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A Conversation with Anthony Braxton
with Volkan Terzioglu and Sabri Erdem
in Istanbul on Sunday, October 15th, 1995
text by Volkan Terzioglu
Below there is a conversation that I and Sabri Erdem had in Istanbul with Anthony Braxton. Braxton was in Istanbul for Akbank International Jazz Festival with his Sextet to perform his Ghost Trance Compositions. He also had a seminar on the vocabulary of the music. He and the Sextet toured Istanbul and we found opportunity to talk to him for one and a half hour. I also have the video recording of the conversation. Many times I tried to get the confirmation for, but I could not manage. Therefore this may involve several misunderstandings, mistakes which had been unavoidable. Intentionally I am calling the below text a conversation instead of an interview, because I think that this is not formal enough.
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Terzioglu - Well, Mr. Braxton, first of all I would like to begin with the subject of jazz criticism. I know that in 70's you had very strong feelings against jazz criticism. Because there have been some misunderstandings that critics have not even listened to the music thoroughly and what is the description of a jazz critic has been answered that, once you have 10 jazz records, then you can be a critic. Do you remember that?
Braxton - Yes, for me the question and subject of Jazz Criticism has been a complex subject for me for something like 30 years. I remember in the early 1960's, after reading record reviews of John Coltrane's music in Down Beat magazine, I remember even then that I did not agree with them...
Terzioglu - the recordings with Eric Dolphy?
Braxton -the recordings with Eric Dolphy, the recording Ascension, the recordings after Giant Steps as Mr. Coltrane's began to change, many of the jazz journalists would say "No, this is not jazz, this is...
Terzioglu - ... anti jazz
Braxton - ... hate music, anti jazz and when they wrote about
Mr. Coltrane's music, they would write very negatively and for me even in that
time period, I felt something is wrong, there is the definitions of the
musicians who talk about their music and then there is the definitions of the
journalistic communities. They are completely separate definitions when Mr.
Coltrane recorded the record "A Love Supreme", well he was talking
about the love of the Creator and Universal Love, not just sexual love,
political love and in the last 30 years, we have seen even "A Love
Supreme" converted to a market place philosophy. And this has been
consistent with the history of journalism and the criticism and the criticism
with the music.
There have been complexities based on several reasons : 1. the inability of the jazz journalistic community to understand the meta-reality of the music on its own terms. 2. there has been an inability to understand the intellectual agenda of the music and no recognition of the real intellectual agenda of the music and of course 3. there have been the political complexities related to market place philosophies, Albert Ayler's music perceived as not commercial enough for market place.
Terzioglu - I knew that he could not find any opportunity to make records and John Coltrane helped to get him market place by Impulse Records.
Braxton -Yes and this has been part of the struggle that in my opinion began in 1920's with the recording industry and the establishment of race records, country and western music. They separate all of the various categories of the music. This was established in the 20's, 1910, as part of the emergence of the new technology of the recording industry and the related business complex that would surround the music. And so for me, 1965 it was in that period that I begin to recognize profound differences between how the musicians talked about their music and how the journalists write of the music. And this problem is still with us today although it is complex. The music from the Association for the Advancement for the Creative Musicians (AACM) period, even in the black community, even among African Americans is not understood. It is complex and African Americans have not been so interested in jazz music since Charlie Parker. No one wants to talk about that. But America is an interesting country, because it has so many different people and yet at the same time because it is such a young country, we have not been able to find the healthiest balances so that all selections, sectors of the community can express themselves and make the definitions and value systems and spirituality understood and so the music we call jazz is in the middle of these problems. Jazz for me came about because of the need for individual creativity, for group creativity and for connection to spiritual intuitive thoughts and creativity. Ever since the emancipation proclamation in America that freed slaves, we have seen in America a long journey, the story of post slavery movements and how creative music and dance and painting and art is connected to human aspiration and creativity. On one hand and on the other hand, you have the jazz music complex, you have the classical music complex, you have the control on the popular music machinery that makes millions and billions of dollars. The music we call jazz does not make billions of dollars like rock'n'roll or popular musics, but it makes enough money for the jazz business complex to continue to release the records to bring about a situation where you have a group of musicians who say "well, we are jazz people" and they record them and they can play their music. The definitions with the music are reserved for the power structure, for the political structure. The intellectuals in America use jazz for many different things. Jazz is used to say "I'm black, I'm black, I'm black", Jazz is used to say "I'm hip, I'm hip, I'm hip", Jazz is used to sell instruments, to produce instruments. Magazines like Down Beat magazine, published once a month and there are many different jazz magazines and in the last 20 years, we have seen jazz to come into academia and so and even high school and you have young people playing what they call jazz. All of these connects with the music industry, however it gets complex because, for me much of the music that we call jazz in this time period does not correspond necessarily to what jazz used to be. For instance, when I was coming up in Chicago, if you want to learn how to play jazz, you go to sessions and there will be opportunities for the musicians to play and learn the repertoire. The understanding was this: mastership in Jazz meant you have to find your music, your own music...
Terzioglu - own an individual sound
Braxton - You have to find your own sound. It was not enough to find your own sound. It was not enough to imitate Charlie Parker. It was not enough to imitate John Coltrane. Rather the aesthetic reality of the music insisted that each person must find or discover self realization about themselves and to evolve one's own sound and to find your life in your music. This was what jazz was. If complex, the music that we call Bebop came about because of the post World War II vibrational factors. You had in 1945 another migration of African Americans from the Southern part of the America, up to the North part from places like Mississippi or Alabama, a great influx of African Americans will go to Chicago, to Detroit to Philadelphia to Saint Louis. In that time period, the challenge was to move away from the Southern part of America where there were segregation concepts of separate but equal which really involved inequalities to African Americans and from that point a migration took place after World War II. That migration also involved African American men and women who would begin to think about the music from political perspective, from a philosophical perspective from many different connections where in the 30's and 40's the emphasis in the music was directed towards big bands and orchestration. Suddenly after World War II, emphasis would be redirected back to the individual and the era of the virtuoso for soloists would begin. Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie's music would mark a change from an orchestra group music to small groups that would emphasize solos and the individual. This change in my opinion was part of a composite phenomenon that they concern not just the music but the literature, the journalism. A new group of writers would evolve asking questions of African American life, asking questions of America, what is America?, asking questions about what is world...
