Taylor's music since the sixties: A very brief
To examine Taylor's music in practice, I have chosen to examine two specific passages from the Cecil Taylor Orchestra at the 1995 San Francisco Jazz Festival. The twenty-nine year leap from Unit Structures to the present is not meant to imply that there was no development in Taylor's music during that period rather there was a continuous development, but the focus remained the same. Rather than undergoing dramatic stylistic shifts, such as John Coltrane had done, Taylor continued to refine and develop his music along the same principles that he had espoused in Unit Structures. The performance of the Orchestra at the San Francisco Jazz Festival represents one of the most recent, and arguably one of the most complex, manifestations of the ideology that shaped his musical formulations from the mid-sixties onward.
the 1995 jazz festival orchestra
Of the 42 musicians who performed in the "Cecil Taylor Orchestra" at the SF Jazz Festival, most were local, although a few players from Taylor's New York group were present. The skill levels of the players varied quite a bit, as did their familiarity with Taylor's music. We rehearsed for a week before the performance, for about six hours each rehearsal.
structure and notation
There were about four or five "pieces" in total, the two main ones broken down into 15 and 32 sections respectively. We seldom rehearsed the pieces all the way through. The scores (photocopies appear in the appendix) were usually dictated by Taylor, and we wrote them down using his "letter notation," in which the letter names of the notes are written on plain white paper, the vertical and horizontal axes corresponding respectively to pitch and sequence. For example, a C triad arpeggiated up and down would look like:
Larger leaps were usually indicated by a line, often with the corresponding interval number. For example, a leap from C to E a twelfth above would be written:
Simultaneities were written on top of each other:
It should be mentioned that, since the familiarity with Taylor's music varied quite a bit between musicians, many musicians had some difficulty in keeping up with Taylor's rapid and rather quiet dictation. He also gave us two photocopied score pages which were written in the style described above. The musicians were arranged in instrumental sections, and the different lines or chords of the compositions were each assigned to a particular section. There was never any attempt to form smaller choirs of varying instrumentation, such as one trumpet, one tenor saxophone, and one violin; rather it always worked that all the trumpets, tenors or violins would play at the same time. While Taylor occasionally commented on the rhythm or phrasing of a passage, or structured it in some way (play forward twice then retrograde once, for example), most often the various instrumental sections were left to determine how to play the passage. He had told us "I'm not favorably impressed with conducting, so I would like you to discuss with your section how you might proceed." He occasionally gave instructions or new material composed on the spot to sections individually, so that it was sometimes difficult to gain a complete understanding of all the material. There was no "conductor score" which contained all of the parts.
the rehearsal process
The rehearsals consisted mainly of playing through the various sections of the scores in a linear fashion. It took several days for the less familiar players to understand the character of the material given them, namely that each instrumental section had a certain amount of control over their phrases. Each instrumental section did not simply need to play through a given phrase once, but rather could organize or orchestrate their playing within the score section to create more variety, mostly along the lines of accelerating the repetitions of the phrase and/or playing it in retrograde. Taylor said that "We will decide how the sounds pleases us, and we will develop them as we go along." There were no designated "solos" in the traditional sense, although sometimes individual lines would become prominent.
It should also be noted that the instrument sections were often given words or phrases to chant or vocalize. The manner of the vocalizations was subject to the same manipulation that the instrumental lines were. For example, the most extensively orchestrated vocal part consisted of the words ANO-DOR-HYN-CHUS,1 of which Taylor said: "Each participle has meaninganother form of music, music that comes from the way you pronounce the word."
Finally, we were instructed in one composition (section 15, p.2 of the score that begins with the violin chord G, F#, F, E) to move about the space. We were told to begin in positions of our choosing, move about, and then return to our starting positions, in what Taylor called the "physicality of the inner dialogue."
While some musicians expressed uneasiness with the vocalizations and the movement, the group generally became comfortable with the compositions. With the consistent linear reading of the scores, we had established a kind of group identity: We understood the orchestra as an entity which performed these scores in a linear fashion, and had clear, established roles as individuals within that entity. Each performer knew her or his specified role within their instrument section, and how that instrument section related to the orchestra as a whole and our progression through the score material. There was a clear sense of the limited freedom allowed. Each piece would progress as a kind of semi-determinate orchestral composition, on a microscopic level subject to individual variation, but macroscopically fixed in a strict sequence of events. Performed in this linear manner, the pieces were actually quite conservative structurally, although the sonorities were complex and the vocalizations unusual and recondite. This prompted one musician to comment to me that the compositions "sound[ed] like contemporary music." I took this strange comment to mean the popular conception of "contemporary music in the Western Art tradition" as complex and dissonant, but still performed in a strict, linear note-by-note fashion. This particular musician is well schooled in jazz, but has had little experience with the wide variety of forms contemporary music actually takes. An ensuing discussion prompted another musician to compare these compositions to the work of Edgard Varése, and another said that he was reminded of Karlheinz Stockhausen. These reactions pointed up an interesting and important aspect: As stated above, these compositions, while often quite beautiful and enjoyable to play, were rather conservative formally, and to a large extent seemed to abandon the musical and artistic formulations Taylor began developing in the sixties. For instance, the phrases he gave each section were not "anacruses" upon which to "mirror the inner light" as described in the Unit Structure's liner notes; rather they were short passages, a limited sectional input into a larger, rather rigidly structured whole. It seemed he was more or less fulfilling the traditional European model of "composer"composing a score in isolation which would be realized by the agents of the orchestra. While the performers were given more freedom than they would have been in a traditional symphony orchestra, and there was no conductor to "transform" the "symbols," the differences between "academy's podium angle" and the music we had been rehearsing, especially in retrospect, seem more cosmetic that anything else. I began to wonder if he was somehow trying to justify his music along the "European canonical" lineswas he trying to create a jazz equivalent to Varése? And if he was inviting that comparison, did the comparison really hold up? It seemed quite out of character for him to invite such comparisons in the first place.
