticism and African American improvisational aesthetics, can be said to exemplify Braxton’s statements that his music is “trans-idiomatic” and cannot be properly understood as belonging within either black or white cultural traditions.
“It is useful to consider the difference between music and the visual arts as a matter of degree, not of kind.”
Simon Shaw-Miller (4)
First, a slight but necessary digression. Braxton’s 1985 declaration, noted above, that he sees music “as if it were a three-dimensional painting” raises the possibility that he has a particular form of synaesthetic perception called chromaesthesia, or colour hearing, which would mean that he does literally see sounds as colours and shapes. The word “synaesthesia” is, according to consultant psychologist John Harrison, “a blend of the Greek words for ‘sensation’ (aisthesis) and ‘together’ or ‘union’ (syn), implying the experience of two, or more, sensations occurring together” (3). He adds that, in the majority of cases, the fusion comprises “a visual sensation caused by auditory stimulation”; this is chromaesthesia, in which a person sees colours and shapes when hearing a sound (3). (These associations are entirely involuntary; they cannot be evoked at will; they are experienced as normal—by which I mean as vividly real as any other sensory perception—by the synaesthete; and they remain consistent throughout a person’s life.) I will say more about synaesthesia below, but first I want to record Braxton’s own thoughts on the question, which I put to him in 2003, of whether the strong visual component in his musical thinking might be the result of chromaesthesia or some other kind of synaesthetic perception.
I don’t really know. Your question is complex. There is a ring-post notch past which I don’t try to analyse. But I would say this—there has never been an inherent separation in perception dynamics between the actual sound and the image internal reality connected to the sound, including colour, including vibrational spectra, i.e. radiance, timbre logics . . . I kind of see all of that as one thing.
I have never only heard a sound. If I hear a sound, I hear spectra . . . it’s more three-dimensional than the actual sound. I did not even realise that until I took ear training in college and I came to see that I wasn’t exactly hearing what everyone else was hearing. For instance, I looked at some of the notated Warne Marsh solos and I was totally surprised to realise that, mechanically, some of the information looked very different to what I had been hearing.
I still feel that way. The attempts to notate the great solos from the masters of improvised music only capture maybe two-thirds of what actually happened in the music and that difference is part of what we’re talking about. I’m thinking of the solo by Warne Marsh on “The Song Is You.”3 I think as a young guy what fascinated me . . . I don’t know how to say it . . . Warne has a gravity and a vibrational presence that’s . . . It’s like the notes are here [waves arm horizontally] but the real logic is in the internal world [waves arm at lower level]. I was more intrigued by that internal world than by the actual notes, in terms of how he was able to manipulate internal presence and feeling in his music. It’s not something that can be written out. It was at that point that I would discover that what I call a sound is not necessarily what someone else would call a sound.
I think, for instance, that this concept of two-dimensional pitch in the Western music system is a form of reductionism compared to what is actually happening. And while I celebrate the invention of extended methodology and I bow to the great men and women who have evolved music science, at the same time many of the things that attracted me to music were three-dimensional. The attempts to house it, to write it out, in many ways involved reducing the vibrational spectra of the music. I think the music we call jazz, so-called jazz, really brings it out, folk music brings it out, all of the musics that are close to the community and allow for individual presence bring out this dichotomy between the rational system and the three-dimensional system.4
So the concept of image logics and the connection between acoustic actualisation and visual shapes and colours has to do with . . . Well, this is what I was naturally hearing and sensing. Later, as I got older, I would find out that, whoever I am, I’m not actually sick or unhealthy because of the way I hear music. That, in fact, the more I would understand the wonder and dynamics of actualisation, the more I would find that in every culture there is a body of information that agrees, or is consistent, with what I’m saying. Which is not to say I’m right or wrong or anything like that; only that there is a continuum of information that has always emphasised three-dimensional presences, vibrational presences. (Braxton, Personal)
I think it is fair to say that Braxton’s experiences of sound, as described above, are certainly unusual and highly individualistic. But can they be interpreted as evidence of synaesthetic perception? The literature on synaesthesia seems to offer a few intriguing similarities. For example, while synaesthetic perceptions are classified as mental images, it is generally acknowledged that synaesthetes do literally see their images (called photisms) outside of their body, as if projected on a kind of visual field a little in front of the face—perhaps not unlike a three-dimensional painting appearing before your eyes. According to Kevin T. Dann, synaesthetes “usually describe their photisms in geometric terms—‘sparks,’ ‘spots,’ ‘lines,’ ‘streaks,’ ‘zigzags’” (72). He reports the case of two synaesthetes who “saw three-dimensional geometric forms when they heard musical instruments played”: the examples he lists include “seeing the flute as a thimble shape and as a hollow tube, a bugle as a sphere with an opening in its upper side, and the piano as quadrangular blocks and spheres” (72). It may be entirely coincidental, but many of Braxton’s diagram titles, particularly from the 1970s and early 1980s, also resemble irregular three-dimensional geometric forms and shapes.5 [FIGURE 3.]
Figure 3. Examples of unusual geometric shapes in the composition diagram-titles. Top row: #65, left; #87, right; bottom row: #96, left; #101, right. © Synthesis Music.
Consider too Dann’s description of synaesthesia as a “non-linguistic” experience, difficult to describe in words, which lends it a quality of “ineffability”; and his suggestion that synaesthesia is as much a conceptual process as it is a perceptual process, by which he means that synaesthetes not only see their perceptions but experience them as “a form of thinking,” or what Dann also calls “felt meaning” (8n 81).6 Again, it is tempting to draw links between, for example, synaesthesia’s “quality of ineffability” and Braxton’s frequent criticisms of language as “mono dimensional”; or between Dann’s notion of “felt meaning” and Braxton’s experience, reported above, of “vibrational presence.” Yet, while these resemblances are intriguing, they remain highly speculative—and, after all, musicians have long claimed that language is an inadequate vehicle for explaining and/or understanding their relationship to music.7 So the question of whether Braxton has synaesthetic perception is, as he says, complex and may be unanswerable. The problem is not simply that a music writer is hardly competent to judge, but that even those who have the requisite qualifications may not be able to agree. Despite more than a century of research, there is still no scientific consensus as to the exact nature and working of synaesthesia.8 One reason is that synaesthetic perceptions vary greatly from person to person and may be unique, at least in their specifics, to each individual. For example, while chromaesthesia may be the commonest form of synaesthetic perception, no two people with colour hearing will see the same shapes and colours even when listening to the same piece of music. A second reason is that, as mentioned above, synaesthetic experience is very difficult to communicate, so that those who have it find it almost impossible to describe and those who don’t find it almost impossible to comprehend.
Given that the issue of Braxton’s supposed chromaesthetic perception appears to be unresolvable, I propose to broaden the terms of my inquiry and look instead at the notion that his music embodies and promotes what I will call a synaesthetic ideal, by which I mean an intellectual construct that has its own cultural history, which I’ll outline in a moment. To put it simply, whether or not he literally sees sounds as colours and shapes, he certainly believes that they correspond on some levels and that such correspondences have both an aesthetic and a spiritual significance that he addresses in his music—as, for example, in his use of graphic and symbolic notations that attempt to circumvent the limitations of “two-dimensional” pitch. This is how Braxton explained it to me in 2003:
From the beginning, I’ve been interested in looking for the kind of connections that could make a given device holistic. By holistic here I mean with respect to mechanics, with respect to experience, and with respect to connections to other disciplines. In that context, you have sound, image logics (since we’re talking about colour and painting) and dance. I think that, at the heart of what I’m trying to say, is that my interests and the work I’ve been pursuing are consistent with world culture. I’m not talking about something that has never been done before but rather something that we seem to have forgotten about that already exists.
I think that everything is connected and that the challenge of the next time period is not simply the advancement of a concept of entertainment or of music as separate from life, but rather the move towards three-dimensional, holistic experiences with music, image logics and dynamic spirituality all connected—including physicality, dance, movement. I’m looking for total integration. (Braxton, Personal)
Total integration of the arts, cultural synthesis, is part of what I mean by the synaesthetic ideal and Braxton is right to say this is nothing new. According to art historian Simon Shaw-Miller, “notions of media purity in modernism are the historical exception. The conception of fluid boundaries between the sonoric and the visual (and indeed also between the textual) is a closer reflection of artistic practices throughout history” (x).9 However, there is a particular mystical element to Braxton’s thinking that we need to consider, not least because it crucially informs his views on music and the visual. This kind of mystical thinking is not new either: Braxton has often spoken of his interest in earlier cultures—which he sometimes calls “the ancients”—and has explained that this interest is related to that fact that many such cultures, from ancient Egypt and China to European Renaissance Hermeticism, have seen music as part of a network of mystical correspondences that includes not only colours and shapes but also astrological signs, numbers, times of the day, parts of the body, the elements, the seasons and the planets (Lock, Forces 294-307). Braxton has occasionally devised alternative notations that refer to these correspondences, as we will see in the case of Compositions #76 and #82; but before discussing specific scores, I’d like to try to locate these ancient beliefs in a more recent cultural context, which is also the point at which such networks first became conflated with synaesthetic art.
In his philosophical Tri-Axium Writings, Braxton argues that an awareness of mystical correspondences has long been the global norm and that all world musics have respected the notion of “vibrational presence.” However, the despiritualisation of Western culture since the Enlightenment has, he says, resulted in Western classical music evolving separately from other world musics and developing according to what he terms “existential” criteria rather than with regard to spiritual values. This empiricism, which he links to the rise of materialism and mechanistic science, has, he claims, led to (among many other things) separation and specialisation, including the elevation of the composer over the performer and an emphasis on technique and “correct” playing at the expense of improvisation and personal expression. His own music represents an attempt to reverse these trends, or rather to balance them, not least because he sees the reunification of the arts as a requisite to the advent of a new spiritual awareness that will, he hopes, lead to global co-operation and peace (Lock, Forces 308-11).
Many of these ideas reiterate beliefs concerning art and spirituality that were integral to strands of European Romanticism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: in the Theosophical writings of Madam Blavatsky, the Symbolist poetry of Rimbaud, the Expressionist paintings of Kandinsky, the musical experiments of composers such as Wagner, Scriabin and Schoenberg. The Wagnerian concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk (the total work of art); the quest for a universal language of colour, shape and sound; the belief in the synthesis of all art forms and in the transformational power of such a synthesis to usher in a new age of spirituality—all of these ideas, which were circulating in fin de siècle European salons, are echoed in Braxton’s writings. Lest I be accused of imposing an unduly Eurocentric perspective here, let me stress that Braxton is certainly well-acquainted with this phase of European Romantic philosophy and has named several of its artistic progenitors—notably Wagner, Schoenberg and Kandinsky—among his major influences. (He has also spoken many times of his debt to Karlheinz Stockhausen, whose work can be seen as a later extension of the same mystical tradition.)10
In relation to the visual, Kandinsky has been of particular significance to Braxton. He has said that, of all painters, it is Kandinsky whose work most closely resembles the paintings he “sees” in his own music; he dedicated one of his earliest graphic scores, Composition #10, to Kandinsky; and he has chosen Kandinsky paintings to accompany four of his recordings: Black Relationship, Looking Back on the Past, To Voice, and Blue Segment.11 The Belgian music writer Hugo DeCraen has enumerated many similarities between Kandinsky’s work and Braxton’s, with specific reference to the former’s “experimental colour opera” The Yellow Sound and the latter’s Trillium operas and series of theatrical “ritual and ceremonial” compositions. The two men, says DeCraen, share a fascination with colour/sound relationships as well as a belief that colour and sound each possess a spiritual quality or resonance that lends them a transcendental power (212-24). I would add that in Braxton’s distinction between the “actual notes” and the “internal presence and feeling” of a Warne Marsh solo, we perhaps hear an echo of Kandinsky’s belief that “a work of art consists of two elements, the inner and the outer,” the inner being “the emotion of the artist’s soul” (qtd. in Düchting 57).
Many people, then and now, have assumed that Kandinsky had chromaesthetic perception, although current scientific thinking suggests this was not the case.12 There is no doubt, however, that he was committed to affirming synaesthetic ideals in his painting and he played a leading role in the promulgation of these ideals in artistic circles, in part through his 1911 book Concerning the Spiritual in Art. Dann, in his study of synaesthesia as a cultural (as opposed to a neurological) phenomenon, notes that the first widespread scientific investigation of synaesthesia in the later 19th century coincided with its appearance as an artistic ideal in the salons of the avant-garde (13). He also argues that it was at this time, chiefly through popular misconception, that synaesthesia was first—and, he insists, erroneously—linked with the mystical correspondences found in earlier cultures, a linking that transformed it from, in Dann’s words, “a perceptual idiosyncrasy” into a “particularly attractive symbol for disaffected moderns looking for signs that unity might be recovered” (37-42).13
Once conflated with the astral and the occult, synaesthesia was acclaimed by many artists as a form of superior spiritual insight and work based on synaesthetic principles became fashionable. Such views were far from unanimous, however: cultural conservatives denounced synaesthetic art as decadent, while scientific positivists regarded synaesthesia itself as a type of mental illness. One result of the ensuing controversy was that synaesthetic beliefs became sufficiently well-known to attract the barbs of literary satire. In James Huneker’s 1902 story “The Disenchanted Symphony,” the protagonist Pobloff is a composer/conductor who deems colour hearing an advanced form of artistic perception and believes in the mystical power of music. During a rehearsal of his “experimental” symphonic poem, “The Abysm,” Pobloff is aghast to see his orchestra suddenly vanish “into a darkness that freezes the eyeballs” and realises that the mystical forces unleashed by his music have transported the musicians into the fourth dimension (332-33). Frantic, he eventually manages to bring them back by performing “The Abysm” backwards on the organ!14 I’m not aware of Braxton’s music ever dispatching the musicians into a different dimension (although some of his scores do include the option of performing the notation backwards), but given his familiarity with the same European mystical beliefs that Huneker was satirising, we should not be surprised that Pobloff’s thinking, and even his terminology, can seem on occasion to anticipate Braxton’s own:
Why should the highly organised brain of a musician be considered abnormal because it could see tone, hear colour, and out of a mixture of sound and silence, fashion images of awe and sweetness for a wondering, unbelieving world? If Man is a being afloat in a sea of vibrations, as Maurice de Fleury wrote, then any or all vibrations are possible. Why not a synthesis?15 (329)
What I want to suggest, then, is that in the synaesthetic ideals espoused by fin de siècle artists such as Kandinsky, Braxton found an inspiration for, or at least an affirmation of, the synaesthetic ideals he was exploring in his music. (And, possibly, he also found a context in which to make sense of his personal auditory perceptions, a reassurance that he was “not actually sick or unhealthy because of the way I hear music,” a perceptual experience that, after all, neither scientific research nor the English language has been able to describe or explain satisfactorily.) Here was an influential artistic movement that provided a framework both for a synaesthetic aesthetic and for the mystical correspondences that derived from the ancients. Yet we should be cautious about situating Braxton’s spiritual beliefs solely in this, or any one, context. In his early years in the AACM, he researched music’s relationship to mysticism in a number of cultures, and his writings confirm that he is familiar with many different spiritual traditions.16 There is, of course, a profound and long-standing African American mystical tradition, which, as outlined by Grey Gundaker, includes a variety of alternatives to “mono dimensional” language, such as personal codes, graphic scripts and spirit writing. While it may be possible to align some aspects of Braxton’s work with this tradition, I believe that to do so risks a kind of racial reductiveness, not least because Braxton himself has rarely mentioned such sources, whereas he has spoken frequently of his admiration for the work of Kandinsky, Wagner, Schoenberg and Stockhausen, and claimed an affinity with its spiritual content.
