Lock: Can we begin by talking about your philosophical overview of music? You have three primary categories: restructuralism, stylism and traditionalism?
Braxton: Three is the primary number of my generating system. Tri-partial perception dynamics permeate how I've tried to deal with my music, whether we're talking of restructuralism, stylism, traditionalism; or mental, physical, spiritual divisions; or past, present, future.
L: Could you explain the characteristics of each category?
B: By restructuralism, I'm referring to ... at a certain point in any information continuum, for evolution to occur, the structural properties or the whole mentality surrounding that information undergoes a change. Restructuralism is my word for that phenomenon. In fact, it's taking place all the time, natural change, change cycles -- and the significance of a given form derives from the position it has in its cycle and from the force that it activates. For instance, after Charlie Parker played his music, the language dynamic of that music would create a whole reality that could help human beings. That's what we see when we talk of the post-bebop continuum; they're the people who have been able to make a reality out of Charlie Parker's solutions.
This is true for many different levels. If we talk about Einstein and his theories, or any restructuralist theories, we can see how humanity has absorbed that information. Sometimes given information will be used with respect to its negative partials as in, say, the dropping of the atomic bomb -- that was not what Mr. Einstein envisioned for his theories -- or, in the case of the post-Ayler continuum, many musicians would use the concept of free jazz as an excuse for not practising, not trying to evolve. There's a big distinction between a given restructuralist cycle, or the information that manifests itself in that cycle, and how human beings decide to use it.
L: And stylism?
B: Well, once something has been set into motion by the restructuralists, people usually take that information and use it for whatever. Those are the stylists. There are master stylists too, but the masters are the ones who did not simply take without giving, who didn't just play Charlie Parker's language and do nothing to it.
It's in the stylist juncture where a given initiation usually gets to the public, the zone where television and the media will allow a given information line to get through. Stylists are usually able to become more successful than restructuralists because their music is not perceived as threatening the cultural order. This is why Phil Woods, say, wins so many polls. His playing doesn't really challenge any law, it just reaffirms what has been current, in the air, in the last thirty years; that being the dynamic implications of Charlie Parker's music. Wheras the greater public have not really had the possibility to examine the music of John Cage, Albert Ayler, the Art Ensemble of Chicago -- those musics don't seem to filter through. But, in fact, before Charlie Parker demonstrated his music, nobody played like him; so if the value systems that surround Phil Woods are allowed to dominate, there will be no forward motion, and no future Phil Woods because he would have no one to take a music from.
L: You say restructuralists threaten the cultural order -- does your music do that? Is it a dangerous music?
B: (laughs) You could say that! My music, my life's work, will ultimately challenge the very foundations of Western value systems, that's what's dangerous about it.
But the significance of the stylist has its merits too. People can relate to it. If it wasn't for Paul Desmond and Ahmad Jamal, I could never have heard Charlie Parker. So there are degrees of evolution and the individual has to deal with them all.
L: Is there a scientific example of stylism, like Einstein and restructuralism?
B: Well, technocrats are like stylists. Many of the problems we're dealing with in this time period, in terms of Western science, have to do with people utilizing information lines without respect to their composite implications. What we're doing to the planet, to the environment, is incredible. Gerry Hemingway may have been wrong about those pine trees, but he's right to see acid rain as a serious phenomenon. We're destroying the planet and leaving a mess for our children; although I don't mean to blame this solely on the technocrats.
L: OK. How about traditionalism?
B: The traditionalist vibration dynamic involves forward motion with respect to having better understanding of the fundamentals and of the route a given lineage has travelled. Evolution in this context would mean a better understanding of what has gone before, and the use of that information to help people comprehend their time and their place. Without an awareness of the past, you can't avoid making the mistakes that previous cycles made.
L: What are the musical examples of traditionalism?
