Sextet (Istanbul) 1996

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Sextet (Istanbul) 1996

  • Sextet (Istanbul) 1996

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A  NEW SET OF TOYS IN THE TRIANGLE HOUSE: THE GHOST TRANCE MUSIC OF ANTHONY BRAXTON
Liner notes by Francesco Martinelli

There have been several recent dramatic developments in the music of Anthony Braxton: surely a sign of health, of an undiminishing capacity of surprise and discovery from one of the musicians that at the end of the sixties started to chart unknown territories.  Maybe the most startling of these developments for the audience at large has been the emphasis on his own piano playing by the master instrumentalist that was once hailed–by others–as the third prophet in the lineage of alto saxophone players beginning with the great restructuralist Charlie Parker, followed by Ornette Coleman, both decisive influences on the young Braxton himself.  Another recent thread in the recording and concert activities of Braxton is the performance/recording of compositions associated with the “jazz mainstream”, albeit with a personal and particular slant beginning with the choice of repertoire all the way down to interpretation, often based exactly on the leader’s piano playing.

But this is not the place to discuss those changes, since this cd begins the documentation of Ghost Trance Musics, a third major innovation of recent times, a new and different phase in AB’s music.  This phase goes to coexist, in a synchronic and not in a diacronic process, with all the previous experiences and researches through which Braxton has lead us.  The Ghost Trance Musics, in other words, do not substitute or erase the previous language systems: on the contrary they are an explanation, an enlightenment, as well as a development.  It does not make the other musics obsolete: in the two recent festivals dedicated to his own music and promoted by the Tri-Centric Foundation, Braxton chose to feature as broad as possible a range of his production, from the solo to the orchestral works, and only time/space/money considerations–I guess–prevented the production of the operas, or the works involving actors, dancers, giant puppets and other devices.

I had the chance, thanks to the kind interest of several friends active in academic circles, to be invited to lecture in some American colleges about European improvisation.  On that occasion I was invited to wesleyan college as well, by prof. Braxton himself, and enjoyed his and his family’s warm hospitality while being able to discuss at length musical subjects.  During the trip back to the airport, on my way home, Braxton gave me a long interview that supplied material for these notes about Ghost Trance Musics, together with written sources like concert notes and research papers of which I was sent copies; the stream of consciousness recorded on cassette was stopped when I flatly refused to supply Braxton with pen and paper to draw diagrams while driving.  In the following notes when the source of quotations is not specified they are extracts from this interview.

Ghost Trance Musics (from now on GTM) were described by braxton as follows: “the Ghost Trance Musics is a structural prototype music state that is designed to establish extended time-space functions and intuitive experiences.  Just as the American Indian community came together for new restructural musics that clarified extended procedures–the consideration of time they developed is not like five minutes, they may play all night; the gamelan musics of indonesia–the shadow theatre musics–it goes on all night, it s not a five minute affair, it goes on all night and yet identity in that music is still maintained.  Identity is maintained not from a baroque motivic use of formal ingredients but rather from extended time-space logic strategies.  And so the GTM is an attempt to go beyond my previous composing models for composition as a way to extend those formal constructs into extended time-space materials or at least this music prototype is one aspect of my interest in this subject.

“The phenomenon of a trance induced state also establishes a particular relationship to time and duration that trascends periodic time recognition enclosure parameters.  I’m seeking to understand this phenomenon we are confronted with the concept of involvement as a state of experience that supersedes target event assumptions…. The duration of a given event-occasion establishes a unique perceptual environment that places the activity of the music in a continual domain that transcends predesignated time structures…The phenomenon of the repetition in African music is used to establish extended time-sapce involvement.  The thrust of this device moves to create a state of “cyclic balance” that defines the terms of embellishment (or elaboration through improvisation).” (Anthony Braxton, “Africa, Triangle Land”.  Final Paper on African Religion, 1996)

Considerations about the movement of music in time have been always present to Braxton the composer and Braxton the improvisor: “The long sound in the language music system has been long phrase musics, for example the piece for Ann and Peter Allen (NB: Composition 8D, side B of For Alto, Delmark DS 420/21) which is a demonstration of an extended time-space logic strategy that involves sound and silences. It was among the early experiments of complete compositions for me and this composition would also be one of the early attempts to begin moving into repetitive logic musics as an attempt to look at extended formal constructs that I could use in my own music.