In retrospect, I think the rehearsal process fulfilled certain assumptions and expectations that many of the musicians (myself included) had brought to the music.2 The comment that it "sounds like contemporary music," for example, demonstrates the expectation and justification of the music functioning along the lines discussed above, that is a "jazz" version of Varése. These considerations aside, the framework created for the varied group of 42 musicians did work in giving each player a certain amount of freedom while fulfilling a clearly assigned role in the orchestra. Our relationship to the music and to each other, our identity as a group, was clear.
the final rehearsal
All of this, of course, radically changed in the concert. The first hint of what was to come came at the end of the final rehearsal. While various instrument sections were rehearsing their parts, the general noise level of the room was quite loud, and several of the tenor sax players began free improvising together. One of the percussionists joined in, and within ten minutes the whole orchestra had erupted into an unorganized jam, everyone playing at once at full volume. Taylor sat down at the piano and played for about fifteen or so minutes in the midst of this. The music continued for close to an hour, until it was time for us to give up the rehearsal space. It should also be noted that not all the musicians participated in the jam; several simply put away their instruments and seemed annoyed at the proceedings. Several left before it was over.
As we left the rehearsal, one of the musicians said to me "Wow, I guess we really needed to let off some steam." He was referring to the long, focused hours of playing through the scores, an activity which is not traditional, and rather confining, for jazz players, particularly those that most often do "free" improvisation. The confinement to the given material had eliminated the "Plain" of group improvisation; there was no chance for any kind of advancement into "an unknown totality, made whole through self analysis (improvisation)."
Additionally, there was an uncertainty as to what exactly was going to happen at the concert. Up until the last rehearsal, we were uncertain whether Taylor was going to perform with the group at all; it had been suggested that he was going to perform solo in the first set, and that we would play the second set. When we left the final rehearsal, we had been told by Peter Apfelbaum and India Cooke, who were responsible for organizing the musicians, that Taylor would perform with us on the concert, but nothing was said as to the ordering of pieces and whether Taylor would perform solo. How the actual performance was going to proceed was still unclear.
Finally, the "steam" was also due to a certain amount of disappointment within the group that no one was really getting a chance to "play with Cecil." The desire to "play with Cecil" itself was complexit was an artistic desire to play with a powerful and historically important musician, a desire to have one's "talent" recognized and affirmed by an established artist. "Playing with Cecil" was also a potential career advancement if he decided to use you as a member of his small group, the "Unit;" working with the "Unit" is one of the few gigs for "avant garde jazz" musicians that pays a living wage, and is highly prized economically as well as artistically.
The end of that final rehearsal demonstrated the disparity between what seemed expected of us as orchestra members, and our individual desires and expectations. The resulting tension, for so many days controlled by the ordered structuring of the scores which asserted group identity above all else, had finally erupted in what seemed like an anarchic convulsion of individual expression.
instructions for the performance
This tension became the center of the performance. When we arrived at Yerba Buena center a couple of hours before the concert, and after we had set up our chairs and arranged the seating (Taylor's piano was set up a little left of center stage, a little behind the clarinets but in front of the guitarists and percussionist, placing him truly in the heart of the orchestra), we played through a few sections of the scores and then Taylor gave us some instructions for the performance. We were told to take all the chairs off stage. The performance was to begin with Taylor reading some poetry and we were to enter the stage and move about slowly without our instruments, although the percussionists could play throughout. The vocalists were given some phrases to perform, and we were told we could vocalize as well if we desired. When Taylor spoke a specific passage (I believe it was "circles turning"), we were to arrange ourselves into various geometric designs. Some players noted that the designs related to the architecture of the auditorium. We were to then continue moving about the space, slowly bringing our chairs on stage, dragging them across the floor to produce sound. After this, Taylor was to begin playing the piano, at which point we were either to leave the stage or at least stop moving. After a bit of his solo playing, the percussionists and guitarists would join him, and then the rest of the orchestra would reenter the stage. When we were all finally in place with our instruments, we would commence with the first composition, which would be the one labeled "A," which contains the words "ANO-DOR-HYN-CHUS" discussed above. There was no instruction as to how we were to proceed after that.
The beginning of the first set more or less followed the structure described above, which lasted for about the first twenty-five minutes. Each idea, the movement, the chanting, began to become more more expanded by individual players; for example a couple string players brought their instruments with them. Taylor himself often departed from what he said he was going to do, wandering on and off stage- which someone later described as "playing peek-a-boo."3 When the orchestra returned to the stage after Taylor had been playing solo for a while, several of the horn players began improvising with him. Taylor stopped playing and wandered off stage, and the improvisation died down after a few minutes, at which point the strings began their tremolo on the note A, which begins the composition. A fair amount of improvisationhorns trading phrases, Taylor and others chanting, percussionists filling,continued over the beginning. When the first composition finally began, Taylor played constantlyan individual voice set against the community identity. The progression through the piece was fitful and slow; nobody was exactly sure how to proceed, and the progression kept breaking down as Taylor, or someone else, would interject themselves while the group tried to figure out what to do. Rather than progress in a smooth and orderly fashion as we had done in rehearsal, the unexpected interjections of Taylor and others caused the progression to become disjunct, leaping from once place to another when members of one instrumental section would recognize cues from other sections.