But even if I am right in nominating European Romanticism as a major influence in reference to the visual-cum-mystical areas in his music, it remains to be seen how he actually employs these factors in his compositional and performance practices—and it is at this point, I think, that the African American creative music tradition plays a crucial role. This is the issue I will address in the next part of the essay. As a preparatory step, let me stress that the conjunction of such apparently disparate influences is in accord with Braxton’s contention that his music is “trans-idiomatic,” that it cannot be categorised as being either predominantly European-influenced or predominantly within a jazz/black music tradition. By tracing the relationship between his mystical beliefs and his music making, and in particular by examining how visual factors work in relation to his uses of notation and improvisation, my hope is that we can also reach a better understanding of the term “trans-idiomatic” and how it operates in Braxton’s oeuvre.
“Hear with your eyes, see with your ears.”
Charlie Parker (qtd. in Taylor 248)
In the Tri-Axium Writings, Braxton argues that notation plays a different role in Western classical music than it does in African American creative music, where improvisation on written material is more highly prized than the correct execution of it:
Notation as practised in black improvised creativity is not viewed as a factor that only involves the duplication of a given piece of music [. . .] Rather this consideration [i.e. notation] has been used as both a recall factor as well as a generating factor to establish improvisational co-ordinates [. . .] Notation in this context invariably becomes a stabilising factor that functions with the total scheme of the music rather than a dominant factor at the expense of the music. (T-AW 3 35-36)17
In many black musics, Braxton is saying notation is used as a guide or platform for improvisation—for example, in the way a written-out ensemble riff might underpin an improvised solo—so that the score is only one component of the total performance, whereas in the Western classical tradition there is generally more emphasis on a faithful rendition of the score as being the main focus and purpose of the performance. This insistence on interpretative accuracy, and the “correct” technique it requires, though adopted by many jazz critics, is, says Braxton, foreign to the African American understanding of improvisation as a “vibrational continuum that differs from moment to moment / person to person” (243):18
The fact is, improvisation as practised in the working arena of black creativity is related to many other factors that are outside the actual ‘doing’ in the music. I am writing of a functional idea that utilizes both a fixed and open operational scheme—whose ultimate significance has nothing to do with the execution of its co-ordinates but is instead concerned with how a given participation is able vibrationally to affirm what is being dealt with. (248)
These ideas cast light on Braxton’s 2003 comments about the necessity of allowing “vibrational spectra” and “individual presence” into the music. And it is not hard to see how graphic and symbolic notations could facilitate these processes: they operate as improvisational portals through which vibrational factors such as personal creativity and “the feeling of the moment” can infuse a performance, thereby ensuring that the score retains the potential to be relevant to any player (and any community) at any time. While Braxton adheres to the same values in regards to his conventionally notated works,19 in which he also encourages players to improvise in a variety of different ways,20 graphic scores allow wider scope for improvisation and have the advantage of undermining critical notions of “correctness,” since there is no correct way to play, say, a sequence of coloured shapes. They can also encourage players to explore the full potential of their instruments, going beyond normally prescribed (because conventionally notated) parameters, so creating a personal sound/style that will better express “individual presence,” or what Braxton also calls “the whole of their ‘life’ position,” and which he considers an absolutely vital element of performance (249-50).21 When we turn to the Composition Notes in a moment, we will see that Braxton’s comments therein make clear that his own work is conceived largely (though certainly not exclusively) in accord with the precepts of “black improvised creativity” that he outlines in the Tri-Axium Writings, particularly in regard to the central role of improvisation in musical performance and the use of notation, not least his synaesthetically inspired alternative notations, “as a generating factor to establish improvisational co-ordinates” (35).
Let’s now look at some examples of Braxton’s graphic and symbolic scores; and so that readers may, if they wish, listen to the music under discussion, I will try to restrict myself, as far as is possible, to works that have been released on disc. The first work described in the Composition Notes is Piano Piece 1, aka Composition #1, written in 1968.22 Braxton spells out that the composition “contains many of the ingredients that would come to preoccupy my attention in creative music,” one of the more crucial being “the interrelationship between functional tenets and individual expression” (CN-A 1). This relationship is reflected in the score’s mixture of what Braxton calls here “visual” and conventional notations.23 The former, he says, is intended to promote improvisation and derives from his “desire to encourage more involvement” from the instrumentalist, as well as to explore the dynamic “between fixed and open structures” (6). As a result, a performance of the work “is an affirmation of myself as a composer as well as [of] the interpreter—as a creative person in his or her own right” (6).
Already we see here several of the key components in Braxton’s musical thinking. The “affirmation” of the performer is a recurring theme that runs throughout the Composition Notes (and is a means of enabling “individual presence”), as is the use of various types of “visual” notation to promote the improvisation that allows this affirmation to occur. Other salient points, such as the focus on the relationship between structural elements (“functional tenets”) and personal expression, and the use of both alternative and conventional notations to mediate this relationship, also recur throughout the Composition Notes.24
Braxton employs various alternative notations in several of his earlier compositions, usually in conjunction with conventional notation, although occasionally a score is entirely graphic. In Composition #10, for example, originally for solo piano and dedicated to Kandinsky, the score comprises sixty-eight visual figures, created from combinations of seven basic shapes that are linked to the seven basic musical components of the composition.25 Initially the figures were grouped together four per page [FIGURE 4.],
Figure 4. Figures from the original graphic score of Composition #10. © Synthesis Music.
but when Braxton revised the score in 1982 he transferred them to individual cards. Register, dynamic and pitch choices are left open to the performer, as is the duration of the piece and the order in which the figures are played. Yet this is not free improvisation: each shape corresponds to a particular type of sound, specified by the composer (these include trills, clusters, rumbles and pedal sounds), and the player is asked to respect both these associations and the relationships between the shapes in each figure. In his notes, Braxton explains that he had two major goals with this work: firstly to help “restore our awareness of composite cultural dynamics” (that is, #10 aspires to the synaesthetic ideal that he sees in earlier cultures) (174);26 and then, again, to encourage the complete participation of the performer. The visual figures, he says, offer the player “a basis for self-examination and discovery,” such activities being, he adds, “important to our growth as creative musicians” (181).
The intention to reaffirm “composite cultural dynamics” features more prominently in works where Braxton makes direct reference to the correspondences found in earlier mystical traditions. In Composition #76, for example, he links the colour notation to astrological signs (while in Composition #82 he relates the colours in the score to both their astrological and numerological equivalents).27 Braxton has explained how the correspondences work in Composition #76: according to astrological tradition, each sign is associated with both a colour and a set of emotional characteristics—Taurus, for example, is linked with green and with feelings of calm and restraint; Aries is linked with red and with intense, explosive emotions. So, in the score of #76, the colours signal those emotional correspondences: green indicates play calmly, red indicates play with intensity, etc. Shades of colour mark factors such as dynamic and tempo: the darker the hue, the faster and/or louder you play.28 [FIGURE 5.]
Figure 5. Examples of the colour and shape notation used in #76. In this example the shapes indicate different kinds of improvisation, the numbers adjacent to the shapes refer to phrase-groupings and the “x” symbol offers the performers the option of singing instead of playing. Brackets signal “change instruments” (#76 is written for three multi-instrumentalists).
© Synthesis Music.
Composition #76, written in 1977, heralded a new phase in Braxton’s music that saw even greater emphasis on the use of “visual” notations. Compositions #78, #84 and #90, for instance, are almost entirely graphic scores: #78 is a “workshop forum,” the chief purpose of which is to encourage players to familiarise themselves with the use of shapes and colours as guides for improvisation; #84, dedicated to Picasso, comprises nine given shapes arranged in various configurations. [FIGURE 6.]
Figure 6. The nine shapes used in “visual notation” for #84. © Synthesis Music.
Each shape relates to a maximum of four sound-types, chosen by the players from a list of twenty options given in the score.29 As Mike Heffley has noted, Braxton’s urging of the performers to make their own selection of sound/shape correspondences suggests that “he’s trying to provoke in the players their own experience of such visual-audio connection and creativity—even a mystical experience—rather than imposing his own on them” (394). This further concentration on the visual reflected, in part, Braxton’s developing interest in the visual elements of performance itself—lighting, costume, set design, choreography—as he embarked upon his series of highly theatrical “ritual and ceremonial” works, beginning with Compositions #95, #96, #102 and #103, which also brought increasingly explicit use of mystical associations and aims. (Composition #95, for instance, composed as “a vehicle to alert the spirit about serious change,” employs both colour and numerological correspondences in the score.)30 And even in contemporaneous non-ritual works, such as Compositions #94, #98, #100 and #107, there’s a renewed emphasis on extending the visual parameters of the score to include shapes, symbols and what Braxton calls “multiple notation.”
Composition #94, for three instrumentalists, features several different kinds of alternative notations that provide what Braxton describes as “a dynamic context for creative exploration and visual integration” (CN-D 471).31 Section A’s “symbolic notation,” for example, draws both from the list of “sound classifications” in the Composition Notes (the players pre-select twenty of these to insert into the score) and from a set of ten geometric shapes that are specific to #94. These two sets of symbols function, says Braxton, as a “language texture—or fabric (in the same sense as vertical harmonic directives but from a more subjective basis)” (462); by which I assume he means that the players can improvise on a sequence of shapes and symbols much as they would on a series of chord changes, the main difference being that the former offers a greater degree of interpretative flexibility. This flexibility remains circumscribed, however, because each shape targets certain conceptual and/or psychological areas for the players to explore, while leaving pitch choices, etc. open to the individual.
Section B’s “image grouping notation” is even more intriguing, not least because it reappears in several later compositions. Braxton lists three sub-categories of this notation: “liquid formations,” “shape formations,” and “rigid formations.” Liquid formations occur when the cloud-like figures intertwine with conventionally notated pitches: the players are asked to “blur” those notes that fall within the shape and create “clouded mass sound imprints that form a multiphonic and ‘transformed’ state of sound” (467). [FIGURE 7.]
Figure 7. Examples of “liquid formations” from the score of #94. © Synthesis Music.
(The players have the option of tracing either the upper or lower outline of the shape, or both, or a combination of the two.) “The challenge of this context,” Braxton avers, “is to breathe a music whose contours respect the line flow of the shape but whose effect statement affirms the personality of the interpreter” (469).32 Shape formations are similar to liquid formations, except that the players are asked to give the shapes “harder edges,” while rigid formations extend this hardening process to “emphasize the composite state of a shape’s formation” (471).33 [FIGURES 8 and 9]
Figure 8. Examples of “shape formations" from the score of #94. ©Synthesis Music.
Figure 9. Examples of “rigid formations” from the score of #94. ©Synthesis Music.
Although Braxton’s music has rarely observed the customary divisions between composition and improvisation, this “image grouping notation”—and similar shapes recur in the scores to Compositions #98, #100 and #107—collapses the distinction even further. In his notes to Composition #98, he writes that the work is neither “notated [n]or open but rather a ‘bridge’ between both disciplines” (CN-E 87).34 More recently he has referred to his scores from this period as marking “the beginning of an improviser’s notation”:
I was seeking to establish models of notation that a) would be open to the new multi-instrumentalism that had been developed in the AACM; b) would allow the instrumentalists more flexibility as well as challenge them to stretch their vocabularies; and c) could define particular conceptual, psychological and correspondence spaces for extended improvisation (qtd. in Lock, “Hearing” 3).
These comments point to the innovatory implications of Braxton’s alternative notations. It’s not only that he is using these visual elements to urge players towards new areas of personal expression; he is also using them to integrate composition and improvisation in new ways and to radically revise notions of form. So, whereas traditional Western classical form tends to be closed to improvisation and traditional jazz form is open chiefly to what he calls “the separate brilliance” of the extended improvised solo (CN-E 83), works such as Compositions #94 and #98 represent a kind of porous or non-finished form in which tiny pockets of improvisational space permeate the musical structure.35 This embedding of space within the formal fabric of the composition, via the visual “improviser’s notation,” means it is virtually impossible to play these works, even as a straight run-through of the score, without “individual presence” and the “feeling of the moment” suffusing the performance.36 Such non-finished forms present individual improvisers with a fresh kind of challenge (there are no extended solos) and also call for fresh kinds of ensemble interplay: here the synaesthetic ideal has led to a music that is “trans-idiomatic,” not only because it synthesizes disparate influences, but especially because it proposes new kinds of formal logic.37
In Composition #96, Braxton’s synaesthetic ideal prompts another radical experiment with visual stimuli for improvisation. Written for orchestra and four slide projectors, the work comprises an orchestral score, in conventional notation, and a photographic score, based on twelve religious symbols from ancient cultures, including Celt, Christian, Egyptian, Greek, Hebrew, Mycean and Native American. [FIGURE 10.]
Figure 10. The twelve religious symbols that comprise the photographer’s “score” in #96. ©Synthesis Music.
The photographer is invited to seek out and shoot examples of these symbols in the natural world—“to find the Star of David in a snowflake or in a texture of trees—or in a reflection in the water”—and the resulting slides are then synchronised with the musical score in performance (CN-E 46).38 Braxton’s mystical beliefs inform the entire work, which, he says, is “an affirmation of its numerological equivalent—the number seven” (so it comprises seven parts, divided into sixteen segments, and employs sixteen different “language strategies” and sixteen different visual images: in numerology 16 = 1+6 = 7), and is designed “to celebrate the composite interrelationship between dynamic symbolism and world change” (CN-E 26). This mystical intent clearly lay behind the conception of the purely visual photographic score, yet it’s worth noting that Braxton employs the score in much the same way as he uses his graphic music scores: that is, he encourages the photographer to “improvise,” to create his or her own images in response to the symbols, just as he encourages the musicians to improvise on the colours and shapes of his alternative notations. Ensuring the “individual presence” of the participants remains a top priority.
To conclude, I’d like to look briefly at one final example of Braxton’s “notation for improvisers,” not least because we have a detailed account of how it worked in performance. Composition #108B was composed in 1984. It is one of a set of four “pulse tracks,” a term Braxton devised for pieces he created specifically to be played concurrently with other compositions (a notion that was, in turn, linked to the idea of “collage forms,” which he began to explore in the early 1980s).39 The way this worked in his quartet, which was the context in which he initially developed pulse tracks, was that normally the bassist and percussionist would play the pulse track, while the other two quartet members played or improvised on other notated material. Three of these early pulse tracks—Compositions #108A, #108C and #108D—are written in conventional notation, but Composition #108B is a graphic score that consists entirely of curvy lines and dots, while numbers across the top indicate beats per section. [FIGURE 11.]
Figure 11. An example of the graphic score for #108B. ©Synthesis Music.
Braxton describes #108B as “a series of possible curve line sounds or curve line dynamic changes” (311), implying that the lines can indicate pitch and/or volume, and he likens the music first to “a continuum of stresses and ‘whispers’ (as if a gust of wind has rushed through the sound space of the music and stirred up the mix of its ingredients)” (314), and later to “a ‘sea’ of ocean waves that contains a continuum of rising and falling vibrational (and actual) dynamics” (316).40 The intention behind the work, as in earlier examples, is both to implement the synaesthetic ideal (“to help in the cause of world unification and spiritual growth”) and to extend the improvisatory possibilities of the creative music tradition (to enable the players to “seek out a new world and feelings (positive feelings)”) (CN-E 317). Fortunately, we’re able to glean some insight into how these intentions, and the graphic notation, translated into performance practice because we have a description by Gerry Hemingway, percussionist in Braxton’s quartet from the early 1980s to the early 1990s, of how he approached the score in concert, initially in conjunction with bassist John Lindberg, then later with his successor in the quartet, Mark Dresser.41
108B[. . .] is nothing but numbers and lines that go up and down, with wavy motions to them that suggest glissandos, dynamics, but could be anything—Anthony didn’t specify, he allowed us to make our interpretations of what the shapes are. They’re interesting in that they do hold you together, though Mark and I, as well as John Lindberg and I, developed various ways of interpreting the score.
