Liner notes by Art Lange (June 1997)
“The point of art is not to decorate but to organize life.” These words of Russian constructivist artist/philosopher El Lissitzky (1890-1941) resonate in the music of Anthony Braxton, who has from his earliest creative endeavors in the 1960′s sought to amend the meaning and experience of sound into a multi-dimensional reality that reflects and influence (without determining or limiting) the complexities of life. For example, in order to define and systematize his personal creative methodology it was necessary for him to first isolate and identify the sequence of language studiies which provide the basic grammar of his solo saxophone music (and thus the building blocks of all of his music); since that time he has accecpted the challenge to extend the nature of the sound generating resources beyond that of sheer sonority and investigate the restructural, ideational, and vibrational potentialities. In so doing, music becomes a metaphor and a program for life, a method of recognizing, understanding, and organizing relationships—musical, interpersonal, spiritual, societal.
For Braxton, the interaction of life and art is defined not by a single, perfectible mode of experience, but a constantly evolving, multiplying series of vectors divisible by the number three. Three is a magical number for Braxton–the name of his Tri-Centric Foundation is derived from it; and in the logo of his record label, Braxton House, the circle/square/triangle shape-within-a-shape-within-shape symbolizes the equilateral balance and interdependency of the supportive elements that outline his musical network. As suggested above, there are three spiritual components to his cosmology–the architectural (structural), the philosophical (ideational), and the ritual/ceremonal (vibrational), as well as three structural logics—stable (representing the area of information that is known and unchanging, or compositional), mutable (that which is open and changing, or improvisational), and synthetic (that which draws upon both aspects according to human nature, or intuitive), plus three states of activity—individual, group and an interactive synthesis of the two. Thus a visual image of Braxton’s musical equation of 3 x 3 x 3 requires a three-dimensional (sculptural) perspective—in time, space, and sound that resembles the constructivist principles and extends them into a kinetic form.
Another constructivist artist, Naum Gabo (1890 - 1978), used non-traditional materials such as plastic, wire, and stainless steel, and added a kinetic quality to his sculptures by way of open spaces, movable parts, and even motors. In his book Making Theory, Constructing Art (University of Chicago Pubs), philosophy professor and art critic Daniel Herwitz believes that Gabo’s approach “…aims for a kind of floating transparency of form which negates all roles for the pull of gravity in sculptural expression…. The sculpture becomes a field of dynamic forces which define and articulate space within and without; his is sculpture as space and the rhythmical articulation of space.” Such “dynamic forces” are those which Braxton has used as a model for the microcosm at the core of his music (indeed, he sees them as the basis for all music–witness his discussions of the music of Warne Marsh, John Coltrane, and Eric Dolphy to name just a few); this complete description could, in a sense, also be used as a partial introduction to the macrocosm of Braxton’s Ghost Trance Music, of which Composition No. 187 is among the first examples we have on disc (others so far include Composition No. 185 and No. 186, availabue on Sextet (Istanbul) 1996, BH001, and Composition No. 193, on Tentet (New York) 1996, BH004.
When Braxton says we are moving into the mythological realm now (quoted by Franceco Martinelli in his helpful liner notes to the Sextet CD listed above) he is referring to the fact that his music has already embraced architectural and philosophical conditions through the various individual and group practices available in his language studies, coordinate musics, pulse tracks, and collage forms. And while the Ghost Trance Music may at first hearing seem to be a radical departure from the by now firmly established procedures, in actualiy it expands upon and energizes them into a “mythological realm that intensifies their emphasis on the ritual ceremonial component. By mythological, Braxton means those nonscientific, nonanalytical extended forms of musical awareness—involving mystery and magic practiced in the past by African, Asian, and Native American musicians and shamen. He cites the structural parameters of Indonesian Gamelan, African and Native American drum and chant rituals, and even Gregorian Chant as performance oriented forms of experience which establish extended timespace functions via a real or symbolic trance state. The word ghost in this case is used not only in homage to traditions of the past—as the image of a ceremonial figure celebrating these timless rituals—but also as a multiple metaphor for what Braxton believes is the veil between the visible and the invisibue realities of existence—physical (nature), emotional (psychological), and even technological (envisioning cyberspace exreriences, another way of interpreting the “ghost in the machine”).
