Taking The Plunge: The Tri-Axium Writings of Anthony Braxton

19 April 2023

I've written elsewhere about the first time I heard Edgar Varese's music. It's a formative experience for me just because it was the first time I had ever been confronted by music so inaccessible. Inaccessible is a funny term to use these days with all the connotations of access and inclusion and exclusion on this kind of thing, but when I say accessible, I mean in reach of my intellect, of my understanding.

Varese Cover When I first bought a used copy of Edgar Varese with Robert craft conducting, and listened to Ionization, I liked the sounds as much as Zappa did, but I couldn't feel the sound in any kind of musical context that I conciously understood, or had vocabulary to describe. They were free floating entities, and my inner eye visualized things, which was perhaps what Varese intended: the intersection of plains and shapes of sound.

My high school orchestra teacher Miss Dezell showed me the score and instructed me to listen to the recording, tapping the beat I saw written with my finger on a table. Worlds opened up and I was able to understand the rhythms, perceive the pockets filled by responding rhythms and so on. I perceived a constellation of relationships. I had a way forward into this music. It was with this intention that I started exploring Anthony Braxton's music when I was at UW in the 90s.

I lacked what I'll call the discipline to get opened up to Braxton's Tri-Axium writings, but it's not the right word: too often there is a stoic, sober, worker-bee dilligence in the term discipline. What I later discovered I lacked was the ability to listen patiently. Though I was surrounded by people pointing out that listening was my strong suit, I had so much room to grow. I'll relate what I'm trying to say to jobs.

It's like this: when you start a new job, you can't learn everything the first day. You sure can't find out everything you need to know in an employee handbook. You need to acclimate, to soak, to steep in your environment. My 25-year-old self saw that as unproductive, that I wasn't smart if I didn't 'get it' immediately. So: I gave up and dropped Braxton's music and writing.

Over the last few years I've gotten reacquainted with his Arista recordings, and read a bit online by Nate Wooley, watched a few youtube videos, and soon found Graham Lock's Forces In Motion. Reading the book feels like I'm spending 3 weeks with Braxton and his band in dialogue. It's a great book and was the right way to entice me to 'steep in it' for a time.

So now I've taken the plunge - I ordered a fresh set of Tri-Axium writings and Composition Notes from Frog Peak Music, and I'm going to journal here as I go through. Like reading Joyce for the first time or listening to Varese or Xenakis for the first time, I'm going to read through what I don't necessarily comprehenend at first but - and this is the thesis here - I'm going to soak in the text by continuing through to what I can grasp. I'm confident that I'll be in good shape to understand his diagrams and some of his terms I'm getting hung up on, and that I'll be rewarded with new connections across music and cultural things - across time and space.