Terzioglu - the existence
Braxton - what is existence and how we felt in existence. This aspect of the music in the 90's is not understood. More and more, since what I call the 6th restructural cycle movement that have been Albert Ayler; the 1st cycle being New Orleans, 2nd cycle Chicago, 3rd cycle New York, 4th cycle Kansas City, 5th cycle bebop, Charlie Parker, 6th being Albert Ayler, 7th cycle being the AACM and the music I am a part of. So by 1950, the intellectual reality of the music had already started to change. There were problems. The problems with the journalists in my opinion involved the significance of definition as well as the complexities of wrong definitions. In America it is always been fashionable even in the early periods, for European Americans to look at African American music and think in terms of entertainment - "Oh, this is happy music, these guys play is nice and happy and they are happy, everything is happy"...
Terzioglu - The sweating brow concept
Braxton - The sweating brow. More and more the musicians themselves will say "wait a minute, there is more to the music than entertainment, there is more to the music than how Leonard Feather writes about the music, there is more to what we do than the jazz poll concept that comes every year". Many of these strategies were market place strategies, they had nothing to do with the music and so by 1960 with the 6th restructural cycle, musics as personified by the music of Albert Ayler, this was a very complex time in the 1960's in America. Three assassinations, President Kennedy, Malcolm X, Robert Kennedy; at the same time, the Vietnam War, at the same time riots all over America in effect the events of the decade in the 60's which make it possible for musicians like myself to ask the question "What's happening?". We had a new, fresh opportunity to begin again, a fresh opportunity to explore the music separate from the market place being able to control the definitions of the music and for me that is part of the importance of the 6th restructural cycle musics. That it was an opportunity to clean the mirror, which is the expression in America, to start anew and to create music that would 1. unify the composite spectrum of the creative trans-African musics, 2. that would unify the American musics, 3. that would unify a service of platform to solidify a world culture, and 4. that would be a part of a composite movement for world change and re-evaluation that would encompass the changes brought about in the modern era from nuclear physics, from Einstein, changes that would incorporate mythology, composite mythology changes, that would take into account the new technologies, television set where we can turn on the television set and see Istanbul immediately, we can put on the record and have music from Japan, we can turn on the radio, we can hear music from Rio De Janeiro and we can see the people in Rio De Janeiro. All of these matters will effect the aesthetic reality of the music. And from that point the musicians would begin to ask their own questions, but the market place would have many problems. For a period of 20 years, the market place has been looking for ways to make this music a market place commodity. It was only with the neo classic movement that came about in the 1980's where the market place after 20 years was able to come back into the music...
Terzioglu - with Wynton Marsalis
Braxton - with Wynton Marsalis, many of the younger African American who were come up who went to the university. This is interesting. Wynton with classical people and the jazz people as well as his father. Then he went to New York and studied at Juilliard and while he was studying, it was obvious that he was talented as a stylist, technician at CBS records Doctor Frank Butler, an African American who became an A and R man at Columbia...
Terzioglu - A and R man? what is that?
Braxton - This is the man who makes the decisions about what musicians they are going to record.
Terzioglu - OK
Braxton - and so they chose Wynton Marsalis, they kicked out Woody Shaw.
Terzioglu - I see, a new commodity has arrived
Braxton - A new commodity, not only had a new commodity arrived, but a new commodity whose understanding of reality was just like the market place, in terms of jazz is jazz and everything else is different, we just want to play jazz, we gonna play jazz just like Charlie Parker starting from 1945 and ending for around 1963 with Miles Davis group with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock. This group in effect would say this. African American culture starts at New Orleans and ends at 1963 and restarts again at 1980 and goes forth and from 1960 to 1980, this is not jazz, this is not black, it is anti jazz (laughter). Political implications of that position is profound because it is taken for granted that every other group can learn from any group it was (wants?) to learn from. But the market place is the same. No, no, no! African Americans start here, stop here and you can not go outside of that. So if that is true, the jazz is dead. Jazz is like European classical music from Monteverdi stopping at maybe Wagner. Wagner gets kind of complex, but certainly Mahler and, but of course we know that Europeans continue to evolve their music post Schumann, post Wagner, and went into the modern era. But it is always ironic that everyone is doing this. The market place says "No, African Americans stays right there". And so connected with the same subject is a profound split in the African American community itself. A split that says in one hand you must play the Blues, you must play Bebop, you must think like Malcolm X, not DU BOIS but the 60's writers many of the African American nationalists like Amiri Baraka who came to the fore 1960's. It have an alliance with Joe Hammond and Columbia records when they say, "No, no, no", black must be here and then on the other side you have an African American middle class and upper class that has sent his sons and daughters to the University, they come out as professionals and they are not interested in Blues, they are not interested in jazz, but maybe now, they might like the new neo classic jazz. They wear suits and for this group when they see the Art Ensemble of Chicago, they say "they are painting up and they are playing this African music, I don't like it". And so suddenly you see the Black Community divided into many different sections fighting with another and that is here and then on top of that the composite market place which controls all of the information. It is very interesting.
Terzioglu - Well, in University, in Economy classes they taught us the demand/supply curves
Braxton - Yes, yes and the same is true for music even now. They say music works like this. This is the sound, you have the system, you must play right, perfect pitch, you must have the good technique, but they never talk of the importance of life, the importance of ....
Terzioglu - existence
Braxton - existence and learning yourself, and the fundamental laws that relate to music, science, astrology, the building blocks, the real building blocks. They don't talk about the real building blocks, they talk about style, and they make style "God".
