Anthony Braxton © Sergio Cabanillas, 2007

Tomajazz interviews Anthony Braxton (II)

Go back to the first part

In this second part, Braxton elaborates ­– at length – on the evolution of his music in the last twenty years, the origin and development of the Ghost Trance Musics, his advice to newcomers to his music, his perception of his own audience, and, showing a very healthy sense of humour, his very special relationship with the recording business.

Anthony Braxton © Sergio Cabanillas, 2007
Anthony Braxton
© Sergio Cabanillas, 2007

TOMAJAZZ: How has your music evolved in the last twenty years, since Forces In Motion was written and since your tour in England? How has your music evolved and the music around you too?

ANTHONY BRAXTON: In the last twenty years the major difference in the evolution of my music system has been a reconfiguration starting with the foundation of Ghost Trance Musics.

      But let me back up: before the Ghost Trance Musics, formula musics, friends’ initials, chess moves… language musics, syntax, vocabularies… co-ordinate musics, linking systems, linking compositions… schematic musics, long-form structures with designated architectonic spaces inside the structures… hieroglyphic musics integrating colour and movement, dream structures moving into narrative music, narrative logic… propositional musics… There’s something like twelve degrees of expansion, and suddenly, something like twenty years ago I came to the point where there was the need to move to the next step, and I came to understand that structural evolution or intellectual evolution on its own plan was not what I was looking for, that, in fact, I was interested in holistic musics. At that point I’d started going back to Wesleyan, taking courses in the music of the native American Indian and, more and more, I came to understand that for my interest I needed to re-examine the continuum of trance musics, of world trance musics, starting first with the trance musics of the American Indian, and from there, the trance musics of Persia, the trance musics of Africa, the trance musics of Europe – the Gregorian chants – … , and I came to a point where I began to understand that what I was looking for was a multi-hierarchical music that would give me an opportunity to, one, establish a context of a multi-hierarchical experience, to establish a multi-hierarchical model scheme, to establish a holistic model that would give the possibilities to create an imaginary world model, an imaginary model that would allow for virtual experience, an imaginary model that would give the possibility to establish poetic logics, an imaginary model that would be akin to the structures of a person like Walt Disney, who, included in Disneyland, we have Fantasyland, Adventureland, Tomorrowland…

      I came to see for myself that the model of the 20thcentury that we’ve been working with, that being, the audience, sitting the audience, and the music is on the stage… this dialectic has been wonderful for 2000 years, but it’s time to change. The change would be a change that would allow for virtual experience, for interactive logics between the friendly experiencer and the musicians, the change would be a change that, in my system, will establish twelve different trajectories, twelve different pathways, and, as such, to go back to your question, the major difference in the last twenty years has been, rather than formula music to language music to the twelve stages of evolution, the Ghost Trance Musics would be… become, the House of Shala, the House of One; this would be the beginning of building the new holistic stages, so, the House of Logic, continuous state musics, the House of Ashmenton… line-point-line on active movement; the House of Joreo, ornamentation.

      By talking of the degrees in terms of House, I’m saying that every house is built upon a poetic and has a character, in the same way that Pythagoras, when talking of numbers, talked of the poetics of numbers – numbers were not just a degree, but every number had a personality. And so I have, with the next set of model constructs, adopted this way of thinking of numbers. And so the House of Shala is the House number one, it is also the House of the Continuous Stage, it is also, in terms of the symbols, the triangle, is the House of Ghost Trance Musics.

Anthony Braxton © Sergio Cabanillas, 2007
Anthony Braxton
© Sergio Cabanillas, 2007

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 let me back up: by origin identity logic I’m saying… the string quartet is written like a string quartet, or the orchestra piece is written like it is an orchestra piece. But, any piece from the orchestra piece, say the trumpet piece in Composition 96, can be taken out and played by twenty accordions… and to take it out would be the secondary function, so you have the origin function related to the traditional constructs of writing a piece of music, the secondary function means any part can be taken out and played by any instrumentation, 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.

      This idea of structural dynamics is part of the unique feature of the Tri-Centric architectonics, where any part of any composition can be used in any different way, and so, composition, in this context, is like an erector set than can be put together to suit the needs of the friendly experiencer, and so, the four-hundred and something compositions thus far, are materials that can be used to advance a proposition.

      In the extended solidification of these materials I envision an imaginary world with twelve different lands, where composition becomes a part of what I would call a menu logic. For instance, if the area space is continental, and let’s say the count starts in New York City and ends in Los Angeles… let’s say twelve musicians start in New York City, and part of the menu says “everybody must meet up in Chicago and Kansas City and Dallas, Texas, and Los Angeles”, there will be five cities where the tutti formation comes back together, but the menu might, for three musicians, have those musicians going to the North part, or different routings coming together in different time-periods.

      What I’m trying to describe is a concept of form and a concept of structural dynamics that would detail twelve different pathways, for the example that I gave you this morning, the example of the continental area space, that, in fact, the same example could be demonstrated in one space. For instance, the Iridium musics, or the 12+1 ensemble. In my system, “12” is the nuclear number, and by nuclear number, in this context, I’m saying: with the number twelve I can demonstrate the system, I can demonstrate the internal logics of the Tri-Centric musics, but I need a quorum, and that quorum involves at least twelve musicians.

      And so, to finally go back to your question, the difference between what I’m working on now as opposed to what I first started, that difference would be when I first started I asked the question: “what do I want to do?” I discovered that existential freedom was not what I was looking for. And from that point, I began to build individual form, related to the individual, the solo musics, into the duo musics, into the trio musics, into the quartet musics, into the creative orchestra musics… larger formal scales and finally, twenty years ago, reconfiguring all of that from the aesthetic position of looking for holistic logics – holistic logics as related to area space, as related to composite architectonics, as related to transposition into imaginary worlds, into ritual and ceremonial worlds, into poetic logics… the understanding being: intellectual and structural modelling, on its own, is not enough. I’m looking for something more than that.


