Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Anthony Braxton and Laptop Electronics



Today will be a shorter post, as I am on my way to play in a concert in a half hour with the UNC guitar ensemble, but here goes, trying to jot some information down before I forget about it. A great jazz, if you can call it that, composer and performer in the idiom is Anthony Braxton.  He is a multi-instrumentalist that plays everything from Donna Lee on contrabass clarinet, to his own compositions on alto saxophone, or any other woodwind you imagine.  I heard about him first through his album "For Alto" a record of solo pieces that he has performed as part of a concert series.  Shortly after, found out he was involved in the composer's guild of the AACM, or Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, along with the Art Ensemble of Chicago and many others.  I read a great book him around this time by Graham Lock, titled "Forces in Motion" that was a collection of interviews and thoughts of Braxton during the 1980s, with one of his most important quartets.  This quartet consisted of drummer Gerry Hemingway, Bassist Mark Dresser, and pianist Marilyn Crispell, stayed together for a while and really were able to stretch out with his compositional ideas.  Recently a great boxed set has come out from Mosaic records, "The Complete Arista recordings," which I myself am trying to find and purchase, that catalogues a lot of his life work.

I bring up Anthony Braxton because I have always been interested in what little I know of his compositional approach.  For instance he has pieces written for 100 tubas to be played in a junk yard...or a piece for amplified shovels as they move coal with them.  He uses a very strict system of graphic notation and symbols to label his pieces, otherwise they are given numbers, such as Compostion # 245.  Recently I found out I was playing a gig with trumpeter Hugh Ragin, and found out that he used to play with Braxton, which you can see here in this video.  Keep in mind, Pedro Mendes, who is responsible for this video, did a lot of great work documenting this scene of music, personally recording a lot of great concerts, as well as trading tapes throughout the years, to provide all these great experimental/avant performances now on youtube....check out his video collection on youtube and you won't be disappointed!  So on said gig I asked Hugh Ragin about this video and about the notation.  He told me that Braxton would write in his pieces through composed melodies in standard notation, as well as things in his own symbolic notation, and places to play improvisations.  In the video I linked, he said that everyone would have their parts as well as everyone else's part so you couldn't get lost reading the charts, just knowing where everyone else was.  Compositionally, it's an idea I want to try out, once summer is upon me...3 systems of notation, normal, graphic and free improvisation.

This brings me to another summer project, which is not related to this at all.  Laptop Electronics!  I would like to create a large protools file consisting of a long free improvisation that I performed with a piano, woodwind, 2 basses and a guitar, that sounds more like texture than music...as well as all the cobra takes, all in one track.  My goal is to get quicker at manipulating the files via protools and either add certain effects to the pre-recorded music, I.E. delay, distortion, chorus, auto-tune....or to multitrack an isolated phrase into 5-6 tracks of the same phrase, just moved around by a second, or half second, so you hear the clash of all that happening at once.  Ideally I can use this in a live situation, and improvise it, but listening to it back with headphones to get it just right, and then play it with my large monitors attached to the mbox running into protools on my laptop.  Another idea, is to figure out how to loop play, so I can keep a certain audio sample looping in a figure.  If I work this with electric bass, I could even record on the spot straight into protools, hear it with headphones, and make a loop out of it.  All this is stuff I want to experiment with, and get quick(ish) at over the summer, and try to use it in COBRA, as well as normal free improvisation, as well as in a rock band that I am forming over the summer.  The other idea, especially in cobra or free improv, is that I can hook a microphone into my unit, record what is happening in real time, and then splice/edit/generally fuck with the recorded sound and play it back manipulated, as an imitation.  Can't wait!

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