Sunday, April 8, 2018

Anthony Braxton - 1978 - For Four Orchestras

Anthony Braxton 
For Four Orchestras

01. For Four Orchestras - Composition {82} 20:10
02. For Four Orchestras - Composition {82} 18:52
03. For Four Orchestras - Composition {82} 16:14
04. For Four Orchestras - Composition {82} 19:29
05. For Four Orchestras - Composition {82} 20:25
06. For Four Orchestras - Composition {82} 19:20

Bass – Arthur Kell, Daniel Savage, David Seckinger, Jeffrey Hill, Jeffrey Soule, Leon Dorsey, Mark Shapire, Matthew McCauley, Michael Talbert, Mikkel Jordahl, Robert Adair, Suzanne Tarshis
Bass Clarinet – Carol Robinson, Cynthia Douglass, David Ballon, Mark Gallagher
Bassoon – Allen Smith, Ann Kosanovic, Deanna Kory, Mark Gross
Cello – Aaron Henderson, Carol Elliott, Carole Stipleman, Daniel Kazez, Dawn Wilder, Elizabeth Knowles, Elizabeth Warren, Kathy Kelly, Mattew Wexler, Michele McTeague, Sarah Binford, Steven Drake, Steven Harrison, Steven Wise, Suzanne Wijsman, Tom Rosenberg
Clarinet [Eb] – Bela Schwartz, David Bell, David Hostetler, James Colbert, John Guest, Marta Schworm, Marty Rossip, Michael Zakim
Flute [Alto] – Adam Kuenzel, Carol Goodwillow, Joel Karr, Wendy Tarnoff
Harp – Cynthia Mowery, Nancy Lendrim, Naomi Markus, Susan Kelly
Oboe – Bernard Gabis, Cameron McClusky, Carolyn Hove, Claudia Patton, Giselle Lautenbach, James Hois, Michael Harrison, Pamela Hill
Percussion – Andre Whatley, Andrew Collier, Charles Wood, David Wiles, Derek Davidson, Galen Work, Gregg Linde, John Gardner, John Kennedy, Philip Seeman, Stephen Pascher, Victor Thomas
Piccolo Flute – Betsy Adler, Celeste Johnson, Leonard Garrison, Virginia Elliott
Trombone – Ann Mondragon, Bradley Cornell, Brian Campbell, David Fogg, David Stocklosa, Eileen Jones, Erik Johnson, Kadie Nichols, Mark Adams, Mark Kaiser, Richard Ruotolo, Robert Asmussen
Trumpet – Alan Campbell, Chris Kerrebrock, Dave Rinaldi, David Driesen, James Kirchenbauer, John Bourque, Thomas Gotwals, William Camp
Tuba – Barry Jenson, Brian Bailey, John Lomonaco, Steven Box
Viola – Alex GuroffIgor Polisitsky, Amy Leventha, Beth Thorne, David Rogers, Dee Ortel, Helen McDermott, James Thomas, Jeffery Durachta, Kathleen Elliott, Nanci Severence, Naomi Barlow, Norin Saxe, Rachel Yurman, Sarah Bloom, Theodore Chemey
Violin [First] – Audrey Hale, Barry Sargent, David Wilson, Diane Cooper, Edward Shlasko, Francine Swartzentruber, Judith Bixler, Karin von Gierke, Lilyn Graves, Lorraine Adel, Mary Bolling, Monique Reid, Pamela Stuckey, Peter Jaffe, Robert Scarrow, Shelley Fowle, Stanislav Branovicki, Steven Schuch, Susan Demetris, Zabeth Oechlin
Violin [Second] – Alison Feuerwerker, Amorie Robinson, Andra Marx, Elizabeth Welch, Ellen Ziontz, Jane Moon, Jennifer Doctor, Jennifer Steiner, Johnathan Dunn, Julie Badger, Kathy Blackwell, Lauri Gutman, Lori Fay, Lynda Mapes, Marcus Woo, Margaret Morgan, Marriane Smith, Sally Becker, Shannon Simonson, Susan Brenneis

Four 39-piece orchestras from the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music.
{Comp. 82} (dedicated to the historian-writer-educator Eileen Southern)

Recorded at Hall Auditorium, Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio, on May 18 and 19, 1978