Analysis of Tape Selection 1
A good example of the way the orchestra began to operate in the performance is in sections 10-13 of the composition labeled "A" (the first selection on the tape, which begins in section 10the reader may also wish to refer to the graphic diagram Tape Selection 1 in the appendix, which may help with further clarification), which began about 40 minutes into the first set. The orchestration of sections 10-12, a layering of the lines from different instrumental sections, had a certain building character to it, and with Taylor's insistent playing against this material, this feeling was augmented. About midway through section 12, there was a high "cry" from one of the saxophones, and over the next twenty seconds their was a dissolution of the score the tenors continued their line briefly as other players joined the screaming saxophone, then the tenors finally abandoned it as the whole orchestra erupted into a group improvisation, reminiscent of our final rehearsal, for about a minute and a half. The climax was punctuated by a series of high Bs then C's from the trumpets and a couple saxes. When they stopped, the improvisation quickly ended with a whoop and a loud descending series of clusters from Taylor.
After this outburst, there was a moment of pause while the orchestra reoriented itself, and the violins began section 13 with a glissando from C up to C a couple octaves up, informing the rest of the players what we were doing next. The tenors then came in clearly with their material, the altos hit their first chord. Taylor had been vocalizing against this material (at times not audible on the tape), and vocalist (Trudy Morse) begins singing "ORA," which was from the opening vocalizations. This unsteadied the ensemble a bit, and the strings began their chord (D#, D, C#) without the trumpets. Hearing this chord prompted the trombones and piano (me) to began playing our E-F diads. The numbers 4 3 2 refer to repetitions of the chords (four times, three times, then two times), which we clearly articulate (although not as together as we could be). The trombones continued with their next passage, the glissandi, while I continued with material based on the diads, as indicated by the words "continue till basses," which refers to the phrase below the dotted line which begins C up to E flat. The tenors and trombones continued through their next two phrases, but when the altos came in (E up to F below the dotted line), one of them, Marco Eneidi, began an improvised phrase based on the rising motif, but did so in a way that was connected to the material given by the piano. This began a brief group improvisation which started among the altos, but quickly spread to the other saxes and to the guitars, while the tenors continued with their descending D to G line beneath the improvisation. When this burst quickly died down with a sigh from one of the vocalists (Ijoema Thomas), Taylor came in with the word "endlessness." There was a pause, with a few vocalizations, as the orchestra attempted to assimilate the meaning of this outburst, and how to proceed. The basses continued after a moment with their line, the percussionist's 4-3-2-1 pattern abandoned. The line itself was not totally clear (compare it with the clarity of the tenor and trombone lines at the beginning of the section). As they continued, some of the players tremoloed, reminiscent of the pedal A at the beginning of the piece, and there was some sparse vocalization from other members of the orchestra. The line did not end clearly either; there was no definite B-flat, A-flat, D-flat chord to mark the end of section 13. The cymbal sound, which was supposed to begin section 14, did not enter, and the identity of the group was once again suspended. After a moment, some of the players began the clapping, which according to the score, was supposed to follow a percussion section with cymbals, glockenspiel, and sticks. The clapping itself rippled across the orchestra, but became disorganized and dissipated rather than becoming a focusing event, and soon the strings entered with a line from an entirely different composition.
What becomes evident from such a close examination of these few minutes of music is that the orchestra itself was struggling for its identity. Our understanding of our roles within the music, our intent to play the scores straight through with limited freedom, had been shattered by Taylor's lack of instruction, the addition of further vocalizations and movement at the last minute, and his consistent layering of his own piano playing and vocalizations against what the orchestra was doing called into question our roles as individuals and as a group. The group identity was vacillating between an anarchic collection of individuals expressing themselves simultaneously, and an orderly orchestra progressing through the fixed music we had rehearsed for many hours before. At the times when our former identity seemed poised to take over, Taylor or any other member of the orchestra asserted some kind of individuality against, though not necessarily in opposition to, the orchestra as a whole. These assertions pushed the orchestra in one direction or another; the cry from the saxophone at the end of section 12 pushed the group toward individuality, the violins' glissandi at the beginning of section 13 reasserted our identity as an orchestra. Marco's entrance in section 13 worked right in betweenhis assertion was orchestrated by the score, but his choice of how to proceed, by picking up on the energy of the piano and the extreme manipulation the pitch material given to him, led us on a course right between the extremes. Each member, then, became free to participate or not participate as she or he wished, and acceptance of group identity became one among a myriad of options.
the rest of the first set
The section discussed above took place right at the end of the instructions given to us by Taylor. After the end of the composition, there was no place given to go. However, as I hope I have demonstrated, the way we progressed up until that point provided a direction in itself, and the rest of the concert fluctuated between the myriad of directions that became evident in the first part of the first set. Many of the musicians moved about the space, sometime forming groups to play together, sometimes just moving. Many of the players wandered over to Taylor when he was at the piano and played with him. At times, members of some particular instrumental section would move back to their seats and play a line from one of the compositions, and the rest of the orchestra would follow and portions of one composition or another would be played. Several times, when the orchestra would be in their seats in the midst of a composition, one of the players would stand and "solo" with Taylor another kind of dynamic which I will talk about later. The end of the set settled down to Taylor soloing at the piano. The whole performance lasted over an hour and forty minutes.