Later the Kelvin series of compositions would help me establish extended structural time space models and would also help me demonstrate languages in the House of One, which is the House of Shala,the House of the Long Sound.

These last words require that I try an explanation. Braxton;s system uses 12 constructs, to which 12 identities are associated: this is manifest in the structure of the Trillium opera cycle, where twelve primary characters are featured; the Tri-Centric philosophy based on the generating power of number three gives the opportunity of differentiating three aspects of every element of the system. “The concept of Tri-Centric has three partials: individual, group, synthesis. Mutable logics, stable logics, summation logics. Architecture, philosophy, and ritual and ceremonial. So it’s three by three, three by three, three by three. But not just linear; it’s also….. three by three, three by three, three by three, and also each unit in itself is three by three, three by three, three by three. That really explains the formal components of Tri-Centric.

“Every construct/identity can be viewed from a tri-partial perspective. The long sound, House Number One of Shala, contains three degrees: long sound (for the improviser); sustain sound logics (the second degree); long belief, or the belief which is eternal (third degree) (Mixtery, p. 247). Braxton presents his own research in these terms: I am seeking to uncover the 12 identities, the 12 forces, of my system. We’re moving into the mythological realm now’. (Ibid. )

What we witnessed in the early stages of Braxton’s music, the detailed analysis of the solo improviser’s language and the solidification of the different devices in different categories, was only the first step in the building of a complex network of analytical/compositional/philosophical tools. In Braxton s system every detail of musical language is not only associated with greater musical profiles, but is as well part of the territory of one of the twelve identities, in some way under its protection or influence.

This system contains what Braxton has called a healthy degree of unknown: in his system of tri-partials, every performance must include past, present and future, unknown, known and intuitive (the order of these factors is not casual but carefully specified). On the strictly musical plan this means nesting of old compositions into new (past), presenting new compositions (present) and let the summation logics of these strategies forecast new developments (future). And following the other triplet: improvisation (unknown), composition (known) and intuitive, what comes from the combination of graphic titles and scores, instantaneous decisions with in fixed boundaries and/or in a determined context.

The connection with the past is one of the characteristics of GTM, as evident in this explanation of Ghost “I believe that one of the problems of this time period is that we don’t understand the old ghost, the old masters. We have been given a viewpoint of the masters that takes away the aura of the ghosts. All of it looks like artifacts and more and more children are not able to gain some sense of the real culture. But trance music means that individuals can do individual experiences and they can tap into anything, including the essence of the masters, of the old masters. The GTM’s are a category of the ritual music’s that seek to establish long space trans {formal} experiences and will ask the participants in the trance state not to recognize any particular ghost, {psychology} but more and more as I compose {in the process of composing } I’m looking for the ghost! {“of the past”} I’m looking for {structural} corridors myself as I seek to connect with those {sprits} who were not me–starting from the duo {context/experiences} to the orchestra, to the community, and finally I’m interested in connecting with {the spiritual whole composite identity–as a global phenomenon}.

Echoes of Ayler, surely, while I’m sure that Sun Ra is appreciating the trance/trans connection which gives another source for the name, transharmonic music, while putting back experiences in context: “I’m no longer thinking of harmony at all, in the western classical sense of where harmony is at this point, I’m interested in a harmony that extends the domain of Composition 76, on the For Trio record. No. 76, was a notation that was conceived for the nebe unspecefieded). And in the AACM I never knew what any body’s arsenal would be, from concert to concert. Henry Threadgill has a Hubkaphone, Douglas Ewart makes his instruments, Leo Smith was working on his own unique instruments, I have my garbage cans, I wanted a notation that would include all these different possibilities, and so No. 76, which integrated color and shape to factor in possibilities to use garbage cans, then switch to my accordion. The GTM will continue this formal possibility where i can switch instruments, it s a trans-harmonic music. And by trans harmonic music it goes back to the harmonic reality of my system.