John Lindberg and I tended to lean towards glissando. We would follow the shapes fairly literally and we’d try to adhere to the time lapses that were happening. We’d be deliberate, but not too much, so we’d stretch them out and open them up in certain ways. More recently, Mark and I do a number of other things within the diagram system. Sometimes I use it as a velocity diagram, so as the line goes up I increase the velocity of whatever I’m doing: sometimes it gets faster, sometimes faster and louder, speed and dynamics. Or I’ll do inverse things, so when the line goes up, I slow down. I try to keep changing the relationship.
The other thing is that these dots also keep appearing in the score. We usually hit them, but sometimes we mime them, just to keep ourselves connected. I use them sometimes as accents; other times I use the dots as points of change—where I’m doing one sound that leads down to the dot [. . .] then, from the dot, I’ll change to a whole other texture, or from glissando to velocity. Mark and I have actually gone further with this and figured out more things to do, but it’s very open-ended, you can do a lot with it. The kick of it is we’re usually figuring out how to do these things right on stage. We talked about it when we first played it, but since then we don’t articulate to each other directly, we’re doing it right there in the moment, being quick with each other, each understanding what the other is doing (qtd. in Lock, Forces 261-62).42
Hemingway’s account is, I think, eloquent testimony to the efficacy of Braxton’s alternative notation, at least in Composition #108B. It did spur the musicians to explore fresh kinds of improvisation and interplay, and—while retaining certain “functional tenets,” such as keeping them connected—it also offered the players extensive scope for individual expression (and by means other than the extended solo). It is rather more difficult to gauge how well #108B has fulfilled Braxton’s aim of promoting “world unification and spiritual growth,” though the fact that it prompted its performers to improvise new ways of working together can perhaps be seen as a small step along that road.
“Mystery is a necessary part of process.”
--Karlheinz Stockhausen (103)
The five volumes of Composition Notes that Braxton has published to date cover the years 1968 to 1986, and the last work he discusses in detail is Composition #116. Nevertheless, later CD notes and interviews suggest he has continued to both use a variety of graphic and symbolic notations and to pursue the twin goals of promoting the synaesthetic ideal and of affirming a greater degree of “individual presence” for the performers. The latest phase of his work, which he calls “Falling River Musics,” may be the most reliant to date on visual stimuli, and will, he says, “seek to explore image logic construct ‘paintings’ as the score’s extract music notation” (qtd. in Wilmoth). Charlie Wilmoth, who has seen these new graphic scores, describes them as “large, colorful drawings (reminiscent of the titles of Braxton’s earlier compositions) alongside much smaller writings that initially look like doodling” (Wilmoth). These smaller writings, he adds,
are accompanied by an intentionally vague legend that begins near the top of the page with a quarter note. Subsequent drawings in the legend look less and less like musical notation, and they quickly become unrecognizable as such. Braxton refuses to assign any specific meanings to the notations of his Falling River scores, since part of their purpose is to allow each performer to find her own way through them. (Wilmoth)
He goes on to quote Braxton’s explanation that “I am particularly interested in this direction as a means to balance the demands of traditional notation interpretation and esoteric inter-targeting” (Wilmoth).
The key word here is balance. Braxton’s alternative notations are (and always have been) meant to complement, not to replace, conventional notation, because he believes that no one type of notation, no single method of improvisation, can encompass all the possibilities that music has to offer. This inclusive aesthetic is part of the synaesthetic ideal, and works such as Compositions #94, #98 and #108B remind us that this ideal is implicit in Braxton’s music, even when the specifics of the visual notation—the actual shapes and symbols and colours—do not come freighted with astrological, numerological or other mystical associations. The images act as improvisatory portals through which “individual presence,” with all its mystery and unpredictability, can enter into the process of performance. And the synaesthetic ideal is always present, both in the bringing together of the visual and the musical, and in the broader impulse for cultural synthesis that underpins nearly all of his work, even when he employs only conventional notation.
Braxton’s description of his work as “trans-idiomatic” is perhaps best understood as part of this same belief in embracing unity. 43 His music mixes European Romantic mysticism and African American creative music aesthetics, notation and improvisation, jazz and classical—and innumerable other Others—without being circumscribed by any of the boundaries that conventional wisdom has placed around these idioms. 44 This is how he explained it in 2003:
"All I ever wanted was to just have a life and play some music and study and do my little thing. But in America that’s impossible, because whatever I do, it’s black. When we first met [in 1984], whatever I did was white, in terms of how it was defined. But either way, as far as I’m concerned, is wrong.
I am not in African American culture, I am not in European American culture. My life has been between quadrants, I have come to see that. It would not be correct to talk of my experience as ethnocentric or idiocentric because, at every point of my life, I have not felt comfortable in the traditional parameters, as they have been defined. . . . [My] experiences have been in between all of this. " (Braxton, Personal)45
What he sees as trans-idiomatic and trans-global, cultural purists of all hues still decry as transgressive. The challenge for players, for listeners, is to move beyond what Braxton refers to as “the traditional parameters, as they have been defined”; to escape from the little boxes labelled “jazz tradition” or “authentic blackness” or “European only” and all the other markers of exclusivity. Against these petty fundamentalisms Braxton sets his synaesthetic ideal of unity and openness, with its many aesthetic-cum-political implications, from personal affirmation to global harmony. And if the power and the beauty of his music can persuade us that the ideal is both desirable and attainable (because it works in performance), then his unique auditory perception, his vision of what he calls a sound, may help to change the way we all hear music—and see the world.
I am greatly indebted to Ian Brookes, Jack Collier and David Murray for their extremely helpful comments on earlier drafts of this essay; to Hugo DeCraen and Kevin Norton for their advice and hospitality; and to the U.K. Arts and Humanities Research Council for funding the research project that made this work possible. My notes for the CD release of Composition #94 were the starting point of the piece, so I would also like to thank Leo Feigin for commissioning those (and other) notes. I am grateful to Anthony Braxton for many reasons, not least for his kind permission to use the visual materials included here.
1 Here, and in future references, I’ve abbreviated the Composition Notes to CN followed by the appropriate volume letter: CN-A, CN-B, etc.
2 The diagram titles, which appear only in black and white in the Composition Notes, have evolved through various phases, including the use of colour, perspective, figuration, subtitles, dialogue, landscape and photographic collage. For further discussion, see Lock (Blutopia 163-67), and DeCraen, Sinker, and Szwed.
3 See Konitz.
4 I think Braxton is referring here to a distinction he made elsewhere in the conversation between the ancient Greek (rational) and the ancient Chinese (three-dimensional) models of music.
5 Braxton has said that his titles do not resemble the “paintings” he sees in response to music, nor do they simply appear to him but have to be worked on, a process that can take longer than writing the composition. “Sometimes I’ll compose a piece in a day, but the title might take two weeks” (qtd. in Lock, Forces 217).
6 Cf. Sacks, who also thinks “it is becoming clear that there are conceptual forms of synaesthesia, too” (179n10).
7 Most famously, perhaps, was Louis Armstrong, who is supposed to have replied to the question, what is jazz? with, “Lady, if you gotta ask what it is, you’ll never know” (i.e., felt meaning is the meaning!). This version of the Armstrong quote, and there are many, comes from Michael Jarrett, who playfully offers seventeen variations on what Armstrong might have meant (Jarrett 7-14). We should also remember that Braxton sang in his local Baptist church as a young boy and formed his own doo wop group as a teenager, two strands of a black vocal tradition whose extensive catalogue of melismatic and meta-linguistic sounds—rasps, grunts, moans, whoops, shrieks, etc—is a further reminder that language is not always adequate for expressing “felt meaning” and that African American performers have a long tradition of communicating what may be “unsayable” by conventional means. See also Lindon Barrett’s theory of the singing voice as opposed to the signing voice (Chap. 2) and Nathaniel Mackey’s suggestion that “part of the genius of black music is the room it allows for a telling ‘inarticulacy,’” which he ascribes to “frustration with and questioning of given articulacies, permissible ways of making sense” (252-53).
8 The chief sources for my information on synaesthesia are Dann, Harrison and Cytowic (1995). Other texts relating to synaesthesia and music that I found useful include Brougher et al., Cytowic (1998), Peacock, Sacks, van Campen, Watkins and Zilczer.
9 Braxton’s work also provides examples of musical/textual “fluidity”; several of his compositions come with their own short stories. See, for example, Compositions #147 and #151, on the Braxton CD 2 Compositions (Ensemble) 1989/1991 and the single-work Braxton disc, Composition No. 165 (for 18 instrumentalists).
10 It is likely that Braxton’s first encounter with graphic scores came via his early interest in Stockhausen and other avant-garde composers of the 1950s and 1960s, such as Earl Browne, John Cage and Iannis Xenakis. However, I argue below that the way Braxton employs his alternative notations, at least in respect of his ideas about the role of the performer(s), is more closely aligned with traditional African American creative music practice. For brief overviews of the history of graphic scores, including their use in both medieval European and non-Western music traditions, see Davies and Griffiths.
11 On, respectively, Six Compositions (Quartet), 2 Compositions (Ensemble) 1989/1991, 23 Standards (Quartet) 2003, and 20 Standards (Quartet) 2003. Kandinsky’s work seems an odd choice for the latter pair, since neither features any of Braxton’s own compositions. The only other painter whose work he has used with more than one recording is Frederick J. Brown, with whom he went to school in Chicago (Creative Music Orchestra 1976 and Duets 1976 with Muhal Richard Abrams).
12 Both Dann (54-63) and Harrison (128-29) conclude that Kandinsky was not actually a synaesthete. They reach the same conclusion about Scriabin, another popular candidate for chromaesthetic perception because, like Kandinsky, his work proposed synaesthetic ideals (Dann 71-77; Harrison 121-27). Modern composers generally acknowledged to be, or to have been, genuinely synaesthetic include Michael Torke (Sacks 168-71) and Olivier Messiaen, who would experience photisms associated with sounds even when reading a score (Bernard 41-42).
13 One of the chief misconceptions Dann mentions was in reference to Baudelaire’s poem “Correspondances,” actually a reference to Swedenborg but retrospectively misinterpreted as a celebration of synaesthesia. While Dann’s arguments are persuasive, it does seem curious that the kinds of associations made by some genuine synaesthetes so closely resemble the correspondences proposed by “the ancients.” For example, Dann discusses one synaesthete much documented in the scientific literature, Thomas D. Cutsforth, who “saw” (despite being blind) coloured photisms in relation to voices, musical tones, letters of the alphabet, proper names, days of the week, months of the year, numerals, dates, the cardinal directions, tastes and odours (82).
14 The story’s rather disappointing denouement is that Pobloff has actually hallucinated the entire episode after falling from the podium and banging his head.
15 “Synthesis” is the name of Braxton’s own publishing company.
16 See, for example, Braxton’s “Known/the Unknown/and Belief” and “Story-Mythology Progressionalism in Asia.”
17 Here, and in future references, I’ve abbreviated the Tri-Axium Writings to T-AW plus the relevant volume number, e.g. T-AW 1, 2, or 3.
18 For his detailed explanation of this position, see Braxton (T-AW 3 235-308). Cf. George Lewis’s discussion of “Afrological” and “Eurological” musical perspectives (“Improvised Music”). Elsewhere, Braxton has stressed that he has no quarrel with notation per se, only with the “technocrats” who insist on its “correct” execution as a “choking device” that stops the lifeblood of the music, a mentality which he says is now taking over jazz (Lock, Forces 232). Cf. too Nicholas Cook’s argument that, because Western musicology has long been predicated on the study of music as text, musicologists conceive of performance as simply reproduction of the score. This, he suggests, is a very inadequate model for understanding how music-making actually works (5-25).
19 See, for example, his comments regarding Composition #116, that it should “remain open to the challenges of the moment so that the invention and ‘spiritual meaning’ of a given participation takes precedence over any one existentially imposed criteria of ‘correct.’ What this means is that the notated material of Composition No. 116 can be shaped according to the particulars of its interpreters—don’t worry about me please!” (CN-E 443). His various “in the tradition” recordings, including those on which he plays piano, suggest he also treats standard material in a very similar way.
20 For example, the “material,” “thematic,” and “principle generating structures” that he used in his early quartet music. Each category proposed a different set of parameters for improvisation (Lock, “Colours” 3-4). Performances of all three can be heard on Braxton’s Willisau (Quartet) 1991.
21 The idea that each player should cultivate an individual sound is, of course, commonplace in jazz, but it was a particular priority in the AACM. See Lewis’s “Experimental Music” (58-59). See also Olly Wilson’s discussion of the African American aesthetic of heterogeneity, particularly in relation to the prizing of timbral contrast and nuance in both vocal and instrumental music (Wilson 157-71.)
22 For a performance, see Kleeb. Braxton’s full notes are in CN-A (1-8).
23 The original score included colour as part of its “visual” notation, but Braxton notes that when he revised the work in 1982, he decided to omit the colour because of the “added financial burden” it placed on reproducing the score (CN-A .
24 Although Braxton has participated in many performances (and some recordings) of total improvisation, his main interest is in improvisation in relation to a structural context, hence the importance he places on the role of notation. He has said that he considers structure to be “evolutionary,” whereas total improvisation is “existential anarchy” (Lock, Forces 231-40). Structure is evolutionary because it enables musical information, encoded within structural principles, to be passed down from generation to generation: “the understanding being that given structures will make certain things happen. That’s what structure is . . .” (232).
25 A solo piano version of Composition #10 can be heard on Kleeb. For two arrangements for quintet (by Art Lange), see Gregorio et al. The players are Guillermo Gregorio, Carrie Biolo, Michael Cameron, Gene Coleman and Jim O’Rourke. Braxton’s full notes are in CN-A (173-83).
26 He suggests that a performance should “reveal [the score’s] actual visual material” to the listener, and likens the performer to “a painter who translates visual images into a concrete entity” (CN-A 173). As with Composition #1, he had later to remove colour from the score in order to cut costs.
27 These factors also determine the directions in which the musicians face at different points during a concert performance of Composition #82. (This work, for four orchestras, is about moving sound through and around the performance space, so the musicians are seated on tiers of swivel chairs that encircle the audience.) Braxton’s notes on #82 are in CN-D (279-309). A partial performance can be heard on Braxton’s For Four Orchestras, which has yet to be issued on CD. For more on #82, see Lange (122-30).
28 For the complete colour code to Composition #76, see Lock (Forces 222). Braxton did not specify which astrological tradition he had drawn on here. His notes on #76 are in CN-D (136-54). Performances can be heard on Braxton’s For Trio, which comprises two versions of #76 (one by Braxton, Douglas Ewart and Henry Threadgill, the other by Braxton, Joseph Jarman and Roscoe Mitchell). The original vinyl recording has not yet been reissued on CD. For further discussion of #76, including an example of Braxton introducing perspective into the notation (to give it a three-dimensional appearance), see Heffley (317-22).
29 Braxton’s notes are in CN-D (247-58 (#78)) and (332-38 (#84)). Neither piece has appeared on record.
30 A performance can be heard on Braxton’s For Two Pianos. The players are Ursula Oppens and Frederic Rzewski. Braxton’s notes are in CN-E (1-25). The quote about alerting the spirit is on page 3.
31 Braxton’s full notes are in CN-D (457-71). A live performance can be heard on Braxton’s Composition No. 94 for Three Instrumentalists (1980). The players are Braxton, Ray Anderson and James Emery.
