Tuesday, June 16, 2009

braxton at 60 (1)

so, when i went off to listen to some of the music referred to in my previous post, i had to smile: there was i saying that "the first thirty seconds" of a lo-fi recording would suffice for the listening ear to attune, and i found myself at once presented with a piece which begins in such poor sound that it challenged even me (and would surely have many fussier than me giving up on the spot)! this is the piece for seven trumpets: whoever provided the files lists this as comp. 107, but it's actually comp. 103, composed in 1983, though it's unclear whether the composer actually succeeded in premiering it before the wesleyan concerts of september 2005... it's an ambitious piece with specific requirements, as we will see.

for the benefit of those who can't put their hand on a copy of composition notes book E, i'll fill in a few details here. firstly, the piece opens with a (fragmentary) recording of a bullfight, and the (decidedly non-braxtonesque) brass music which is heard during these moments is not being played live in the concert. this, of course, explains the very dodgy sound quality at the beginning..! although the loud and excitable crowd noise also hints that this is not a creative music concert which we are hearing ;-) ... in fact, visual spectacle is an important part of this complex piece - and a part which is entirely missing from the audio recording, naturally. (don't let that put you off, necessarily - many other braxton pieces have significant visual aspects to their performance, which does not stop them from being recorded in audio-only format, nor from being enjoyed by the attentive listener.) but it's worth clarifying up front that we are "in" a bullring to begin with, and only gradually drawn out of it: early in the second minute, a live muted trumpet is heard over the recording, and for a while the two co-exist in our soundspace, until 3.00 is reached, by which time the crowd noise is fading out and only our solo trumpeter remains. [this, i presume, is none other than taylor ho bynum - it sounds like him, and certainly he will have been involved with this concert.]

again, from the composer's notes: the piece is dedicated to rafael méndez and was "composed... with the tendencies of spanish architecture and decorative visual imagery in mind - as a tribute to the wonder of south american bravura trumpet playing." it is an all-notated piece (though undoubtedly there must be breathing space in there for the interpreters) and requires very specific stage design, lighting and costume for its performance: most crucially, the seven players are positioned on risers or steps so that each is higher than the player in front. the first live trumpet we hear is in fact number seven; s/he is the only player onstage at this point, and plays "with movements... calibrated from the virtuoso trumpeter lester bowie"; during the opening, the other six players will take up their positions on the columns. "the music then takes place in the backdrop of an old stadium that happened long ago - or in the future. comp. 103 is a ritual context that attempts to show respect for the route of information and information dynamics that has come through south america and the caribbean. the whole of humanity has benefited from these offerings." *

the piece itself, then, is complex - as one would expect - and so for that matter are the notes; i don't have time at present to attempt any sort of detailed analysis, so i shan't! suffice it to say that anyone who dipped a toe in and found the waters inhospitable may have been too hasty: once the taped section is out of the way, i did indeed find that the listening ear was easily able to compensate for the deficiencies of the recording, such as it is. the music makes much of timbral differences between simultaneous players, and these distinctions are clearly audible throughout, as are the relative positions of the performers: many separable tonal and timbral effects are used in addition to the "pure" or clean tone (which itself is adopted at various times) and these, i repeat, come across just fine despite the audience recording, despite the low bitrate... (some of) you might be amazed at how subtle the human ear is in terms of the detail it can detect, if it only has an attentive mind attached to it... this is a powerful piece, and a significant one for the composer, and (unless someone can correct me here) may not have been performed before or since; why not check it out?

* * *

the diamond curtain wall piece is, as i said last time out, (sadly) only a fragment. eleven minutes and twelve seconds is all we get - shame, since this sounds very much like the "core trio" of b, thb and mary halvorson who have made so much beautfiul music together in recent years. what we have is less intense than some dcw i've heard: there is plenty of space for contemplation. but, tantalisingly, right before the abrupt cut the supercollider software kicks in with a ringing, enthralling texture which promises much for the players. if anyone has a complete recording of this one, do please let us know.

* see comments

1 comment:

centrifuge said...

all quotes are taken directly from the composition notes published by frog peak. i have dropped caps, of course, and list the composition's opus number in the same way you will see elsewhere on the blog; but otherwise have changed nothing, except where my ellipses indicate that words have been left out.