AMN Reviews: Anthony Braxton – Echo Echo Mirror House (Victo, 2013)

Braxton, Anthony
Braxton, Anthony (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not to be confused with Echo Echo Mirror House (New York) 2011, released on the Tricentric Foundation label, this recording is of a septet performance from the 2011 Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville (FIMAV). Like its counterpart, this Echo Echo Mirror House performance is a spontaneous composition of Braxton’s recordings overlaid on top of each other, along with improvisation. It is as if you are listening to seven radio stations simultaneously, each playing a different Braxton work.

With the maestro on this date were Carl Testa, Taylor Ho Bynum, Mary Halvorson, Jessica Pavone, Jay Rozen, and Aaron Siegel. Each of these individuals, acclaimed musicians and improvisors in their own right, were armed with instruments of choice as well as an iPod of Braxton recordings. When not playing, they would select tracks from their iPods to combine into a meta-composition.

Of course, one might wonder how such a procedure could result in music that even resembles being listenable. But it does. While it is difficult to follow who is doing what and whether the music is played or recorded, I can usually pick three or four disparate voices. Dissonant, sure, but somehow they work together.

Braxton is not the first to explore sound worlds in which several compositions are overlapped. Famously, Charles Ives did so 100 years ago. However, Ives did not have digital technology or a catalog of his own recordings to help him out, and didn’t manage to hear some of his works fully played in his lifetime. In the 21st century, Braxton is redefining the symphony in a head-scratching, convoluted, difficult, but ultimately rewarding fashion. And that’s good thing.

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