analysis of Tape Selection 2
When asked what he wanted for the second set, Taylor said "Let's just pick up where we left off." The orchestra had become used to the spontaneous organization and disorganization, the pull and flow between individual assertions and group identity, and the disjunction between the two were getting stronger. A good illustration of this comes in Marco Eneidi's solo, which took place about thirty minutes into the set. During the solos most of the orchestra would remain quiet, and usually seated, while a single player stood and played. A "solo" was really a dialogue between Taylor and the player, the percussionist, and occasionally guitarists. Soloing fulfilled the player's desire to "play with Cecil," and became the ultimate assertion of individuality. The relationship between the individual and the group becomes more complicated at these points. Eneidi is also a powerful and accomplished musician, who is very familiar with Taylor's music and has performed with him a number of times before.
The portion I will talk about (the second selection on the tape also see Tape Selection 2 in the appendix) begins in section 7 of the composition which begins with the violin chord G, F#, F, E. It is immediately apparent upon listening to the vocalizations of "having made gestures," that the group as a whole is using the material more as "anacrusis" rather than just a phrase to play throughthe whole orchestra has picked up the phrase, not just the vocalists, and the variety of responses create a rich texture; a "plain" of activity where the individuality, the "strata" of each voice is definite yet supports a group identity. Taylor plays delicately against this material, clearly set off from the group yet responsive to its shifts. Here we can see how these scores, which had once seemed to alien to Taylor's musical formulations, has, through the struggle between group and individual identities, become a clear manifestation of his aesthetic.
The tenors played slowly through their next line, as did the trombone, who waited until the tenor's crescendo on E to accelerate the end his descending line. Even in this short passage, the group's identity can be seen as more solid that in the earlier selection; more spontaneous choices about how to perform the material are being made based on the playing of other sections and players. The orchestra functions as a single unit more effectively, moving smoothly instead of haltingly as before.
The trumpets, altos, and bass clarinet entered next with their F#, E-flat, D chord, but the differences are interesting. It is hard to tell, but I believe it is the bass clarinet which actually began the passage. The trumpets and altos quickly followed, but in very different ways. The trumpets stuck closer to the score, playing together on the F# in a clear and mannered way four groups of six repetitions. The altos and clarinet, on E-flat and D respectively, merely used the notation as a suggestion, and played quick repetitions without regard for the number or grouping of repetitions. Taylor picked up on and augmented this energy, beginning in a low register, then moving quickly to a higher one in sync with the altos. The trumpets held their last note as a counter and support of the insistence of the altos, but then dropped out. The altos, however, had asserted themselves clearly as a section against the rest of the orchestra, and the new assertion of the identity of this group unhinged the previous clarity of orchestral identity. The trombone and bass clarinet played their chord (D, D-flat, C), and some of the tenors played their chord (B-flat, A-flat, F, E), but it did not necessarily create coherence, rather it added to the increasing energy and dissolution of the group identity. Next, Eneidi parted ways with the repetitive altos and continued with their next line, the one underlined with the number (17). Free from the group, he freely interpreted the line; the first phrase was transposed up a half-step, and he resolved from B to B-flat rather than down a major seventh to C. He then played another phrase, one which was not written in the score, but was audibly based on the line which preceded it. While several other horn players also parted from the material, Eneidi was really setting himself up for what was to come. At the end of the phrase, there was a slight and momentary ebb in the group sound, and here was where we got the first burst of soloistic material which bears Eneidi's unique stamp. The end of this phrase was punctuated by a cluster chord from Taylor, who seemed uniquely aware of the occurring situation. By punctuating Eneidi's phrase, he was helping to draw him out and distinguish him from the orchestra. Taylor continued in the upper register of the piano, but the orchestra was held in stasis for moment the sound had not died down sufficiently for Eneidi to wholly emerge from it, and his interjections remained one among many. The group as a whole was unsure of who they were for a moment, just as Eneidi was unsure of his place yet. For close to thirty seconds the identity of the orchestra hovered, not proceeding to section 9, although a few instrumental sections played through some of their lines, and not fully capitulating to the anarchic expression of individuality, although interjections from several horn players suggested that direction. The coherence of the group had been fragmented by the short but strong assertion of Eneidi's unmistakable identity.
In the last ten seconds of this episode, Eneidi began a varied repetition of a phrase, something which I suspect he had developed out of the material from the end of section 8, although by then it was beyond recognition. He expanded this material through those last ten seconds, as the group attempted to reorient itself, so that when there was a break, a hesitation in which the percussion dropped out momentarily, Eneidi easily stepped into the vacuum. I believe this is the place where he stood up to clearly demonstrate his intention.
The beginning of the Eneidi-Taylor dialogue was interesting. To begin with, there was a clear connection between him and Taylor, an obvious familiarity with each other's playing. The exchange of information between the two was rapid, and provides an excellent example of what in Unit Structures Taylor described as "the piano as catalyst feeding material to the soloists in all registers." Additionally, the phrase that Eneidi used as the jumping off point of his solo is an excellent example of the function of the "anacrusis". The interaction between Eneidi and Taylor, then was the "Plain," where "patterns and possibility converge." The percussion and guitars supported this relationship. However, right at the beginning, where the majority of the orchestra had let Marco step forward, the string section began playing a phrase. They dropped out quickly, but one violinist (I am unable to identify the performer) remained playing incongruously over the top of the Eneidi-Taylor interaction. To be fair, I must remark that the recording is not necessarily and accurate presentation of what the musicians heard on stage, for most of the concert, and especially the during passages of significant volume, the strings were inaudible. At this particular moment, I am sure no one heard the violinist but him or herself.