32 My italics, although in the original text Braxton has underlined this whole sentence.
33 As well as the shapes, symbols and other notations here, Braxton gives the musicians further options to affirm their personalities in a given performance of Composition #94. These include omitting pages of the score, repeating pages of the score, changing the order of the pages and playing the pages in reverse order. See also Heffley (323-26).
34 Braxton’s full notes are in CN-E (77-88). In addition to the cloud-like shapes, he uses other unusual notations here too, including “collage mobiles” and symbolic notation. A performance can be heard on Anthony Braxton, Composition 98. The players are Braxton, Ray Anderson, Marilyn Crispell and Hugh Ragin. For an earlier instance of Braxton asserting that “there is no conflict between notation and improvised music,” see Lake, 19-23.
35 I use the term non-finished as opposed to “unfinished” to emphasize that the leaving of space within the work’s structure is intentional.
36 Cf. composer Thomas Adès’s rather curious alarm at the thought of incorporating spaces for improvisation in his work. To do so would, he argues, mean that “in 70 or 80 years’ time there’ll be this very weird situation where you’ll have these scores with holes in them, and the people won’t be there to fill the holes in” (qtd. in Hamilton 171.) Braxton’s contrasting belief is that, by incorporating improvisation into the musical structure, “the holes” allow a score to remain open—i.e. relevant and usable—to many different players (and audiences) at many different times in many different situations. In other words, he sees the score as providing co-ordinates to initiate performance, whereas Adès regards it as a fixed text; or, as Hamilton puts it, Adès is “evidently more interested in product than process” (171).
37 For further analysis of this topic in reference to Braxton’s work, see Richard Barrett and Peter Niklas Wilson. For a broader discussion of “the Creolization of composition” and new music hybridity, with particular reference to the AACM, see Lewis (“Experimental Music” 71-91).
38 Braxton’s full notes are in CN-E (26-60). Very different versions of Composition #96 can be heard on Braxton’s Composition No. 96 and 4 (Ensemble) Compositions—1992.
39 For Braxton’s own explanation of pulse tracks, see Lock (Forces 195-206). See also Heffley (54-56).
40 Braxton’s full notes are in CN-E (311-18).
41 In Braxton’s quartet performances of the early 1980s, the pulse track Composition #108B was usually played together with Composition #110A. The first recording of these pieces, designated as “Composition 110A (+ 108B),” can be heard on Braxton’s Six Compositions (Quartet) 1984, where the performers are Braxton, Marilyn Crispell, Gerry Hemingway and John Lindberg. A live version of the same compositional pairing (plus further options) by the same group, except with Mark Dresser on bass in place of John Lindberg, can be heard on Braxton’s Quartet (Birmingham) 1985. On the track listing for the original issue of the latter disc, the first two composition numbers (but not the diagram titles) have been accidentally transposed, so contrary to the track listing, “Composition 110 (+ 96 + 108B)” is actually the second main work played. On the later reissue, the composition numbers have been listed in the correct order, but now the diagram titles have been erroneously transposed.
42 I have taken the liberty of slightly amending the punctuation from my original transcription of the interview.
43 Braxton is by no means the first person to argue for the political benefits of a “trans-idiomatic” music: for instance, the Baroque composer Georg Muffat (1653-1704) hoped that his blending of French, German and Italian styles might help to reunite a war-torn Europe (Early).
44 These Others might include, for example, Indian, Chinese and Japanese influences, all referenced in the Composition Notes; or, as in the case of Composition #76, work specifically designed so that the performer “takes on a different role from that of the classical or improvising traditions” (CN-D 139, emphasis added). The dualism I’ve posited in this essay, between European (American) and African (American) is, of course, a simplification, although one which I thought might be helpful in illuminating the specific themes I was concerned with here. It would become an oversimplification if applied to a discussion of Braxton’s work as a whole. Cf. too Mark Sinker’s provocative observation that “Braxton’s worldview seems remarkable in that it’s open, equally, [. . .] to everything and its opposite” (230). Braxton himself attributes this capability to his being a Gemini: as he told me (another Gemini), “Anything we can talk about we can also talk about and prove its opposite—as a Gemini you must be aware of that!” (Lock, Forces 205).
45 Cf. his 1994 critique of “the concepts which said, you can’t listen to Schoenberg because it’s not relevant to your experience. Or, you can’t listen to George Clinton because you can’t like Schoenberg and George Clinton [. . .] And I’m saying, wait a minute, this is part of the baggage of unhappiness related to this millennium. The next millennium and the generation coming up now—why burden them, why burden anyone, with these concepts?” (qtd. in Lock, “Highway” 249).
Barrett, Lindon. Blackness and Value. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999.
Barrett, Richard. “Who Wants to Be a ‘Composer’ Anyway?” Mixtery: A Festschrift for Anthony Braxton. Ed. Graham Lock. Exeter: 1995. 174-77.
Bernard, Jonathan W. “Messiaen’s Synaesthesia: The Correspondence between Colour and Sound Structure in His Music.” Music Perception 4.1 (Fall 1986): 41-42.
Braxton, Anthony. 2 Compositions (Ensemble) 1989/1991. hat ART, 1992.
---. 4 (Ensemble) Compositions—1992. Black Saint, 1993.
---. 20 Standards (Quartet) 2003. Leo, 2005.
---. 23 Standards (Quartet) 2003. Leo, 2004.
---. Composition 94 for Three Instrumentalists (1980). Golden Years, 1999.
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---. Composition 98. hat ART, 1990.
---. Composition No. 165 (for 18 instrumentalists). New Albion, 1992.
---. Composition Notes. 5 vols. Synthesis Music, 1988.
---. Creative Music Orchestra 1976. Arista, 1976.
---. Duets 1976 with Muhal Richard Abrams. Arista, 1976.
---. For Four Orchestras [aka Composition 82]. Arista, 1978.
---. For Trio [aka Composition 76]. Arista, 1978.
---. For Two Pianos [aka Composition 95]. Arista, 1982.
---. “Known/the Unknown/and Belief.” http://www.wesleyan.edu/music/braxton/papers/history-science.html.
---. Personal interview with Graham Lock. Brussels. 23 February 2003.
---. Quartet (Birmingham) 1985. Leo, 1991.
---. Six Compositions: Quartet. Antilles, 1982.
---. Six Compositions (Quartet) 1984. Black Saint, 1985.
---. “Story-Mythology Progressionalism in Asia.” http://www.wesleyan.edu/music/braxton/papers/story-mythology.html.
---. Tri-Axium Writings. 3 vols. Synthesis Music, 1985.
---. Willisau (Quartet) 1991. hat ART, 1992.
Braxton, Anthony and Matt Bauder. 2+2 Compositions. 482 Music, 2005.
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Cook, Nicholas. “Making Music Together, or Improvisation and Its Others.” The Source 1 (2004): 5-25.
Cytowic, Richard E. The Man Who Tasted Shapes. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998.
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Dann, Kevin T. Bright Colors Falsely Seen: Synaesthesia and the Search for Transcendental Knowledge. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1998.
DeCraen, Hugo. “Braxton and Kandinsky: Symbolists of the Spiritual.” Mixtery: A Festschrift for Anthony Braxton. Ed. Graham Lock. Exeter: 1995. 212-24.
Davies, Hugh. “Musical Notation—Old and New.” Eye Music: The Graphic Art of New Musical Notation. Exhibition Catalogue. London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1986. 12-28.
Düchting, Hajo. Wassily Kandinsky, 1866-1944: A Revolution in Painting. Köln: Taschen, 2000.
Eye Music: The Graphic Art of New Musical Notation. Exhibition catalogue. London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1986.
The Early Music Show. BBC Radio 3. 13 Jan. 2008.
Gregorio, Guillermo, et al. Anthony Braxton: Compositions No. 10 & No. 16 (+101). hat ART, 1998.
Griffiths, Paul. “Sound—Code—Image.” Eye Music: The Graphic Art of New Musical Notation. Exhibition catalogue. London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1986. 5-11.
Gundaker, Grey. Signs of Diaspora, Diaspora of Signs: Literacies, Creolization, and Vernacular Practice in African America. New York: Oxford UP, 1998.
Hamilton, Andy. “The Art of Improvisation and the Aesthetics of Imperfection.” British Journal of Aesthetics 40.1 (January 2000): 168-85.
Harrison, John. Synaesthesia: The Strangest Thing. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001.
Heffley, Mike. The Music of Anthony Braxton. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996.
Huneker, James. “The Disenchanted Symphony.” Melomaniacs. New York: Scribner’s, 1902.
Jarrett, Michael. Drifting on a Reed: Jazz as a Model for Writing. Albany: SUNY Press, 1999.
Kleeb, Hildegard. Anthony Braxton: Piano Music (Notated) 1968-1988. hat ART, 1996.
Konitz, Lee. Lee Konitz Meets Jimmy Giuffre. 1959. Verve, 1996.
Lake, Steve. “There’s God on a Chessboard.” Musics 13 (August 1977): 19-23.
Lange, Art. “Implications of a Creative Orchestra, 1972-1978.” Mixtery: A Festschrift for Anthony Braxton. Ed. Graham Lock. Exeter: 1995. 122-30.
Lewis, George. “Experimental Music in Black and White: The AACM in New York, 1970-1985.” Uptown Conversation: The New Jazz Studies. Eds. Robert O’Meally, Brett Hayes Edwards, and Farah Jasmine Griffin. New York: Columbia UP, 2004. 50-101.
---. “Improvised Music after 1950: Afrological and Eurological Perspectives.” Black Music Research Journal 16.1 (Spring 1996): 91-122.
Lock, Graham. Blutopia: Visions of the Future and Revisions of the Past in the Work of Sun Ra, Duke Ellington, and Anthony Braxton. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1999.
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---. Forces in Motion: Anthony Braxton and the Meta-reality of Creative Music. London: Quartet Books, 1988.
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---. “A Highway to the Cosmics.” Mixtery: A Festschrift for Anthony Braxton. Ed. Graham Lock. Exeter: Stride, 1995. 246-49.
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Palmer, John, ed. In Praise of Music. London: Frederick Muller, 1951.
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Critical Studies in Improvisation / Études critiques en improvisation is generously supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (through both its Major Collaborative Research Initiatives and Aid to Scholarly Journals programs) and by the University of Guelph Library.
Anthony Braxton texts and quotes
TEXTS OR SPEECHES BY ANTHONY BRAXTON
Writings at Tricentric Foundation
Tri-Axium Writings excerpt - Vol. 1: World Music
Seminar in Istanbul - Part 1/6 - October 1995
Seminar in Istanbul - Part 2/6 - October 1995
Seminar in Istanbul - Part 3/6 - October 1995
Seminar in Istanbul - Part 4/6 - October 1995
Seminar in Istanbul - Part 5/6 - October 1995
Seminar in Istanbul - Part 6/6 - October 1995
Excerpts from a discussion held at Columbia University in New York - March 2006
Keynote Address at the Guelph Jazz Festival - September 2007
Video on Keynote Address at the Guelph Jazz Festival - September 2007
Trillium E workshop at Issue Project Room (New York) - Video by Robert O'Haire - June 19th, 2010
Anthony Braxton's quotes on Brainy Quote
Yahoo! Groups: Discusses the records and writings
TEXTS ON ANTHONY BRAXTON
Braxton's Operatics as Constructive Tricksterism by Mike Heffley - 2000
Braxton's System: An Artificer's Intelligence by Mike Heffley - 2000
Audio "Avant-Garde Made Easy" by Kevin Whitehead on Fresh Air from WHYY and NPR - 2001
Anthony Braxton and the Utopian Tradition in Jazz by Mike Heffley - 2006
Anthony Braxton; Downbeat article by Ted Panken - 2006
"What I Call a Sound": Anthony Braxton's Synaesthetic Ideal and Notations for Improvisers by Graham Lock - 2008
Pitch into Time: Notes on Anthony Braxton's Lower Register by Stuart Broomer - 2008
The Book Cooks by Stuart Broomer (Excerpts from "Time and Anthony Braxton") - 2009
"Vintage Recordings From Anthony Braxton" by Kevin Whitehead - February 2009
"Braxton & Jazz: In the Tradition" by Kevin Whitehead - December 2011
Index of reviews by Jazzinstitut Darmstadt
Audio interview before his concert at the Palace of the Legion of Honor - October 10th, 1971
Interview by Mario Luzzi (in italian) - 1979
Audio interview by Ron J. Pelletier - probably 1983
Audio interview by Charles Amirkhanian - Exploratorium's Speaking of Music Series in San Francisco, December 5, 1985
Audio interview excerpted from Quartet (Coventry) 1985
Interview with Graham Lock (excerpted from "Forces in Motion") - 1988
A conversation with Volkan Terzioglu and Sabri Erdem - Istanbul on October 15th, 1995
Interview by Ted Panken at WKCR Radio on February 5th, 1995 and 1999
Video interview by Co de Kloet at North Sea Jazz Festival for Radio 6 / NTR - The Hague 1997
Third Millenial Interview - probably December 2000
A Fireside Chat by Fred Jung - probably 2002
Interview by Ted Panken - New York, 2003
Interview by Ted Panken - March 11th, 2005
Video interview by Alexander McLean - probably 2007
Interview by Ted Panken at Wesleyan University on April 9th, 2007
Interview by Tomajazz (in english and spanish) - Madrid on October 27th, 2007
Video interview for The Complete Arista Recordings (6 parts) - probably 2008
Anthony Braxton on Woody Shaw (part of the video interview for The Complete Arista Recordings) - probably 2008
Pour les Jeunes du Troisième Millénaire (en français) - Liège on September 16, 2009
Discussion with Arvö Part, Dick Annegarn, Frederic Rzewski et Robert Wyatt (video)
Interview of Anthony Braxton with Gérald Purnelle - Liège on September 16, 2009
Interview with Braxton and Taylor Ho Bynum for Roulette TV - Brooklyn NY on October, 2011
Interview for Biennale Musica - Venezia on October 13th, 2012
ANTHONY BRAXTON AND THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE
When most jazz fans think of Braxton, the first associations are often things like difficult… brilliant but academic… cerebral… unemotional… and so on. “The Einstein of theoretical jazz physics,” in Howard Hampton’s phrase. A lot of this is second-hand wisdom, passed down from short-sighted critics or superficial listeners over the years. When Chilly first saw Braxton live, the overwhelming impression was one of exuberance and passion – sweat pouring off Brax’s brow and his glasses flying off his face and landing three rows back into the the audience! The music didn’t fall into the cliched head-solos-head format, but it still offered plenty of riffs, melodies, and riddims to grab onto. It was inspiring, transcendent, and really — fun. Even Chilly’s father, a jazz neophyte with only a McCoy Tyner show under his belt, was won over.
Which brings us to Braxton’s Arista recordings. Maybe in the context of the 1970s these recordings sounded overly daunting and complex. But today, it’s a different story. While still adventurous, many of these sides are instantly compelling, filled with unexpected drama and humor. There are moments of great beauty and recognizable nods and tweaks to the tradition. For all their conceptual headiness, they often deliver on that most rare quality: pure pleasure.
Remember: Ornette’s Atlantic sides were deemed unlistenable when they were first released by many fans, critics, and musicians. Now, that reaction seems certifiable. But Ornette’s Atlantic albums remained in print and fans had an ongoing chance to reevaluate them over the years, until people’s ears caught up with Coleman’s innovations. The vast majority of Braxton’s expansive Arista catalog has been difficult to track down, so its “daunting” reputation has remained set in stone. These key recordings haven’t been seriously reevaluated in decades. Fact is, much of what sounded strange about them in the ’70s now seems surprisingly accessible.
