Friday, June 25, 2010

A concert and a film

Last weekend, my husband and I went to New York for a quick vacation. On Friday night, we went to Le Poisson Rouge, which is a club in the Village that presents all kinds of music, from classical to avant garde whatever. The event was a 4+-hour tribute to the composer and saxophonist Anthony Braxton for his 65th birthday.

I had never heard of Braxton until I met my husband, who loves this kind of thing (he -- my husband, that is -- is really much more appreciative of music in and of itself than I am). His music sounds a lot like other free jazz I've listened to, but I have been totally mystified by his opaque presentation of it. His compositions all have titles that are numbers, or equations, or little drawings, or diagrams that look like flow charts or math puzzlers:

His liner notes do not clear things up, either:

Pulse track horizontal structural systems have increasingly become 'a way of life' for my quartet music - and this has been a gradual attraction -- starting with composition 23G [diagram here] (which emphasized sound point attacks or quarter note based rhythmic stresses -- in the sound space of the music -- as a basis for extended solo improvisation). The concept of pulse tracks in this context refers to the use of extended structural devices (moments) that are approached as fixed metric sound events in the same sense as in vertical harmony (i.e. be-bop) -- but directed instead at the 'forward space' of the music -- that being structural events which are positions into the space of the music -- to be repeated as a continuum that supports (and defines) the nature of the unfloding invention (music). The reality of this context seeks to establish a unified open and controlled sound space (environment) that hopefully allows for fresh experiences to happen (and there's nothing complex about that intention).*

Then you put the record on and scratch your head for a while (or at least, I do).

This event we attended has served to make me appreciate Braxton a lot more. First, his devoted protegés of all ages and career stages were there. The show included I think five sets (beginning with a solo bagpiper who marched slowly around the room three times) with a variety of instruments, and they played a mixture of Braxton pieces and their own music. At least one person from each group made a statement about how he had influenced/mentored/nurtured them as musicians. It was interesting listening to all of these different groups. The grand finale was a 14-piece group that included strings, winds, brass, reeds, and percussion. A lot of the people playing were young. The music actually sort of started to make sense to me.

Before this last set, Braxton got up and made a speech, and in his own professorial style was lamenting the increasing vulgarity and commercialization of music in the world. He commended all of his students for making the sacrifices necessary to work as musicians in this world and to carry on for art. It made me feel a little guilty, somehow.

Then, this week, we are taking in some of the films at Silverdocs. This is a fantastic documentary film festival that takes place practically in our backyard (or a five-minute drive away from it, anyway). This year, the first film we saw was "Bill Cunningham New York," about the venerable 82-year-old New York Times fashion photographer. He lives the life of an ascetic. From the 1940s until this year, his home was a small studio in Carnegie Hall with a bathroom in the hall and no kitchen, crammed with file cabinets filled with his negatives.** Though his interest is fashion, he wears the simplest functional clothing and repairs his plastic rain poncho with duct tape. He travels around New York on a basic bicycle, including to fancy parties, where he refuses to eat anything to avoid being influenced.

It's not a life most people could enjoy or even tolerate, but he seems to thrive on it. And it struck a certain chord with me. I have to confess that I used to fantasize about living that kind of life -- modestly but persistently pursuing an artistic vision, eschewing any material possessions that don't relate or enhance. But alas, though I have the frugality and even the vision, I don't have the true modesty or charm to make it work -- not the way Cunningham does, anyway. And I think I'd get lonely.

*From "Anthony Braxton: Four Compositions (Quartet) 1984" (1985, Black Saint label).

**The Carnegie management finally evicted him, along with a few other elderly residents, this year, providing them with what is really much nicer housing in the neighborhood for life. He's now at Central Park South in an apartment with a view of the park (though according to the film makers, he had them remove all the appliances and cabinets from the kitchen so he could store his file cabinets in there). Here's his narrated slide show about leaving Carnegie Studios (from the New York Times website:   Goodbye

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the slide show very much - thanks for posting it.