|Born||June 4, 1945|
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Genres||experimental music, contemporary classical music, avant-garde jazz, free jazz|
|Occupation(s)||Composer, musician, educator|
|Instruments||Saxophones, clarinets, flute, piano|
|Labels||Delmark, Arista, Hathut, Black Saint, Music & Arts, Antilles, Leo, CIMP|
|Associated acts||AACM, Creative Construction Company, Circle, Dave Holland, George Lewis, Kenny Wheeler, Marilyn Crispell, Mark Dresser, Gerry Hemingway|
Anthony Braxton (born June 4, 1945) is an African-American experimental composer, improviser, saxophonist, and multi-instrumentalist. Braxton grew up on Chicago’s South Side and was a key early member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. He won acclaim for his 1969 recording For Alto, the first full-length album of solo saxophone music.
A prolific composer, Braxton has released hundreds of recordings and compositions. During six years signed to Arista Records, the diversity of his output encompassed work with many members of the AACM, including duets with co-founder and first president Muhal Richard Abrams; collaborations with electronic musician Richard Teitelbaum; a saxophone quartet with Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake, and Hamiet Bluiett; compositions for four orchestras; and the ensemble arrangements of Creative Orchestra Music 1976, which was named the 1977 DownBeat Critics' Poll Album of the Year. Many of his projects are ongoing, such as Echo Echo Mirror House Music, in which musicians "play" iPods containing the bulk of Braxton's oeuvre, and the Ghost Trance Music series, inspired by his studies of the Native American Ghost Dance. He has released the first six operas in a series he calls the Trillium Opera Complex.
Braxton identifies as a "trans-idiomatic" composer and has repeatedly opposed the idea of a rigid dichotomy between improvisation and composition. He has written extensively about the "language music" system that forms the basis for his work and developed a philosophy of "world creativity" in his Tri-Axium Writings.
Braxton taught at Mills College from 1985 to 1990 and was Professor of Music at Wesleyan University from 1990 until his retirement at the end of 2013. He is the artistic director of the Tri-Centric Foundation, a nonprofit he founded in 1994 to support the preservation and production of works by Braxton and other artists "in pursuit of 'trans-idiomatic' creativity".
Braxton was born in Chicago, Illinois to Julia Samuels Braxton, from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Clarence Dunbar Braxton, Sr., from Greenville, Mississippi; Braxton's father worked for the Burlington and Quincy Railroad. His parents divorced when he was young, and his mother remarried Lawrence Fouche, a worker at the Ford Motor Company. Braxton grew up living with his mother, stepfather, and three brothers, but still saw his father regularly. He grew up in a poorer district on the South Side, where he attended Betsy Ross Grammar School and had a paper route delivering The Chicago Defender. He sang in a church choir and had an early love of rock music, with Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers and Bill Haley & His Comets among his favorites, but as a child was more excited by rocketships, television, and technology.
In his early teens, Braxton took his at-home explorations of technology and electronics to Chicago Vocational High School, where drafting courses and time in shop studying wiring schematics set the course for his future compositional diagrams.
Early in his career, Braxton led a trio with violinist Leroy Jenkins and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and was involved with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians founded in Chicago.
In 1969, Braxton recorded the double LP For Alto. There had previously been occasional unaccompanied saxophone recordings (notably Coleman Hawkins' "Picasso"), but For Alto was the first full-length album for unaccompanied saxophone. The album's tracks were dedicated to Cecil Taylor and John Cage, among others. The album influenced other artists like Steve Lacy, Joe McPhee, and Evan Parker, who went on to record their own solo albums.
In 1970, Braxton joined pianist Chick Corea's trio with Dave Holland (double bass) and Barry Altschul (drums) to form the short-lived avant garde quartet Circle. After Corea left to form the fusion band Return to Forever, Holland and Altschul remained with Braxton for much of the 1970s as part of a quartet, playing with Kenny Wheeler, George Lewis, and Ray Anderson. The core trio plus saxophonist Sam Rivers recorded Holland's Conference of the Birds.
In 1975, Muse released his album Muhal with Creative Construction Company, a group consisting of Richard Davis (bass), Steve McCall (drums), Muhal Richard Abrams (piano, cello), Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet), and Leroy Jenkins (violin).
Creative Orchestra Music 1976 was inspired by jazz and marching band traditions. Braxton's regular group in the 1980s and early 1990s was a quartet with Marilyn Crispell (piano), Mark Dresser (double bass) and Gerry Hemingway (drums).
In 1981, he performed at the Woodstock Jazz Festival to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Creative Music Studio. In 1994, he was granted a MacArthur Fellowship. From 1995 to 2006, he concentrated what he called Ghost Trance Music, which introduced a pulse to his music and allowed the simultaneous performance of any piece by the performers. Many of the earliest Ghost Trance recordings were released on his Braxton House label.