B: Marion Anderson, her work as a virtuoso singer, she's a traditionalist. In fact, the world of opera, with its current emphasis on the early European masters, is a traditionalist bastion right now. It's not healthy because they don't allow enough performances of new works. But to discover that music or the music played by the original Dixieland jazz bands -- not the commercial groups, but the old--timers -- is to have another dynamic in terms of understanding what music is.
It's partly because of my respect for what I call the tri-vibrational dynamics that I try to function in bebop and demonstrate some musics from the traditional continuum. I think that's important. It's just that we have to teach people to deal with the future too.
L: The implication being that traditionalism on its own is not a good thing?
B: Oh, neither is restructuralism on its own. I think the concept of a healthy culture rests in balancing the tri-vibrational tendencies of the culture. If restructuralism were the only aspect of the music that was respected, there could never be cultural solidification because restructuralism, by definition, implies change and change cannot be the basis for establishing cultural order because you have to have some context to change from, or evolve in. Stylism on its own would mean no forward motion, you'd just be trying to re-create what's already been created.
L: The music seems to be in that phase now.
B: Yes, I'd say we were in a stylistic period: I'm thinking of, say, Wynton Marsalis, Chico Freeman ... The universities are programming young people for stylistic value systems. The problem is they're tying to separate the music from its meta-reality implications.
L: An undue emphasis on traditionalism would mean trying to use old solutions on new problems?
B: Yes. The traditional vibration dynamic gives us a wonderful sense of the past, but we can't move backwards as we've been trying to do in America, going back to 'the good old days' as a basis for dealing with the future.
L: Like Margaret Thatcher's talk of 'Victorian values?' She forgets the backstreet abortions, the child prostitution, half the population hungry, badly housed, no medical care ...
B: Right, that's not going to work. We have to find solutions that are relevant to what's been developed. Tri-vibrational dynamics is my term to express the balance of these phenomena, the forces as manifested in this context. And I respect what that balance really means, although my own tendencies are restructuralist.
Additional Interview 1995
TP: The concerts this weekend are sponsored by the Tri-Centric Foundation, which I'll ask you to discuss. Was this organization in the works before you received the MacArthur Fellowship, or did the grant make it possible to establish it?
AB: The Tri-Centric Foundation is the name of the platform I hope to build in the next time cycle. In fact, this platform had already come into being, in terms of primary structures, before the MacArthur.
By Tri-Centric Foundation, I am referring to a platform that will, one, give me an opportunity to further the processes of my musics, and the work of the Tri-Centric Ensemble, which has become a primary component in terms of my work and the hope I have for my work.
Two, the Tri-Centric Foundation will be the platform that I hope will give the possibility for artists who have related sensibilities, who are interested in the exploratory musics, or at least artists who have a relationship with their work that has the kind of value where it will be pursued whether or not the marketplace endorses it, whether or not the marketplace supports it (I'll come back to that later).
And three, the Tri-Centric Foundation will be, for me, a kind of platform for intellectual discussion and documentation for those individuals who are thinking about the exploratory possibilities of creative music and the role and the relationship of music to composite society and the ability of creativity, and imagination, and science, and history and mythology to provide the kind of positive balances where, as a nation, we can begin to move into the third millennia in a way that would be consistent with the wonderful properties that we have in our country. Even though everything is complex, on all three planes, I am very grateful to be an American and to have had the experience of coming up in this great country of ours. The Tri-Centric Foundation. . .well, it's like America, in that it seeks to celebrate the wonder of universality and how universal balances are reflected in every direction -- and when approached with the right balances, that it might be possible to set the constructs in place for the challenges of the next time cycle.
So I was very grateful to see the Tri-Centric Foundation come together before the MacArthur. We began last summer rehearsing. During that period I discovered that, even as a virtuoso complainer, in fact, I was really very fortunate, because some of our most talented and profound masters have decided to make time to help me with my project. And in that spirit of giving, the musicians, men and women from every sector of our country, or from many sectors of our country, would come together to give an old crutzer like me an opportunity to hear some of the extended piece and, in making that decision, to give me a kind of symbolic vibrational endorsement and kind of help, spiritual help to continue my work.