To explain GTM from a different angle, Braxton referred also to other previous compositions. The Pulse Track Musics, best known from his famous quartet recordings with Marilyn Crispell, Mark Dresser and Gerry Hemingway, help to exemplify both a development in Braxton’s approach to time and an application of Tri-Metric logic: for instance let me go back to the Pulse Track Music that you know. I’m taking a solo and that solo is individual. I play my so-called music, improvised music. The bass and drums is playing a duo logic music that gives an interaction dynamic, that’s a different logic from the individual, that’s involving two people. And Marilyn is playing solo piano, but she s playing solo piano in the stable logic state (domain). I’m playing solo in the mutable logic state. What am I saying? I’m saying Tri-Centric {modeling} establishes three different logic units {constructs} in the same event/space. And the nature of the positioning creates a summation music that has different simultaneous processes taking place . And so it is not just a baroque model, it’s not just a jazz model, it’s not collective improvisation, or free music, it’s {instead} three different partials of energy taking place at one time.

And later on: ‘… Just as the Pulse Track Musics gave the possibility of a three-tiered mutable formal state where I can take for instance a notated solo, and Marilyn can give me an open improvisational comping. And Mark and Gerry can play Composition 115 with the gradient logics: mmmMMMMMmmmmm (AB draws a gradient shape in the air) which are not notated but represented as shapes give a interactive strategy.:

In {the} GTM, Braxton is again elaborating on the dialectic between composition (fixed state) and improvisation (moment decisions) without getting trapped in what Evan Parker called a false contraposition {contradiction}. The composition becomes a solidification of a stream of consciousness by the composer, and it’s not written according to formal rules. By stream of consciousness {in this context}, I’m talking about the {phenomenon of} stream of consciousness in the same way the improviser talks of ‘actual time awareness. Moment experiences and then you make a decision based on the conjunction of both mutable and stable qualities of the event action. The difference though in trance music is that I write the actual pitches out: suddenly it becomes a fixed stream of consciousness because when I go back to play the notated music it’s already established and so it’s becomes a written stream of consciousness, a notated stream of consciousness. Inside of that structural model, what kind of decisions? Well, decisions that belong to the House of Eleven {sub-identity} or the Twelve Geometric Language Constructs of the language {solo} musics.

GTM was finally described in visual terms. Braxton’s code titles have always elicited mixed reactions, from curiosity to annoyment. These were his comments: people ask me about markings, the visual markings of my titles. I talk about some of it, I don’t talk about all of it, because all of my work is a work in progress, and from the very beginning I go back to the number three, unknown, known and intuitive. In the titles, the coding titles, where I put initials of friends at the beginning, I was always aware that I sought to find correspondences to make pitch and/or rhythmic decisions, that in fact there was always a healthy unknown, in my system, that I factored in my titles.

Three partials of Braxton s music are the composition, the improvisation or language music, and the ritual-ceremonial or symbolic function. These qualities can be represented with basic shapes: composition as a square, improvisation as a circle, symbolic functions as a triangle. The traditional meanings of these shapes in different cultural contexts is too large a topic to be elaborated on here.

“Because of growing up in the sixties and having so much experience in collective improvisation, as a young guy I started writing traditional orchestra pieces, or at least notated orchestra pieces, using my own processes, because what I wanted was: the circle – improvisation – the rectangle – which is composition – so I took my improvisational strategies and what I was learning in that domain and inserted the processes into the rectangle, put it into stable logic concrete form. And then from there I extended those processes into symbolic forms, the ritual forms. I made that decision because I didn’t trust the classical musicians, I did’t trust the free jazz musicians, and I didn t trust all the guys who were talking about the creator who had a master plan, or a ray from the cosmos, because many people use cosmology in a way that I don’t want to say was dishonest, but I didn’t want to have ‘anybody else’s dishonesty, (shouts) if I’m going to be dishonest I want my own dishonesty. And so when I decided to create the Ghost Trance Music I found myself thinking “I’m sick of having now the improvisational mutable logics – the circle – what I’ve been doing was having the circle identity and then put the square inside the circle. Then I put the triangle inside the square.