THE ARISTA YEARS - WHAT’S INCLUDED
Anthony Braxton signed to Arista in 1974 at age 29. With major label money behind him, Braxton was able to showcase the full range of his talents – live and in the studio – concise tunelets and sprawling opuses – with quartets, trios, solos, duos, large orchestras, and more. It’s one of jazz’s great runs: Think Monk on Riverside; Coltrane on Impulse; Andrew Hill’s first tenure at Blue Note. These Arista sides are also another example of the vitality of jazz in the ’70s.
Here are the albums included on the box:
Arista AL-4032 New York, Fall 1974 – 1 LP
Arista AL-4064 Five Pieces, 1975 – 1 LP
Arista AL-4080 Creative Orchestra Music 1976 - 1 LP
Arista AL-4101 Duets 1976 – 1 LP
Arista AB-4181 For Trio – 1 LP
Arista AL-5002 The Montreux/Berlin Concerts – 2 LPs
Arista A2L-8602 Alto Saxophone Improvisation 1979 – 2 LPs
Arista A3L-8900 For Four Orchestras – 3 LPs
Arista AL-9559 For Two Pianos – 1 LP
THE ARISTA YEARS – WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED
There are two Anthony Braxton albums released by Arista during this period that aren’t included in the Mosaic Box. These were both licensed by Arista, from the Freedom label: Time Zones, a duet with Richard Teitelbaum, and The Complete Braxton. Since the duo album is easier to find and frankly not as essential, we’ll be shining a light on some of the best tracks from The Complete Braxton over the next two weeks.
“COMPLETE,” YOU SAY?
Obviously the title of The Complete Braxton (later, The Complete Braxton 1971) could not be more ridiculous. Sure, it shows him in a variety of formats with more far variety than your average effort. But if ever there was an artist who couldn’t be summed up by a single album – or even a single box set – it’s Braxton. Naturally, the title was the label’s idea.
Braxton, as quoted in Lock’s book, notes the title “is A LIE. I would never call my work ‘The Complete Braxton’ or any of this nonsense.” To add to the irony, the liners from the original LP release were penned by fellow AACMer Leo Smith, and included this nugget: “I’ve often heard it said that the titles of pieces of music are unimportant. This concept negates the poetic intent of the artist. I find this hard to conceive. Through the titles he or she gives to a work, the artist has an opportunity to relate to history (e.g. Fletcher Henderson’s Teapot Dome Blues), to personal life experiences (e.g. Louis Armstrong’s Coal Cart Blues) to personal philosophy (e.g. Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz)—the references could go on and on.”
So, anyway, the music: “Comp 6K” is a piano duet with Chick Corea, circa the days of their partnership in Circle. The dazzling interplay, around an almost nursery-rhyme-ish melody, is a reminder of Corea’s formidable skills during this time. The dense playing is intricate, layered, locked-in, and (once the theme is stated) exceptionally conversational. As for what’s being said, we leave that to the listener.
“Comp 6I” showcases the wonderful quartet that’s also on New York Fall 1974, and elsewhere on the Arista set. It’s a straight-up barn-burner, and offered in as trad a structure as you’re going to get, with solos from each member of the band in turn. Braxton in particular really rips; Wheeler also rises to the occasion to put his own stamp on the material. Hard to fathom the “anti-jazz” charges leveled Braxton at various times given this, but we welcome your thoughts on how this goes down.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Born: June 4, 1945
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Genres: Jazz, avant-garde jazz, free jazz
Occupations: Saxophonist, clarinetist, flautist, pianist, philosopher, bandleader, composer, educator
Instruments: Saxophones, clarinets, flute, piano
Years active: 1968-
Circle, Dave Holland, Sam Rivers, Woody Shaw, Cecil Taylor, Tony Oxley, Chick Corea, Creative Construction Company, AACM, Leroy Jenkins, Wadada Leo Smith, Kenny Wheeler, George Lewis, Ray Anderson
Anthony Braxton (born June 4, 1945) is an American composer, saxophonist, clarinetist, flautist, pianist, and philosopher. Braxton has released well over 150 albums since the 1960s. Among the array of instruments he plays are the flute; the sopranino, soprano, C-melody, F mezzo-soprano, E-flat alto, baritone, bass, and contrabass saxophones; and the E-flat, B-flat, and contrabass clarinets.
Braxton studied philosophy at Roosevelt University. He has taught at Mills College in Oakland, California and beginning in 199 1990s is Professor of Music at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, teaching music composition, music history, and improvisation. In 1994, he was granted a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant."
Early in his career, Braxton led a trio with violinist Leroy Jenkins and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and was involved with The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, the "AACM", founded in Chicago, Braxton's birthplace.
In 1968, Braxton recorded the double LP For Alto. There had previously been occasional unaccompanied saxophone recordings (notably Coleman Hawkins' "Picasso"), but For Alto was the first full-length album for unaccompanied saxophone. The album's songs were dedicated to Cecil Taylor and John Cage, among others. The album influenced other artists like Steve Lacy (soprano sax) and George Lewis (trombone), who would go on to record their own solo albums.
Braxton joined pianist Chick Corea's existing trio with Dave Holland (double bass) and Barry Altschul (drums) to form the short-lived avant garde quartet Circle, around 1970. When Corea broke up the group, forming Return to Forever to pursue a fusion-based style of composition and recording, Holland and Altschul remained with Braxton for much of the 1970s as part of a quartet, with the rotating brass chair variously filled by trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, or trombonists George Lewis or Ray Anderson. This group recorded on Arista Records. The core trio plus saxophonist Sam Rivers recorded Holland's Conference of the Birds (ECM). In the 1970s he also recorded duets with Lewis and with synthesizer player Richard Teitelbaum.
In 1975, he released an album on Muse Records titled Muhal with the Creative Construction Company, a group consisting of Richard Davis (bass), Steve McCall (drums), Muhal Richard Abrams (piano, cello), Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet) and Leroy Jenkins (violin).
In the late 1970s, he recorded two large ensemble recordings, Creative Orchestra Music 1976, inspired by American jazz and marching band traditions, and For Four Orchestras. Both of these records were released on Arista.
Braxton's regular group in the 1980s and early 1990s was a quartet with Marilyn Crispell (piano), Mark Dresser (double bass) and Gerry Hemingway (drums), "his finest and longest standing band".
In 1994, he was granted a MacArthur Fellowship. From 1995 to 2006, Braxton's output as a composer concentrated almost exclusively on what he calls Ghost Trance Music, which introduces a steady pulse to his music and also allows the simultaneous performance of any piece by the performers. Many of the earliest Ghost Trance recordings were released on his own Braxton House label (now defunct). His final Ghost Trance compositions were performed with a "12+1tet" at New York's Iridium club in 2006; the complete four-night residency was recorded and released in 2007 by the Firehouse 12 label.
In addition, during the 1990s and early 2000s, Braxton created a prodigiously large body of jazz standard recordings, often featuring him as a pianist rather than saxophonist. He had frequently performed such material in the 1970s and 1980s, but only recorded it occasionally. Now he began to release multidisc sets of such material, climaxing in two quadruple-CD sets for Leo Records recorded on tour in 2003.
More recently he has created new series of compositions, such as the Falling River Musics that are documented on 2+2 Compositions (482 Music, 2005). In 2005, Braxton was a guest performer with the noise group Wolf Eyes at the FIMAV Festival. A recording of the concert, Black Vomit, is described by critic François Couture as sympathetic and effective collaboration: "something really clicked between these artists, and it was all in good fun."
One of his children, Tyondai Braxton, is also a professional musician. He was a guitarist, keyboardist and vocalist with American math rock band Battles.
Beyond his musical career, Braxton is an avid chess player; for a time in the early 1970s he was a professional chess hustler, playing in New York in Washington Square Park.
Braxton's music is difficult to categorize, and because of this, he likes to reference his works (and the works of his collaborators and students) as simply "creative music". He has claimed in numerous interviews that he is not a jazz musician, though many of his works have been jazz and improvisation oriented, and he has released many albums of jazz standards. For example, in an interview Braxton explains, "even though I have been saying I'm not a jazz musician for the last 25 years; in the final analysis, an African-American with a saxophone? Ahh, he's jazz!" In addition to these, Braxton has released an increasing number of works for large-scale orchestras, including two opera cycles.
Braxton's music combines an ecstatic, primal vigor with highly theoretical and mystically influenced systems. He is the author of multiple volumes explaining his theories and pieces, such as the philosophical three-volume Triaxium Writings and the five-volume Composition Notes, both published by Frog Peak Music. While his compositions and improvisations can be characterized as avant-garde, many of his pieces have a swing feel and rhythmic angularity that are overtly indebted to Charlie Parker and the bebop tradition.
Though much of his music can be safely classified as jazz, Braxton has worked in a wide variety of other genres and has sometimes had a prickly relationship with the jazz mainstream. Critic Chris Kelsey writes:
Although Braxton exhibited a genuine — if highly idiosyncratic — ability to play older forms (influenced especially by saxophonists Warne Marsh, John Coltrane, Paul Desmond, and Eric Dolphy), he was never really accepted by the jazz establishment, due to his manifest infatuation with the practices of such non-jazz artists as John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Many of the mainstream's most popular musicians (Wynton Marsalis among them) insisted that Braxton's music was not jazz at all. Whatever one calls it, however, there is no questioning the originality of his vision; Anthony Braxton created music of enormous sophistication and passion that was unlike anything else that had come before it.
The graphical title for Composition No. 65 - the abstract shapes and cryptic letters are typical in such titles
Braxton is notorious for naming his pieces as diagrams, typically labeled with cryptic numbers and letters. Sometimes these diagrams have an obvious relation to the music — for instance, on the album For Trio the diagram-title indicates the physical positions of the performers, but in many cases the diagram-titles remain inscrutable. The titles can themselves be musical notation indicating to the performer how a piece is played. Sometimes the letters are identifiable as the initials of Braxton's friends and musical colleagues.
Braxton has pointedly refused to explain their significance, claiming that he himself is still discovering their meaning. Braxton eventually settled on a system of opus-numbers to make referring to these pieces simpler, and earlier pieces have had opus-numbers retrospectively added to them.
By the mid-to-late 1980s, Braxton's titles had become increasingly complex. They began to incorporate drawings and illustrations, such as in the title of his four-act opera cycle, Trillium R. Others began to include lifelike images of inanimate objects, namely train cars. The latter was most notably seen after the advent of his Ghost Trance Music system.
In the twenty-first century, he still actively performs with ensembles of varying sizes, and has to date written well over 350 compositions. He has just recently finished the last batch of Ghost Trance Music compositions, and has now shown his interest in three other music systems: The Diamond Curtain Wall Trio, in which Braxton implements the aid of the computer audio programming language SuperCollider; Falling River Musics; and, most recently, Echo Echo Mirror House music, which is meant to hone in many different types of performance arts in addition to music. In addition to their own instruments, musicians playing Echo Echo Mirror House compositions incorporate amplified mp3 players loaded with Braxton's discography to create a unique sound-space.
Main article: Anthony Braxton discography
^ a b Biography at Allmusic
^ allmusic ((( Quartet (Santa Cruz) 1993 > Review )))
^ Nick Cain, "Noise," The Wire Primers: A Guide to Modern Music, Rob Young, ed., London: Verso, 2009, p. 34
^ Gagne, Cole (1993). Soundpieces 2: Interviews with American Composers, p.36. ISBN 9780810827103.
^ Ratliff, Ben (December 16, 2012). "Following the Tradition of Being Untraditional: Anthony Braxton at the Kennedy Center". New York Times. Archived from the original on 2012-12-23. Retrieved 2012-12-23.
Braxton, Anthony - Tri-Axium Writings Volumes 1-3 - 1985.
Braxton, Anthony - Composition Notes A-E - 1988.
Ford, Alun - Anthony Braxton (Creative Music Continuum) - Stride, 2004.
Heffley, Mike - The Music Of Anthony Braxton - Greenwood, 1996.
Lock, Graham - Forces in Motion: The Music and Thoughts of Anthony Braxton - Da Capo, 1989.
Lock, Graham - Mixtery (A Festschrift For Anthony Braxton) - Stride, 1995.
Lock, Graham - Blutopia: Visions of the Future and Revisions of the Past in the Work of Sun Ra, Duke Ellington, and Anthony Braxton - Duke University, 2000.
Radano, Ronald Michael - New Musical Figurations (Anthony Braxton's Cultural Critique) - University of Chicago, 1994.
Sinclair, John and Robert Levin - Introducing Anthony Braxton - Music & Politics - World, 1970
Wilson, Peter Niklas - Anthony Braxton. Sein Leben. Seine Musik. Seine Schallplatten. - Oreos, 1993.
External links 
Anthony Braxton and the Tri-Centric Foundation: official website
Frog Peak: Anthony Braxton
Interview-excerpt on restructuralism, stylism & traditionalism
'The Third Millennial Interview' by Mike Heffley, 2001 (100+ pages)
Research papers by Anthony Braxton
Lovely Music: Anthony Braxton
: Composite Interview, WKCR, 1993-1995
 Interview for Duo Palindrome (2002) w/ Andrew Cyrille
Breakfast Conversation in Concert: Anthony Braxton interviewed by Roland Young, Glen Howell, and Sandy Silver, before his concert at the Palace of the Legion of Honor, 10 October 1971.
Braxton interview concerning the application of his musical language (1985)
Epitonic.com: Anthony Braxton featuring tracks from 19 Solo Compositions, 1988
Art of the States: Anthony Braxton Composition No. 186 (1996) and Composition 304 (+ 91, 151, 164) (2002)
Video of Braxton playing a Contrabass Saxophone at Iridium Jazz Club
Most of Braxton's recordings for Leo Records are available from emusic. This is no longer the case, but Leo Records has made almost all of Braxton's Leo sessions available as downloads from their own site.
Anthony Braxton interview at allaboutjazz.com
Introducing Anthony Braxton by Robert Levin (1970)
"You Stepped Out of A Dream" (1975):
"Improvisations", Part 1 (w/ Richard Teitelbaum--1994):
Anthony Braxton Quartet-- Berlin (1985):
Anthony Braxton - "Ask Me Now" by Thelonious Monk (1987):
Anthony Braxton "Marshmallow" (by Warne Marsh)-1974:
Anthony Braxton - "To Composer John Cage" (1969):
Anthony Braxton - "Five Pieces -Comp 23 G" (1975):
Anthony Braxton - "Comp. 40 M" (1974):
"You Stepped Out of A Dream" (1975):
"Improvisations", Part 1 (w/ Richard Teitelbaum--1994):
Anthony Braxton Quartet-- Berlin (1985):
Anthony Braxton - "Ask Me Now" by Thelonious Monk (1987):
Anthony Braxton "Marshmallow" (by Warne Marsh)-1974:
Anthony Braxton - "To Composer John Cage" (1969):
Anthony Braxton - "Five Pieces -Comp 23 G" (1975):
Anthony Braxton - "Comp. 40 M" (1974):
Anthony Braxton Quartet 1974 ~ "Ornithology" (by Charlie Parker)
Anthony Braxton - "Composition 55"
Anthony Braxton - "Composition No 1"
Anthony Braxton Quartet Spain 1983
Anthony Braxton Live in concert & interviewed in 2010
A Conversation with Anthony Braxton
with Volkan Terzioglu and Sabri Erdem
in Istanbul on Sunday, October 15th, 1995
text by Volkan Terzioglu
Below there is a conversation that I and Sabri Erdem had in Istanbul with Anthony Braxton. Braxton was in Istanbul for Akbank International Jazz Festival with his Sextet to perform his Ghost Trance Compositions. He also had a seminar on the vocabulary of the music. He and the Sextet toured Istanbul and we found opportunity to talk to him for one and a half hour. I also have the video recording of the conversation. Many times I tried to get the confirmation for, but I could not manage. Therefore this may involve several misunderstandings, mistakes which had been unavoidable. Intentionally I am calling the below text a conversation instead of an interview, because I think that this is not formal enough.
