Photo by Kyoko Kitamura
This week brings the Tri-Centric Festival, an omnibus showcase for composer-multireedist Anthony Braxton, at the new Roulette in Brooklyn. I wrote a piece previewing the event, after spending some time with Braxton recently, and much more time with his music.
One thing I’d been wondering about was whether Braxton sensed a greater acceptance of his music in recent years, after the warm glow of Wesleyan’s season-long tribute in 2005; the subsequent release of major multi-disc sets like The Complete Arista Recordings and 9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006; and the ardent testimonials of his disciples. Well, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Braxton ordered a glass of white wine as we sat down to our interview, and proceeded not to touch it for the next hour. He’s an energetic conversationalist, quick to oblige any request for clarification. Here’s what he had to say about misperceptions surrounding his work:
Part of the challenge that I have been dealing with has been this false circle that’s been put around musician-composers like myself, either from an ethnocentric perspective or a political-centric perspective, that says because I’m an African-American I have to function based on someone’s concept of what ethnically is correct for an African-American. And along with those parameters, my work would come to be viewed as cold and cerebral, and totally separate from composite relevancy. And I’ve had to, in the last 40 years, simply accept this perspective while at the same time I’ve tried to push forward and not allow the opposing forces to define me. This is why in the early period I started writing, because I saw where it was going. I understood how important it would be for me to document my work and define my own terms. Because to not do that, someone else would define me and that would probably not be to my advantage. And that’s how it turned out.
As I suggest in the piece, the Tri-Centric Foundation is one line of defense against outside distortion of Braxton’s work. Be sure to visit the foundation website; there’s an incredible amount of information there, both in musical and textual form. (Don’t miss the video excerpt of the Sonic Genome project, filmed at Wesleyan’s hockey rink.) Braxton provided still more information as we discussed the festival, in his trademark theoryspeak.
On the Pinetop Aerial Musics, premiering Wednesday: “the beginning of the new musics of configurations as a way of talking of target objectives inside of a greater space.” On the three-conductor methodology he’ll employ with the Tri-Centric Orchestra: “The orchestral experience, in the Tri-Centric thought unit, involving this particular performance, establishes a context of mutable logic strategies, a context of stable logic strategies and a concept of multiple layered signal transpositions.” On the Echo Echo Mirror House concept: “This is a prototype that is trans-temporeal, that establishes past, present and future as one thought unit.”
Space constraints (and empathy for a general-interest readership) prevented me from an in-depth unpacking of Braxtonian concepts in the article. If that’s what you seek, I’ll direct you first to the Tri-Centric website, and then to an excellent JazzTimes feature by David Adler, from 2005. And of course, there’s the festival itself.
I leave you now with some interview footage I just unearthed, courtesy of Michael Cuscuna, Steve Backer and Mosaic Records. In it Braxton discusses his “Composition 82 (For Four Orchestras),” with good humor and not a little residual pride.