With the refocusing of the group onto Eneidi, the orchestral identity had once again been fragmented, but when the tenors entered with a spontaneous ascending chromatic crescendo, the identity had solidified as supporters of the soloist: The tenor line and the brass stabs which accompany it were clearly created to aid and amplify the dialogue between Eneidi and Taylor. There was also a participatory aspect to the accompaniment, but the instrumental sections were functioning on the terms laid down by the predominant individuals. Following the climax of the supporting orchestral assertions, Eneidi and Taylor continued, energized by the interjection of the group identity into their dialogue an inversion of the previous relationship had now come about. Instead of the group identity taking precedence and individualistic musical assertions interjecting themselves and jostling the whole, here the identities of Taylor and Eneidi took precedence, and the orchestra reacted to them, actually recreating its identity based on its relationship to them.
At the end of this passage, one of the trumpet players joined in, as an individual, with a short blast from his horn. The other trumpets joined him, and the focus on the Eneidi-Taylor relationship shifted into a group dynamic of individual voices. As some of the tenor players and a guitar joined in, Eneidi dropped out, and within a few seconds, the whole thing dissolved. In this case, the additional entrance of several individuals into the music dissipated the group focus instead of increased it, since the music had been so concisely constructed along Eneidi and Taylor's interaction.
As the short group improvisation dies out, Taylor continued along the lines he established in the dialogue with Eneidi. As the tenors came in with their line that begins C - A-flat - G -F, the orchestral identity that had been in operation during sections 7 and the beginning of 8 returned, but Taylor's continued forceful individualistic assertions against the group dynamic of the orchestra forced the tenor phrase to come out. The trumpet, borrowing the F from the chord at the end of the score section, punctuates the group dynamic, reinforcing the identity of the orchestra as performers of the score. When the chord swell that marks the end of score section 9 arrived, the entire orchestra had solidified in their identity. Eneidi, who moments before had been defining the criteria for musical exchange, returned completely to a functioning member of the group, indistinguishable from the rest of his section and reinforcing the group dynamic. It is at this point that Taylor changed his playing to accommodate the direction the orchestra was taking. The tenors repeated the phrase demarking the end of score section 9. Since the orchestral identity as performers of the score was clear, this line was performed in a more delicate manner than before; it became a simple melodic passage rather than a forceful reassertion of group identity. The chord swell was also more delicate this time, and the orchestra moved easily into section 10.
Taylor's music as an "actual society"
As I hope I have demonstrated above, Cecil Taylor's music is not merely a "mythic representation" of society, but an actual society. It is a society struggling to find its identity as both a "Unit" and also as a collection of individuals. The definition of an individual to the group is unfixed and in constant flux. There are times where an individual voice is given room for unfettered expression, times where she or he lays outside the group plays asserts their individual voice against the group identity, and times where they willingly join in as an active participant of group identity. This, I believe, is what Taylor meant when he said "The instrument a man uses is only a tool with which he makes his comment on the structure of the music." In the context of Taylor's aesthetics, the instrument becomes the identity, the "strata" of the individual, and the way he or she defines that strata in relationship to the entire "Plain" of group activity, the depth to which he or she has "mirrored the inner light," determines how they operate in that environment. I used the example of Eneidi's solo because I thought it was a particularly successful moment in the music, a riveting "Naked Fire Gesture." When I mentioned this to him after the performance, he said "Yeah, I knew I wanted to do it at some point." Eneidi knew how to operate successfully in the environment Taylor had created; you can hear through the second example how he begins to set himself up, skillfully nudging and redirecting the orchestra until a space for him is created. He also exerts a similar influence with his more subtle actions in the first example. He is able to do this because he is an accomplished musician in this idiom. He has a distinctive and powerful soundin Taylor's terms he has found his "speech to oneself," discovered his individuality through his body-rhythms and is able to translate that into sound. And this individuality fits well with Taylor's. The dialogue between them is a manifestation of the "rhythmical celebration . . . the magical lifting of one's spirits to a state of trance." The multileveled interaction between Eneidi, Taylor, and the orchestra, between the individuals and the group as a whole, is clearly what Taylor describes as "the most heightened perception of one's self, but one's self in a relationship to other forms of life." As I stated earlier, the sonic interplay between the individual and the collective is what creates the spiritual aspects of the music, the "religious forces."