Terzioglu - Relating to your music, as far as I listened to your music, I did not listen to your any Trillium operas. I want to refer the vocals, that are too much related to spirituality, and as far as I know, you use vocals firstly, they tell words. Because I remember "For Trio" record with Joseph Jarman, Henry Threadgill and Roscoe Mitchell, you use your voices but they are not understandable words. As far as I know they are orchestral pieces as well, opera; the significance of them. I mean I could not understand the Ashmenton, Bubba John Jack,...
Braxton - Yes ...
Terzioglu - Can you give some clues that we would understand them ?
Sabri Erdem - Spiritual wholeness between operas and your three degree system; image musics, language musics and poetic language and their implications with these 12 system. For instance Zaccko figure and I read an article showing the parallels with you and Wassily Kandinski, the painter, he has the Saint George figure fighting against pure rational, pure logical world representing his view, his spirituality...
Terzioglu - Because it is too abstract to put into words...
Braxton OK, Trillium, let me talk you about Trillium. When completed will be an opera complex that will consist of 32 - 36 separate act that can fit together in any order. At this point, I have completed Trillium A, Trillium M, and Trillium R. Trillium is the second degree of the philosophical system Tri-axium. Joe Fonda has one of the books Tri-axium.
Terzioglu - Yes, but unfortunately, it has been impossible for me to..., I mean in two days ...
Braxton - No, no, I just want you to see the connection, it is connected to Tri- axium which is the philosophical system. And in Tri-axium, I tried to build a thinking system, a system of thought that does not tell anybody what to think, but rather it gives people different ways to look at things and then you find your own way. Because I think philosophy should not tell people what to think as we move to the third millennium, but it should help people to find their way and let the people find themselves what they think. With the opera complex Trillium, what I try to do was to take the philosophical arguments in the Tri-axium writings and to expand the particular arguments into story form to discuss the arguments and so the category of works that I call Trillium is really a context of dialogues in the same way that played on would adopt thesis - antithesis form ...
Erdem - Dialectic
Braxton - Dialectic to have a discussion, I would try to extract arguments from the Tri-axium writings and make stories and so Trillium B talks of transformation, world transformation; Trillium M is a story based on value systems as it relates to four of the schematic designs, schematic arguments from the Tri-axium writings. Maybe when we finish talking, or before we leave Istanbul ask Fonda for the Tri-axium writings, I will show you what I mean when I say schematic so that you can understand how the form of schematic looks. That is ...
Terzioglu - Do you have anything that you meant, in this book (showing the book "Mixtery")?
Braxton - No, I don't think so, nothing with the schematics, no. And so, Trillium, each opera tells the story of an argument, and in every opera, there are three primary arguments and one secondary argument. And in the future after you are able to look at Tri-axium, I will send you a cassette of Trillium A which was recorded...
Terzioglu - I will be delighted ....
Braxton - will send it in a couple of weeks, I had a performance of Trillium A in 1985, in the University of California at San Diego. I also had a performance of one half of Trillium M in London and we did the same music in New York as well and I will send that to you as well as Composition 175 which is opera but is not in the Trillium System, it's in the story telling system, it is another category, but I will send that to you as well.
Terzioglu - Could you give some clues about story telling and image musics?
Braxton - OK, and so Trillium is designed for the complete classical orchestra, with 12 singers, each singer has an instrumentalist that works for the singer and each singer has a dancer that works, the understanding being in my system I am trying to make a composite esthetic music where the sound, the color, the gesture, the movements are the same and ...
Terzioglu - Opera means gesture as well, there is mise-en-scene...
Braxton - Yes, gesture and intention in our work and plus I am talking of gesture in the sense of particular movements. Sitting movements, arm movements, different movements of the arm. I am seeking with my system to map parameters, to map various parameters whether it is arm movements, body movement, the saxophone player, he plays movements (he shows some saxophone playing positions) that kind of movements.
Terzioglu - I see
Braxton - My hope is more and more because it is impossible to get the classical orchestra groups to give me a performance, I am thinking more and more of having a giant tent, like circus tent and have my own tent and then do the operas inside of the tent.
Terzioglu - So, you mention about the instrumentalists, that classical music orchestras will not perform?
Braxton - This has been the problem.
Terzioglu - Is this the question of a place of performance, because you mentioned about a tent?
Braxton - For the last 10 - 15 years, 20 years, I have been begging, begging the classical performing spaces to help me by performing some of the orchestra music, or performing the operas.
Terzioglu - You mentioned about Lincoln Center, in an interview, if you had been the manager of the Lincoln Center, you would choose your own instrumentalists, well, you like best. Is it related to Trillium operas' performances?
Braxton - If there were possibilities to perform my music at Lincoln Center, they have the musicians, they have the money, they have the space, but rather than perform modern operas, the established structure is based on the performance of the early operas, the early European operas. It is just very complex and very difficult for a living composer to get a performance, especially for a composer, like myself who is an African American who goes his own way. I am looking to do my operas from a self reliant perspective. More and more I am thinking in terms of I will just do it myself, look for ways to have a small cheap performance. It could be very nice for me because I do not have to have a 100000 dollars for a grand performance. I need maybe 5000 dollars, I can make little small scenes (?) and have the singers.
Terzioglu - It is same everywhere in the world, because I have some friends who are composers, young composers, and they can not even have the opportunity to find an orchestra even a small orchestra, an ensemble to perform their compositions.
Braxton - This is a universal problem (laughter)
Terzioglu - And the philosophical thoughts and spirituality...
Erdem - Before that I want to ask you an additive question, you said when they are performing, they have some gestures, do you expect a kind of education for that like performing with their bodies, with bodies, for this performing, do they, the performers need an education, instruction, a period of instruction or workshop ...?
Braxton - They need much instruction, much workshop. They have to, the musicians who will be performing in the operas must learn the system of my music, not the classical orchestra, the classical orchestra for the Trillium operas have normal notated music, that they understand. But the singers, the solo instrumentalists and the dancers must learn the system of my music. More and more it's becoming impossible to simply meet a musician and say "OK, we wanna music playing and let's go play". It is becoming impossible. I have to have musicians who are interested in learning the system in my music. It might take a year, it might take two years, but there is a system that must be understood at this point to really play the music and so for your question much preparation ...
