Tuesday, July 29, 2008

total immersion

"these cds offer nine portals to another world: a world with its own set of rules, its own geography, its own sense of time, its own opportunities. a world that we can learn from and be inspired by"

- taylor ho bynum (liners to 9 compositions (iridium) 2006)

in the end, i made myself wait an entire year before buying the iridium box set. there's a number of reasons for that, none of which need airing here. the main thing is that this year, i sorted out my own birthday present in advance and made sure i ordered it in plenty of time. it arrived a few days before, and i allowed myself to unpack it, but only to check that the contents were correct and had arrived in one piece - ! no sneak peeks, no breaking the seal of the shrinkwrap, no removal of the bubblewrap jacket, even... i simply permitted myself to hold it for a moment or two, feeling its reassuring weight, tantalising myself even further...

on the day itself, things worked out pretty well. mrs c had been unable to get out of going to work, so i figured out beforehand that there would be just about enough time to play the entire thing in her absence... and that's exactly what i set about doing, the minute the car pulled away. no, i'm not insane: i had no intention of trying to absorb every nuance, braxtothon-style; the music was played, and it filled the house, providing the backdrop to the day as i went slowly about my business.

* * *

i didn't read any of the liners until a couple of days later, and when i did i was pleasantly surprised to read the short article by thb, from which the above epigraph is taken. this is exactly the sort of conclusion i had reached on my own recently, regarding ghost trance music in general - it's the instant sidestep effect to which i referred in the third gtm day post. each gtm piece is a key to another plane of existence, a world to be inhabited and explored, rather than a linear progression or journey. i had also suggested (in the second such post) that each gtm piece is like a museum or art gallery, containing any number of different rooms, only a small number of which may be visited on any given occasion. but this collection is apparently one gigantic gallery all in itself, and each set within it represents, say, one wing or suite of rooms... these performances clearly take us to the same alternate world, each time. and although the nine pieces were performed over four successive nights, today i found that listening to them in sequence, with no more breaks than are necessary to change discs, feels perfectly natural, indeed it seems now that such is the way the music was meant to be heard: each piece begins with the main theme, as always in this type of music, and each ends quite abruptly, as if ready to lead directly into the next. no, for the sake of the players and listeners, that is not the way these pieces were performed; yet the istanbul concert, for example, shows how this seamless sequencing might work.

within seconds of the first set i find myself transported, and feel not only captivated but nourished. as i've said, the first gtm day saw me in severe pain, pain which lasted for several months, on and off, but which culminated in almost a week during which i was scarcely free of it for a minute or two at a time. eventually i found the key to ridding myself of it, and in the process i threw out a whole load of useless baggage from my childhood. in the few days which followed, i often felt as if my head and chest were hollow, a huge empty space, waiting to be filled up with good things. what better than this? again, at the risk of repeating myself: these are the ultimate nurturing spaces, timeless capsules within which no-one is judged, and everything is not only possible but permitted. as bandleader and teacher, mr braxton has been heading in this direction for a long time now, fostering an atmosphere in which all his musicians were required to bring only themselves to the music, and which encouraged them always to do their best. for the time being, at least, this gorgeous box set (and the packaging itself is beautiful enough to fetishise) represents the epitome of this attitude. in size, in variety, in the number of different threads of the composer's music which are woven together, it really does seem to be "THE point of definition" in (b's) work thus far".

* * *

the music, as usual, changes every few seconds. groups and subgroups form and come apart, ideas converge and diverge. the one and only time (can't remember when this was) that i found myself hearing an apparent groove, immediately rocking along with it, i no sooner formed the thought that this was startling and unexpected than it had broken up again, replaced by something so different that it at once became a flicker in the memory, one distant impression among thousands. i know that i was most frequently aware of mary halvorson, the one musician (i later ascertain) who is hardest to spot visually, onstage: yet she is so often right in the thick of all that is happening, and there seems to be no end to the multiplicity of ideas and sounds which she can call forth. of course, i am also continually aware of the leader, whose marvellous solo voice is so deeply ingrained in my consciousness by now - i still find it very hard to tell the other reed players apart, at this stage.

it is a delight to spot fragments of previous "greatest hits", such as comp. 40b or comp. 23h or comp. 52; some of these recur over the course of the series, cropping up several times, in different contexts, played by different subgroups and at different tempos. but above all, it is a delight of the profoundest kind to know that the amount of music contained in this box is effectively almost limitless: no matter how many times one listens, there must, surely, always be more to discover. this, i know long before i am finished, is my favourite anthony braxton recording: one reader did keep asking, until i eventually persuaded him to desist... well, now i can answer. in fact, it's probably my favourite album, simple as that: these nine sets, taken as one kaleidoscopic whole, this sprawling castle of mirrors and false walls... i have found my desert island music. by the time the ship arrived to rescue me, i could be long past caring.

