Anthony Braxton has sat on the fringes of music for as long as I can remember. It’s overly reductive to call him a jazz musician whose inspiration comes from the European avant-garde, but it’s as good a place to start as any. I don’t remember a time when he wasn’t, at best, called an "experimental jazz musician." And he’s experimented hard, pushed as far and as determinedly into the hinterland as anyone. To the point where what he’s doing is fairly hard to describe as "music." In a lot of ways, he’s further out in the tall weeds than the likes of Merzbow, who does at least have intent and themes and the desire to touch. Anthony Braxton’s modern work all sounds like this:
Mr Braxton is the elder man in the cardigan who appears to be rubbing himself against what I think is an oversized contrabass saxaphone. As you can see, the performance involves making random noises while side-artists run up and down scales and the audience ignores them. The point where "free jazz" just degenerates into empty chaos. Those jazz reporters who love him describe his sound as "galactic." Everyone else… well, the scene kind of embodies something Rob Gretton once said, which roughly goes: “you can always tell jazz by the way the people on stage are having more fun than the audience.”
Mr Braxton releases a lot of records. A lot. To ears that are only used to, say, music, they all pretty much sound the same. And by his own admission he pays for the release of many of them. He seems to conceive of them as public documents of his thought process. Because the meat of his work seems to be less in the performance, and more in the conception.
He’s deeply into the idea of creating new forms of music. In some respects, he’s the last science fiction writer in jazz — especially since those “dressing up to play jazz” conservatives have sought to edit the popular history of the form to remove the likes of Sun Ra and even Miles Davis from view. Now, Sun Ra, there’s a man who could do “galactic.”
What Braxton does is conjure great vaulted intellectual cathedrals of ideas for his music. Take his Ghost Trance Musics, which he once described as “a process that is both composition and improvisation, a form of meditation that establishes ritual and symbolic connections (which) go beyond time parameters and become a state of being in the same way as the trance musics of ancient West Africa and Persia.” It’s also intended to have a pulsed structure with bonding points wherein composed pieces can be inserted into the improvisation. It often seems to be a mathematics for music, a logic system.
He has also, late last year, premiered a new form called Falling River Musics: “Falling River Musics is the name of a new structural prototype class of compositions in my music system that will seek to explore image logic construct ‘paintings’ as the score’s extract music notation.” This is a wonderful sentence that makes almost no sense. But it does the work of science fiction neologism and novum in suggesting strange things in the imagination. There is also “The Echo Echo Mirror House music, which is meant to hone in many different types of performance arts in addition to music,” and the “Diamond Curtain Wall Music,” which apparently involve “reactive laptop electronics” (although some reporters say any laptop element is barely audible and unreactive). And in between times, Braxton (father of Tyondai Braxton, currently of breakout math band Battles) will go right off the reservation and do a record with the likes of Wolf Eyes.
Braxton spends his life just thinking this shit up. It almost doesn’t matter that it all sounds the same. Just google his name and look for interviews, and you’ll find the most fantastic, unchained thinking, ideas tossed out by the truckload that could be applied to any number of other things. Just try this on, from an interview at Tomajazz:
Now, the Ghost Trance Musics… is a prototype that’s a transport prototype, that allows for the friendly experiencer to be re-positioned inside of the space of the music, the area space of the music… Ghost Trance Music is a telemic prototype, and by telemic I’m saying that, if the area space is solar system or galactic, the Ghost Trance Musics is the point to have telemic signals come back, in the same way as satellites circling the planet give signals. Ghost Trance Musics… if the area space analogy is the subway system of New York City, the first species of Ghost Trance Music, which is metric pulses [sings] PAH-pah-pah-PAH-pah-pah-pah-PAH-pah-pah-pah… the analogy would be to the local train that stops at every stop. Second-species, Ghost Trance, would be analogous to the express train, and the construction logic would be PAH-pah-pah-PAH-pah-pah… AH-HA-HA-HA, AH-HA-HA-HA… PAH-pah-pah-pah… in other words, metric to imbalance to metric. Third-species, Ghost Trance, would be imbalances… AH… HA-HA-HA-HA… A-HA-HA-HA… A-HA… and that would be analogous to cross-town trains.
So, what am I describing? I’m describing First House functions, First House in the circle, area space; in the rectangle, architectonics; in the triangle, virtual positioning and signals. And so, this is a music of three different layers: one layer is pulses; the next layer is secondary, compositions that fit in too; third layer would be any part of the music system, of the existing systems, can be fitted into this construct, the understanding been that in the Tri-Centric musics every composition has an origin identity logic, every composition has a secondary identity logic… and the tertiary identity is genetic splicing: two measures of Composition 96 can be taken out and put into Composition 103, so it’s like gene-splicing….
If you have an hour to kill, soon? Seriously. Google his name and read some of these interviews. You’ll be glad of it.
WARREN ELLIS is a graphic novelist, author and columnist. His new novel, GUN MACHINE, available now from Mulholland Books, is being developed for television by Chernin Entertainment and FOX. His first non-fiction book, from FSG, is due in 2014. RED 2, the sequel to the Bruce Willis-Helen Mirren film RED based on his book of the same name, will be released in August 2013.