Erdem - Are there some kind of school, like your lectures in Wesleyan University, some kind of series of lectures or some kind of, new kind of education because music education and body movement education, if I understand correctly, must combine and get into each other, so I think when you are talking to us, it needs another kind of education, more complex kind of education...
Braxton - Yes, yes...
Erdem - besides music...
Braxton - Last year I formed the Tri-centric Foundation and the Tri-centric Foundation...
Terzioglu - Ted Reichman just mentioned about it.
Braxton - It was formed exactly because what you have raised, because of your idea for the need to have a platform, a school to begin to teach the musicians about the new systems. Tri-centric Foundation in the Future will seek to promote the study of my music. It will also be a platform to help other composers, especially young men and young women who are serious about their music, who are starting out, somebody has to help these people and I would like to hope that the Tri-centric Foundation will continue to expand; it is very young right now.
Terzioglu - A non-profit organization, Isn't it?
Braxton - Yes, yes and also the Tri-centric Foundation was put together to help me the Tri-centric Orchestra which is something like 40 people. We will play two nights in a 6 day festival in the Knitting Factory in November an my hope is to hold this group together. Right now Trillium A and Trillium R is being copied and my hope is by next year, we can start to form Trillium R which I am very excited about.
Terzioglu - I wish that we had that performance right in Turkey.
Braxton - Oh, I wish so of course, but it is crazy, very difficult, but I will send you cassettes of one Trillium A and one half Trillium M
Terzioglu - And the spirituality, the characters, Ashmenton, Bubba John Jack?
Braxton - The characters, I try to find 12 names, 12 character types that would reflect the characteristics of composite earth, there is the sun dance character, sun dances, a compilation of native American tendencies Ojuwain, Bubba John Jack, a certain kind of American... ... let me back up a little bit and talk about the aesthetics of the characters. My hope is to build a music system that can be looked at as far as it is city-state analogy, it is continental analogies, it is planet analogies, and the solar system in galactic analogies. Now on the plane of city-state, if we can imagine a continent with 12 different territories, 12 different lands and each land has a group of people, it is from that point that the Ashmenton character is really related to Ashmenton country which is really related to language number 2 and the system that I am trying to build is a system of 12 lands but with 3 roads, one road of stable logic connections, another road of water connections, so improvisational connections and then another connection of symbolic connections. My hope is to for the city-state analogy to have a music moving through different rounds of architectonic tendencies and ancient thoughts about life and death and marriage and friendship and change, I would like to with my system, build a microcosm model of the universe and the energies in the universe. The stable logic energies, the vibrational energies and the emotional energies. And so the characters are compilations of an attempt to not account (?) for different experiences because I don't know enough for that but only to have 12 characters that will give me the possibilities to connect into different zones, and so I can tell different kinds of stories, a story from the sun dance mentality will be different than the stories from the Ashmenton mentality in terms of language, fundamental language form and form states and arguments. What we call the mythologies, I am seeking to build my own context of mythologies and to have it based upon principal constructs as I understand the subject of mythology and of course I have much more to learn.
Terzioglu - Coming to the poetic logics, image musics and collage musics, again I want some clues to approach them by myself. I understand the language musics that you showed in the workshop, after reading Mr. Graham Lock's "An Approach to your Solo Work", what I want to ask first of all is that while constructing these language types, the question was "How to proceed?", asking to yourself and I understand that it was for your solo music, right?
Braxton - Well that was the original building blocks of the language music came about because of the solo musics in improvisation. But after that, I have tried to take the same information and then move it into the domain composition...
Terzioglu - any composition, orchestral, everything?
Braxton - any composition. Every composition I have written is connected to the language musics, same for the operas. That is why yesterday in the lecture I drew a cycle with my hand said that language music, then I drew a rectangle and talked structure space music and I drew a triangle as a way to talk of ritual of ritual and ceremonial music strategies started through improvisation which is water and circle and from that point I started to create compositions with the same material and put it in the structure space, the rectangle where in the rectangle space stable logics it is frozen, I can come back to it and it does not change just like if we play a composition "How High the Moon" whenever we come back to play it, it is still "How High the Moon", we can do something different with it. To me this difference between improvisation and mutable logic and stable logics and composition and then the next degree is to take the improvisation and the composition, put it together and push it to the triangle, and add intention, and with intention, I did not look for ways of creating the music that has a summation logic; for instance in the language musics number 4 Ashmenton plays staccato lines "padada dududu dd dududu". Composition number 37 for four saxophones also has a staccato line logic, this in the composition that in 1974, I did with Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake and Hamiett Bluiett. Later they would go on to ...
Terzioglu - The World Saxophone Quartet
Braxton - ... make World Saxophone Quartet, but composition number 37 was the second degree of Language number 4. Now for an example, of the triangle, if I would say "Ha ha ha ha - hallo, ho ho ho how are you", if I am stammer, this is staccato line logic. So if I wrote in the opera, "Hallo, it is good to-to-to-to-to-to see you", that would be an example of language 4 inside of the language logic of the singer and that would be a way of using language 4 in a ritual construct. And that would be an example of how an improvisation, something is taken and then put into the structure space for just the abstract the abstract musics and then into the concrete where people are talking and someone happens to be a stammer. From the abstract to concrete, this for me is a part of the Tri-centric approach.
Terzioglu - For the story telling, yes those are close parallel, I mean I began to somehow understand the image musics, to perform story tellings, you are talking about the stammer person, it is somehow story telling for me. Am I right?
Braxton - Uhm, yes sir. There is another example, for instance in composition 113, for soprano saxophone that composition has a story as well and for composition 113, there are 6 microphones all around and different heights and the instrumentalist is turning and playing in different positions and there are also 12 melodic pitch sets. That represents humor, fear, anger, or something and the instrumentalist is asked to re-enact the story of Ojuwain on a train, by chance are you with me with this composition?
Terzioglu - No...
Braxton - It is available on Sound Aspects in America. It is composition 113 and it is one of the story telling structures. This composition is story telling for the individual separate from the Trillium actual opera musics.
