It had been raining. In the west toward the Hudson Valley, the sun broke through. The apparitions of how we are in the universe were evident. A stark contrast of clouds in the sky yawned with slate blues, grays and bright whites. The dark rich black-greens of the tree lines were slapped against the surface of the sky. The land and sky-scapes were concurrent with the sunset and moonrise. It was not raining.
With this Samuel Beckettian backdrop, entrance to the Deep Listening Space in Kingston NY, on October 4, 2003, for a duo performance by Anthony Braxton and Pauline Oliveros was natural. The performance evolved as a musical description of an exemplary assimilation of experience, a meditative wonder, blessings, dreams, and truths.
The two musicians sat at angles opposite each other. Oliveros’ single accordion complemented a vast array of horns and wind instruments which Braxton had carefully set up beside his chair. In the first set of the performance, he began and closed on the same alto whose tone resembled a tuba and was distinctly different from the other larger belled alto sax awaiting use nearby. But he had a seemingly formal approach to the rotation of instruments which he played. The progression went from the low-toned alto to higher tone sopranino sax to mid-range toned alto to clarinet to contrabass clarinet to the low-toned alto. The functionality of the duo became clear.
With their eyes closed, both musicians played with a tactile gentleness and heightened aural sensitivity to their instruments that created an irrevocable, often tender, voice which became the energy in the room. Oliveros’ accordion formed the bassline, was the foundation for the harmonies, was the variegated drone to weave through, sometimes to take the lead from and more often to submit and converse with Braxton’s blowing. Braxton exercised every way imaginable to elicit mood, shape abstraction, incite amusement, carry the theme, develop the oddly rising melodies...
The two sometimes blatantly counteracted the dynamics that each would produce. When Braxton incessantly trilled, Oliveros would supply a single very rarely shifting tone. When Braxton offered his breath and single, broad notes, Oliveros would delicately arpeggiate the keyboard of the accordion. The bellows of her accordion acted like the diaphragm it is to regulate the sound that issues forth similarly to the way in which Braxton breathed non-circularly to scream into his horn or stop and start phrases one after the other, distressing the reed, tonguing the reed ---swathing the space with hoarseness or fuzziness eventually to cleave through to a brilliant clarity of pitch. Often Braxton blew endlessly, thrilling, inserting accents, to move from a powerful darkness of tone & within the same range arrive at a lightness of tone.
Braxton could valve the surface off every molecule of air; Oliveros remarkably could do the same with her accordion. There were times when the conversation between the two musicians was so dense that it magnified the participation of both to the point that the sound rose in its evanescence and the musicians’ physical bodies disappeared. The musical lines were continuous---the lines undulated, sparkled, became blurts, and soured. In the first set, a breath-taking moment came when both stopped for an oh-so-brief rest and resumed almost as if both had reached a point of seizing a second wind to last long enough to reach a voluminous conclusion. After the rest, Oliveros’ playing was tiny and grew fast into a large inescapable overtoned hum which was paralleled with Braxton only blowing air, then sucking it in and blowing it out in a largeness that matched Oliveros’ sound whence both cut into silence. Yet, even in the silence, the beat continued, the beat went on.
Yet, another breath-taking moment was the conclusion of the second set. Braxton moved from thick rich successive low tones of the alto, to the cascading vibratos from the mid-range of the clarinet , back to grand, pure, sometimes dissonant, longing, wanting, unleashed tremolos of the alto, to the unbelievably ecstatic sopranino’s high tone that was pressed and pressed until it could be pressed no longer. Oliveros provided the spidery backdrop for the vibratos, a drone & constant support for the tremolos, and expressive high pitch match for the sopranino. The two musicians married into the unmistakably non-reverberating reverberation of the outage of the music to close. Even in the silence, the rhythm charged the atmosphere. The bonding of the two musicians made swollen the sonically absent pulse.
The depth of the well of achievable intimacy was still unreachable. As it ever shall be in memory and in the flux of present time.