It would happen at a time that would really help me. As you know, musicians like myself, who have in the last 30 and 40 years, and in the last 3,000 years, tried to practice their craft and practice it based on their value systems, have historically met complexities. My understanding of this time period is that nothing has changed. Symbolically and vibrationally for me, this would really complete the ritual change of this time cycle.
The heart of my effort, from the beginning, has always been about the hope to change oneself, to change the community, and to find the kind of vibrational alignment that could reflect the kind of spiritual-unspiritual values of the individual, or Friendly Experiencer. And so, to answer your question, the Tri-Centric Foundation and its related ensembles would be part of my hope and strategy for evolving my work, for creating a context where I can learn from colleagues -- colleagues being children, men, women, scientists, ventriloquists, physicists, herbists, geologists.
My viewpoint of creativity is that everything is connected. It just depends on which axis the connections are made upon. When I think about the next thousand years, I find myself hoping that I will continue to have opportunities to meet and work and learn from the great people of America, and the great people of Earth, and the wonderful spirits and non-spirits which help to hold this experience.
TP: Multi-instrumentalism seems to touch on the very essence of your identity as an improviser.
AB: From the very beginning, I have only wanted to have the kind of involvement with my work based on whether or not the work itself could keep me interested. That is, I was never interested in a concept of postulation that would be transmitted separate from whether it served my own interest or whether it served my own attraction mechanisms. As such, from the very beginning, I found that the natural limitations of any idiomatic domain would at some point maybe not adhere to that which I was looking for.
All I am saying in that is that I was interested in rock 'n' roll, so-called -- that's how it was referred to in the '50s anyway; I don't know if the young people say rock 'n' roll any more. I would find myself interested in the Fifth Restructural Cycle musics, the musics we now refer to as bebop, and that the world of bebop would satisfy my essence on every level -- until it was time to go to another zone.
I am only saying that to say that part of the beauty of form and part of the wonder of an idiom is that it defines a context. More and more I would find by 1966 that we had come to a point, because of the exploratory and great work of restructural exploring musicians like Ornette Coleman, like Cecil Taylor, like Pauline Oliveros, like Albert Ayler, like Karlheinz Stockhausen, like John Cage, like Marian Williams, like the Florida State University Marching Band, like Frank Sinatra, like the Platters, where it might be necessary to redefine the context of terms that supports our relationship with a given methodology.
This for me had become the case, because not only would there be the forward vibrational motion and excitement of those musics, but also there would be the fact of the radio and the television, and that information was coming in from many different directions in a way that was different from the early period. That is, that the so-called Modern Era and the point of technology we had come to has produced a situation that found me in the '60s feeling we had come to a point where the concept of relationships had to be reexamined.
For myself, without knowing it, I would move to construct a model that would give me some insight into what later would become the genesis unit of my work. In the middle '60s, however, I tried to respond to the various challenges of that time period -- understanding, too, that I came through the period of the 1950s, the period where it was possible to experience, for instance, the work of the Modern Jazz Quartet, and the great work of the American master John Lewis, who no one talks about any more. That group would demonstrate a context of structure and creative balance that would give a fresh understanding of improvisation and composition and architectonic building.
In the same time there was the work of Dave Brubeck. We like to dump on M. Brubeck. But if it were possible to go back and reexamine his music, one would see a universe of creativity with many different kinds of approaches and structures, attempts to experiment with time. Mr. Brubeck would be an important role model, and his work would help me to clarify some understanding of forward motion.
This would also be the case with the American master Max Roach.
In other words, I am just saying, hmm, all of these things were in the air, and "How High The Moon," in itself, I found that this construct of experience and structure would not contain in itself all of the components that I would need to have the kind of "surprise" that I needed to keep me feeling healthy.
