Wednesday, February 29, 2012

back to "basics"

... and here i am again, drawing the same conclusion i've reached before: at times when it seems too daunting to engage with b's music - if, for example, my head is generally filled with other things, such as it has been recently - all i actually have to do is put some on and open up to it, and the music takes care of the rest.

i've been hanging out at the 2005 ulrichsberg festival over the last couple of days: that's plenty of music... a fortnight after his sixtieth birthday, the maestro celebrated with two days of powerful new public rituals, programmed carefully to open up new territories to the maximum extent; for myself, having acquired this box set just recently, i had hitherto not tackled the two tri-centric orchestra pieces, for several reasons - but mainly, i found myself putting these off for the lame reason outlined above, namely that i was probably a bit daunted by them. (why does this still happen, from time to time..?) - i had played the solo piano piece (comp. 301, then being premiered by genevieve foccroulle - who has since reprised*1 it, along with all the other piano works, for that other box set on leo), establishing in the process only what was already obvious, that it does not serve as background music at all; - and i'd spent a bit of quality time behind the diamond curtain wall, the performance here of comp. 323a being (i believe) another premiere, and compelling throughout. (this is the part where b. himself gets to play, of course, and inevitably it was the right-hand man who was in at the birth, thb on cornet; the third on this occasion was the young percussionist aaron siegel, already working with b. in the "small" (but incredibly versatile) groups which played most of the concerts during the mid-2000s *2). not until two days ago did i essay discs 2 & 4, which feature much of the more concentrated magic/k.


the large ensemble performance from the 18th, then, is a tri-centric reading of that braxton staple comp. 96. (never mind the wider/deeper significance of tri-centricity as it might pertain to b's system/s, in this precise context it refers to the fact that there are three conductors: the maestro plus bynum plus siegel... needless to say, the details of how this works are rather more complex and will not be entered into here..!) but, it is not just 96 either: this version is specified as 96+134. it just goes to show how hard it can be to attach opus numbers to musical strategies in the remembering mind - comp. 134 is one of the three (hugely memorable and energy-efficient) "tense rhythm" pieces featured on eugene, as raved over by me in the past; i hadn't recognised the number and thus was not expecting the music when it eventually showed up. it... really... works  :)

anyway - above all when i played this disc, i really did get back to basics 'cos this was the latest welcome return of my continually-reaffirmed discovery that life-feels-better-when-my-house-is-filled-with-anthony-braxton. treating this very much as background or ambient music (in the strict sense of the word ambient!), i nevertheless very quickly began to absorb its positive vibrations as i walked around through the spaces inhabited by the music. the spirit of the musicians was evident from the outset (i did start off, at least, by listening: i was seeking comparison/contrast with another reading of 96 i'd heard more than once recently), and any time i patched right in, i found myself seeing at once into the architecture of what was happening at the time. being around this music left me feeling cleaner, more refreshed, healthier. this is not the first time i've said it, again, but it's worth repeating that neither is it at all exaggerated.

i'm sure i'm not the only listener who's had the experience of not really paying attention to something, at least not on a second-by-second basis, then phasing back in and finding it still open and clear; on the contrary, i imagine this must happen regularly to experienced listeners - some of whom perhaps at times confuse the event with evidence of constant listening; the two things must not be conflated though, for the simple and excellently cogent reason that they are entirely different things, as i discovered when i came back to the memory of the music 60 hrs later: i have nothing of substance to say about it, except indirectly (as above). the strong sense of wellbeing was genuine and profound. i didn't actually follow most of the music, though.

