… it’s a fascinating, dizzying listen which should be experienced live or on record by anyone interested in 21st Century Gesamtkunstwerk totalism. — The Squid’s Ear, USA
With Echo Echo Mirror House vibrating with express-train-like tremolo power and Ensemble Montaigne making its points through precise tonal juxtaposition, Braxton’s musical powers are doubly confirmed. — The New York City Jazz Record, USA
Recorded at the 27th Festival international de musique actuelle de Victoriaville on May 21, 2011.
CD (VICTO 125)
- 1Composition No. 347 +, 62:37Echo Echo Mirror House (Taylor Ho Bynum, cornet, flugelhorn, trombone, iPod; Mary Halvorson, electric guitar, iPod; Jessica Pavone, viola, violin, iPod; Jay Rozen, tuba, iPod; Aaron Siegel, percussion, vibraphone, iPod; Carl Testa, double bass, bass clarinet, iPod; Anthony Braxton, alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, sopranino saxophone, iPod, conductor)
- Label: Victo
- VICTO 125 / 2013
- UCC 777405012524
- Total duration: 62:36
- 127 mm × 142 mm × 6 mm
- 60 g
On the web
In the press
A concert experience — especially a first one — with Anthony Braxton’s Echo Echo Mirror House can be beyond perplexing. Each of the players onstage has, along with their usual axe, an iPod from which they intermittently play past Braxton recordings. Visually it can seem like a whole lot of sitting around, while auditorially it is more information than can be processed. The resulting dissonance is both harmonic and cognitive while toying with expectations about what musicians are supposed to be doing while on stage. Scratching DJs is one thing, but musicians playing mp3s with no seeming rhyme or reason? It’s a perplexing kettle of fish.
A recording of an Echo Echo Mirror House performance is, if nothing else, easier to mentally process than the concert experience, primarily by virtue of not having the distraction of looking at musicians without being able to associate their gestures to the sounds being received. Such is the case with the concert captured on Echo Echo Mirror House of a performance at the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville festival in Quebec. The album arguably should be titled “Septet (Victoriaville) 2011” in keeping with Braxton’s usual titling practice, and that epitaph is emblazoned on the back cover — miscommunication or a mistake in cover design may be to blame, but in any event Echo Echo Mirror House has the benefit of a better — or at least more traditional — mix than was in the room that night. On record, the live instruments are a bit louder than the iPod tracks, giving a foreground / background dispersal which makes it easier to focus on individual players, as jazz is supposed to want us to do.
Whether or not the mix is actually better, of course, is open to argument. The composer Raphael Mostel tells a story of running into John Cage at an early Bang on a Can festival. They encountered some friends outside after the dinner break who urged them to sit in the back, where the sound was better. “Imagine,” Cage is said to have responded, “a sound being better.” And indeed, Echo Echo Mirror House is best received as a Cagean listening experience — not in the overwrought-by-post-Cagean-and-quasi-scholars “listen to the wind, listen to the silence” sense, but to whatever extent we might establish guidelines and precedence for listening. There have been few listening experiences that compare to Echo Echo Mirror House, but one clear forebear is Cage’s HPSCHD, a massive piece of controlled cacophony available on a couple of recordings and on occasion staged live (a recent and remarkable rendition was realized by Issue Project Room at Manhattan’s Eyebeam Art and Technology Center in May). With multiple harpsichords being played live alongside recordings of harpsichords, computer generated sounds and video projections, HPSCHD (which received its premier at the University of Illinois in 1969) is an overwhelmingly immersive experience best received by simple absorption with intellectual questioning undertaken after the fact, if at all.
