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The Echo Echo Mirror House Music

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.

Published in brainjuice music researchmaterial


  1. His way of explaining his music is remarkably similar to his music. Motherfucker is the brain outside of the brain.

  2. “It’s also intended to have a pulsed structure with bonding points wherein composed pieces can be inserted into the improvisation.”

    This sentence, referring to Ghost Trance Musics, reminded me of some thoughts I’ve had about the sound of certain records I’ve grown up loving, most notably The Pale Saints album “The Comforts Of Madness,” in which there seems to be an ambient sea of music filling the spaces between actual songs, rather than the standard silence which fills the space between tracks on most albums. I’ve always thought it was an interesting way to construct a longer thematic form for music that would ordinarily be experienced as discrete, shorter pieces with definite beginnings and ends. The way the songs on “Comforts Of Madness” sometimes fall apart rather than having a concrete endpoint, dissolving into aimless improvisation that eventually another song emerges from (as in the breaks between “Sea Of Sound” and “True Coming Dream,” or between “Insubstantial” and “A Deep Sleep For Steven”), adds an extra layer to the music that otherwise wouldn’t be there, and makes the whole thing more interesting. Now, granted, in Braxton’s Ghost Trance Musics, he’s undoubtedly talking about a situation in which improvisation makes up the vast majority of what the listener hears, rather than the small interstitial amount that it takes up on “Comforts Of Madness,” but still, it seems like there’s at least a grain of thematic similarity there.

  3. tarbot tarbot

    “in which there seems to be an ambient sea of music filling the spaces between actual songs, rather than the standard silence which fills the space between tracks on most albums.”

    Kind of reminds me of what Rudimentary Peni did with their album Pope Adrian – from the first second to the very last second of that album, beneath the actual songs themselves, loops the words “papas adrianus”.

    It’s disturbing, haunting, and completely awesome.

  4. revD revD

    It was on the basis of the son that I gave the father a try. Picked the near-earliest point in his discography available, ‘For Alto’, and gave it a listen… Or at least attempted to.

    Understand, I appreciate Ornette Coleman & Merzbow both; I love Zorn & his ‘game musics’ (no accident that ex-DNA Ikue Mori roosts at Tzadik, no); I giggle at Nurse With Wound & lather myself at the prospect of a Big Dumb Sequel scored by Mike Patton even though I know it’ll never touch ‘Adult Themes For Voice’. Killed In Cars is my favorite music blog, for fuck’s sake. I’m no stranger to cacophony. But ‘For Alto’ is unlistenable.

    No structure, unless one credits the arcane diagrammatic shapes Anthony features on his albums, only inscrutable, emotionally opaque squall. His music is an insane sine of peaks & valleys as seen from orbit: a straight line to everywhere drawn in the dust by a doodlebug, a purely exploratory mission by an alien intellect with no guarantee of success or even survival.

    Sorry, Mr. Braxton: it’s hard even for Noise Boys to rubberneck that.

  5. Bob  Moores Bob Moores

    Braxton is a fucking gas. I first saw him back in the mid-70s at the Jazz Workshop in Boston (now defunct) and to see him work the full range of wind instruments he caresses and assaults was unbelieavable, especially when he got up and honked away on the contrabass saxophone, the sonics of which cannot be appreciated unless you hear it live. Your whole body vibrates with its emanations from the hairy crown of the cranium to the hairy tip of the scrotum. Just hairy shit. And, man, the music is as physical as it is cerebral and all his weird intellectual underpinning and theoretical bullshit is just icing on the cake, including all his wackadoodle pseudo-mathematical song titles. The bottom line is it original, fucking wonderful and brilliant music, informed by history, idea, sex and all the crazy amalgamation of lunacy that we call life. Thank you, Warren, for bringing this to the fore.

  6. Paul McEnery Paul McEnery

    Weird. I’m coincidentally listening to Braxton right now, because all the Arista stuff just came out in one big box set which I’ve been waiting for again since I flogged off all my vinyl to pay rent in the last bad old days. Somehow, the man’s back in vogue. Which is terrific.

    And yes, I bagged the iridium box through emusic, which is quite as odd as you make it sound. I interviewed the guy once myself, then the stupid junkie transcriber lost the tape. Bugger! He’s totally like a little kid with a Meccano set.

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