So by 1966, after the opportunity to experience and start the process of learning about the Sixth Restructural Cycle musics, including the early musics moving into the gateway of the modern era, especially the work of Arnold Schoenberg, especially the work of Scott Joplin, especially the work of Scriabin and the mystic European spiritual masters, but no disrespect to the great Indian masters. . . I discovered by 1966 that I could be a professional student of music. Which was lucky for me -- because hanging with Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman ensured me that I would always be a student! Because those guys are always working. Pauline Oliveros, she's always doing something
TP: The next selection we'll hear is Braxton's first composition, "Piano Piece #1."
AB: Piano Piece #1 I think was composed in 1966. This is the first of the Stable Logic Structures, the so-called compositions -- compositions, yes, even a composition! In my system, from the very beginning, I would seek to build a context of mutable, stable and synthesis logics. Mutable logics would be the improvised musics and the improvised strategies. Stable logics would be the notated music. In the same way that we talk of improvisation as blood or liquid fluid strategies, by Stable Logics, I would be referring to notated strategies, and strategies and targets which one could come back to. This, then, would be akin to the skeleton of my system.
TP: Although our listeners may have thought the alto saxophonist on "Epistrophy" was Anthony Braxton, it was Marty Ehrlich, while Braxton played piano. This new quartet made its first public appearances last spring.
AB: Yes. In fact, Marty Ehrlich, Joe Fonda and myself, including Mr. Arthur Fuller on percussion, played last summer at Yoshi's, in Oakland, California. My hope is that this year some of the music will come out. The Knitting Factory musics will come out on Leo Records, two 2-CD sets, and the Yoshi's project will come out on Music and Arts -- I hope. There is another project with tthe American master Mario Pavone, a project where I had the opportunity to work with Thomas Chapin and Dave Douglas on saxophone and trumpet, respectively, the great master Pheeroan Aklaff, and Mr. Pavone and myself. We try to come together every now and then, and do a project. We are neighbors in Connecticut, and he is an old friend of mine, a musician I have long admired.
TP: By which you mean? Trimetric: One term to elaborate for the audience.
AB: By the term "trimetric" in this context, I am saying that by 1980, I had arrived at a point in my system where every composition would have three-by- three components; three-by-three-by-three components. And by that I'm saying, for example, the bass part of "Composition 83" can be extracted and itself be played by the orchestra. Every composition is an orchestra piece. Every composition is a chamber piece. Every composition is a solo piece. But it's even more than that. Every composition can be connected to another state. That is, every composition at this point is composed with respect to its origin identity state, with respect to its correspondence identity state, and finally with respect to its synthesis identity state.
And what that means is, suddenly there would be the opportunity to put compositions together. . . Imagine a giant erector set where every component can be refashioned based on the dictates of the moment. By adopting this structural context, I would in fact find myself in a post-Baroque structural arena that would seek to emphasize trimetric, or three-dimensional components.
What am I saying? I am saying that. . .as we move into the next thousand years, it will be important to remember that the new technologies are already here. We have already, for all practical purposes, arrived at the future as envisioned, say, in science fiction imagery of what's going to constitute the future. . . I remember Dick Tracy having a television in his watch. And so now I go to Radio Shack -- there it is! We are moving to the post-future components.
The nature of the breakthroughs in technology, in computer science, for example, has brought us to a point where we have virtual reality systems. And I believe in the future, a given creative experience will evolve, every individual having a chance to interact with that experience -- a walk into the music. Turn on the television set, walk into the television set. Walk into the music and have the opportunity and have the opportunity to kick it about in the same way as the musicians.
And as we move into this state, I have tried to, with my model, create a tri- metric component that will better clarify three-dimensional constructs as it will relate to navigation through the sonic reins based on trimetric correspondence. Menu logics. Navigational components. This, I feel, will be a part of the next thousand years. And the quartet musics for me is the platform for the trimetric breakthroughs of my system. What that means is, where in the past "Composition 27" was only performed one time, and I had like 12 tons of music in the basement not being performed, suddenly, the trimetric breakthroughs of my system would give me the possibility to have all of that material integrated into the quartet context, where a given performance of the quartet would give possibilities where a "Composition 96 For Orchestra and Four Slide Projectors" could be suddenly performed by the quartet. Not only that, we could perform "Composition 96" and connect it to "Composition 108-A."