If you have any comments, please drop e-mail to email@example.com
Terzioglu - Well, Mr. Braxton, first of all I would like to begin with the subject of jazz criticism. I know that in 70's you had very strong feelings against jazz criticism. Because there have been some misunderstandings that critics have not even listened to the music thoroughly and what is the description of a jazz critic has been answered that, once you have 10 jazz records, then you can be a critic. Do you remember that?
Braxton - Yes, for me the question and subject of Jazz Criticism has been a complex subject for me for something like 30 years. I remember in the early 1960's, after reading record reviews of John Coltrane's music in Down Beat magazine, I remember even then that I did not agree with them...
Terzioglu - the recordings with Eric Dolphy?
Braxton -the recordings with Eric Dolphy, the recording Ascension, the recordings after Giant Steps as Mr. Coltrane's began to change, many of the jazz journalists would say "No, this is not jazz, this is...
Terzioglu - ... anti jazz
Braxton - ... hate music, anti jazz and when they wrote about Mr. Coltrane's music, they would write very negatively and for me even in that time period, I felt something is wrong, there is the definitions of the musicians who talk about their music and then there is the definitions of the journalistic communities. They are completely separate definitions when Mr. Coltrane recorded the record "A Love Supreme", well he was talking about the love of the Creator and Universal Love, not just sexual love, political love and in the last 30 years, we have seen even "A Love Supreme" converted to a market place philosophy. And this has been consistent with the history of journalism and the criticism and the criticism with the music.
There have been complexities based on several reasons : 1. the inability of the jazz journalistic community to understand the meta-reality of the music on its own terms. 2. there has been an inability to understand the intellectual agenda of the music and no recognition of the real intellectual agenda of the music and of course 3. there have been the political complexities related to market place philosophies, Albert Ayler's music perceived as not commercial enough for market place.
Terzioglu - I knew that he could not find any opportunity to make records and John Coltrane helped to get him market place by Impulse Records.
Braxton -Yes and this has been part of the struggle that in my opinion began in 1920's with the recording industry and the establishment of race records, country and western music. They separate all of the various categories of the music. This was established in the 20's, 1910, as part of the emergence of the new technology of the recording industry and the related business complex that would surround the music. And so for me, 1965 it was in that period that I begin to recognize profound differences between how the musicians talked about their music and how the journalists write of the music. And this problem is still with us today although it is complex. The music from the Association for the Advancement for the Creative Musicians (AACM) period, even in the black community, even among African Americans is not understood. It is complex and African Americans have not been so interested in jazz music since Charlie Parker. No one wants to talk about that. But America is an interesting country, because it has so many different people and yet at the same time because it is such a young country, we have not been able to find the healthiest balances so that all selections, sectors of the community can express themselves and make the definitions and value systems and spirituality understood and so the music we call jazz is in the middle of these problems. Jazz for me came about because of the need for individual creativity, for group creativity and for connection to spiritual intuitive thoughts and creativity. Ever since the emancipation proclamation in America that freed slaves, we have seen in America a long journey, the story of post slavery movements and how creative music and dance and painting and art is connected to human aspiration and creativity. On one hand and on the other hand, you have the jazz music complex, you have the classical music complex, you have the control on the popular music machinery that makes millions and billions of dollars. The music we call jazz does not make billions of dollars like rock'n'roll or popular musics, but it makes enough money for the jazz business complex to continue to release the records to bring about a situation where you have a group of musicians who say "well, we are jazz people" and they record them and they can play their music. The definitions with the music are reserved for the power structure, for the political structure. The intellectuals in America use jazz for many different things. Jazz is used to say "I'm black, I'm black, I'm black", Jazz is used to saying "I'm hip, I'm hip, I'm hip", Jazz is used to sell instruments, to produce instruments. Magazines like Down Beat magazine, published once a month and there are many different jazz magazines and in the last 20 years, we have seen jazz to come into academia and so and even high school and you have young people playing what they call jazz. All of these connects with the music industry, however it gets complex because, for me much of the music that we call jazz in this time period does not correspond necessarily to what jazz used to be. For instance, when I was coming up in Chicago, if you want to learn how to play jazz, you go to sessions and there will be opportunities for the musicians to play and learn the repertoire. The understanding was this: mastership in Jazz meant you have to find your music, your own music...
Terzioglu - own an individual sound
Braxton - You have to find your own sound. It was not enough to find your own sound. It was not enough to imitate Charlie Parker. It was not enough to imitate John Coltrane. Rather the aesthetic reality of the music insisted that each person must find or discover self realization about themselves and to evolve one's own sound and to find your life in your music. This was what jazz was. If complex, the music that we call Bebop came about because of the post World War II vibrational factors. You had in 1945 another migration of African Americans from the Southern part of the America, up to the North part from places like Mississippi or Alabama, a great influx of African Americans will go to Chicago, to Detroit to Philadelphia to Saint Louis. In that time period, the challenge was to move away from the Southern part of America where there were segregation concepts of separate but equal which really involved inequalities to African Americans and from that point a migration took place after World War II. That migration also involved African American men and women who would begin to think about the music from political perspective, from a philosophical perspective from many different connections where in the 30's and 40's the emphasis in the music was directed towards big bands and orchestration. Suddenly after World War II, emphasis would be redirected back to the individual and the era of the virtuoso for soloists would begin. Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie's music would mark a change from an orchestra group music to small groups that would emphasize solos and the individual. This change in my opinion was part of a composite phenomenon that they concern not just the music but the literature, the journalism. A new group of writers would evolve asking questions of African American life, asking questions of America, what is America?, asking questions about what is world...
Terzioglu - the existence
Braxton - what is existence and how we felt in existence. This aspect of the music in the 90's is not understood. More and more, since what I call the 6th restructural cycle movement that have been Albert Ayler; the 1st cycle being New Orleans, 2nd cycle Chicago, 3rd cycle New York, 4th cycle Kansas City, 5th cycle bebop, Charlie Parker, 6th being Albert Ayler, 7th cycle being the AACM and the music I am a part of. So by 1950, the intellectual reality of the music had already started to change. There were problems. The problems with the journalists in my opinion involved the significance of definition as well as the complexities of wrong definitions. In America it is always been fashionable even in the early periods, for European Americans to look at African American music and think in terms of entertainment - "Oh, this is happy music, these guys play is nice and happy and they are happy, everything is happy"...
Terzioglu - The sweating brow concept
Braxton - The sweating brow. More and more the musicians themselves will say "wait a minute, there is more to the music than entertainment, there is more to the music than how Leonard Feather writes about the music, there is more to what we do than the jazz poll concept that comes every year". Many of these strategies were market place strategies, they had nothing to do with the music and so by 1960 with the 6th restructural cycle, musics as personified by the music of Albert Ayler, this was a very complex time in the 1960's in America. Three assassinations, President Kennedy, Malcolm X, Robert Kennedy; at the same time, the Vietnam War, at the same time riots all over America in effect the events of the decade in the 60's which make it possible for musicians like myself to ask the question "What's happening?". We had a new, fresh opportunity to begin again, a fresh opportunity to explore the music separate from the market place being able to control the definitions of the music and for me that is part of the importance of the 6th restructural cycle musics. That it was an opportunity to clean the mirror, which is the expression in America, to start anew and to create music that would 1. unify the composite spectrum of the creative trans-African musics, 2. that would unify the American musics, 3. that would unify a service of platform to solidify a world culture, and 4. that would be a part of a composite movement for world change and re-evaluation that would encompass the changes brought about in the modern era from nuclear physics, from Einstein, changes that would incorporate mythology, composite mythology changes, that would take into account the new technologies, television set where we can turn on the television set and see Istanbul immediately, we can put on the record and have music from Japan, we can turn on the radio, we can hear music from Rio De Janeiro and we can see the people in Rio De Janeiro. All of these matters will effect the aesthetic reality of the music. And from that point the musicians would begin to ask their own questions, but the market place would have many problems. For a period of 20 years, the market place has been looking for ways to make this music a market place commodity. It was only with the neo classic movement that came about in the 1980's where the market place after 20 years was able to come back into the music...
Terzioglu - with Wynton Marsalis
Braxton - with Wynton Marsalis, many of the younger African American who were come up who went to the university. This is interesting. Wynton with classical people and the jazz people as well as his father. Then he went to New York and studied at Juilliard and while he was studying, it was obvious that he was talented as a stylist, technician at CBS records Doctor Frank Butler, an African American who became an A and R man at Columbia...
Terzioglu - A and R man? what is that?
Braxton - This is the man who makes the decisions about what musicians they are going to record.
Terzioglu - OK
Braxton - and so they chose Wynton Marsalis, they kicked out Woody Shaw.
Terzioglu - I see, a new commodity has arrived
Braxton - A new commodity, not only had a new commodity arrived, but a new commodity whose understanding of reality was just like the market place, in terms of jazz is jazz and everything else is different, we just want to play jazz, we gonna play jazz just like Charlie Parker starting from 1945 and ending for around 1963 with Miles Davis group with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock. This group in effect would say this. African American culture starts at New Orleans and ends at 1963 and restarts again at 1980 and goes forth and from 1960 to 1980, this is not jazz, this is not black, it is anti jazz (laughter). Political implications of that position is profound because it is taken for granted that every other group can learn from any group it was (wants?) to learn from. But the market place is the same. No, no, no! African Americans start here, stop here and you can not go outside of that. So if that is true, the jazz is dead. Jazz is like European classical music from Monteverdi stopping at maybe Wagner. Wagner gets kind of complex, but certainly Mahler and, but of course we know that Europeans continue to evolve their music post Schumann, post Wagner, and went into the modern era. But it is always ironic that everyone is doing this. The market place says "No, African Americans stays right there". And so connected with the same subject is a profound split in the African American community itself. A split that says in one hand you must play the Blues, you must play Bebop, you must think like Malcolm X, not DU BOIS but the 60's writers many of the African American nationalists like Amiri Baraka who came to the fore 1960's. It have an alliance with Joe Hammond and Columbia records when they say, "No, no, no", black must be here and then on the other side you have an African American middle class and upper class that has sent his sons and daughters to the University, they come out as professionals and they are not interested in Blues, they are not interested in jazz, but maybe now, they might like the new neo classic jazz. They wear suits and for this group when they see the Art Ensemble of Chicago, they say "they are painting up and they are playing this African music, I don't like it". And so suddenly you see the Black Community divided into many different sections fighting with another and that is here and then on top of that the composite market place which controls all of the information. It is very interesting.
Terzioglu - Well, in University, in Economy classes they taught us the demand/supply curves
Braxton - Yes, yes and the same is true for music even now. They say music works like this. This is the sound, you have the system, you must play right, perfect pitch, you must have the good technique, but they never talk of the importance of life, the importance of ....
Terzioglu - existence
Braxton - existence and learning yourself, and the fundamental laws that relate to music, science, astrology, the building blocks, the real building blocks. They don't talk about the real building blocks, they talk about style, and they make style "God".
Terzioglu - Relating to your music, as far as I listened to your music, I did not listen to your any Trillium operas. I want to refer the vocals, that are too much related to spirituality, and as far as I know, you use vocals firstly, they tell words. Because I remember "For Trio" record with Joseph Jarman, Henry Threadgill and Roscoe Mitchell, you use your voices but they are not understandable words. As far as I know they are orchestral pieces as well, opera; the significance of them. I mean I could not understand the Ashmenton, Bubba John Jack,...
Braxton - Yes ...
Terzioglu - Can you give some clues that we would understand them ?
Sabri Erdem - Spiritual wholeness between operas and your three degree system; image musics, language musics and poetic language and their implications with these 12 system. For instance Zaccko figure and I read an article showing the parallels with you and Wassily Kandinski, the painter, he has the Saint George figure fighting against pure rational, pure logical world representing his view, his spirituality...
Terzioglu - Because it is too abstract to put into words...
Braxton OK, Trillium, let me talk you about Trillium. When completed will be an opera complex that will consist of 32 - 36 separate act that can fit together in any order. At this point, I have completed Trillium A, Trillium M, and Trillium R. Trillium is the second degree of the philosophical system Tri-axium. Joe Fonda has one of the books Tri-axium.
Terzioglu - Yes, but unfortunately, it has been impossible for me to..., I mean in two days ...
Braxton - No, no, I just want you to see the connection, it is connected to Tri- axium which is the philosophical system. And in Tri-axium, I tried to build a thinking system, a system of thought that does not tell anybody what to think, but rather it gives people different ways to look at things and then you find your own way. Because I think philosophy should not tell people what to think as we move to the third millennium, but it should help people to find their way and let the people find themselves what they think. With the opera complex Trillium, what I try to do was to take the philosophical arguments in the Tri-axium writings and to expand the particular arguments into story form to discuss the arguments and so the category of works that I call Trillium is really a context of dialogues in the same way that played on would adopt thesis - antithesis form ...
Erdem - Dialectic
Braxton - Dialectic to have a discussion, I would try to extract arguments from the Tri-axium writings and make stories and so Trillium B talks of transformation, world transformation; Trillium M is a story based on value systems as it relates to four of the schematic designs, schematic arguments from the Tri-axium writings. Maybe when we finish talking, or before we leave Istanbul ask Fonda for the Tri-axium writings, I will show you what I mean when I say schematic so that you can understand how the form of schematic looks. That is ...
Terzioglu - Do you have anything that you meant, in this book (showing the book "Mixtery")?
Braxton - No, I don't think so, nothing with the schematics, no. And so, Trillium, each opera tells the story of an argument, and in every opera, there are three primary arguments and one secondary argument. And in the future after you are able to look at Tri-axium, I will send you a cassette of Trillium A which was recorded...
Terzioglu - I will be delighted ....
Braxton - will send it in a couple of weeks, I had a performance of Trillium A in 1985, in the University of California at San Diego. I also had a performance of one half of Trillium M in London and we did the same music in New York as well and I will send that to you as well as Composition 175 which is opera but is not in the Trillium System, it's in the story telling system, it is another category, but I will send that to you as well.
Terzioglu - Could you give some clues about story telling and image musics?
Braxton - OK, and so Trillium is designed for the complete classical orchestra, with 12 singers, each singer has an instrumentalist that works for the singer and each singer has a dancer that works, the understanding being in my system I am trying to make a composite esthetic music where the sound, the color, the gesture, the movements are the same and ...
Terzioglu - Opera means gesture as well, there is mise-en-scene...
Braxton - Yes, gesture and intention in our work and plus I am talking of gesture in the sense of particular movements. Sitting movements, arm movements, different movements of the arm. I am seeking with my system to map parameters, to map various parameters whether it is arm movements, body movement, the saxophone player, he plays movements (he shows some saxophone playing positions) that kind of movements.
Terzioglu - I see
Braxton - My hope is more and more because it is impossible to get the classical orchestra groups to give me a performance, I am thinking more and more of having a giant tent, like circus tent and have my own tent and then do the operas inside of the tent.
Terzioglu - So, you mention about the instrumentalists, that classical music orchestras will not perform?
Braxton - This has been the problem.
Terzioglu - Is this the question of a place of performance, because you mentioned about a tent?
Braxton - For the last 10 - 15 years, 20 years, I have been begging, begging the classical performing spaces to help me by performing some of the orchestra music, or performing the operas.