What is important about HPSCHD, and about Echo Echo Mirror House (both the project and the CD), is that it is not chaos, and in fact neither Cage nor Braxton often, if ever, descends into chaos. Both pieces work in layered, multi-linear structures, even if the levels of structure don’t always correspond with one another. But what the brain might receive as chaos is just a simple processing problem: there’s too much to take in. Little eddies of logic spin across the soundfield, overlapping and occasionally being overrun by the sound of one of the fine group of musicians [Taylor Ho Bynum (brass), Mary Halvorson (guitar), Jessica Pavone (voice, violin), Jay Rozen (tuba), Aaron Siegel (percussion), Carl Testa (contrabass, bass clarinet) and the leader on alto, soprano and sopranino saxophones], all of whom are allowed solos of sorts.
There’s some fun to be had in listening for individual voices arising from the Braxtonic bog, and it’s good game for the hardcore to try to pick out which Braxton records are being played underneath. But certainly this isn’t a record for everyone. Hell, it’s hard to say for sure if it’s a record for anyone! But it’s a fascinating, dizzying listen which should be experienced live or on record by anyone interested in 21st Century Gesamtkunstwerk totalism.
Whenever the controversy about what or who is or isn’t jazz is breached there’s likely no more polarizing figure than Anthony Braxton. Braxton has been so prolific in his writing and playing however that ample arguments can be mustered for both points of view. These recent CDs should add more verbiage to the discussion. Although both are well executed and absorbing, Braxton’s protean skills are such that a case can be made either way. (…)
Echo Echo Mirror House on the other hand, recorded live in 2011 at the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville, is played by a septet of Braxton associates, with the composer participating. Perhaps because the hour-plus Composition No 347 allows the players to add snatches of other Braxton pieces plus incorporate still other sounds sourced from iPods, the result is as convincingly jazzy as any advanced improvised music. (…)
Encompassing vivid stylists like Taylor Ho Bynum, Mary Halvorson and Braxton himself, solo interjections are audible during Composition No 347, animating the already powerfully staccato creation. Upping the ante with found sounds emanating from the musicians’ iPods — include piano chamber music and near-operatic vocals — the effect is of several compositions being played simultaneously. So-called classical voicing and orchestration are prominently featured, but so are chugging band pulsations which reflect Basie a lot more than Beethoven. Plus, when it comes to the cornetist’s muted flutter tonguing, the guitarist’s tempo-transcending flanges and crunches and the saxophonist’s stuttering intensity, reference points are without doubt improvisations that derive from jazz — if they’re not jazz itself. Without question, the visceral excitement missing from the more formal Ensemble Montaigne CD is present here. Extravagantly and rousingly performed, by the penultimate sequence, the composition threatens to explode from unrelentless pressure following some frenzied contrabass clarinet lines from Carl Testa and Aaron Siegel’s glockenspiel hammering. Propitiously Braxton, Bynum and Halvorson combine with connective harmonies in the final minutes, effectively ending the piece.
With Echo Echo Mirror House vibrating with express-train-like tremolo power and Ensemble Montaigne making its points through precise tonal juxtaposition, Braxton’s musical powers are doubly confirmed. As to how you define these pieces that may be something best left to musicologists.
With Echo Echo Mirror House, the most recent conceptual shift in his evolutionary compositional paradigm, Anthony Braxton has added a simple yet effective element which amplifies its multi-dimensional symbolism. For Braxton, composition is not just a system of musical strategies, but a philosophical and spiritual state of being, meant to initiate a transformational experience for performer and listener alike. Previously, in various stages, he has incorporated compositional grafting, pulse track substitution, collage logic, structured improvisational schemes, mutable forms, varieties of notation, interactive electronics, visual elements, body movement, environmental conditions, literary and/or dramatized subplots — all of which have symbolic, as well as musical, consequences. (No one said it was going to be easy.)
