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Anthony Braxton


Lock: Can we begin by talking about your philosophical overview of music? You have three primary categories: restructuralism, stylism and traditionalism?

Braxton: Three is the primary number of my generating system. Tri-partial perception dynamics permeate how I've tried to deal with my music, whether we're talking of restructuralism, stylism, traditionalism; or mental, physical, spiritual divisions; or past, present, future.

L: Could you explain the characteristics of each category?

B: By restructuralism, I'm referring to ... at a certain point in any information continuum, for evolution to occur, the structural properties or the whole mentality surrounding that information undergoes a change. Restructuralism is my word for that phenomenon. In fact, it's taking place all the time, natural change, change cycles -- and the significance of a given form derives from the position it has in its cycle and from the force that it activates. For instance, after Charlie Parker played his music, the language dynamic of that music would create a whole reality that could help human beings. That's what we see when we talk of the post-bebop continuum; they're the people who have been able to make a reality out of Charlie Parker's solutions.

This is true for many different levels. If we talk about Einstein and his theories, or any restructuralist theories, we can see how humanity has absorbed that information. Sometimes given information will be used with respect to its negative partials as in, say, the dropping of the atomic bomb -- that was not what Mr. Einstein envisioned for his theories -- or, in the case of the post-Ayler continuum, many musicians would use the concept of free jazz as an excuse for not practising, not trying to evolve. There's a big distinction between a given restructuralist cycle, or the information that manifests itself in that cycle, and how human beings decide to use it.

L: And stylism?

B: Well, once something has been set into motion by the restructuralists, people usually take that information and use it for whatever. Those are the stylists. There are master stylists too, but the masters are the ones who did not simply take without giving, who didn't just play Charlie Parker's language and do nothing to it.

It's in the stylist juncture where a given initiation usually gets to the public, the zone where television and the media will allow a given information line to get through. Stylists are usually able to become more successful than restructuralists because their music is not perceived as threatening the cultural order. This is why Phil Woods, say, wins so many polls. His playing doesn't really challenge any law, it just reaffirms what has been current, in the air, in the last thirty years; that being the dynamic implications of Charlie Parker's music. Whereas the greater public have not really had the possibility to examine the music of John Cage, Albert Ayler, the Art Ensemble of Chicago -- those musics don't seem to filter through. But, in fact, before Charlie Parker demonstrated his music, nobody played like him; so if the value systems that surround Phil Woods are allowed to dominate, there will be no forward motion, and no future Phil Woods because he would have no one to take a music from.

L: You say restructuralists threaten the cultural order -- does your music do that? Is it a dangerous music?

B: (laughs) You could say that! My music, my life's work, will ultimately challenge the very foundations of Western value systems, that's what's dangerous about it.

But the significance of the stylist has its merits too. People can relate to it. If it wasn't for Paul Desmond and Ahmad Jamal, I could never have heard Charlie Parker. So there are degrees of evolution and the individual has to deal with them all.

L: Is there a scientific example of stylism, like Einstein and restructuralism?

B: Well, technocrats are like stylists. Many of the problems we're dealing with in this time period, in terms of Western science, have to do with people utilizing information lines without respect to their composite implications. What we're doing to the planet, to the environment, is incredible. Gerry Hemingway may have been wrong about those pine trees, but he's right to see acid rain as a serious phenomenon. We're destroying the planet and leaving a mess for our children; although I don't mean to blame this solely on the technocrats.

L: OK. How about traditionalism?

B: The traditionalist vibration dynamic involves forward motion with respect to having better understanding of the fundamentals and of the route a given lineage has travelled. Evolution in this context would mean a better understanding of what has gone before, and the use of that information to help people comprehend their time and their place. Without an awareness of the past, you can't avoid making the mistakes that previous cycles made.

L: What are the musical examples of traditionalism?

B: Marion Anderson, her work as a virtuoso singer, she's a traditionalist. In fact, the world of opera, with its current emphasis on the early European masters, is a traditionalist bastion right now. It's not healthy because they don't allow enough performances of new works. But to discover that music or the music played by the original Dixieland jazz bands -- not the commercial groups, but the old-timers -- is to have another dynamic in terms of understanding what music is.

It's partly because of my respect for what I call the tri-vibrational dynamics that I try to function in bebop and demonstrate some musics from the traditional continuum. I think that's important. It's just that we have to teach people to deal with the future too.


L: The implication being that traditionalism on its own is not a good thing?

B: Oh, neither is restructuralism on its own. I think the concept of a healthy culture rests in balancing the tri-vibrational tendencies of the culture. If restructuralism were the only aspect of the music that was respected, there could never be cultural solidification because restructuralism, by definition, implies change and change cannot be the basis for establishing cultural order because you have to have some context to change from, or evolve in. Stylism on its own would mean no forward motion, you'd just be trying to re-create what's already been created.

L: The music seems to be in that phase now.

B: Yes, I'd say we were in a stylistic period: I'm thinking of, say, Wynton Marsalis, Chico Freeman ... The universities are programming young people for stylistic value systems. The problem is they're tying to separate the music from its meta-reality implications.

L: An undue emphasis on traditionalism would mean trying to use old solutions on new problems?

B: Yes. The traditional vibration dynamic gives us a wonderful sense of the past, but we can't move backwards as we've been trying to do in America, going back to 'the good old days' as a basis for dealing with the future.

L: Like Margaret Thatcher's talk of 'Victorian values?' She forgets the backstreet abortions, the child prostitution, half the population hungry, badly housed, no medical care ...

B: Right, that's not going to work. We have to find solutions that are relevant to what's been developed. Tri-vibrational dynamics is my term to express the balance of these phenomena, the forces as manifested in this context. And I respect what that balance really means, although my own tendencies are restructuralist.

Reprinted with kind permission from Forces in Motion: Anthony Braxton and the Meta-reality of Creative Music by Graham Lock, Da Capo (New York)/Quartet Books (London), 1988.