Tuesday, May 3, 2011

student studies 2 (the return!)

 haha, it's been rather a long time since the first one -and that's only somewhat appropriate since, erm, that one was a bit of a false dawn anyway. who was i kidding?! i didn't have the time and single-mindedness to chew through hundreds of pages of hyper-dense musicological philosophy; and i didn't get very far really (30-40pp) before i figured that one out and stopped, for the time being. and i'm not at all sure how long it will end up taking me to get back to the tri-axium writings (or any other hyper-dense philosophy for that matter!) - but i have been delving into the composition notes of late. specifically, this means book a: my long-delayed search for positive opus id's for live sets had eventually led me to read about some of the 6 series pieces in some detail; there are numbers from that first creative songbook which i've only (knowingly) heard once, and wouldn't necessarily recognise if i heard them in a concert set - for that matter, some of those early pieces have never been recorded officially... so the only way to get a positive id for a live rendition is to get to grips with the composition notes and listen very carefully. but so far, being me, i have not attempted to read the whole lot... well, anyway, you'll see if you read on.

what was most interesting about this last burst of sudden enthusiasm was that it brought an almost immediate reward: a couple of days later i received a (second) phone call from mr b., totally out of the blue this time (and very enjoyable it was too!). if the first conversation i had with the teacher had been somewhat surreal, albeit hugely gratifying, this time it all felt much more natural and relaxed... and in the end it's just a bit of a shame that for the time being, at least, we can't just sit there for hours on end and bore the pants off everyone for miles around ;-)

as for the actual observations... well, the books are arranged so that each one carries a proportional amount of text on the compositions, and also of extra material at the end of the volume; there are lots of useful interviews (though details for them are alas thin on the ground). these interviews are actually fantastic and provided me with loads of useful points for discussion - which i'll get around to next time! right now i'm about getting a few of the 6 series observations down on the blog, while i remember..!

1. comp. 6f is dedicated to stockhausen. i'm pretty sure that there are other pieces - or at least one - which also have the same dedicatee; this one is really a bit of an eyebrow-raiser though, it doesn't seem the most obvious candidate. the original (publicised) repetition structure is weirdly forgotten now, considering how many versions there are of it in the official catalogue: after a certain point, pianists in particular decided definitively that they preferred playing comp. 40(o) and that was pretty much that for the earlier piece... so far i have not come across a rendition of it after the '76 berlin quartet one. still, it was obviously utterly crucial to b's development to get this sort of piece heard on a regular(ish) basis - there will have been others of course, different repetition structures in several different orders of classification, but they haven't necessarily been aired much, if at all; the origins of the diamond clef device are right here in this number; and (as we shall see shortly with this time) it has open spaces built into it which can allow occasionally for the truly exceptional. just don't expect it every time... anyway, the importance of the piece to b. personally, and the nourishing magic space which is woven into the fabric of this one perhaps, between them, indicate why stockhausen is a natural choice for dedicatee after all.