Composition No. 347, the first of the Echo Echo Mirror House works to be recorded (a second, Composition No. 376, for a 15-piece ensemble, has been issued on New Braxton House), makes use of notational maps and graphs which allow the performers to plot their own course through the possibilities of the available material; however, each instrumentalist is additionally supplied with an iPod loaded with earlier Braxton recordings, to be played back as score or response dictates. Sampling of prerecorded sources is nothing new, of course, and yet in this specific context serves not only as an inclusive nod to electronica, hip-hop, and other “popular” genres, but more importantly as an expanded symbolic representation of time — not in the sense of musical time passing, but as an indication of individual perception. If, for example, Braxton’s initial forays into compositional quotation and restructuring “altered” the manipulation and perception of musical time through the spontaneous choices made by the performers at hand, and, eventually, the Ghost Trance Music was a means of informing repetitive and extended material as a visionary experience of “timeless” time (the trance), the audible portions of (often) familiar Braxton recordings emerging from and coexisting with the “live” details of Composition No. 347 offers the “illusion” of multi-dimensional time as an ironic structural agent. (Stuart Broomer spins off on this subject and develops it in interesting ways in his book Time and Anthony Braxton, Mercury Press.)
From the two recordings we have so far, it appears that the Echo Echo Mirror House system intends to create a polyphonic network of details — each instrument a distinct voice, selecting or inventing material in response to the score, causing a fluctuating, kinetic tangle of textures that clash rather than blend. The effect is of continuous change, energized movement, a complexity of relationships (reminding me of Marianne Moore’s un-ironic belief that “It is a privilege to see so / much confusion” from her poem The Steeple-Jack). As exhilarating, albeit sonically promiscuous, as Composition No. 376 is, the smaller septet of No. 347, from a 2011 concert during the Musique Actuelle Festival in Victoriaville, Quebec, has several advantages, not the least of which are the leaner, cleaner textures, allowing individual instruments to define their own identity, alternating currents of ensemble energy to affect the flow, and the sampled recordings more space in which to resonate, be recognized, and work their magic. (…)
Without question one of jazz’s most representative records is of a 1954 concert with Bop masters Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach in their only performance together. That the session was recorded in Toronto’s Massey Hall makes it distinctive as well as replaceable. But Jazz at Massey Hall isn’t the only instance of jazz history being made north of the border. Precisely because of gig opportunities for committed international improvisers discs recorded at Canadian gigs or festivals are an important part of the music’s fabric.
One of the most significant recent sessions recorded in similar circumstances is Anthony Braxton’s Echo Echo Mirror House. Featuring the composer’s septet, this 2011 premiere at the annual Festival International de Musique Actuelle from Victoriaville, Quebec rolls controlled cacophony and fragmented polyphony into an hour-long protoplasmic performance that sounds as if it’s emanating from two orchestras playing simultaneously, although there are only seven musicians on stage. Having long dispensed with the idea of solo and accompaniment, Braxton’s composition allows the two brass players, two percussionists, three string players plus the composer’s saxophones to enter and exit the sequences at will. Miraculously all the parts hang together. This situation is even more remarkable when you consider that several of the players double or triple, and always conversant with technology, all are equipped with iPods. The latter adds snatches of pre-recorded voices, vocal and instrumental music to the mix and use live processing to integrate sequences recorded during performance back into the composition. While this description may appear formidable, the music isn’t that difficult. The initial theme reappears at junctures, while at all times motifs, such as Mary Halvorson’s guitar twangs or Jay Rozen’s tuba blasts, provide the continuum. Meanwhile the pressurized polytonal narrative recedes enough in spots so that Braxton’s alto saxophone yelps, Taylor Ho Bynum’s wispy flugelhorn grace notes or the polyrhythmic strokes uniting Jessica Pavone’s viola and Aaron Siegel’s vibes are clearly audible. Mid-way through, as the tension dissipates a bit, cutting reed bites and ringing vibes separately presage the additional of iPod samples featuring female speaking voices and a male vocal chorus. Later, following subtle reprises of the theme, pre-recorded piano recital-like dynamics threaten to unduly soften the performance until Siegel’s whapping percussion, Bynum’s plunger work and Braxton’s strident sax lines, shatter any tendencies towards sweetness. With every musician and every iPod producing climatic timbres, and when it appears as if the rattling, staccato undulations can’t become any more overwrought, conductor Braxton abruptly ends the performance. The effect is as if a harrowing but pleasurable journey has been completed.