During the 1990s and early 2000s, Braxton created a large body of jazz standard recordings, often featuring him as a pianist rather than saxophonist. He released multidisc sets, including two quadruple-CD sets for Leo that were recorded on tour in 2003. He worked with several groups, one where bassist Mario Pavone was credited as a co-leader with Thomas Chapin on saxophone and Dave Douglas on trumpet.
His Falling River Musics compositions were documented on 2+2 Compositions (482 Music, 2005). In 2005, he was a guest performer with the noise group Wolf Eyes at the FIMAV Festival. Black Vomit, a recording of the concert, was described by critic François Couture as sympathetic and effective collaboration: "something really clicked between these artists, and it was all in good fun."
Language Music was Braxton's original composition system, first used as an approach to solo improvisation. By limiting the music to a single parameter (for example, trills), Braxton was able to explore beyond the surface particulars of a given parameter. These language "types", which serve as the vocabulary of his Language Music, are often signaled by hand cues.
Braxton has emphasized that he works with "notation as practiced in black improvised creativity", where it functions "as both a recall-factor as well as a generating factor". Accordingly, the language types function as both parameters and prompts in ensemble settings, where they may be used to structure improvisation or signal other performers.
Braxton has said that "language music is the basis of my work" and that it also serves as the basis for other compositional systems. These other systems or series of compositions include the Diamond Curtain Wall works, in which Braxton implements the aid of the computer audio programming language SuperCollider, and Echo Echo Mirror House Music, performances of which feature musicians "playing" iPods containing the majority of Braxton's discography.
Ghost Trance Music
The Ghost Trance Music compositional series comprises approximately 150 pieces written from 1995–2006. Inspired by 19th century Native American Ghost Dances, the GTM works are written to provide a "gateway to ritual space" with elements "designed to function as pathways between Braxton's various musical systems".
The central thread in a GTM composition is a ceaseless "primary melody", which Braxton describes as "a melody that never ends". This line of music, which may extend for 80 pages or more, is written to be played in unison by any performer who wishes to participate in the "ritual circle dance".
Musicians are also able to move in and out of the primary melody, with notes marked by a shape––a circle, triangle, or square––signaling opportunities to move to a different composition, or mode of composing, in the system. A circle indicates that a performer can engage in an open or a "language music" improvisation; if the latter, performers may also give visual cues prompting others to follow the logics of a specific Braxtonian "language type". Triangles and squares are both invitations to play other notated compositions (or "stable identities"). Triangles represent specific "secondary material" included with each GTM score, whereas squares signify pre-selected "outside" materials; these tertiary works, chosen prior to a given performance, may include any compositions in Braxton's oeuvre (including other Ghost Trance Music works).
Braxton's notational devices also ensure variation within the primary melody itself, often by the orders they refuse to give. An example is the diamond-shaped "open clef" beginning each staff: whereas a traditional clef assigns a note to one of the lines, performers can choose any clef or transposition in a GTM piece. Micro-level interventions include "open accidentals" that can be played either sharp or flat.
The Ghost Trance Music works went through four phases over the eleven years of their composition, with each phase considered a different "species" of GTM. Changes across species include increasing range and variation of elements such as rhythm, dynamics, and articulation. The escalation in complexity and intensity culminates in Fourth Species GTM, also called Accelerator Class Ghost Trance Music; these works have been described by a performer as "a labyrinth of hyper-notated activities", featuring irregular polyrhythms, dynamic extremes, color-coding to denote additional variables––and no geometric invitations to depart.
Braxton often titles his compositions with diagrams or numbers and letters.
Collage Forms and Quartet Music
Braxton's various quartets in the late 70's, 80's and early 90's were laboratories for his experiments in collage forms, or what he refers to as a constructor set approach to composition. He began to give the musicians in the quartets different compositions to perform simultaneously. This collage strategy has become an integral feature of Braxton's approach to composition and band-leading.
One important part of these collage structures was the pulse-track structures. These pulse tracks were graphic notation given to the rhythm section that allowed them to break free from traditional rhythm section approaches but still play a supportive role behind the other instruments.
Braxton has released the first six operas in a series he calls the Trillium Opera Complex.
Braxton's awards include a 1981 Guggenheim Fellowship, a 1994 MacArthur Fellowship, a 2013 Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, a 2014 NEA Jazz Master Award, and a 2020 United States Artists Fellowship.
In 2009, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Liège in Belgium; fellow honorees included Archie Shepp, Frederic Rzewski, Robert Wyatt, and Arvo Pärt. In 2016, he was awarded an honorary doctorate in music from the New England Conservatory in the United States.
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