ANTHONY BRAXTON — For Four Orchestras (review)

ANTHONY BRAXTON — For Four Orchestras album cover Album · 1978 · Third Stream Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
You have to wonder if maybe Prince got his idea for calling himself an unpronounceable symbol from Anthony Braxton, who had been naming his compositions with various symbols and diagrams years before Prince made his famous name change. Take for example, this three record set that has been named “For Four Orchestras”. That is not the actual name for the composition presented on these records, the actual name is a multi-colored symbol displayed on the album box, and this symbol is also used as the title within the extensive booklet that comes in the box. All this aside, this is a fascinating piece of music in which Braxton takes four orchestras and passes sounds and melodic fragments among them so that the audience, that is seated in between the orchestras, is treated to a surround sound experience in which the music is in constant spatial motion.

Braxton was partly inspired by other modern composers, such as Ives, Stockhausen and Xennakis, who had worked with similar ideas. Musically, “Four Orchestras” , falls into that sort of aleotoric sound and approach favored by John Cage and the many people who were influenced by him. One hallmark of composition in the middle part of the 20th century is that people had devised music that did not compete with the natural sounds around us. Like much music from this era, “Four Orchestras”, need not be totally separated from neighboring sounds, whether they be birds singing, traffic and construction work, or people talking and laughing. Much of Braxton’s piece consists of somewhat pleasant atonal melodic snippets that are passed around the various groups, then at other times more dissonant sounds will build in volume and intensity, and then there are sections where thick tone clusters hang in the air like dark clouds.

Of course the salient feature of this work is the movement of sound. Ideally, you should have the quad version of this record and a quad record player. I do have a vintage quad stereo, but unfortunately the album I have is only stereo, but I did play it on simulated quad, and the surrounding orchestral colors are fascinating. Even in stereo though, this music sounds interesting enough. This album comes with a fifteen page booklet full of pictures and detailed explanations from Braxton. Anthony’s writings are very intellectual, but you know he has to be pulling your leg when he starts talking about his future compositions that will feature dialog between galaxies and star systems.
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