Terzioglu - What about talking into instruments, I mean when I read the interview with Mr. Graham Lock and you, at the end of the book, you were talking about some performance, that you've done so far and you were talking into saxophone.
Braxton - Yes.
Terzioglu - And there were jokes and the context has blown out and it is just a question mark for me. How do you talk into the instrument?, in the literal sense how could it happen ? Was it a story telling?
Braxton - More and more I am learning how to speak while I am playing, while circular breathing.
Terzioglu - Yes
Braxton - The actual speech, the libretto of the speech is a story. Another approach is to take on the character of Ashmenton and to speak. This approach is akin talking in tongues. Have you heard that expression?
Terzioglu - Yes I read but could not understand...
Braxton - Talking in tongues is akin to in every person there are many different people, many different aspects of every person and so you try to go that person.
Terzioglu - OK, I see.
Braxton - Just like being an actor, how an actor takes on someone else's personality. What I'm trying to do is to take on the personalities of the 12 major characters in my system...
Terzioglu - You talk in tongues of the ...
Braxton - of the characters. That's one approach. And the other approach is to have actual librettos and have the musicians read and talk, how they talk when they are playing. For me, this is going to be one of the areas to evolve in the future, but already, I'm doing this talking to the instrument.
Terzioglu - The reason that you play alto sax solo, you don't play..., well is it true that you play sopranino saxophone solos somehow?
Braxton - I've recordings of sopranino saxophone solos, but I prefer to use the alto saxophone as my piano.
Terzioglu - As your piano?
Braxton - Yes, this is really like for me, the piano, my main instrument and I like to challenge of playing one concert with only one instrument as opposed to one piece on the saxophone, one piece on the flute; I play maybe a flute solo just one composition but then do something else, but with the alto saxophone, I like to have the whole concert, because it represents a real challenge for me and it is also possible to show how language music works because there is no mirrors, no magic. It's just one instrument playing music and you can begin to see and hear the actual languages. For me as an instrumentalist and as an improviser, this is a good challenge. And this is why I prefer the solo concerts only on the alto saxophone.
Terzioglu - But it is true that language type musics can be performed on every instrument
Braxton - Yes, yes
Terzioglu - But you prefer alto saxophone
Braxton - Only because, I have a special relationship with the alto saxophone.
Terzioglu - The sound of contrabass clarinet is very tragic.
Braxton - Oh, yes
Terzioglu - We'd like to hear other instruments that you play solo.
Braxton - I have a contrabass saxophone and one day it should ever possible, I'd like to come and bring. I have a contrabass saxophone, a bass saxophone, a baritone saxophone...
Terzioglu - Whole family, but not tenor I think...
Braxton - No, no I have tenor, tenor and baritone, I have F-sax. For me part of the fun of being an instrumentalist is to play different instruments like you don't want to eat chicken everyday (laughter). But for the instruments, I would like to have diversity plus there is a different challenge for each instrument because flute instrument is very different than the saxophone and the clarinet and the contrabass clarinet very different from the sax, and so for me as an instrumentalist, it gave a possibility to learn about the "LOW WORLD" (... sounding a very low pitch...) and the "HIGH WORLD" (... sounding a very high pitch ...). Two different strategies; this is part for me of the fun and challenge of being an instrumentalist.
Terzioglu - I just watched a movie about Thelonious Monk. Some stupid person asking him questions "Oh Mr. Monk, what do you think of yourself, as an instrumentalist or as a composer" and Monk answers "Both" (laughter). About the things that you do presently, I mean Ghost Trance, there is any transition?
Braxton - Yes
Terzioglu - The first performance here in Istanbul, well no, not the first performance, you put it on a CD, right?
Braxton - We, about two months ago, did a quartet recording of four Ghost Trance structures. At this point, the material is in my office and it has not been sold to anyone. My hope is to get this material out next year. And...
Terzioglu - So, you recorded but not put on a CD, right?
Braxton - Yes, yes. It's just a, it needs to be edited and finished and mixed and ... Last night was the first actual performance of the Ghost Trance musics.
Terzioglu - What's the point of Ghost Trance in your work? Is that ... For example, I think the Trillium operas as the point that you want to target at or you have targeted at and the Ghost Trance a new music...
Braxton - Yes
Terzioglu - I must say that I'm just surprised because it's a new beginning and totally, maybe not the correct word, but different from Trillium operas
Braxton - Uh, hum
Erdem - Because transformation, some kind of transformation
Terzioglu - Transition, trance, you know meditation
Erdem - Yes, meditation
Braxton - Uhhhhh, we would, both of you. The Ghost Trance musics will give me a way to move into the trance music ways. I mean this is why I want to go and buy as many CD's as much as I can of the Turkish Musics and the African musics, the Indian musics as I seek to examine the House number 1 which is the long sound. In India you have the Drone "Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm"
Terzioglu - Yes.
Braxton - The Turkish music have the dervishes, this is a trance music. There are different kinds of African Trance musics. And I'm interested in the real, the very long time it just keep going. The concept of Ghost Trance musics involve stream of consciousness structures that are conceived based on the 12 constructs of my system. In terms of stream of consciousness in the House of 1, stream of consciousness in the House of 8, stream of consciousness in the different Houses of the system. And meanwhile, once established, it becomes part of mutable logic construct where the other compositions become on top of it, improvisation .....(?) to it. In the same way, that the pulse track structures...
Terzioglu - Pulse track structures?
Braxton - Pulse track structures are structures that have notated music on target time spaces, improvisation and the more notated music, and so on. Unlike bebop, where you play "How High the Moon", the bass player plays the chord changes and the drummer plays the time, but the pulse track structures, you have with material open improvisation, with material open improvisation, and, on top of that another notated piece and then someone detect a solo or play a notated solo, mutable logic. Three different energies happening at the same time. That was the beginning for me of the mutable logic musics, the use of pulse track structures. I would ask you, are you with me with the Willisau four CD set?
Terzioglu - No, unfortunately...
Braxton - Are you with me with 6 compositions of the Black Saint?