- tell you what, though, it wasn't half a nice surprise when comp. 134 did kick in, cos like i say i wasn't looking out for it. another fantastic hit from the maestro, and a great number for the vibes player, here as in eugene.


the morning (late shifts at work this week) on which i hungrily consumed the above saw also the first of two airings for disc four, which is another tri-centric reading of a large ensemble work, in this case comp. 169 which also has a supplementary territory appended, in this case comp. 147. (this opus number meant nothing to me either, but a check on restructures reveals it to be a popular piece for small and large-ensemble collaging, and so forth.) i had to go back and give it a second go, because the first morning, after such a positive start, went suddenly and rapidly downhill just before i left for work, as i realised that i had miscalculated the start of my shift and was (about to be) late: that made for a pretty stressful experience, and the weird (yet obvious) thing was that for an hour or two previously, i'd been getting a nagging anxiety in my belly, which i had attended carefully but had been unable to quell. ok, so i now knew why, and why i couldn't, but i could also track the anxiety back to the start of disc four. that one didn't extend the golden vibe at all as it turned out.

so back i went, the next day. and once again, though for different reasons i was on edge and in need of solace. i went back to disc four because i needed to know, and to give it a fair chance, and it quickly emerged that with a little more attention paid, classifying the musical experience was possible at least in the basic degree, and although feelings of tension and anxiety can be understood in relation to comp. 169 this is only the case if it's just absorbed osmotically without any attention paid towards actually understanding it. the core strategy seems to be that players "hustle" each other's attacks, not elbowing each other out of the way (far from it, actually) but hurrying each other up, joining a queue and then immediately hastening the speed of it with pressure from the rear. as one would expect, the strategy is not just about straightforward repetition and the core idea is explored any number if different ways; but yes, the overwhelming impression is one of haste. there is obviously a good reason for this, most probably it would seem to be a statement about the western mentality as it drives/is driven by western society, but in any case: in terms of vibrational dynamics the piece is potentially a complicated influence, and it is therefore entirely proper that the maestro matches it up with the smooth, calming legato sounds of 147 so as not to send everyone away jittery and on edge. (*3)

so that was that. afterwards, without checking how much time i had left, i put disc one back on for the first time in a few weeks, the solo piano piece which had just been impenetrable to my lazy ears before. now, with a head lit up with greater understanding again, i heard the music very clearly indeed and with no apparent effort. the incredibly complex multiple strategies are so artfully deployed both by the composer and by the interpreter that they don't sound forced at all, but high-level pianists like ms foccroulle must flip when they given this stuff: one must work on three or four different horizontal strategies at once, each requiring a different variety of attack; and then there must be factored in the vertical, since although conventional harmony has no place here whasoever, the complex resonance of timbres is very much key to the music, which makes great use of the piano's ability to apply sustain to some tones while others can be layered in on top, as staccato as you please; again, different strategies here have different rates of decay so that the "cross-section" of the vertical stack at any given second really is a very complex beast indeed.

- i was able to keep that up for a few (enrapt) minutes. eventually i wandered off and lost the thread, but i was running out of time anyw

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Monday, February 13, 2012

mystical (ludic) syntax

one of my recent purchases (absolute bargain in leo's year end sale!) was the confusingly-mistitled gtm (syntax) 2003, which actually dates from 2007. if i'm going to be picky about this (and when am i not? let's face it), the vocalist's name is also repeatedly spelt wrongly (as well as correctly!) on the cd - ann rhodes for anne rhodes, director of the syntactical ghost trance choir, and also mrs carl testa apparently... i knew nothing about this, not being that far into the loop, but it seems that b's longtime bassist (taking over from chris dahlgren, pretty much) is also half of what-may-or-may-not-be the first proper braxtonian couple, as it were, which is in any case a tremendously welcome development, wedding as it does the love of music with that other kind of love; herein we begin to glimpse the possibilities of the virtuous circle or ascending spiral, seldom considered (its evil twin so much the more common in our imperfect lives).