As a result, in this time period, the quartet has demonstrated the trimetric components of my system. And by that, I'm only saying stable logic events, stable logic events in the sense of, say. . . For instance, Marilyn Crispell might play "Composition 30," which is a notated structure from beginning to end, in the space. At the same time, Gerry Hemingway and Mark Dresser might play "Composition 108-B," which is a pulse track, and I might take an improvisation based on the language music materials. The net effect of that participation establishes individual events, local events, and summation events.
This is what I mean by "trimetric." And I mention this in the context of the quartet at this time period as a platform for multiple logic strategies. And so to answer your question: Yes, the quartet musics have become the platform for all of the strategies and materials of my system, in the sense that, in this time period, we can take any of the constructs and use it for our purposes.
Let me say this, though -- because this could be important. As Ronald Reagan would say, "There he goes again!" I'm talking about process and science. I can imagine some of my enemies saying, "Yeah, I told you he wasn't jazz!" [Pauses, breathes deeply]
Let me back up. I talk about the processes of the music because I am excited about music science. But in fact, at the heart of my effort is only to have an experience in music and to kick it about in the old way, to have some fun, to hopefully play something that can mean something to myself, and to have an involvement with the family of the music -- the family in this context being the quartet. As far as I am concerned, there's no difference in my work from that of someone like George Clinton, or Barbra Streisand. I love music, and my intention has always been, or at least my hope has always been, that people will like the music, and that it can be something positive. We can play music. It's just music. That's all I was interested in.
All I've tried to do is have an involvement that respects what I have learned about the tradition. But not simply an academic involvement or a scientific involvement. I have tried to approach my music from the very beginning based on the constructs given to me by Frankie Lymon and Bill Haley and the Comets. And of course, Little Richard, who I guess was complex for me in the beginning, but later I found myself thinking, "Little Richard is the Man, and there's nothing that be done about it. Bow to the great master, and learn from him." All I have wanted to do, since I couldn't sing like Marvin Gaye, who was my man. . . I found myself thinking, "Well, what can you do? You don't have the voice, so you might as well learn an instrument and kick it about."
That's what I have tried to do, and that would be how I would want my music to be perceived. Not as a scientific laboratory, because I am not interested in science before music. All I wanted to do was to create a context of musics where we could do our best, and at the same time stay aligned to the fundamental components of our discipline. It is not a laboratory. It's more like a Jurassic Park.
TP: I'd like to discuss other aspects of the distinctive terminology that you use in your discourse on music. One word you've repeated a number of times in the course of our conversation today is "restructuralist." What is a restructuralist? How does a restructuralist function within a tradition of music?
AB: By the term "restructuralist," I am only referring to those points of definition where the fundamental components of the given construct are realigned in a way to. . .to allow for fresh possibilities. And this is a normal component in progressionalism.
Charlie Parker was a restructuralist, the American master Max Roach was a restructuralist in that they. . . Mr. Roach would bring together a context of formalism that did not exist before he began his work. The same with Charlie Parker. His music would be the summation logic from the Fifth Restructural Cycle components, or Fourth Restructural Cycle components in Kansas City. And Charlie Parker's music would open up a new context. . .a fresh context of, one, line-forming logics; two, his music would bring with it a fresh rhythmic component; three, his music would reemphasize individual postulation in a way that was fresh and different from, say, the swing era.
John Cage would be an example of a restructuralist composer who would respond to the dictates and dynamics of Western art music and rearrange the components of the music in a way that would bring about the possibility for fresh experiences.
Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Coltrane are restructuralists in the sense that the reality of their involvement would bring forth fresh solutions in a way that would allow for fresh areas of exploration, fresh concepts of vocabulary, fresh concepts of interaction dynamics, and a fresh integration of material components.