Terzioglu - No, I don't think so, but I have composition number 96, 100, orchestral pieces, but I'm not sure...
Braxton - After we finish talking, I will tell you which CD's have examples and should you find that material, you could hear the pulse track structures, mutable logic musics. I mention that, because the Ghost Trance musics take this process to another, to the next level where there is a stream of consciousness of notated material, that's always happening. And these compositions put on top of that, this improvisation put on that. And to listen to the music is not to hear just one thing, but there are many things happening, so you can listen to this part of it, this part of it or you can back up and you can hear all of it, but it is these energies working in the same space and so the concept of Ghost Trance is really a stream of consciousness music like the whirling dervishes that uses the 12 constructs from the language musics. It is like a solar system, a stable logic solar system with improvisation happening in it and then with extra compositions inside of it, like planets, so it's going around and all of the things so happen and it gives a fresh sense of holistic (?) identity. This is what I am interested in.
Erdem - Ghost implies spirit?
Braxton - That is the next aspect of it. I have been studying the music of the native American Indians. And more and more I find myself influenced by their spiritualism. And Ghost Trance for me is the beginning of seeking to retain the memory of, well personal individuals, national individuals and spiritual individuals and I feel that this approach will be part of an attempt to resurrect a fresh platform for Gods and Goddesses, for heroes, for community heroes, for the firemen and firewomen and the school teachers; Ghost Trance will be a way to celebrate the memory of given individuals and thoughts.
Terzioglu - Ted Reichman and Roland Dahinden mentioned about the native Indians. They should be the point of departure to the Ghost Trance.
Braxton - Uh, hu
Terzioglu - Maybe out of context, but I just want to ask about your lectures in Wesleyan University. Do you mention about the philosophical thought and the structural base? Do one have to be an instrumentalist to attend the courses?
Braxton - No...
Terzioglu - So, the target that you are going to at the end of the courses, is that to form an ensemble to perform music? Is that true?
Braxton - At Wesleyan University, I have history classes, I teach the history of African American music, I have taught the history of European music, I have a class of history of women in creative music. I teach a class on music of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Charlie Mingus. I used to teach orchestration but since coming to Wesleyan, I have not taught orchestration. I have an ensemble class and in the ensemble class, I use the materials of my system and I have a seminar class, compositional seminar tutorial class where it is open for anyone who would like to take it. If you are an architect or if you are only interested in cooking food or if you want to make statues. And in the composition seminar class, we talk about form, building blocks of form and I give analysis of my music. I talk to my students about the music of Arnold Schoenberg and Karlheinz Stockhausen, Iannis Xenakis and in a year or so, I will talk to them about my new Turkish whirling dervish musics, but I need a couple of years to study this music, but whatever I learn or discover, I take to my students and start to share with them not like I have all the answers, I'm not that kind of professor. I tell my students I have no answers, but I have good questions (laughter)
Erdem - I have some questions about title drawings...
Terzioglu - I mentioned about a lady that has radio shows in official radio station, when I talked to her at the first night you came here, she told me that she would like to know and get some clues about the title drawings. She told me that she would like to learn something about the title drawings. Since you know that they are complex structures and as far as I've seen the latest compositions have titles just like pictures, that have meanings...
Braxton - Yes...
Terzioglu - There is a town, there is a road passing by...
Braxton - Yes, yes
Terzioglu - There are signs...
Erdem - Flashes and lights...
Braxton - Yes. For the system of music that I have been trying to build every composition has 3 names. There is the opus number, involving the order of the compositions; there is the coded title, involving numbers and there is the graphic title, involving the image. There are at least 6 degrees of the image titles. In the beginning, in the early 60's, as I looked for a way to name my music, I discovered that I did not want to write a piece of music and call it "The Sun Came Over the Mountain" or "Braxton's Blues", so I would in the beginnings try to have what I called the formula titles, by formula titles, I try to express sound type, velocity, temperate date and to express my the ingredients of the composition in terms of the formula of mixtures of relationships. Involving the pitch, the geometric and geosonicmetric characteristics of the composition would be the formula titles. The next set of titles would be the alternative coding titles. And by alternative coding titles, I'm referring to the decision of, to look for extra-musical factors and include that in the paradigm for the composition. For instance in the middle 60's my hero Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky would playing chess and I try to factor chess moves as part of the compositional process. I used friends initials and immigrated that into, I use astrology and Number Theory in association and integrated that information into composition and so that class of musics, I call the coding titles. Number 3, the schematic titles. By schematic titles, I try to, in the graphic image, to express the composite form state of the music, in terms of what was happening from beginning to the end in the music.
Erdem - The relation, one of them is visible, the title graph drawings; one of them audible, the music is audible. You listen to the music and you see the title drawings...
Braxton - Uhm, yes, but not necessarily in literal two dimensional sense, uhm, schematic in the sense of the processes employ at the beginning, the processes employ at the middle, the processes employ at the end for the person listening to the music, it might not always be possible to see the actual processes unless the person would analyze the compositions and analyze all of the components of the composition, but more and more, I begin to move towards three dimensional processes that would not always be audible. For the schematic structures, well the major changes in the composition in terms of mass, density, time is expressed in the titles. From the schematic titles, I moved into the dimensional joins titles, and by dimensional joins, I began to try to factor intention, spheres of intentions and zones of intentions, moving into a kind of holographic construct. From the dimensional joins, I moved into the color titles and part of the color titles and dimensional joins titles are the same. Because in the same period, I began to factor color into the actual music moving more and more into factoring body and color and extra musical paradigms. From the dimensional joins, moving into the color titles, somewhere after that I began to move into images. Image strategies have nothing to do with the actual components of each little specific element, but moving into the mysteries of the music, to the spiritual connections of the music. And so formula titles, coding titles, schematic titles, the dimensional titles, the color titles moving to holographics into total imagery titles, and that is how the titles have progressed. More and more I am starting to try to use titles to express other dimensions of connection, but the initial idea was I didn't want simply to say, here is a piece of music "The Sun Came Over the Mountain" or "Braxton's Blues", rather I want it ...(laughter)
Erdem - One of the articles I read, character Zaccko appears on your title drawings , they claim that (showing the title drawings of the compositions with numbers, ..., ..., and ....)