individuality and multiple aesthetics
However, not every musician in the orchestra was able to function as skillfully as Marco Eneidi. As I stated before, Eneidi has worked with Taylor several times before, is very familiar with this idiom, and has found a unique and powerful voice on his saxophone. He is very comfortable in the kind of environment which the performance created, just as he is comfortable in shifting his role in relationship to the group. There were a number of complaints from other members of the orchestra, such as the inaudibility of the strings, and the seemingly incongruous playing of some of the musicians, such as the violinist at the beginning of Eneidi's solo. The whole "playing with Cecil" aspect was problematic. Some of the interactions were quite remarkable, while others, particularly those who were less familiar with the specifics of Taylor's music, were described by some as "embarrassing." In those moments, the assertion of individuality seemed more of an empty gesture, even egotistical, and their playing and Taylor's seemed not like a dialogue, but rather an incongruous projection of sonic disunity. The intensity of Taylor's playing easily overshadowed the soloist, who seemed unable to react to Taylor's assertions. Again, an example of this is the violinist at the beginning of Eneidi's solo; for a substantial period of time, he or she does not follow the direction that the soloists or the rest of the orchestra is taking, and is not asserting any kind of clear alternative directionrather he or she is just "noodling" on their instrument, absently playing, oblivious to his/her surroundings. It is quite a while before he/she begin the scratching sound with his/her bow, which fits more comfortably with the other sounds being produced at that moment. From this perspective, one still has to wonder why he/she is playing at this particular moment at all. Yet many people have found this kind of incongruous playing quite beautiful; Chris Brown described this particular moment as "Ivesian." This points up an important element in the kind of freedom allowed in this performance: While any member could really do anything at any moment move anywhere, make any soundnot all activities were equal, or had equal effect on the group. Nobody stopped the violinist from playing, but his or her ineffective assertion of individuality seemed to be ignored by the orchestra in favor of the highly skillful, and notably much louder, voice of Eneidi. Yet an aesthetic acceptance of the incongruous accepts that the violinist's playing may not be unsuccessful at all; in fact the more I have listened to this passage, the more I find it impossible to hold it to a single aesthetic standard. In a group of individuals, multiple aesthetics, and multiple definitions of success and failure according to those aesthetics, coexist. What I find fascinating about this particular passage is that it is a moment where these seemingly contradictory aesthetics flourish without canceling each other out.
gender and Taylor's formulations
While the violinist demonstrates an aesthetic multiplicity within the proceedings of the concert, there was also a deeper force at work on the ways individuals related to the group, which was brought to my attention in an exchange just prior to our beginning the second set. The makeup of the orchestra was diverse, both racially and gender-wise, but men far out numbered women. As we were assembling ourselves on the wings, waiting for the second set to begin, I was standing next to tenor saxophonist Jessica Jones when French Hornist Krys Bobrowski walked up to us. Jones commented to Bobrowski "Oh good, I didn't want to be alone over here. All the other ones are over on the other side." She was referring to the fact that, except for her, Bobrowski, and pianist Dana Reason, all the other women were string players or vocalists and entered from the other side of the stage. I said to her something along the lines of "Feeling outnumbered, huh?" and she replied "Oh yeah. Didn't you notice all the women? We were the ones standing up taking all the solos." I should mention that her tone was ironic and funny rather than bitter, (she has a great sense of humor) and the three of us laughed. When I mentioned to Jones that she could take a "solo" if she wanted to, she replied "No. That's just not me."
Her comment cast a new light on the proceedings for me. Jones is an accomplished musician, runs her own band, and certainly has no problem asserting herself as a soloist. Yet, from the performances that I have seen, she usually works out the set list and solo order prior to the appearance on stage. Each musician is given time to express themselves individually with the support of the group in a traditional fashion, even though the harmonic or rhythmic materials may not be typically "mainstream." The aspect of the performance that she seemed to be saying that was "not her" was the whole dynamic of individuality expressed as a struggle against group identityher individuality was not expressed that way. She also connected her concept of individualityone supported and expressed through a group, rather than against it, as connected to her gender.
From this perspective, Taylor had created a music that required the musicians to actively insert themselves into the process, even disrupt it, in order to assert their individuality. Even though there were moments when everyone was able to "blow," when the orchestra had become the "anarchic convulsion of individual expression," even that dynamic operated on the assumption that individuality was best expressed by casting oneself into the fray. The structure of the music did not support one's individual identity, rather it was a constriction from which the individual was to break free, and in breaking free, the "self metamorphosising life's `act,'" the musician was supposed to come in contact with "religious forces." As Taylor himself stated, emotive and individualistic expression is "aggressive participation." What if that was not true for everyone? It seemed clear from Jones's comment that she believed the way the performance was being conducted, and in particular the "playing with Cecil" aspect, was really just a "guy thing"a male hierarchical struggle. Who she was as a woman was at odds with the whole construct Taylor had presented. She was implying that the music was a form of male discourse, and therefore the basis of that discourse, Taylor's assumptions and subsequent musical formulations, favored the way males are socialized over the way females are socialized.
Pauline Oliveros and Cecil Taylor
With this in mind, it is interesting to compare the Taylor concert to a performance some three weeks before of Pauline Oliveros's work at Mills College. Oliveros is an interesting comparison to Taylor; they are about the same age (one year apart), and although they have taken quite different aesthetic paths, they deal with similar issuesimprovisation, individual and group dynamics, spirituality, ritual, phsyicality, and poetic imagery.4 Oliveros, too, has sought for an egalitarian music, which would reflect as well as influence society. In her essay "And Don't Call Them `Lady' Composers," she states "Certainly, the greatest problems of society will never be solved until an egalitarian atmosphere utilizing the total creative energies exists among all men and women."5 Where for Taylor equality is defined along racial and ethnic lines, for Oliveros it is along gender lines. Taylor utilizes "African Methodology" which he sees as ultimately inclusive of all people, while Oliveros' approach is feminist, which she sees as promoting "creative interaction with everyone."6
"Approaches and Departures"
In Oliveros' concert at Mills, there was a premier of her piece "Approaches and DeparturesAppearances and Disappearances," a large group piece which also involved a certain amount of improvisation. The score was a text in which the instrumentalists were instructed:
Approach a pitch in as many ways as possible. What ever pitch is selected stays the same for all options. Each performer selects and plays independently. Each approach or departure should be unique distinctly different in style and elements.7
For this particular performance the instrumentalists
were placed outside the performance space, and their instruments amplified
so as to be audible from within the auditorium. There were included several
"actors," all Mills College students, who used the stage as their
"note," entering and exiting the auditorium in their approaches
and departures to the stage.