Terzioglu - You mentioned about Lincoln Center, in an interview, if you had been the manager of the Lincoln Center, you would choose your own instrumentalists, well, you like best. Is it related to Trillium operas' performances?
Braxton - If there were possibilities to perform my music at Lincoln Center, they have the musicians, they have the money, they have the space, but rather than perform modern operas, the established structure is based on the performance of the early operas, the early European operas. It is just very complex and very difficult for a living composer to get a performance, especially for a composer, like myself who is an African American who goes his own way. I am looking to do my operas from a self reliant perspective. More and more I am thinking in terms of I will just do it myself, look for ways to have a small cheap performance. It could be very nice for me because I do not have to have a 100000 dollars for a grand performance. I need maybe 5000 dollars, I can make little small scenes (?) and have the singers.
Terzioglu - It is same everywhere in the world, because I have some friends who are composers, young composers, and they can not even have the opportunity to find an orchestra even a small orchestra, an ensemble to perform their compositions.
Braxton - This is a universal problem (laughter)
Terzioglu - And the philosophical thoughts and spirituality...
Erdem - Before that I want to ask you an additive question, you said when they are performing, they have some gestures, do you expect a kind of education for that like performing with their bodies, with bodies, for this performing, do they, the performers need an education, instruction, a period of instruction or workshop ...?
Braxton - They need much instruction, much workshop. They have to, the musicians who will be performing in the operas must learn the system of my music, not the classical orchestra, the classical orchestra for the Trillium operas have normal notated music, that they understand. But the singers, the solo instrumentalists and the dancers must learn the system of my music. More and more it's becoming impossible to simply meet a musician and say "OK, we wanna music playing and let's go play". It is becoming impossible. I have to have musicians who are interested in learning the system in my music. It might take a year, it might take two years, but there is a system that must be understood at this point to really play the music and so for your question much preparation ...
Erdem - Are there some kind of school, like your lectures in Wesleyan University, some kind of series of lectures or some kind of, new kind of education because music education and body movement education, if I understand correctly, must combine and get into each other, so I think when you are talking to us, it needs another kind of education, more complex kind of education...
Braxton - Yes, yes...
Erdem - besides music...
Braxton - Last year I formed the Tri-centric Foundation and the Tri-centric Foundation...
Terzioglu - Ted Reichman just mentioned about it.
Braxton - It was formed exactly because what you have raised, because of your idea for the need to have a platform, a school to begin to teach the musicians about the new systems. Tri-centric Foundation in the Future will seek to promote the study of my music. It will also be a platform to help other composers, especially young men and young women who are serious about their music, who are starting out, somebody has to help these people and I would like to hope that the Tri-centric Foundation will continue to expand; it is very young right now.
Terzioglu - A non-profit organization, Isn't it?
Braxton - Yes, yes and also the Tri-centric Foundation was put together to help me the Tri-centric Orchestra which is something like 40 people. We will play two nights in a 6 day festival in the Knitting Factory in November an my hope is to hold this group together. Right now Trillium A and Trillium R is being copied and my hope is by next year, we can start to form Trillium R which I am very excited about.
Terzioglu - I wish that we had that performance right in Turkey.
Braxton - Oh, I wish so of course, but it is crazy, very difficult, but I will send you cassettes of one Trillium A and one half Trillium M
Terzioglu - And the spirituality, the characters, Ashmenton, Bubba John Jack?
Braxton - The characters, I try to find 12 names, 12 character types that would reflect the characteristics of composite earth, there is the sun dance character, sun dances, a compilation of native American tendencies Ojuwain, Bubba John Jack, a certain kind of American... ... let me back up a little bit and talk about the aesthetics of the characters. My hope is to build a music system that can be looked at as far as it is city-state analogy, it is continental analogies, it is planet analogies, and the solar system in galactic analogies. Now on the plane of city-state, if we can imagine a continent with 12 different territories, 12 different lands and each land has a group of people, it is from that point that the Ashmenton character is really related to Ashmenton country which is really related to language number 2 and the system that I am trying to build is a system of 12 lands but with 3 roads, one road of stable logic connections, another road of water connections, so improvisational connections and then another connection of symbolic connections. My hope is to for the city-state analogy to have a music moving through different rounds of architectonic tendencies and ancient thoughts about life and death and marriage and friendship and change, I would like to with my system, build a microcosm model of the universe and the energies in the universe. The stable logic energies, the vibrational energies and the emotional energies. And so the characters are compilations of an attempt to not account (?) for different experiences because I don't know enough for that but only to have 12 characters that will give me the possibilities to connect into different zones, and so I can tell different kinds of stories, a story from the sun dance mentality will be different than the stories from the Ashmenton mentality in terms of language, fundamental language form and form states and arguments. What we call the mythologies, I am seeking to build my own context of mythologies and to have it based upon principal constructs as I understand the subject of mythology and of course I have much more to learn.
Terzioglu - Coming to the poetic logics, image musics and collage musics, again I want some clues to approach them by myself. I understand the language musics that you showed in the workshop, after reading Mr. Graham Lock's "An Approach to your Solo Work", what I want to ask first of all is that while constructing these language types, the question was "How to proceed?", asking to yourself and I understand that it was for your solo music, right?
Braxton - Well that was the original building blocks of the language music came about because of the solo musics in improvisation. But after that, I have tried to take the same information and then move it into the domain composition...
Terzioglu - any composition, orchestral, everything?
Braxton - any composition. Every composition I have written is connected to the language musics, same for the operas. That is why yesterday in the lecture I drew a cycle with my hand said that language music, then I drew a rectangle and talked structure space music and I drew a triangle as a way to talk of ritual of ritual and ceremonial music strategies started through improvisation which is water and circle and from that point I started to create compositions with the same material and put it in the structure space, the rectangle where in the rectangle space stable logics it is frozen, I can come back to it and it does not change just like if we play a composition "How High the Moon" whenever we come back to play it, it is still "How High the Moon", we can do something different with it. To me this difference between improvisation and mutable logic and stable logics and composition and then the next degree is to take the improvisation and the composition, put it together and push it to the triangle, and add intention, and with intention, I did not look for ways of creating the music that has a summation logic; for instance in the language musics number 4 Ashmenton plays staccato lines "padada dududu dd dududu". Composition number 37 for four saxophones also has a staccato line logic, this in the composition that in 1974, I did with Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake and Hamiett Bluiett. Later they would go on to ...
Terzioglu - The World Saxophone Quartet
Braxton - ... make World Saxophone Quartet, but composition number 37 was the second degree of Language number 4. Now for an example, of the triangle, if I would say "Ha ha ha ha - hallo, ho ho ho how are you", if I am stammer, this is staccato line logic. So if I wrote in the opera, "Hallo, it is good to-to-to-to-to-to see you", that would be an example of language 4 inside of the language logic of the singer and that would be a way of using language 4 in a ritual construct. And that would be an example of how an improvisation, something is taken and then put into the structure space for just the abstract the abstract musics and then into the concrete where people are talking and someone happens to be a stammer. From the abstract to concrete, this for me is a part of the Tri-centric approach.
Terzioglu - For the story telling, yes those are close parallel, I mean I began to somehow understand the image musics, to perform story tellings, you are talking about the stammer person, it is somehow story telling for me. Am I right?
Braxton - Uhm, yes sir. There is another example, for instance in composition 113, for soprano saxophone that composition has a story as well and for composition 113, there are 6 microphones all around and different heights and the instrumentalist is turning and playing in different positions and there are also 12 melodic pitch sets. That represents humor, fear, anger, or something and the instrumentalist is asked to re-enact the story of Ojuwain on a train, by chance are you with me with this composition?
Terzioglu - No...
Braxton - It is available on Sound Aspects in America. It is composition 113 and it is one of the story telling structures. This composition is story telling for the individual separate from the Trillium actual opera musics.
Terzioglu - What about talking into instruments, I mean when I read the interview with Mr. Graham Lock and you, at the end of the book, you were talking about some performance, that you've done so far and you were talking into saxophone.
Braxton - Yes.
Terzioglu - And there were jokes and the context has blown out and it is just a question mark for me. How do you talk into the instrument?, in the literal sense how could it happen ? Was it a story telling?
Braxton - More and more I am learning how to speak while I am playing, while circular breathing.
Terzioglu - Yes
Braxton - The actual speech, the libretto of the speech is a story. Another approach is to take on the character of Ashmenton and to speak. This approach is akin talking in tongues. Have you heard that expression?
Terzioglu - Yes I read but could not understand...
Braxton - Talking in tongues is akin to in every person there are many different people, many different aspects of every person and so you try to go that person.
Terzioglu - OK, I see.
Braxton - Just like being an actor, how an actor takes on someone else's personality. What I'm trying to do is to take on the personalities of the 12 major characters in my system...
Terzioglu - You talk in tongues of the ...
Braxton - of the characters. That's one approach. And the other approach is to have actual librettos and have the musicians read and talk, how they talk when they are playing. For me, this is going to be one of the areas to evolve in the future, but already, I'm doing this talking to the instrument.
Terzioglu - The reason that you play alto sax solo, you don't play..., well is it true that you play sopranino saxophone solos somehow?
Braxton - I've recordings of sopranino saxophone solos, but I prefer to use the alto saxophone as my piano.
Terzioglu - As your piano?
Braxton - Yes, this is really like for me, the piano, my main instrument and I like to challenge of playing one concert with only one instrument as opposed to one piece on the saxophone, one piece on the flute; I play maybe a flute solo just one composition but then do something else, but with the alto saxophone, I like to have the whole concert, because it represents a real challenge for me and it is also possible to show how language music works because there is no mirrors, no magic. It's just one instrument playing music and you can begin to see and hear the actual languages. For me as an instrumentalist and as an improviser, this is a good challenge. And this is why I prefer the solo concerts only on the alto saxophone.
Terzioglu - But it is true that language type musics can be performed on every instrument
Braxton - Yes, yes
Terzioglu - But you prefer alto saxophone
Braxton - Only because, I have a special relationship with the alto saxophone.
Terzioglu - The sound of contrabass clarinet is very tragic.
Braxton - Oh, yes
Terzioglu - We'd like to hear other instruments that you play solo.
Braxton - I have a contrabass saxophone and one day it should ever possible, I'd like to come and bring. I have a contrabass saxophone, a bass saxophone, a baritone saxophone...
Terzioglu - Whole family, but not tenor I think...
Braxton - No, no I have tenor, tenor and baritone, I have F-sax. For me part of the fun of being an instrumentalist is to play different instruments like you don't want to eat chicken everyday (laughter). But for the instruments, I would like to have diversity plus there is a different challenge for each instrument because flute instrument is very different than the saxophone and the clarinet and the contrabass clarinet very different from the sax, and so for me as an instrumentalist, it gave a possibility to learn about the "LOW WORLD" (... sounding a very low pitch...) and the "HIGH WORLD" (... sounding a very high pitch ...). Two different strategies; this is part for me of the fun and challenge of being an instrumentalist.
Terzioglu - I just watched a movie about Thelonious Monk. Some stupid person asking him questions "Oh Mr. Monk, what do you think of yourself, as an instrumentalist or as a composer" and Monk answers "Both" (laughter). About the things that you do presently, I mean Ghost Trance, there is any transition?
Braxton - Yes
Terzioglu - The first performance here in Istanbul, well no, not the first performance, you put it on a CD, right?
Braxton - We, about two months ago, did a quartet recording of four Ghost Trance structures. At this point, the material is in my office and it has not been sold to anyone. My hope is to get this material out next year. And...
Terzioglu - So, you recorded but not put on a CD, right?
Braxton - Yes, yes. It's just a, it needs to be edited and finished and mixed and ... Last night was the first actual performance of the Ghost Trance musics.
Terzioglu - What's the point of Ghost Trance in your work? Is that ... For example, I think the Trillium operas as the point that you want to target at or you have targeted at and the Ghost Trance a new music...
Braxton - Yes
Terzioglu - I must say that I'm just surprised because it's a new beginning and totally, maybe not the correct word, but different from Trillium operas
Braxton - Uh, hum
Erdem - Because transformation, some kind of transformation
Terzioglu - Transition, trance, you know meditation
Erdem - Yes, meditation
Braxton - Uhhhhh, we would, both of you. The Ghost Trance musics will give me a way to move into the trance music ways. I mean this is why I want to go and buy as many CD's as much as I can of the Turkish Musics and the African musics, the Indian musics as I seek to examine the House number 1 which is the long sound. In India you have the Drone "Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm"
Terzioglu - Yes.
Braxton - The Turkish music have the dervishes, this is a trance music. There are different kinds of African Trance musics. And I'm interested in the real, the very long time it just keep going. The concept of Ghost Trance musics involve stream of consciousness structures that are conceived based on the 12 constructs of my system. In terms of stream of consciousness in the House of 1, stream of consciousness in the House of 8, stream of consciousness in the different Houses of the system. And meanwhile, once established, it becomes part of mutable logic construct where the other compositions become on top of it, improvisation .....(?) to it. In the same way, that the pulse track structures...
Terzioglu - Pulse track structures?
Braxton - Pulse track structures are structures that have notated music on target time spaces, improvisation and the more notated music, and so on. Unlike bebop, where you play "How High the Moon", the bass player plays the chord changes and the drummer plays the time, but the pulse track structures, you have with material open improvisation, with material open improvisation, and, on top of that another notated piece and then someone detect a solo or play a notated solo, mutable logic. Three different energies happening at the same time. That was the beginning for me of the mutable logic musics, the use of pulse track structures. I would ask you, are you with me with the Willisau four CD set?
Terzioglu - No, unfortunately...
Braxton - Are you with me with 6 compositions of the Black Saint?
Terzioglu - No, I don't think so, but I have composition number 96, 100, orchestral pieces, but I'm not sure...
Braxton - After we finish talking, I will tell you which CD's have examples and should you find that material, you could hear the pulse track structures, mutable logic musics. I mention that, because the Ghost Trance musics take this process to another, to the next level where there is a stream of consciousness of notated material, that's always happening. And these compositions put on top of that, this improvisation put on that. And to listen to the music is not to hear just one thing, but there are many things happening, so you can listen to this part of it, this part of it or you can back up and you can hear all of it, but it is these energies working in the same space and so the concept of Ghost Trance is really a stream of consciousness music like the whirling dervishes that uses the 12 constructs from the language musics. It is like a solar system, a stable logic solar system with improvisation happening in it and then with extra compositions inside of it, like planets, so it's going around and all of the things so happen and it gives a fresh sense of holistic (?) identity. This is what I am interested in.
Erdem - Ghost implies spirit?
Braxton - That is the next aspect of it. I have been studying the music of the native American Indians. And more and more I find myself influenced by their spiritualism. And Ghost Trance for me is the beginning of seeking to retain the memory of, well personal individuals, national individuals and spiritual individuals and I feel that this approach will be part of an attempt to resurrect a fresh platform for Gods and Goddesses, for heroes, for community heroes, for the firemen and firewomen and the school teachers; Ghost Trance will be a way to celebrate the memory of given individuals and thoughts.
Terzioglu - Ted Reichman and Roland Dahinden mentioned about the native Indians. They should be the point of departure to the Ghost Trance.
Braxton - Uh, hu
Terzioglu - Maybe out of context, but I just want to ask about your lectures in Wesleyan University. Do you mention about the philosophical thought and the structural base? Do one have to be an instrumentalist to attend the courses?
Braxton - No...
Terzioglu - So, the target that you are going to at the end of the courses, is that to form an ensemble to perform music? Is that true?