Braxton - So we're moving to the image models now. These titles have nothing to do, but the strict processes in a literal way. More and more by the time we're moving into this zone of titles, I am seeking to have the visual image or visual configuration of the processes, that's a summation logic as opposed to dialectical relationship. And More and more, it moves to dreams into intuition, into I finished the piece "Sun was that" "Three o'clock" or "what day is the day" and "add up the numbers" or whatevers...
Erdem - In that kind of image, can we talk about the synthesis of the whole piece or composition?
Braxton - No, because, if we do that, it would be like trying to decode or discuss the mysteries like that. Uhm, by the time we moved up into, by the time composition 102 was complete, the process of titling the musics can't be communicated in a literal way anymore. It's moving something else and I'm just going along with it but more and more I am not interested in rationalism. More and more, I find that for me, future evolution will have to move into the mysteries and the mysterious. Because I'm (NOT???) interested in music just as the scientist. I'm interested to learn about myself, and I want to have a music that has helped from the cosmics which is right even in the early periods. I did not want to have serial processes or...
Terzioglu - Serial processes?
Braxton - Strict mathematical models, because I wanted to have a little room each time for something unknown to come into the music.
Terzioglu - You're interested in known and unknown...
Braxton - I'm interested in known and unknown and to talk about the titles after 96 -93 (?) some takes the title and puts it on the table and the titles have moved away from the ingredients of the music. In the beginning the titles were long sound, Major 4, short sound, Major 5, fortissimo here, later it became like "well, alright, this block and this block" and later "this block" and then, later "hmmmm", and later ......... and later ....... . More and more I'm looking for, even now in the act of composing and the reason that Ghost Trance music is important for me, I'm not interested just in the mind. I'm looking for something past the mind. And the only way, I have discovered this far, to disk (?) with this is to myself move towards the trance mentality so that something can happen that's more than me. Because I'm not interested in me I just wanted to do the work of the music and let the music do the work. And I try to shape it. But of course at the same time, I continue my processes, but it's different now. I'm looking for a music that expresses everything in one moment.
And so the processes of the titling more and more, it's just like composing the music. Sometimes I sit and think about an image and then I try to understand how every image has a logic factor. Let's say you see a horse walking. And then there is a whole logic happening. How to take an image imprint and see the fundamental logic constructs and use that to write the music. How to take an idea that has nothing to do with music, like a boy who is trying to find his mother. And take that and make a story and make a music and try to understand what will the little boy be thinking or something. What would the Sun Dance do in this situation, what will the character Ashmenton do. If use (?) a mountain and went down in a car and then turning to a bird. What about the early mythology with men with wings, men who are half men half horse. The centaur, how can we find the music for that? Because all are coming back anyway. The modern technology, the new DNA and genetic research may be in the third millennia, if I can sail like that? We all grew up with much mythology and talk about, you know the Ark, the flood, Angels and Devils?
Terzioglu - Noah's Ark, Yes.
Braxton - I want to with my work move into this behind the curtain of sound, because I'm not interested anymore and writing a piece of music that is intellectually so advanced and everyone would say "Oh! this is very smart", I'm not interested in. I'm interested in the unknown and the known, and what I into it. More and more, I think about forms and I don't even understand anymore. I seek to learn about the real mysteries. And I would like to have my music reflect the best part of my experiences and so the titlings all a part of that. More and more, I'm seeking a music where the friendly traveler is playing and suddenly on a screen, composition 105 flashes and the musicians will have like a road map. Let's say, we gonna play some music and I'll give you a map, you a map, me a map and the map says, start here and we end at the McDonald's in five hours. And in your map you have different ways to go, and in my map I have different ways. We can go anyway we wanna go. I won't tell you how to go. We'll all choose our own ways. But we must find the keys each point and this is why I'm trying to do with the titles and the process. The key here opens that door. You have another trap door goes there, I'm looking for a music that does not in the same way that the early masters, the early Turkish masters, the early masters from this region were among the first to begin to study of number, of image, of astrology and the position of heavens and the divine influences that's what I seek to learn about. And this is not just Modern Western Rational Theory, because for instance, even Modern Western Rational Theory has come to a point that we can't go past, we talk about chaos theory, we talk about the universe and black holes and the concept there are limits to the universe, Concepts of the Big Bang, how did the universe start and what is a black hole and what is matter? Uhm, I feel that the challenge of creative music is connected to this. And that the next leap of knowledge might not be one plus one plus one plus two plus this, but rather shuuuuuuiiiiop, tschiouuuuuv, a circle birth magic, I'm interested in magic, gentlemen.
Terzioglu - I see.
Erdem - We are so much affected that we have to stop for a while (laughter)
Terzioglu - I wish we had the courses in Wesleyan University, I mean when I talked to Mr. Roland and Mr. Ted, they always tell that "Yes, Mr Braxton, his music is wonderful, understanding him, you know," they are very affected from your courses, your point of views, your departure to your music...
Braxton - And I'm affected by them. I am and remain a professional student of music and that's all I want to be, a professional student, because as a student, I can continue to learn, I have much to learn, there is much to do. I'm very grateful to be born in this time period, because I'm born in this period so I must be grateful. (laughter)
Terzioglu - Thinking about the past, at 70's, I think you were in London and just in between the improvisers like Derek Bailey, Evan Parker and I have that recording. If you have another opportunity to meet them, just to perform music, improvise, will you join to such an environment? Because I read an that in England, you were listening to John Stevens, Tony Oxley, and two or three other performers, they were improvising and you were saying, "Look, this is too much music".
Braxton - Oh, yes, yes.
Terzioglu - If you find an opportunity to meet them to perform, will you like to play?
Braxton - Last week, I joined to Rova Saxophone Quartet with Evan Parker...
Terzioglu - Really...?