2. comp. 6h is a good example right away of a piece which i have heard in live recordings but not been able to identify (and very possibly have failed to identify even as a composition rather than a long and drawn-out transition phase). so far, i haven't managed to locate a live version - i haven't really known about this for more than a couple of weeks, so have had limited opportunity so far to go back over all my listening and find one! anyway, it'll turn up i'm sure. for the time being, there were a number of things i thought worthy of mentioning here:
i) like several other first songbook pieces, this one was written specifically with the creative construction company in mind (just in case anyone doesn't know: this refers to the combination of b. with leo smith, leroy jenkins and steve mccall; for a while back there this group rivalled the art ensemble of chicago as "most significant visible project" to represent the aacm) - it's not at all surprising, bearing in mind that this, too, appears on this time (indeed it contains most of the album's meat); just worth mentioning briefly that it was in fact written for that line-up (as opposed to the extreme cynic's possible suspicion, to wit: that b. found himself having to come up with something which could stretch to that band and was forced to delve into past material... i'm not alone in thinking that the project was fundamentally doomed - it's already birthed at least one great recording and that was very probably its simultaneous zenith, the top of the curve... there's no mileage in it, the teacher needs younger players to teach)... as always the piece is designed for use outside/beyond its initial context and in this case the explicit prescription is for any three single-line instruments, plus optional percussion.
ii) b. regarded the completion of the piece as being "a major step in the formulation of alternative composition tenets for my later compositional growth (and focus)". although the opening phrase is composed and governs the tessitura of the piece ("...transmits the basic idea germ of the composite structure"), the piece is described clearly as "not thematic" and any performances of it will therefore vary greatly. very easy to see how this is a crucial idea for the composer, and for his development. (just think about the last twenty years or so!)
- the details of how this is to be achieved make the piece sound more like a ritual or magic/k spell than a "composition" as such (although by this point open minds were used to a great variety of notational techniques, and many more were in the post): "the science of this work is designed to operate as an isolated formation that affects the working floor of the ensemble's procedural dynamics". instead of generating "recognizable ingredients" for thematic development by the improvisers, the piece is designed to "establish a vibrational state of being that is maintained throughout the whole of its treatment". as i say, this more or less guarantees that no two versions of the piece will sound the same, but until such time as i track down a live rendition of it, i can't actually vouch for how that works in practice..!
iii) one of the specifications of the piece is that it includes the use of pre-recorded tapes. this sort of experimentation never really outlived the creative construction company - that is, not in b's work - but will presumably have been necessary to the (temporary) survival of that line-up. there are other, similar, strategies employed on this time (which don't really work imo) and it's very hard for me not to see all this sort of stuff as a slightly desperate way of keeping together a band which was (unfortunately) destined to add up to to rather less than the sum of its parts... braxton, smith, jenkins, mccall: on paper it reads like a dream ticket, but in reality there are just too many cooks in the kitchen (if you'll excuse a mixed metaphor). now, as regards the use of recorded material in particular, b. did eventually return to that idea: the echo echo mirror house music system is, as i understand it, an extension of the principle (pioneered during the collage phase and very widely used in gtm, but predating both systems, as the composition notes make clear) that material from any composition may be inserted into any performance; this very recent development sees each member of the ensemble tooled up with an mp3 player, loaded with albums from b's back catalogue, in order to incorporate said material into the mix as and when. however, as far as i know there are not yet any recordings of this system extant, nor has it been performed publicly (?).
- as i mentioned in my previous (very rushed!) post, there is an article about this time on the way. (like its byg predecessor, i did not have a copy of the recording when i covered that period in the braxtothon.)

3. comp. 6i is a favourite of mine, as i've said on many occasions before. as well as the original version, recorded in the studio in london (it was one of several pieces written for specifically for that date: the composition notes wrongly date it to the summer of 1971, which is clearly impossible!), there are several live versions in circulation, a couple from as late as 1976... i have yet to come across a later one. also, as i've (again) said numerous times previously, "see-saw" by dave holland - the closing track on conference of the birds - was obviously influenced by this piece. (i keep repeating myself knowingly, since i have to assume that there aren't too many people reading the blog! and those who do can't be expected to remember everything i say...)
 - the most significant discoveries i made about this one: firstly, that although it is a "light structure that contains very little notated material" and was usually interpreted "in the traditional A B A structural context" (i.e. theme-solos-theme; or at least, that's how i understood it), there remains the possibility of other treatments, and the piece has been given extended renditions; secondly, b. considered this composition personally significant in his development, like comp. 6h as mentioned above. as regards the first observation, this explains the ultra-long version of the piece from avignon, 1974, which contains all sorts of weird and wonderful things; also, the fermata section which precedes the restatement of the opening written material (and which was again emulated by holland for "see-saw") "can also be viewed as an optional platform for extended improvisation" and this option, too, was apparently used "many times in concert... sometimes for as long as five minutes". as far as the second point goes, the composer considered it to have been a "turning point in my creative growth and future direction... reawakening my awareness about tempo structures and traditionalism in general". throughout the rest of that decade, b. continued to write decidedly jazzy themes as well as all manner of more outlandish, ambitious or sophisticated material: evidently this particular number helped to kickstart that trend.
- addendum comp. 6i is dedicated to multi-instrumentalist joe stevenson; this is not a name many people will be familiar with, and didn't ring any bells with me, but a quick check in lewis reminded me right away of who he was: b's saxophone teacher in the army. (there are two mentions of him in the book: roscoe mitchell describes him as "incredible on the saxophone" and says that he influenced b. greatly while he was stationed in korea; later on b. himself talks of studying with stevenson, who couldn't believe what a hard worker his student was and said that he had only met one other like him - a certain roscoe mitchell! he had no idea that the two knew each other, not being from chicago himself... i had remembered this anecdote from lewis' book, but had not recalled the name of the teacher.)

there will be more to say about other pieces at some point... that's enough to be getting on with, for now :)

[apart from those in the addendum, all quotes are of course from anthony braxton, composition notes book a]


Massimo Magee said...

Good to see you back, Mr. C!

centrifuge said...

why thank you, mr m... btw i have not forgotten about you - you are near the top of my to-do list :)

Massimo said...

Excellent, good to hear Mr. C! A few recording opportunities may be coming up, so your words may be called upon sooner than you think ;)