Monday, March 22, 2010

... more collage details

- i've been meaning for a few weeks to do a follow-up on that last post..! (the usual old reasons for the inactivity, plus special circumstances over the last week... i'm going to mention this briefly below.) basically, last time round an anonymous comment prompted me to contact alexander hawkins directly, and ask him about the identity of the first/main piece in the collage; he was kind enough to reply, and we discussed the whole business in some detail. i was wrong in a number of my conclusions and assumptions, as it turns out.

first things first: the opening piece is, indeed, comp. 69i. (hence the collage title is comp. 69i + 6(o) + 40(o)... the bbc setlist *almost* had it correctly after all!) as has already been established, this piece (from the fourth book of compositions for creative ensemble) has never been officially recorded*; hawkins confirmed that he does, in fact, have the original score - so much for that assumption of mine. (as a matter of fact the pianist owns quite a few braxton scores - and why did i presume that he would not? yes, he's young and british... so what? i already knew that composers often collect scores... obvious enough really... b. himself did so from a pretty young age.)

next admission: i was probably being overly pedantic (surely not..!) when i corrected hawkins about the music being "written for quartet"... it's true, it wasn't as such; but then the phrase "quartet music" is (apparently) how some of the musicians tend to describe the creative ensemble songbooks (6 series, 23 series, 40 series, 69 series) - and in fact b. himself uses the same phrase at times in the composition notes, as i discovered when i went away to look -!

one thing we did end up agreeing on is the unsuitability of the term "medley" to describe this sort of performance; the fact that the term was used in the original broadcast was what had led me to expect, for example, that comp. 40(o) would be played at least once through in unison before anything else was done with it; but this (as i said in the last post) is a collage, to use the term b. himself employed in the mid-eighties, and there is no reason to expect anything of the sort. but, again, i was wrong in declaring that "for much of the piece, only certain players seem to be playing any composition, the others just doing whatever". hawkins (very graciously and politely) set me straight here, unpacking the structure of the performance as follows (numbered notes below are verbatim from a.h., only slightly edited by me):

1. ensemble plays 69(I). (a) written material (b) piano, guitar, steel
pans play on written material (c) bass and cello begin to play
unrelated melodic material.

2. As event (b) above continues, event (c) - they chose to enter a
type of arco ballad territory, obviously - turns into 6(O) - the arco
ballad composition.

3. 6(O) is of course one of the pieces which works by setting up a
soundworld, then letting the players move within that. The strings
here continue the arco ballad, coming to rest on that low C pedal
note. Over this, the free improvisation begins.

4. Various motifs in the piano solo abstractly set up 40(O), although
it's not phased in gently; it comes straight in on the top of the
rhythmic pattern, and simply repeats it through to the end of the

- so, the piece does contain some free improvisation, but this is of course entirely appropriate as well... indeed it's pretty much de rigeur. i take it all back! (it was, indeed, "me rather than them"... well, at least i allowed for that possibility beforehand... and it's just as well i did.)

now, as regards the individual compositions: following my forays into the composition notes, there are a number of observations to be made (and even yet still further confessions of error on my part). firstly, comp. 69i specifies the use of slow arco bass in the later stages of the piece, and hence is a perfect natural "collage partner" for comp. 6(o); far from being a delightful coincidence, this was exactly as hawkins intended. (notes for 69i actually prescribe a tension between the arco bass and the continuing brushed pulse on the drums.)

secondly, 6(o) very specifically does not resolve into a clearly recognisable melody line; the flute melodies to which i alluded (in the comments on the last post) are presumably improvised in the case of the '93 duet (with mario pavone; some thoughts on this album were set down a while ago). no, the piece was composed as a "slow pulse ballade (sic) structure", with a unison line (written in bass clef according to hawkins, who has the actual score; this is not mentioned as such in the composition notes), intended to serve as described by a.h. in note 3 above. sure enough, the '93 version was the only one which i had remembered clearly; when i went back and checked the town hall version, i found no flute, just a sweet-sounding alto and a completely different set of improvised responses to the territory. [it is in the notes to this piece that b. uses the term "quartet music"... he adds that it was not written as such, but was retrospectively included in the 6 series "because of its language generating qualities".]

ok, and finally... comp. 40(o). well, here again i have to hold my hand up about something, namely my suggestion that the pianist had taken "a few liberties with the written line". hawkins was quite clear about this:

no liberties at all, in fact! Of course, the concept of a
'unison' version is awkward here, because it's written in the diamond
clef (I guess rhythmic unison is the most workable conception)...but
the first appearance (in the piano, as you say) is in fact an
absolutely accurate rendering rhythmically (and melodically, if one
were to choose to employ a treble clef).

- so that was me set straight again! all i can say about that is that it did sound a little different from what i'm used to hearing; but then, at least as far as the braxtothon sessions are concerned, i had not yet heard a version with piano... whatever difference that might make. the mention of the diamond clef here came as a big surprise to me, as i had only come across this notational device in the context of ghost trance music and later musics; subsequent perusal of the composition notes revealed that, although there is no specific mention of the diamond clef as such, this is clearly the intention (i.e. only the rhythm track is fully notated, relative intervals being specified rather than fixed pitches). indeed, this is clearly the case not just for 40(o), but also for its kelvin repetition series predecessor comp. 6f (often listed in the early days as "73 kelvin" or something similar, and sometimes still known as such). in any case, again, i have not seen the actual scores and it's possible that they do include the diamond clef, even if this is not mentioned in the notes.

that would seem to be about it... thanks again to the anonymous poster who put me onto the composer, and of course thanks also (and best of luck!) to alex himself. sorry it's taken me so damn long to get this follow-up finished. it's been a tiring few weeks.

* * *

one reason for the recent inactivity, as mentioned in the first para above, was the premature death of another of our dogs. early braxtothon posts made (fairly frequent) mention of what was then our pack of three sighthounds, referring to them only as dog #1, #2 or #3 - this was before my wife became pregnant with our daughter. right at the end of 2008, dog #1 died in very distressing circumstances, and the mentions of the dogs stopped there. within the last couple of weeks, we lost dog #3 in circumstances only slightly less traumatic. only pet-owners (and specifically dog-owners) can understand what this means for a family; no, they are not the same as children, but neither are they simply living possessions/liabilities (as non-owners sometimes seem to assume). intelligent animals in particular become integral parts of a family, and their loss brings about a period of grieving, just as would be the case for a human relative. both of the dogs we have lost will always be considered a part of this family.

* see comments.