Oliveros's conceptions of individuality
The structure Oliveros provided allowed for a great variety of individual expression and interpretation, and the focus of the performance shifted between the people involved in the realization as people entered and left the auditorium, both physically and audibly. There was no single moment where any performer really dominated the focus of the group; there were no "solos." As pianist Dana Reason described it, "It was about a group voice, about never having your voice above and beyond anyone else's." This implies, however, a specific kind of aesthetic within it is assumed that one's individual voice would feel natural, and with Oliveros, that aesthetic is one of a meditative tranquilityher own single approach and departure to the stage during the performance was described as moving "at a Wilsonian pace."8
Oliveros describes music as "a multidimensional, dynamic process unfolding as a relationship between an individual or a group of individuals, and sound vibrations."9 Yet that did not mean that everything everyone did, the way each individual's "voice" was expressed, was seen as an appropriate manifestation of the "relationship". Apparently as skilled a musician as Julie Steinberg had some trouble during the rehearsal process, and was perceived as playing "too many notes." This was resolved during rehearsal and was not a factor in performance, but it points out that there were strict aesthetic limits on the nature of individual expression. Steinberg's' most natural interpretation of the score disrupted the "group voice," but the aesthetic parameters of the "group voice" were the narrowly defined limits of Oliveros' particular beliefs about the nature of spirituality through` tranquility in individuality. While Oliveros herself states "I wish for my work to be beneficial to myself and all who experience it,"10 her conceptions of the nature of "group voice" and the subordination of individuality to that aesthetic has caused one prominent feminist critic to describe Oliveros's work as "fascist."11
Taylor's and Oliveros' formulations as gendered discourse
I do not by any means do justice to Oliveros' work with its brief mention here.12 I have brought it in because, if we are to consider the possibility that Taylor's music is a form of "male discourse," then we must look at what would then be its counterpart, and since Oliveros's music deals with some of the same issues that Taylor's does, it seems the appropriate place to look for a "female discourse." Have we found one in "Approaches and Departures?" The question really remains unanswered while Oliveros considers her music feminist, and straightforwardly addresses issues of gender and composition. In "A Conversation About Feminism And Music," Fred Maus mentions hierarchical struggle as "characteristically male," and Oliveros replies "That's the competitive mode. And competition is part of the human condition, it has to play a role but not totally at the expense of cooperation and collaboration."13 For Oliveros, then "cooperation and collaboration" would be a form of female discourse, so from this perspective "Approaches and Departures" would seem to be just that. Yet, clearly not all women find themselves comfortable with the structure Oliveros created, whether it was playing "too many notes," or perceiving the whole "cooperative" dynamic as "fascist." On a more simple level, members of both genders have found themselves resonant with each structureStuart Dempster with Oliveros's, and Marilyn Crispell in Taylor's, for example.
So is Taylor's music, then, a form of "male discourse?" The answer, to quote James Joyce, seems to be "Nes and Yo." If Taylor's music is constructed on "self-analysis" and the assertion of identity, then gender must play a role in the that assertion, since it is an essential part of one's "self". Yet to state that a musical formulation is purely a form of "male" or "female" discourse is to essentialize the relationship an individual has to their gender. While disjunction between Jessica Jones's mode of discourse and Taylor's was seen by her as a disparity between their gendered selves; she stated clearly "That's just not me;" just the opposite seems true for Marilyn Crispell. In an interview with Graham Lock she describes talking with a colleague about her music prior to her explorations into jazz:
I told him, if I were going to improvise this
is how I'd do it, and I improvised atonal stuff the way I do now. I said,
it's really crazy, nobody would listen; he said, it's OK, you can do that,
but I went no, no, no. Then, later, I heard a Cecil Taylor record and it
was YES, YES, YES! Like a door opening.14
Clearly, the musical discourse that Taylor has created resonates deeply with Crispell's "self"she had in fact developed a similar discourse herself prior to hearing Taylor's. When she found a connection with Taylor's music, she said that it was "Like being able to talk to someone who will finally understand."15 Where Jones had felt a gulf between herself and Taylor's music, Crispell found a close affinity. For Jones the gulf was gendered, but Crispell does not see gender playing any kind of role. If we place equal weight on each one's perceptions, we can see that there are multiple understandings of the role of gender in Taylor's music. Just as multiple aesthetics coexist, so to do the perceptions of Taylor's music as gendered discourseit simultaneously is a form of "male discourse" and is not. As Jones perceives, Taylor's formulations seem to favor the way males are socialized, but that does not mean that it is an essentially male construct.