It’s important to note that the word trance is also tran-as in transform, transport and transcend. The new formal parameters of the Ghost Trance Music are plotted in ways to allow participants to explore (in Braxton’s words) the inner dimensions of the music via trans-temporal, experiental states related to the stream-of-consciousness states of creativity originating from the imagination and other hyper-real modes of awareness and communication. Ghost Trance Music is based upon an extended melodic format (related to the chant) which Braxton says has no beginning and no end and is, in effect, a notated or fixed stream-of-consciousness (there is a precedent in Braxton’s previous, repetition-based Kelvin series) from this point of origin the music ttakes its initial character and “stable logic”.
However, the actual performance of the music is dependent upon various transformational procedures, so that as with composition no. 187, the score makes use of genetic materal, pulse material (influencing, but not defining,the rhythmic and velocity changes of the musical flow, since the music is not confined to any single tempo or consistent rhythm), and sets of interactive, largely improvisational trio structures (derived from Composition no. 76, two versions of which were recorded in 1977). There are additional oppurtunities for variation and improvisation based upon material from earlier works as well as the specific composition’s melodic contour, thus incorporating the elements of mutable logic and synthetic logic required for complete transformation, and also the interpretation of new types of melodic (graphic) shapes which (again, in Braxton’s words) “…proposes a fresh context of melodic recognition.”
Listening to Composition no. 187 is an equally new experience, even for those well versed in Braxton’s expansive musical galaxy. The single line from which the performance originates gradually becomes a mosaic of voices; as the voices separate according to their inspiration/interpretation of the score, they remain attached to while simultaneously transforming and transcending the music’s core/cell/center: the fixed nature of the material. The transformational voices vary from small interior elaboration and ornamentation of the line using fragments, paraphrases, and thematic variations, to large-scale polyphony and extreme gestural and structural alterations. Thus, the orientating image for the listener and player alike is that of a single melodic contour, a shape which evolves in a fluid reformation of design, as subsequent shapes form and reform wthout breaking the common thread of identity and purpose. The unbroken nature of the line creates its own self-sustaining energy and momentum based upon cycles of repetition and renewal (in common with mandala forms, Indian Raga, and other self-generating, self-defining cyclical entities), whereby its transformational qualities ultimately become the capacity to restructure the nature of exrerience and involvement from individual to ensembue and back to individual again. DanielHerw[rz articulates a similar belief when he writes that Laszlo Moholy-Nagy's (1895-1946) artistic lesson is to convey the sense that "...Perceftion is plastic, that it exists in the process of continuous construction and reformulation."
If one considers the musical lines of Composition no. 187 as shapes in space, they become reminiscent of the three-dimensional intersections (or concrete shape-inducing events) of El Lissitzky, Gabo, and Moholy-Nagy's art which were intended (according to Herwitz) to mirror change, growth, action, and reaction—conditions at the center of Braxton's conceptual universe. Further, he states "in one voice the [constructivist] art work’s aim for the scientific clarity and self-transparency of a world that is stable and lawlike, while in another they celebrate the vague immenstity of constructive interaction with a changing world. Contradictory? Perhaps. But contradictions and confluences are the yin/yang of the multiple realmes that the Ghost Trance Music has begun to explore. In all of its scientific, mythological, spiritual, and vibrational complexity. And this is only the beginning.
released January 1, 1996
Anthony Braxton: B-Flat Clarinet, Flute, Contrabass Clarinet, Alto Saxophone, E-Flat Sopranino Saxophone, E-Flat Sopranino Clarinet, F Saxophone
J.D. Parran: Bass Saxophone, Sopranino Clarinet
Aaron Stewart: Tenor Saxophone
Jacqui Carrasco: Violin
Libby Van Cleve: English Horn
Gwen Laster: Violin
Melinda Newman: Oboe
Lily White: Alto Saxophone
Nioka Workman: Cello
Kevin Norton: Percussion, Drums, Glockenspiel, Vibraphone
Joe Fonda: Bass
Recording Engineer: Jon Rosenberg
Edited & Mastered: Jon Rosenberg
Design & Layout: Peter Hill
Produced by Anthony Braxton and Velibor Pedevski
supported by 4 fans who also own “Ensemble (New York) 1995”
Nobody, giant or otherwise could sleep through that opening section!...I liken it to the struggle for life...working/striving for balance in a musical/ecological domain... (what?) oh, its groovy too! Bob Ross