Braxton - and we had an improvisation. Yes, I am very interested in improvisation, but, not only improvisation; as far as improvisation is concerned, I would like one day to have an opportunity to improvise with some of the Turkish musicians or to have more experiences, with musicians from other countries. Because this will help me learn, this is why I like improvisation. Because there are no rules and so you can learn about each other and it is very interesting . However there are times when I don't want to hear improvised music, I wanna hear notated music. Sometimes I just want to hear just orchestral music. Sometimes I only want to hear solo piano music and so...
Terzioglu - You don't want to eat chicken everyday.
Braxton - Well, actually yes, but I don't want to play chicken everyday (laughter)
Terzioglu - So, what's the metaphor of chicken here?
Braxton - Look, since I've been in Istanbul, I've had many kinds of chicken, with all kinds of different sauces, very nice chicken.
Terzioglu - I have read an article that Mr Evan Parker wrote, not on this book, but somewhere else, I don't remember and he was mentioning when you met them in London, you playing, just surprised them, you were playing melodically and they were not playing melodically...
Braxton - Uh, hu.
Terzioglu - Did you feel something like that?
Braxton - Well, my first exposure to the British musicians who came around the same time period as myself was through Dave Holland. Dave played the records of John Stevens and later when we went to London, I had opportunity to meet these people and I found their music fascinating. And I try to let them know that I was interested in their music and that I respected their music. And that I was not coming to visit England as the angry American who thinks only Americans can play. I'm not interested in that. And after meeting with Evan Parker and Derek Bailey, I found a natural affinity with these guys and my musical experiences with them had been very beautiful for me. And so, yes their music was very different from mine in terms of the melodic nature or non-melodic character. But in fact, the melodic character of my music is only one aspect of my music. The records speak for itself now. We have many recordings and I have always felt very, I felt connected to Evan Parker and to some of the improvisers and able to play with them. And for me, it was always a positive experience, I've learned a great deal from that experience. But I did not want to only play improvised music, because myself, for me it would be a limitation, because my interest is not just in this area of music. I'm interested in totally music.
Terzioglu - Do you wish that sometimes there will be times that classical orchestras play your music, symphonies, did you ever wanted to compose a symphony, performed by a symphony orchestra?
Braxton - I have symphonies, I have 7, 8, 9, 10 orchestral pieces, I don't call them symphonies, but they are orchestral pieces. And as a young person, I did wanted the orchestras to play my music, and so now, that I'm 50 years old, I don't worry about this anymore. Because my experiences have shown me that if I wanna do something, I have to do it myself. And I try to with my music career to do my work in the shuttles. Just keep evolving African American for the most part is not interested in my music, the jazz musicians, for the most part, they kind of ... my music, but they don't like it, does not swing enough and if that's how they feel I accept it. But I keep doing my music and if a symphony orchestra decides one day to perform it, Great, if they decide never to perform it, Great, I will not complain, but I will fight to do my best. And to perform even the early musics myself, no more complaining. I will continue to just fight for my music.
Erdem - Is this for Western Art Orchestras? Is this prejudice, or a kind of racism, or what is this? - just thinking like that?
Braxton - Yes, for me, I will say, it's all of those things. But mostly, it's an ignorant idea of culture; even more than racism. Because there are many American composers and younger composers and Turkish composers and nobody wants to perform the music. I see this problem as cultural ignorance. And yet, I'm tired of complaining, I believe in fighting for my music and in the end whatever happens at least I can say, I did my best. I just wanna do my best, after that it's OK.
Terzioglu - What about your future plans? You plan going to Ghost Trance musics, next compositions, next performances?
Braxton - I would like to hope with the Ghost Trance musics will be a major focus for me in the next five years and yet at the same time, I will continue to operas, I want to move into electronic and computer music, and I am studying electronics. Because there's so much to do, I am especially excited by the interactive electronic music and computer music.
Terzioglu- Electronic music is a new gate for persons who are open to every aspect in the musics; is there another area?
Braxton - No, this is the area I want to move into. One of the areas, and to keep growing.
Terzioglu - Yes.
Erdem - And your impressions on Istanbul?
Braxton - Well, I can only say, this 3 days period has really been incredible for me and my family and for the group, for the whole sextet. And I felt before I left America that this trip will be important for me. And I was right. I am very glad to meet you guys. I mean everyone has been very beautiful to us and to have the opportunity to walk around the city and to feel the vibrations Istanbul and to go to the mosques where Christian and Islam came together. I will carry this trip, this experience with me for the rest of my life. I am very grateful to be here
Erdem - Especially the spiritual environment, mysticism, can you tell, how do you feel it?
Braxton - I feel mystery here in Istanbul, and I like it. I like the way city looks, it does not look like a hospital. It looks like a real city.
Terzioglu - Is it like a mystery or mixtery?
Braxton - I feel like a mystery and mixture.
Terzioglu - Well, Mr Braxton, thank you very much.
Braxton - Thank you both, thank all three of you. Thank you for wanting to do this.
Terzioglu - It is very important for us, to think about these subjects in your music.
Braxton - Well, this has been a wonderful opportunity for us, for me and my whole family and for the group and we will be talking about this for the next 10 years, me and the guys. And we and my family will talk about this for the rest of our lives.
Erdem - We are expecting you again in Istanbul.
Braxton - If it should be possible, of course I will.
Terzioglu - Any format.
Braxton - Any format, a Trillium opera, a solo-sax, a project with the Turkish musicians, or play with a Turkish group.
Terzioglu - Maybe you know, the instrument "ney", remember the CD that you bought today, Mr Erguner, I think he lives in Paris and they are two brothers they play ney.
Braxton - What about young guys growing up?
Terzioglu - Mr. Butch Morris, we had his orchestra with 3 Turkish musicians, one playing ney, one playing kanun, one playing, was it ud or tambur? It was a really great performance. I wish you had an opportunity like that.
Braxton - An opportunity ever comes out, I will take it. But meanwhile, I want to buy 10 - 20 CD's.
Terzioglu - OK, let's go.
© Volkan Terzioglu [posted here with his permission]