Tag Archive for Anthony Braxton Trio

Anthony Braxton Trio (after Big Ears Festival and ZIM MUSIC)

So, the Big Ears Festival was a big surprise in terms of Braxton repertoire. I wrote in the last post that the Anthony Braxton Trio, which I am part of, usually performed Braxton’s Falling River Music. That was before I left for Big Ears. The 10+1tet had been getting ready to perform Ghost Trance.

But in Knoxville, Anthony began to explain ZIM MUSIC.

ZIM MUSIC is Anthony’s newest system. Don’t quote me here, but I believe it was recorded last year in Alabama (release date TBA) and performed once before in Poland. Like all things Braxton, it is related to his previous systems and can accommodate everything from GTM to the opera. ZIM MUSIC is based on gradient formings, or number 11 in his Language Music System. In the case of ZIM MUSIC, it is specifically about volume and intensity (Braxton explains his Language Music System on video here). The scores have curved lines of different colors, the lines expressing volume dynamics and the colors expressing timbre or pitch. Some lines can lead to circles, squares and other shapes, leading to more open area of improvisation.

All I can say for the moment is that it is gorgeous. It works in the 10+1tet like magic, bellowing like a mystical gigantic creature which can instantly turn into a whisper of the wind blowing over a grassy field stretching infinitely. The performers in the 10+1tet are one of the best in the field that I know. They dive fearless into the music and make it their own, even if it is a new Braxton musical system they learned the day before. And boy, did they deliver. The entire theatre erupted into massive applause when the set finished. I thought the place was going to explode. I don’t know how ZIM MUSIC sounded in the trio but the feedback from listeners has been tremendous as well.

Anthony Braxton’s musical systems are the opposite of top-down. It is not about the conductor leading an orchestra or the composer specifying every single note, although it could be about those things at certain moments. The lines of communication for each performer goes in all directions. Any one of us can lead or follow another, by a set of cues, usually hand signals. The scores can determine the direction of the improvisation as in Ghost Trance, or be specific notation as in the opera, or can lead to more open sections of improvisation. I call it collective composition in real time, with our tools being musical systems, improvisation and written scores, every ensemble member making musical decisions about the larger overall structure as the music develops, shaping the composition organically from the inside. It is multi-layered to the extreme.

ZIM MUSIC adds another dimension, a detailed elaboration of one of the twelve pillars of his system. Again, I am astounded by Anthony Braxton’s vision. Great recap of Big Ears here by Seth Colter Walls which is possibly the first reporting ever of ZIM MUSIC and some great photos here. Hooray for life!

Anthony Braxton Trio (before Big Ears Festival)

Listeners often ask me about the Braxton trio I am part of (with AB, Taylor Ho Bynum, me), usually along the lines of “what’s going on musically?” Braxton’s musical systems are multi-layered and interconnecting. The main composition used in our trio, or what we refer to as the primary composition or territory, belong to his visually arresting Falling River Music (FRM) system.

Then there’s the secondary material, which are compositions we can jump into from the primary territory. As I understand it, once a Braxton composition is performed in its original state for the purpose of being recorded, and once the recording is in the can, that composition is said to have an “origin” recording after which it becomes ready to be incorporated into other compositions as secondary material. Like a rite of passage. Because Braxton compositions continue to change shape after they’re written. The first time I performed with the trio in 2014, we used parts of Ghost Trance Music (from here on, abbreviated as GTM, and great notes regarding this system by James Fei here) and his duo compositions as the secondary material. Later, we used parts of opera Trilium E and J.

As for Anthony’s operas, Seth Colter Walls wrote a wonderful and informative article a few years back entitled Blasting Opera Forward. Of the 12 operas in the Trillium cycle, Anthony has completed six of which five have been performed, is currently working on his seventh, and has the framework for the rest. Each opera takes years to complete.

Here again, his musical systems work together. In one scene of Trillium J performed in 2014, I was part of the choir singing GTM on the balcony accompanying the double dutchers below (listen to the Syntactical GTM Choir here, similar to the GTM choir in the opera). It occurred to me then that, perhaps, when Anthony created GTM back in the mid-90s, he purposefully developed a flexible system which could be incorporated in his new works decades later. GTM is also used in his recent gorgeous interdisciplinary system Pinetop Aerial which fuses movement logics with music (watch it here with beautiful vocalist Anne Rhodes) where the vocal syllables of GTM function as cues for movement. Inversely, opera and other compositions can become the secondary material for GTM, with surprising and dramatic results.

I can’t help but wonder if Anthony composes knowing how his musical systems would be used in the future, if there is “future composer Braxton” constantly informing “present-day composer Braxton”. When most people talk about the big picture, it’s usually in the present. Anthony’s big picture, to me, always seems to contain a perspective from the future. Perhaps he is the quintessential time-manipulating artist. Or maybe he’s just great at planning ahead. I don’t really know. But I am in awe. Having a perspective from the future would certainly be useful to us improvisers, spontaneous composers who must travel ahead in time to see the whole picture because we can never go back and edit our compositions. Maybe we’re already doing it. Wouldn’t that be something. (Writer Stuart Broomer, in his recent wonderful review of Echo Echo, also mentions how Braxton’s music affects the listener‘s sense of time.)