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The Gig: Braxton’s Gravity

“I have a composition for 100 tubas that was written to be performed in a specified environment,” saxophonist-composer Anthony Braxton told Graham Locke in 1985. This statement is one of many in Locke’s book Forces in Motion: The Music and Thoughts of Anthony Braxton (Da Capo), an invaluable resource for anyone intrigued by its subject’s distinct philosophies of sound. “I have another composition from that period,” Braxton added, apparently in the next breath, “the first to use a cell-structure notation I think, for dump truck, live dump truck, that would be modulated; the truck would dump a pile of coal and the score would be for four shovellers-and each shovel would have an electronic modulation on it. I have the score…I never had a performance, of course.”

To the best of my knowledge, Braxton’s Composition No. 9, “for four amplified shovels,” still hasn’t received its premiere. But this past June on a Sunday afternoon in Lower Manhattan, Composition No. 19, “for 100 tubas,” was finally realized, 35 years after its creation-and 61 years, to the day, after Braxton’s. It served as a kickoff event for the Bang on a Can Marathon, an exuberantly eclectic festival of new music established nearly 20 years ago. It also served, a bit less intentionally, as an expression of dread, remembrance and grief.

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Originally Published
Nate Chinen

Nate Chinen

Nate Chinen is the director of editorial content for WBGO and a longtime contributor to JazzTimes, which published 125 installments of his column “The Gig” between 2004 and 2017. For 12 years, he was a critic for The New York Times; prior to that, he wrote about jazz for the Village Voice, the Philadelphia City Paper, and several other publications. He is the author of Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century (2018) and the co-author of George Wein’s autobiography Myself Among Others: A Life in Music (2003).