* * *

very little was retained, afterwards. and, just as with the first gtm day, i find that it's impossible for me to know afterwards what i can take away from the experience. the very end comes as an anticlimax, much as it did on that first day: this time, mrs c arrives home about ten mins before the end of the last set, and although i greet her quickly and whisk myself back upstairs to finish, the spell is broken. but then the end must always come as an anticlimax: the end of the last set is no different from the others - it simply hovers in mid air, pregnant with possibility, ready to interlock with another piece. time means nothing here, so there can be no true endings.

one thing that did happen, though, for what it's worth... with a july birthday, in my youth i found i could pretty much always count on good weather on the day. for years this was the case, and it became self-perpetuating: however bad the weather was before or after it, on that day it would always be fine. this lasted until i turned thirty: on my birthday that year, it rained, and i could scarcely believe it. all my plans for the day (and they were hardly grand designs) were scuppered. and with the pattern broken, every year since has seen rain on the day (except once - see pic and comments). this year was no different - or was it? looking out of the open back door into the garden, a few minutes after the rain started, i found myself taking a deep breath and thinking how lovely and refreshing the rain was... this is never my reaction to rain, which usually depresses my spirits, and the thought took me so much by surprise that it was almost as if someone else had thought it... but there it was, whatever that means...


centrifuge said...

pic: 10th july 2003, north of ljungby, sweden. this was the year it *didn't* rain (see last para of article) - instead it was blazing hot and i was in constant distraction, driven half mad by about sixty mosquito bites on my feet (bitten through socks on the previous damp evening!).

technically we were lost at this point, but the views were such that we didn't really care. any readers familiar with heavy metal lore will be able to guess what we were doing near ljungby: looking for the place where cliff burton was killed in 1986. (with the help of a local journalist, we eventually found the spot, which is quite elusive and totally unmarked - one local told me that it's not commemorated as burton is just one of many people to have died there, and it is indeed a lethal stretch of road, slippery, badly cambered and with a ditch right next to it... which is where the slumbering bassist ended up, right before the tour bus fell on top of him. large vehicles, especially those passing through, would have no business there now - the new main route bypasses the area a few miles to the west - but as if to confirm that this was indeed the spot, fresh skidmarks testified to the treacherous nature of the road.)

i did take a picture of the site, trying to reproduce from memory the newspaper photo of the crash scene - fittingly, it's almost completely in shadow, the sky apparently clouded over at that moment. in any case it's far too sombre for use in such a joyous post... and this pic has a kind of "birthday feel" about it :)

ubu xxiii said...

A brief note to say I found the Iridium set pretty inexhaustible, 'full of things' as Gil Evans said about Cecil Taylor's music. I didn't listen to it at 1 sitting, but after I'd listened to it right thru from 1 to 9, I decided to listen to it again from 9 to 1. The video is wonderful, showing what a sense of joy is inherent in making this music, & letting you see how the cues etc. are done.
One question some people will no doubt ask, as the Braxtothon continues is 'what are the rEally heavy Braxton records?', a question 'Jazz library' didn't really answer in a satisfactory way. I haven't heard the lot, but all I could offer are my own preferences. Whether or not the Mosaic set will see new material brought to light, or will prompt a re-appraisal, we'll see. (Maybe in another 25 years people in GB will have caught up with his music.)
By the way have you looked much at the composition notes yet? I imagine these being like a fuller version of the list at the back of 'Forces of motion', which is actually really useful as far as it goes.
How recent does it get, as far as GTM or what? Did you go to the source for these? I'd hazard a guess a guess it's a limited edition.

centrifuge said...

hi ubu - yes, next time i was planning to play them in a completely different order... whenever "next time" is! given the right circ's i would still do it again, all nine in one sitting i mean, but since that day i've only heard one of the discs again. so far...

... haven't watched the performance yet, our dvd player packed up and we've only just got a replacement sorted out - i'm looking forward to that. but i did manage to squeeze in jg's documentary which i thought was excellent - and of course he brings out a lot of the fun and games which took place over the four nights.

apart from what i said in the article, i still don't think i could give a shortlist of my "favourite" albums... but yeah, i may try and offer some thoughts as to which ones i think are particularly good examples of certain periods, styles, etc... we'll see. of course... *i* haven't heard all of the recordings either, not even within the period i've covered so far... but still, we'll see ;-)

to say the comp. notes are "fuller" than the basic catalogue of works (which is also reproduced in the back of each vol)is putting it mildly... hundreds of pages, several thousand in fact! no, i have deliberately NOT looked at them in any detail yet because... well, partly cos they're quite daunting ;-) but also cos i shan't be able to "go back" once i start, and i want to finish the current phase first (the post i'm about to put up will clarify this a bit), THEN get stuck into the notes. as i said recently (in the "still here" post), the notes only go up as far as the 119 series - amazing to think that he managed to go into that much detail; if he wanted to carry on and do the whole canon, there would be a lot more than five vols by now..! but no, we don't get anywhere near gtm by the end of it. (i must admit i was surprised when i found this out.) those who are curious about the full details of the ghost trance series will have to - dunno, what? get hold of some of the musicians and grill them about it? beg, borrow or steal the actual scores? i think it could be some time before gtm is written about in any detail - then again some musicology student may be preparing a gigantic thesis on it as i speak... tell you one thing, it's gonna be a long time before i attempt ANYthing of the sort ;-)

ubu xxiii said...

If you have the right kind of lead to connect with your hi-fi, a computer will play DVDs. That's all I use. I'm not into televisual media at all on the whole.

centrifuge said...

"a computer will play DVDs" - only if it has a dvd drive; mine doesn't! but we've replaced the dvd player now and i'm hoping to watch the performance over the next couple of days. cheers