The combination of circle + square would represent coordinate musics, while circle + square + triangle would be like composition 113, the piece I did for Pedro [de Freitas, producer of Sound Aspects; the record is sas003], that is conceived in a mutable logics improvisational space but i have stable logic notated material and in the case of composition 113, which is Odjuwain, being in the room and waiting for the train, there’s a symbolic ritual function. Now going to the Willisau records (Willisau (Quartet) 1991, Hat Art 4-61001/4, 4 cd box), or the quartet musics, that would be rectangle, circle and triangle inside of that. And by rectangle I’m saying it s a structured space music that contains improvisation, and that also contains internal symbolic connections. The Ghost Trance Music is triangle with rectangle inside the triangle and a circle inside the triangle. (See diagram 1).

Then the dominant shape in GTM is the triangle, the symbolic function, as in his already mentioned paper about Africa, Triangle Land.

“Another way of saying it would be fresh kinds of toys. Let’s say we have an erector set, and we had a woodblock set, and we had a set of putty, and the set of putty is like mutable, I can fashion it in different ways, and the wood set I can fashion in different ways, and the erector set I can fashion in different ways. But all of that is in the stable logic house, the rectangle house. A set of water, a set of wine, and if I had oil, that would be in the circle, and if I had a room of air or a room of steam or if I had a vacuum that would be the triangle. And so what I’m doing in my work is trying to isolate all the formal constructs of the nine, so I can better understand the interactions and the implications of the constructs, their operational identity. I’m trying to understand identity from three by three by three by three by three by… I’m trying to understand individual experience, group experience, and so the Ghost Trance Musics gives me a fresh set of old principal properties, new old clothes.

What Braxton described to me in the interview, without ever using the word, was best represented by a hypertext in which the writings, the musics, the twelve houses and the nine grades, the different language system and the three tri-metric logics are intertwined within a complex system of references. A composition is a particular section, or a particular point of view, of this system, and commenting on a single rendition of it requires references to all the elements of the system, creating a maze of possible paths from one plane to another in a multidimensional universe. I was a witness to the grueling schedule created by the combination of academic duties, composing activity, promotion and production chores and the mixed joys of family life, so I know it’s difficult, but how about planning a release of, say, a twelve piece box of second generation cds including Tri-Axiom writings, composition notes, video and audio samples, organized through the three partials, nine grades, twelve houses logic? Now Mr. Braxton that would be a nice idea for your spare time!

Additional Information

Catalog Number BH001
Product Type Download
Recording Date Oct 14, 1995
Location AkBank Jazz Festival, Istanbul, Turkey
Personnel

Anthony Braxton: Flute, Clarinet, Contrabass Clarinet, E-Flat Sopranino, Alto Saxophone
Roland Dahinden: Tenor Trombone, Alto Trombone
Jason Hwang: Violin
Ted Reichman: Accordion
Joe Fonda: Bass
Kevin Norton: Drums, Vibraphone, Glockenspiel, Marimba, Percussion

Tracks
  1. Composition No. 185 by Anthony Braxton [38:31]
  2. Composition No. 186 by Anthony Braxton [19:09]
  3. Composition No. 186 (continued) by Anthony Braxton [40:19]
Credits

Edited & Mastered: Katsuhiko Naito at Current Sounds
Design & Layout by Peter Hill
Produced by Anthony Braxton and Velibor Pedevski

All Compositions by Anthony Braxton
© 1996 Synthesis Music Publishing /BMI