By "restructuralist" and by the term "restructuralism," I am only referring to those points of progressionalism or of continuity that realigns fundamental components.
Cecil Taylor would be a restructuralist. The Great Man would give us another understanding of material integration. His record Unit Structures, for example, would give us an understanding of extended form and extended time spaces in a way that would give fresh areas of exploration for creative musicians or musicians who wanted to be creative. And I will always be grateful for his insistence on doing the work of the music based on the plane of the music, based on his own individual tendencies and visions.
And so, by the term "restructuralist" and by the term "restructuralism," I am only referring to natural points of change in a given construct, and that at those points of change there is a possibility for a new continuum of involvement.
For instance, in the past 15 and 20 years, when I think of Miles Davis' quintet with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock and Tony Williams and Ron Carter, their approach would provide a context for much of the stylistic variations taking place in this time period. And when I think of the work of Charlie Parker, suddenly I find myself thinking, "Wow, generations of musicians have been able to have an experience based on the gains which came from the work of Mr. Parker and Mr. Roach, Mr. Powell, and the work of the great Thelonious Monk." Because of their courage and vision and insistence on evolving their music in a way that was consistent with their own value systems and beliefs, we would have the time period of the '50s and '60s and '70s and '80s and '90s where generations of musicians would have the opportunity to participate in the devices given to us from those individuals.
We must always acknowledge the fact that the gift of realignment comes from the restructural masters and the restructural masters' tradition. And so that's what I mean by the term "restructuralist," that without the work of the great restructural masters, we would not have the kind of evolution that we enjoy as part of our normal heritage. In fact, it's normal only because there has always been a generation of men and women who have worked to give us more options, not less options, and their work has vibrationally planted the paths and possibilities that we enjoy as a nation, as a culture. I am very grateful to have learned, or at least I'm trying to learn, from the wonderful restructuralist tradition, the tradition that gives possibilities as opposed to taking away possibilities.
TP: Why do you use the term "post-Ayler music" to refer to the period you identify with? Why is Albert Ayler the signpost at which music changes? And how did he restructuralize the music to bring about this whole other field of possibilities for the last several generations of musicians?
AB: I say "post-Ayler" because it's convenient, in the same way that the term "post-Webern" is used. And yet, at the same time, I recognize it's complex. For instance, we talk about post-Webern or the work of Arnold Schoenberg, and somehow, in a way, it obscures the great work of composers like Scriabin, who I feel is profoundly important, or the work of Harry Partch, or Ruth Crawford Seeger. As far as I'm concerned, their work would help to bring about the dynamic implications of the transidiomatic musics.
Post-Ayler? Well, Albert Ayler's work would be a very clear way of talking of a move not only of the trans-idiomatic musics, but Albert Ayler's music would come to personify the emergence of sound mass logics as a context for elaboration. Albert Ayler's music would go back to the source-initiated components of the trans-African and composite American musics in that it gave us an opportunity to experience the fresh fundamentals of the music. It gave us an opportunity to look at the tenor saxophone in a fresh way, separate from dialectical components involving pitch, involving the state of bebop by 1962 or '63. Albert Ayler bypassed the functional components of extended bebop, and in its place opened up sound mass logics, in its place opened up the folk components of the music in terms of the use of marches, the beauty of collective improvisation and the family of the music. Albert Ayler's music would come to personify the reemergence of individual creativity and dynamics, and how the individual in the post-nuclear age could begin to move forward and redefine the components of the music.
Yet Mr. Ayler's work was not separate from what he learned from the great American master Sun Ra, or the work of Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman, or the work of Don Ellis. Nobody talks about Don Ellis! But Don Ellis was bad!!
So yes, "post-Ayler" is a convenient way of talking about the emergence of the trans-harmonic musics, the entry into sound mass evolution as a logical- unlogical response to the complexities that opened up after Beethoven.