The question, then, arises; Is Taylor's music an androgynous discourse? In her Essay "Rags and Patches," Oliveros asks "I wonder what androgynous musical form would be?" She then immediately relates the following:
I dreamed: A Brahms' symphony was to be played. Someone has interpolated a jazz section. The orchestra plays. The jazz section is quite smooth. As I suspected, the orchestra starts to break down at the transition back to Brahms. The horn player completely muffs his entrance. Only miserable puffs of air come out. The conductor keeps flailing away but the string players become increasingly confused and ragged. The conductor finally agrees to stop and begin the transition again. I see the horn player putting his horn away. I tell him to go back and try again. He rejoins the orchestra. This time the solo comes through clearly. Then the horn player breaks briefly into speech about his Southern United States background. He continues playing and the solo has a decided southern inflection.16
This passage deals directly with musical manifestations of identity, and it has interesting parallels to the Taylor performance. In addressing the issue of individual identity within a larger, established musical structure, Oliveros envisions a breakdown of the traditional European symphonic practice. Interestingly, this breakdown is the result of the "jazz interpolation"an of "intercultural infringement,"17 and this "infringement" acts as a catalyst for the exploration, assertion, and affirmation of individual and ethnic identity, manifest in the horn player's "decided southern inflection." Like the "anti-jazz" musicians the sixties, whose assertion of cultural identity was connected to the overturning of the "mainstream" conceptions of jazz, Oliveros sees the assertion of the horn players cultural and individual identity as a result of the overturning of traditional conceptions about the functioning of a symphonic orchestra. This also parallels the Taylor performance, where the undermining of the established orchestral identity brought about a reconfiguring of the individual in relationship to the group. Where the "anti-jazz" artists saw the establishment of individual identity as connected to race and culture, Oliveros additionally sees the connection to gender. The gender connection, however, is implicit rather than explicit: Oliveros herself states that "Brahms' Y'all" "is certainly not an androgynous form,"18 but she clearly raises the idea that the realization individual identity, and its connection to culture and gender, induces the breakdown of established modes of group functioning.
gender and music constructions
Oliveros proposes that the mere act of questioning the role of gender in music undermines traditional conceptions of musical form and identity, and, amazingly, the scenario she envisions through the exploration of music as gendered discourse bears a striking resemblance to the Taylor performance. The Taylor performance, however, is really the inverse of Oliveros's proposition: Through the undermining of the orchestra's identity, the disruption of what the orchestra thought as the "form" of the music, conceptions of gender are brought into question. It should be noted, too, that the questions about the conceptions are not resolved either, as I hope I have demonstrated above, seemingly contradictory understandings of the nature of the musical discourse existed without negating each other.
Taylor and his music
Taylor's music is about the continuous flux and redefinition of the individual in relationship to the group and to a superimposed musical structure. Taylor, operates on a definition of individual identity that arises from the separation of oneself from the group, and within that context, the individual is actually allowed absolute freedom. However, the utilization and exploration of that freedom, and even the gendered meaning of that freedom, may mean the alienation of those who do not share the same definition of individual expression.19
Finally, what is most central to Taylor's music is Taylor himself. While Oliveros's composition could have been performed successfully without her presence, Taylor's certainly could not. It was he who both created and then called into question the group identity of the orchestra, and throughout the entire three hours of music, he constantly asserted his individuality, never once becoming "just a member of the orchestra." As Alvin Curran stated, "It was if you were all riding on his back, on his energy." In conversation with several of the performing musicians afterward, we all agreed that if we had attempted this undertaking on our own, without Taylor, there without his unique, powerful, and constant assertion of individuality to focus and challenge the group, it would have seemed empty, pretentious and rather silly. With him, however, it was at times transcendent.
1 Taylor described this word
as "the name of an animal," but was unspecific as to what animal.
Apparently it is a kind of South-American bird with long claws. There were
numerous references to Native American peoples, African and Afro-Cuban deities,
Aztec methods of spatial measurement, healing images, etc. It is beyond
the scope of this paper to trace down all the allusions made in the concert,
however if it were ever done, I am sure it would be exceedingly interesting.
2 The expectation was not without some justification, however. In February, Taylor had been in the Bay Area for a week stint at Yoshi's Nitespot with his quartet. While there, he formed an orchestra, just for rehearsal purposes. Many of the members of the Jazz Festival orchestra participated in those rehearsals; I had just observed them. Those rehearsals also consisted of playing through scores in the same manner described above. No performance was ever intended or given. back
3 From a description posted on the internet news group rec.music.bluenote the day after the concert. back
4 Oliveros has also been influenced by the Black Mountain poets. The texts of "Three Songs" (1957) are poems by Robert Duncan and Charles Olson. back
5 "And Don't Call Them `Lady' Composers," Software For People (Baltimore: Smith Publications, 1984), 49. back
6 Pauline Oliveros and Fred Maus "A Conversation About Feminism And Music" Perspectives of New Music (Vol. 32, No. 1,Winter, 1994) 190. back
7 Oliveros, Pauline "Approaches and Departures - Appearances and Disappearances" (Deep Listening Publications, 1995). back
8 Alburger, Mark. "Pauline Oliveros at Mills College," 20th Century Music Vol.2, No. 11 (November, 1995): 19. back
9 Oliveros, "The Noetics of Music" Software For People, 110. back
10 Heidi Von Gunden, The Music Of Pauline Oliveros (Metuchen: The Scarecrow Press, 1983), 151. back
11 This comment was related to me first hand. The critic, who shall remain nameless since it was not a public pronouncement, made this comment as an aside after being asked why she had skipped out of a musicology conference and headed to the bar rather than participate in an event Oliveros was conducting. back
12 There are many interesting parallels between this Oliveros piece, and much of Oliveros's work, and Taylor's musical formulations. However, it is beyond the scope of this paper, with its focus primarily on Taylor's musical formulations, to continue to explore those parallels. back
13 Oliveros and Maus, 179. back
14 Graham Lock, Forces In Motion: The Music And Thoughts Of Anthony Braxton (New York: Da Capo, 1988), 179. back
15 Ibid., 180. back
16 Oliveros, Software For People, 112. back
17 Ibid. back
18 Ibid. back
19 The exact same thing could be said about Oliveros's piece as well. back