From Braxton's notes in the booklet: "Composition {82} is the first completed work in a series of ten compositions that will involve the use of multiple-orchestralism and the dynamics of spacial activity. This work is scored for 160 musicians and has been designed to utilize both individual and collective sound-direction (in live performance). Each orchestra is positioned near the corners of the performing space, and the audience is seated in both the center and sides of the space (around and in between each orchestra). The resulting activity has been constructed to fully utilize every area of the room--which is to say, each section of the performing space will give the listener a very different aspect of the music. The science related to how this multiple use of space is utilized, will also open another chapter in multi-orchestra activity, and hopefully this work will be viewed as a positive contribution to transitional multi-orchestralism--as we move to the next cycle.The nature of how {Comp. 82} extends the dynamic possibilities of multi-orchestra activity has to do with its use of spaciality--involving both the nature of how information is transferred from orchestra to orchestra (where the listener of this record can hear the actual movement of activity change speakers) with the addition of 'trajectoral-activity' (where, in a live performance, the listener can experience the route of a given transfer). More so, this composition has also been constructed to include the actual change of performance direction as well. In other words 'information' in {Comp. 82} would also involve how the rotation of a given ensemble (as that ensemble is playing) changes the actual direction of the group making the music. This has been accomplished by having all of the performers (with the exception of the percussionist and the harpist) in rotating chairs--where even the direction of the music is calculated. Thus, the nature of spaciality in this composition would encompass an additional dynamic inclusion, for the spacial implications of environment would thus take on added dimensions. Because, in fact, to experience the realness of this composition is to experience a living and breathing universe. ***The actual composing of {Comp. 82} took place in July of 1977, lasting until the middle of May, 1978 (with sequence corrections up until August). The piece is scored for 160 musicians and each orchestra is made up with the same individual components. The make-up of each orchestra is as follows: two flues (one doubling on piccolo), oboe, English horn, two clarinets (one doubling on soprano clarinet), bass clarinet, bassoon, two trumpets, two trombones, bass trombone, tuba, harp, five first violins, five second violins, five violas, four cellos, three basses, and three percussion. The original floor plan of the composition was not able to be used for this recording as the space requirement it necessitated exceeded what was possible for us, so an alternate seating arrangement was utilized. The actual recording of {Comp. 82} took place in May, '78, on the campus of Oberlin College and involved four intensive sessions in two days. For this reason, the composition was recorded in sequence-patches, rather than in sectional areas. The total material would also exceed two hours and a half and as such, I have taken out about thirty minutes of the music in order to preserve the sound quality of this record. There have also been other adjustments as well, for the problem of time and economics in a project like this has to be taken into account--but what is documented here is an excellent version of the 'essence' of the piece. The placement of activity in this project has been designed to totally utilize the spacial dynamics of the quadraphonic technology--each orchestra will be heard coming from a separate speaker, and the mixture of events in a given section should give the sense of sound movement through space--and this will also be apparent (though to a somewhat lesser extent) to stereo record players as well."

Braxton's contract with Arista during the '70s allowed him a unique opportunity to perform and record a number of projects that would normally have been, considering his financial state of affairs otherwise, impossible to even think about. The most monumental of these was the present set, a single composition spanning three LPs and performed by four student orchestras from Oberlin College. Unfortunately, the results don't live up to expectations. "Composition 82" is written in an extremely dry academic style with little differentiation of its course. It is quite conceivable that a performance by a more polished orchestra or, better yet, one made up of creative improvisers would be a substantial improvement. And one must keep in mind that the piece is designed to place the audience in a central position, surrounded by the orchestras, and thus able to hear musical ideas and fragments tossed back and forth from one group to another. Still, the musical material itself sounds routinely dreary and uninspired, as if Braxton was declaring that he too could write music as sterile and vapid as his European contemporaries. One might more charitably, however, write this effort off as an interesting experiment that failed; ideas appear herein that would bear far more beautiful fruit in later works, including the Ivesian notion of having individual members of the ensemble playing passages from different compositions simultaneously. There is one short section about 15 minutes into the piece where, unlike any other portion, the orchestras play and maintain an utterly gorgeous and complex chord for a minute or two. Buried within that deep structure seems to be a wealth of rich material that one would have hoped to be explored further. Alas, it is abandoned and left behind as an enticing prospect of what might have been. It's also amusing to note in passing the pieces Braxton was planning and the projected timetable for them; one, scheduled for 1988, was to be played by ensemble on three planets! Another, intended for 2000, was to span galaxies. Never let it be said that Braxton was short on ambition.

Getting 22 musicians into a studio to play creative big-band music is no easy feat, especially with as little rehearsal time as the ensemble apparently had. But improvisation was neither possible nor the point of Four Orchestras, recorded in Oberlin, Ohio with a grand total of 156 musicians. It is presented in two sections here chiefly because of its length (and probably because of what fit on the tape reels)—each part is just a hair under an hour. The original set spanned six LP sides and it was not the best-pressed or best-sounding of the Braxton Aristas. The music doesn't jump out of one's speakers here the way it does on other discs, but it doesn't need to—virtuosity, swing and improvisational/textural interplay are not present in the same way they would be in Braxton's jazz music. The work moves in cycles based around single chords, and though certainly a lot busier than Morton Feldman's later orchestral works, there is an affinity for instrumental flurries presenting themselves in relation to a steady and central pulse. 

Furthermore, though the number of musicians participating, one never gets the sense of an overbearing sonic weight. Rather, each orchestra operates as a separate but interactive living organism, conducted and arranged in specific relation to the others. Much like Rhys Chatham's 400-guitar army achieves a light coloristic synthesis on A Crimson Grail (Table of the Elements, 2006), Braxton's Four Orchestras expand a color field without pushing those colors too far out of the canvas' edges.