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!