Next question.

[Everyone laughs]

Anthony Braxton © Sergio Cabanillas, 2007
Anthony Braxton
© Sergio Cabanillas, 2007

TOMAJAZZ: We’ll need time to assimilate all this… And, so, it’s understood that your older compositions can also be integrated in your new system?

ANTHONY BRAXTON: Yes. This is what I mean by holistic on the tri-plan. Every composition comes together, can be used together as one in different forms, and every composition will have twelve applications…

TOMAJAZZ: And when you refer to “houses”, is it much more than stylistic territories?

ANTHONY BRAXTON: By “house” I’m saying experience and experience space, I’m saying ideal-to-structural dynamics to architectonics, I’m saying, in the house of the triangle, transposition, connection,… inter-virtual.

TOMAJAZZ: Is there any piece of advice you’d give in any terms to someone who’s new to your music?

ANTHONY BRAXTON: For the friendly experiencer who happens upon my music, I say [gently] “hooray!” We tend to, when we think of life in Academia, we say “oh, you must start at Charlie Parker, you must start at Louis Armstrong and then go up to Sun Ra”, or “You start at Monteverdi and you go up to Schoenberg” or something like that. But in real life, you start with whatever you hear, and if it pushes your button, then you start looking… “Ah! Schoenberg, who did he know? Ah! Webern… or Berg… and who did they listened to?” This was how I started so you go forward and backwards at the same time.

      For the friendly experiencer who comes upon my music, first I would say “Ah! Thank you! Check it out! … I’ve tried to do my best. That doesn’t mean that you will like it, but there’s a lot of music… Check it out! If you listen to something and you don’t like it, check this out… “

TOMAJAZZ:… and let’s hope for the best…

ANTHONY BRAXTON: … so, you don’t like that? Oh… What about the March? Have you tried this?… What about this?… “

      But, I’ve tried to do the best that I could do, and the music must fight for its own life. Once a CD is out, I don’t worry about that composition any more. It must fight for its own life.

TOMAJAZZ: Is it easy for you to convince the record companies to publish your material? Or, has it become any easier with the passage of time?

ANTHONY BRAXTON: [Pauses] Something like 25-30 years ago, it became clear to me that I wasn’t going to make any money [pulls a face and gets some giggles] … and, so I came to a point where I had to make a decision, “do I want to go on?” and the answer was “YES”, so that was finished. As far as the CDs and the records, for me, I’ve tried, whenever possible, to document the music, so that, for people who are interested in my work, there be documents of the different approaches to a composition. I mention this because, for the most part, I don’t make any money for my CDs… I mean, half of the time, I have to pay money… I have a very interesting career in the sense that I pay to do my music so it’s not a normal career…

TOMAJAZZ: You have to be grateful…


Anthony Braxton © Sergio Cabanillas, 2007
Anthony Braxton
© Sergio Cabanillas, 2007

ANTHONY BRAXTON: … I must say, that I’ve been very lucky in the last three-four years to meet Lalo Lofoco. He’s been the best person that I have met to work with, and he’s looked out for me, but if the story is “Anthony Braxton for the last forty-something years”, it has been an experience where I generally pay money to get my projects out, as opposed to make money from the records of this kind of thing.

      I’m not complaining! I feel very fortunate to have discovered what I want to do in life, and I feel that’s the most important thing that could happen to a person, to discover the “it” for you in life, if it’s mathematics, if it’s fixing cars, if it’s racing horses, whatever it is that makes you want to be alive, and so I feel very lucky to have discovered music… But as far as the records are concerned, it’s not about money, believe me… Half of the time I don’t get enough money to pay off my musicians. I’m not complaining, though, I’ve been able to document, now, enough CDs, where, if a person is seriously interested in my music, there are examples of different areas, that they can have.

TOMAJAZZ: Has the response from the audience evolved along the years? Do you see more people, less people, younger people, the same people coming again and again to your concerts?

ANTHONY BRAXTON: I think that part of the beauty of getting older for me was to understand that there are people listening to the music. It’s a small group, but that’s all I needed to know. When I was a young guy, there would be times when I found myself thinking, “I wonder if anybody is listening to this music!” But that was, actually, a stupid idea, because, when I was a young guy, I was listening to Stockhausen, Schoenberg, Coltrane, Sun Ra.

      There are people who love music, and part of getting older was to discover: “Wow! You know, I might not be making money from my recordings, but [Leo Records’] Leo Feigin keeps… he says, ‘OK, I’ll put this out’!” So I say, he’s not losing money! I mean, there must be somebody buying this music! And, slowly, I came to understand that there’s a small group of people, but they’re people who can hear my music. For me, this was the discovery of the year. And it meant that there were people, maybe two people in every big city, [who] might be open to my music, and that was a wonderful realisation for me. And, er, as… I’m 62 years old now, and 62 is different than 22, and, even the people who don’t like my music realise that I must be serious about what I’m doing, because I’m still doing it and, er, when you’re doing something for forty years, even your enemies say “well, I hate him…

TOMAJAZZ: … but he’s still there…


ANTHONY BRAXTON: … he’s still there… so he must believe it. So that’s the big difference.

TOMAJAZZ: At least there’s a recognition of endurance.

ANTHONY BRAXTON: Thank you! And I’ll take anything.


Interview: © 2007 Fernando Ortiz de Urbina, Diego Sánchez Cascado y José Francisco “Pachi” Tapiz, Tomajazz
© 2007 Transcription and gene-splicing by Fernando Ortiz de Urbina
Photographs: © 2007 Sergio Cabanillas





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