Braxton - At Wesleyan University, I have history classes, I teach the history of African American music, I have taught the history of European music, I have a class of history of women in creative music. I teach a class on music of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Charlie Mingus. I used to teach orchestration but since coming to Wesleyan, I have not taught orchestration. I have an ensemble class and in the ensemble class, I use the materials of my system and I have a seminar class, compositional seminar tutorial class where it is open for anyone who would like to take it. If you are an architect or if you are only interested in cooking food or if you want to make statues. And in the composition seminar class, we talk about form, building blocks of form and I give analysis of my music. I talk to my students about the music of Arnold Schoenberg and Karlheinz Stockhausen, Iannis Xenakis and in a year or so, I will talk to them about my new Turkish whirling dervish musics, but I need a couple of years to study this music, but whatever I learn or discover, I take to my students and start to share with them not like I have all the answers, I'm not that kind of professor. I tell my students I have no answers, but I have good questions (laughter)
Erdem - I have some questions about title drawings...
Terzioglu - I mentioned about a lady that has radio shows in official radio station, when I talked to her at the first night you came here, she told me that she would like to know and get some clues about the title drawings. She told me that she would like to learn something about the title drawings. Since you know that they are complex structures and as far as I've seen the latest compositions have titles just like pictures, that have meanings...
Braxton - Yes...
Terzioglu - There is a town, there is a road passing by...
Braxton - Yes, yes
Terzioglu - There are signs...
Erdem - Flashes and lights...
Braxton - Yes. For the system of music that I have been trying to build every composition has 3 names. There is the opus number, involving the order of the compositions; there is the coded title, involving numbers and there is the graphic title, involving the image. There are at least 6 degrees of the image titles. In the beginning, in the early 60's, as I looked for a way to name my music, I discovered that I did not want to write a piece of music and call it "The Sun Came Over the Mountain" or "Braxton's Blues", so I would in the beginnings try to have what I called the formula titles, by formula titles, I try to express sound type, velocity, temperate date and to express my the ingredients of the composition in terms of the formula of mixtures of relationships. Involving the pitch, the geometric and geosonicmetric characteristics of the composition would be the formula titles. The next set of titles would be the alternative coding titles. And by alternative coding titles, I'm referring to the decision of, to look for extra-musical factors and include that in the paradigm for the composition. For instance in the middle 60's my hero Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky would playing chess and I try to factor chess moves as part of the compositional process. I used friends initials and immigrated that into, I use astrology and Number Theory in association and integrated that information into composition and so that class of musics, I call the coding titles. Number 3, the schematic titles. By schematic titles, I try to, in the graphic image, to express the composite form state of the music, in terms of what was happening from beginning to the end in the music.
Erdem - The relation, one of them is visible, the title graph drawings; one of them audible, the music is audible. You listen to the music and you see the title drawings...
Braxton - Uhm, yes, but not necessarily in literal two dimensional sense, uhm, schematic in the sense of the processes employ at the beginning, the processes employ at the middle, the processes employ at the end for the person listening to the music, it might not always be possible to see the actual processes unless the person would analyze the compositions and analyze all of the components of the composition, but more and more, I begin to move towards three dimensional processes that would not always be audible. For the schematic structures, well the major changes in the composition in terms of mass, density, time is expressed in the titles. From the schematic titles, I moved into the dimensional joins titles, and by dimensional joins, I began to try to factor intention, spheres of intentions and zones of intentions, moving into a kind of holographic construct. From the dimensional joins, I moved into the color titles and part of the color titles and dimensional joins titles are the same. Because in the same period, I began to factor color into the actual music moving more and more into factoring body and color and extra musical paradigms. From the dimensional joins, moving into the color titles, somewhere after that I began to move into images. Image strategies have nothing to do with the actual components of each little specific element, but moving into the mysteries of the music, to the spiritual connections of the music. And so formula titles, coding titles, schematic titles, the dimensional titles, the color titles moving to holographics into total imagery titles, and that is how the titles have progressed. More and more I am starting to try to use titles to express other dimensions of connection, but the initial idea was I didn't want simply to say, here is a piece of music "The Sun Came Over the Mountain" or "Braxton's Blues", rather I want it ...(laughter)
Erdem - One of the articles I read, character Zaccko appears on your title drawings , they claim that (showing the title drawings of the compositions with numbers, ..., ..., and ....)
Braxton - So we're moving to the image models now. These titles have nothing to do, but the strict processes in a literal way. More and more by the time we're moving into this zone of titles, I am seeking to have the visual image or visual configuration of the processes, that's a summation logic as opposed to dialectical relationship. And More and more, it moves to dreams into intuition, into I finished the piece "Sun was that" "Three o'clock" or "what day is the day" and "add up the numbers" or whatevers...
Erdem - In that kind of image, can we talk about the synthesis of the whole piece or composition?
Braxton - No, because, if we do that, it would be like trying to decode or discuss the mysteries like that. Uhm, by the time we moved up into, by the time composition 102 was complete, the process of titling the musics can't be communicated in a literal way anymore. It's moving something else and I'm just going along with it but more and more I am not interested in rationalism. More and more, I find that for me, future evolution will have to move into the mysteries and the mysterious. Because I'm (NOT???) interested in music just as the scientist. I'm interested to learn about myself, and I want to have a music that has helped from the cosmics which is right even in the early periods. I did not want to have serial processes or...
Terzioglu - Serial processes?
Braxton - Strict mathematical models, because I wanted to have a little room each time for something unknown to come into the music.
Terzioglu - You're interested in known and unknown...
Braxton - I'm interested in known and unknown and to talk about the titles after 96 -93 (?) some takes the title and puts it on the table and the titles have moved away from the ingredients of the music. In the beginning the titles were long sound, Major 4, short sound, Major 5, fortissimo here, later it became like "well, alright, this block and this block" and later "this block" and then, later "hmmmm", and later ......... and later ....... . More and more I'm looking for, even now in the act of composing and the reason that Ghost Trance music is important for me, I'm not interested just in the mind. I'm looking for something past the mind. And the only way, I have discovered this far, to disk (?) with this is to myself move towards the trance mentality so that something can happen that's more than me. Because I'm not interested in me I just wanted to do the work of the music and let the music do the work. And I try to shape it. But of course at the same time, I continue my processes, but it's different now. I'm looking for a music that expresses everything in one moment.
And so the processes of the titling more and more, it's just like composing the music. Sometimes I sit and think about an image and then I try to understand how every image has a logic factor. Let's say you see a horse walking. And then there is a whole logic happening. How to take an image imprint and see the fundamental logic constructs and use that to write the music. How to take an idea that has nothing to do with music, like a boy who is trying to find his mother. And take that and make a story and make a music and try to understand what will the little boy be thinking or something. What would the Sun Dance do in this situation, what will the character Ashmenton do. If use (?) a mountain and went down in a car and then turning to a bird. What about the early mythology with men with wings, men who are half men half horse. The centaur, how can we find the music for that? Because all are coming back anyway. The modern technology, the new DNA and genetic research may be in the third millennia, if I can sail like that? We all grew up with much mythology and talk about, you know the Ark, the flood, Angels and Devils?
Terzioglu - Noah's Ark, Yes.
Braxton - I want to with my work move into this behind the curtain of sound, because I'm not interested anymore and writing a piece of music that is intellectually so advanced and everyone would say "Oh! this is very smart", I'm not interested in. I'm interested in the unknown and the known, and what I into it. More and more, I think about forms and I don't even understand anymore. I seek to learn about the real mysteries. And I would like to have my music reflect the best part of my experiences and so the titlings all a part of that. More and more, I'm seeking a music where the friendly traveler is playing and suddenly on a screen, composition 105 flashes and the musicians will have like a road map. Let's say, we gonna play some music and I'll give you a map, you a map, me a map and the map says, start here and we end at the McDonald's in five hours. And in your map you have different ways to go, and in my map I have different ways. We can go anyway we wanna go. I won't tell you how to go. We'll all choose our own ways. But we must find the keys each point and this is why I'm trying to do with the titles and the process. The key here opens that door. You have another trap door goes there, I'm looking for a music that does not in the same way that the early masters, the early Turkish masters, the early masters from this region were among the first to begin to study of number, of image, of astrology and the position of heavens and the divine influences that's what I seek to learn about. And this is not just Modern Western Rational Theory, because for instance, even Modern Western Rational Theory has come to a point that we can't go past, we talk about chaos theory, we talk about the universe and black holes and the concept there are limits to the universe, Concepts of the Big Bang, how did the universe start and what is a black hole and what is matter? Uhm, I feel that the challenge of creative music is connected to this. And that the next leap of knowledge might not be one plus one plus one plus two plus this, but rather shuuuuuuiiiiop, tschiouuuuuv, a circle birth magic, I'm interested in magic, gentlemen.
Terzioglu - I see.
Erdem - We are so much affected that we have to stop for a while (laughter)
Terzioglu - I wish we had the courses in Wesleyan University, I mean when I talked to Mr. Roland and Mr. Ted, they always tell that "Yes, Mr Braxton, his music is wonderful, understanding him, you know," they are very affected from your courses, your point of views, your departure to your music...
Braxton - And I'm affected by them. I am and remain a professional student of music and that's all I want to be, a professional student, because as a student, I can continue to learn, I have much to learn, there is much to do. I'm very grateful to be born in this time period, because I'm born in this period so I must be grateful. (laughter)
Terzioglu - Thinking about the past, at 70's, I think you were in London and just in between the improvisers like Derek Bailey, Evan Parker and I have that recording. If you have another opportunity to meet them, just to perform music, improvise, will you join to such an environment? Because I read an that in England, you were listening to John Stevens, Tony Oxley, and two or three other performers, they were improvising and you were saying, "Look, this is too much music".
Braxton - Oh, yes, yes.
Terzioglu - If you find an opportunity to meet them to perform, will you like to play?
Braxton - Last week, I joined to Rova Saxophone Quartet with Evan Parker...
Terzioglu - Really...?
Braxton - and we had an improvisation. Yes, I am very interested in improvisation, but, not only improvisation; as far as improvisation is concerned, I would like one day to have an opportunity to improvise with some of the Turkish musicians or to have more experiences, with musicians from other countries. Because this will help me learn, this is why I like improvisation. Because there are no rules and so you can learn about each other and it is very interesting . However there are times when I don't want to hear improvised music, I wanna hear notated music. Sometimes I just want to hear just orchestral music. Sometimes I only want to hear solo piano music and so...
Terzioglu - You don't want to eat chicken everyday.
Braxton - Well, actually yes, but I don't want to play chicken everyday (laughter)
Terzioglu - So, what's the metaphor of chicken here?
Braxton - Look, since I've been in Istanbul, I've had many kinds of chicken, with all kinds of different sauces, very nice chicken.
Terzioglu - I have read an article that Mr Evan Parker wrote, not on this book, but somewhere else, I don't remember and he was mentioning when you met them in London, you playing, just surprised them, you were playing melodically and they were not playing melodically...
Braxton - Uh, hu.
Terzioglu - Did you feel something like that?
Braxton - Well, my first exposure to the British musicians who came around the same time period as myself was through Dave Holland. Dave played the records of John Stevens and later when we went to London, I had opportunity to meet these people and I found their music fascinating. And I try to let them know that I was interested in their music and that I respected their music. And that I was not coming to visit England as the angry American who thinks only Americans can play. I'm not interested in that. And after meeting with Evan Parker and Derek Bailey, I found a natural affinity with these guys and my musical experiences with them had been very beautiful for me. And so, yes their music was very different from mine in terms of the melodic nature or non-melodic character. But in fact, the melodic character of my music is only one aspect of my music. The records speak for itself now. We have many recordings and I have always felt very, I felt connected to Evan Parker and to some of the improvisers and able to play with them. And for me, it was always a positive experience, I've learned a great deal from that experience. But I did not want to only play improvised music, because myself, for me it would be a limitation, because my interest is not just in this area of music. I'm interested in totally music.
Terzioglu - Do you wish that sometimes there will be times that classical orchestras play your music, symphonies, did you ever wanted to compose a symphony, performed by a symphony orchestra?
Braxton - I have symphonies, I have 7, 8, 9, 10 orchestral pieces, I don't call them symphonies, but they are orchestral pieces. And as a young person, I did wanted the orchestras to play my music, and so now, that I'm 50 years old, I don't worry about this anymore. Because my experiences have shown me that if I wanna do something, I have to do it myself. And I try to with my music career to do my work in the shuttles. Just keep evolving African American for the most part is not interested in my music, the jazz musicians, for the most part, they kind of ... my music, but they don't like it, does not swing enough and if that's how they feel I accept it. But I keep doing my music and if a symphony orchestra decides one day to perform it, Great, if they decide never to perform it, Great, I will not complain, but I will fight to do my best. And to perform even the early musics myself, no more complaining. I will continue to just fight for my music.
Erdem - Is this for Western Art Orchestras? Is this prejudice, or a kind of racism, or what is this? - just thinking like that?
Braxton - Yes, for me, I will say, it's all of those things. But mostly, it's an ignorant idea of culture; even more than racism. Because there are many American composers and younger composers and Turkish composers and nobody wants to perform the music. I see this problem as cultural ignorance. And yet, I'm tired of complaining, I believe in fighting for my music and in the end whatever happens at least I can say, I did my best. I just wanna do my best, after that it's OK.
Terzioglu - What about your future plans? You plan going to Ghost Trance musics, next compositions, next performances?
Braxton - I would like to hope with the Ghost Trance musics will be a major focus for me in the next five years and yet at the same time, I will continue to operas, I want to move into electronic and computer music, and I am studying electronics. Because there's so much to do, I am especially excited by the interactive electronic music and computer music.
Terzioglu- Electronic music is a new gate for persons who are open to every aspect in the musics; is there another area?
Braxton - No, this is the area I want to move into. One of the areas, and to keep growing.
Terzioglu - Yes.
Erdem - And your impressions on Istanbul?
Braxton - Well, I can only say, this 3 days period has really been incredible for me and my family and for the group, for the whole sextet. And I felt before I left America that this trip will be important for me. And I was right. I am very glad to meet you guys. I mean everyone has been very beautiful to us and to have the opportunity to walk around the city and to feel the vibrations Istanbul and to go to the mosques where Christian and Islam came together. I will carry this trip, this experience with me for the rest of my life. I am very grateful to be here
Erdem - Especially the spiritual environment, mysticism, can you tell, how do you feel it?
Braxton - I feel mystery here in Istanbul, and I like it. I like the way city looks, it does not look like a hospital. It looks like a real city.
Terzioglu - Is it like a mystery or mixtery?
Braxton - I feel like a mystery and mixture.
Terzioglu - Well, Mr Braxton, thank you very much.
Braxton - Thank you both, thank all three of you. Thank you for wanting to do this.
Terzioglu - It is very important for us, to think about these subjects in your music.
Braxton - Well, this has been a wonderful opportunity for us, for me and my whole family and for the group and we will be talking about this for the next 10 years, me and the guys. And we and my family will talk about this for the rest of our lives.
Erdem - We are expecting you again in Istanbul.
Braxton - If it should be possible, of course I will.
Terzioglu - Any format.
Braxton - Any format, a Trillium opera, a solo-sax, a project with the Turkish musicians, or play with a Turkish group.
Terzioglu - Maybe you know, the instrument "ney", remember the CD that you bought today, Mr Erguner, I think he lives in Paris and they are two brothers they play ney.
Braxton - What about young guys growing up?
Terzioglu - Mr. Butch Morris, we had his orchestra with 3 Turkish musicians, one playing ney, one playing kanun, one playing, was it ud or tambur? It was a really great performance. I wish you had an opportunity like that.
Braxton - An opportunity ever comes out, I will take it. But meanwhile, I want to buy 10 - 20 CD's.
Terzioglu - OK, let's go.
© Volkan Terzioglu [posted here with his permission]