- and it would have been silly to buy the one without the other: gtm (outpost) 2003, which actually does date from that year; though even here there remains some doubt about the actual date of the performance. (no, this one was not recorded at wesleyan for a change!) the first half of this one is actually a duet between b. and chris jonas, one of a distinguished line of dedicated reed scientists drawn to the maestro in his teaching capacity. (mr jonas has played a lot of gtm. he was gone by the time of the 12+1tet, but was the returning guest when that band was reconvened to mark the occasion of b's 65th birthday.) the second half features the adaptable vocals of molly sturges, in addition to the two reeds (and i would say that two reeds is the minimum it takes to give a proper gtm reading - solo recordings exist, but there has to be something missing, when one voice alone can enter the playing space...). and that, not in short at all, is why i am linking these two together. (they were non-identical twins anyway, released in the same week!)

ok, so... delight is my usual response to the sound(s) of anne rhodes' voice; and not so long ago (just last year indeed) i had never heard her. yet now it feels as if that voice has been in my ears forever, so perfect a vehicle is it for the music of my main man... back in the day, i almost made a slogan of my distaste for vocal jazz, and i remain very picky about singers in general, but that has been wavering over the last year and this lady is one key reason why. when singing without inflection, her simple attacks have the most marvellous timbral purity; it just makes my heart smile. and of course her range (in all senses) is well suited to the demands of the music. (she's not lauren newton; but then there is only one of those!) we know she's actively involved in teaching b's work as well of course, mainly through the choir as mentioned above, so we can all hope for exciting further developments from her... back to gtm (syntax), obviously a choir offers all kinds of wonderful possibilities which one voice alone can never hope to replicate, but a) we know from before the simple formula b+voc = magic/k, so that's fine and b) in this case, unheralded as it may be, there is heavy use of electronics right from the word go. i don't know anything about this at all: there is no mention of it on the cd, and therefore none at restructures; i have asked b. via email, but not really holding my breath for a response, and for that matter i have also asked mr feigin, but didn't get a response to that one either (and bearing in mind how hard i had to press in the end for an answer on that other matter, i didn't want to make much of a big song and dance about it; possibly he hasn't even noticed that my last mail to him contained a question..!). whatever we are dealing with here - and it comes across really as a sort of hitherto-unknown, hybridised gdtmcw construct - the effect of it is quite otherworldly, and entirely and wholeheartedly to be recommended {{{@*@@@**@}}}

thus for the syntax... as regards gtm (outpost), i confess i still haven't heard the duo disc but then we are dealing here with singers, and ms sturges - whoever she may be - contributes significantly to this music as well. if it must be admitted that her voice lacks *for me* the same magnetic quality that i find in anne rhodes, that is not to criticise, and besides, molly s. offers certain extended techniques which the later collaborator has never (yet) demonstrated. specifically, she has mastered a variety of throat-singing and uses it, and other unexpected inflections, to great effect in the concert... here, offering us still another subtle variation, the twin reeds entwine around each other and the voice also, the latter at times enmeshed, at times piercing through or soaring above. again, the effect is such that a diligent listener could lose him*self entirely within the sound-idea-space... and i trust that the audience was indeed held spellbound.

... and that brings me to another (slightly tedious) unresolved question, because the notes for disc 2 read as follows: "although comp. 265 is naturally divided into eleven sections by the applause from the audience one should remember that it was written as one piece of music." ah, tracks 2-11 on the cd actually are one piece of music, with (arguably helpful, but unnecessary) indexations breaking the piece up into smaller sections; track one is the end of something else, beginning in media res and soon proceeding to a rousing rendition of comp. 40i, then wrapping itself up to enthusiastic applause; i will just add again at this point that we don't hear any more of that, not even at the end of the disc, which is clipped off in midstream and may, or may not, dovetail with the beginning of track one (possibly, but i am not convinced). so, yes, it is safe to say that a pattern is emerging... one of missing details here and wrong info there, all of which could very probably drive me mad if i let it become a mission to sort it out. i'm not proposing to do that: firstly, and let's just be clear about this, leo records has supported b. as a featured artist for a long time now and has released more recordings of his than any other label, (excluding the revived, rapidly-mushrooming braxton house); many different facets of the man as both musician and composer have been explored, just within this one label's discography, and that is continuing into the future even now; if that legacy brings with it the odd mistake here and there, i can live with that. secondly - let this not be overlooked either - the production credit on outpost is shared equally between leo feigin and b. himself, hence the "absent-minded professor" must assume his share of the blame for any misinformation regarding the product. whatever, the music is great and i'm grateful for it. friendly experiencer, dive on in...

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