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

* see comments

1 comment:

centrifuge said...

wow, that one sure grew a bit in the telling. regular readers will have noticed i can seem to struggle to get to the point...but the context is always relevant and, in this medium, i can still get away with including it..!

today was the real first day of spring round here btw. we sort of had one the friday before last (LAST friday was a dreary fogladen abomination) but today was the real thing. perfect way to celebrate the leap year and just in time for (great braxtonian word this) *march* :)

1. ok, i didn't actually get as anal as usual about the chronology here. exactly which of the two versions came first, studio or live, i'm not sure but the whole "premieres all round" feel of the ulrichsberg birthday-fest suggests this came first, then the slower version in the studio later. could have been later that year, could have been 2007... some other time i will look into this and maybe even compare the two readings. (haha, round about the time i submit my doctoral thesis i shd think... that's a serious comparison to think about carrying out..!)

2. late 2004, percussionist (not drummer) satoshi takeishi takes to the stage with b. as part of his quintet for the london jazz festival gig. he is not in the ensemble long, though - unlike thb and mary halvorson... chris dalhgren himself will be more out than in over the next few years. by early 2005 carl testa and aaron siegel are in the picture... and have been fixtures in it, pretty much ever since

3. in my case i was of course feeling on edge because i knew deep down i was going to be late. (the penny really did not drop until *just* before... i could technically have just made it in time, though i didn't.) as a result, although i picked up on the nervous vibes - at least that's how i perceived them at the time - in comp. 169, i registered only that the earlier effect seemed to have worn off and just spent more time away from the music. i missed altogether the total switch in mood which accompanies the shift in primary territory, late on in the piece; second listen i caught most of this stuff, having made much more effort to listen.