Echo Echo Mirror House Music

Carl Testa


Anthony Braxton's Echo Echo Mirror House Music (EEMHM) was first conceptualized in 2007 and premiered in two ensemble performances at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, on April 30th and May 4th, 2009. To date, there have been seven performances of EEMHM, of which I have been involved in five.


In addition to their instruments, each musician in the EEMHM ensemble controls an iPod which contains Braxton's entire recorded discography (or most of it). At the beginning of a performance, each musician hits play on their iPod simultaneously to immediately create a texture of recorded sounds. Ensemble size varies from six to twenty musicians, each using iPods, so the collage gets dense immediately. Performers are able to:


1) Change which piece is played on the iPod;


2) Perform sections from the notated material;


3) Respond to cues from the conductor that change their interpretation of the written material or their manipulation of the    recorded material


There are five different components of an EEMHM composition and performance:


1) The primary composition itself which is 1–30 pages of cartographic images collaged with Braxton's graphic notation.


2) A collection of overlaid transparencies that associate graphic notation with language music parameters; these can be combined with the primary composition to multiply the amount of available notated material.


3) A CODE or "Event Progression" that gives suggestions as to how to interpret or navigate through the material, including “Turn North,” “Reverse Directions,” “Accelerate Speed,” and “Change Transparencies.”


4) A “change state velocity” conducted signal that consists of a hand moving from left to right or vice versa in the shape of an arc, the speed of which changes the rate you might move through the notated material.


5) A multi-speaker electronic collage of sound recordings from Braxton's entire discography.


While the use of iPods to collage sound recordings is the most apparent feature of EEMHM, the abundance of supplied compositional and improvisational materials convey an intention to engage beyond this collage aspect. I don't want to discount the importance of the iPod sound collage but rather hope that further investigation into EEMHM will engage with the depth and multitude of the materials. Once there are more performances of EEMHM, the performance practice will develop and change as it has with Braxton's Ghost Trance Music and other systems.

Examples of Echo Echo Mirror House Transparencies, Graphic Notation and Collage Quality

Imaginary Space Music (Holistic Modeling)

EEMHM is a part of Braxton's Imaginary Space Musics or Holistic Modeling Musics. Ghost Trance Music, Falling River Music, Diamond Curtain Wall Music, Pine Top Aerial Music, and ZIM Music also fall into this category. What connects each music system is that they are all derived from or can be associated with a particular classification from Braxton's Language Music categories. GTM is language one (long sound): ZIM is language 11 (gradient formings). Braxton takes the abstract essence of each classification and extrapolates out to create a whole compositional system that engages with that way of thinking. EEMHM fits into language number six: multiphonics or sound mass logics. The poetic implications of sound mass logics and multiphonics suggest replication, multiplicity, infinity, clouds, swarms, and noise. The compositional materials compel the musician to multi-task and work within many domains (instrumentalism, sound mixing, collage, graphic notation, conducted signals) at once. The Echo Echo Mirror House Music manifests these ideas in sound. The name is almost too perfect a descriptor.


The EEMHM offers some insight into Braxton's general aesthetic as well as one explanation (of many) for Braxton's preference for multi-CD box sets and prolific nature in general. Braxton hasn't demonstrated much interest in the editing of his recorded music. His tendency is to release every bit of music that was recorded from a performance or session (as long as the session was to his satisfaction). He wants to have the maximum number of possibilities so that 'friendly experiencers" can then create their own experience with the material. Why would he edit the music that was recorded when he wants his listeners to be able to experience the totality of what is possible and create their own experience? Braxton isn't asking the listener to pour over every detail in every recording (though that is certainly possible); he just wants to give listeners the resources necessary to create their own version down the line and to ensure diversity and multiplicity in his massive sound catalog.

Further developments

Over the past year I've been working with Braxton to develop a new computer-based system to replace the use of iPods in the EEMHM. This new system works by networking phones and tablet devices to a central computer that has the music library stored on it. Control messages and signals are sent from each musician's device to the computer which then plays the designated audio file and performs manipulations. The numerous benefits to this kind of system include:


1) Having a single library that doesn't have to be synced with any external devices;


2) Improving sound quality by using full resolution files instead of MP3s;


3) Enabling the use of digital effects and processing such as pitch shifting, time stretching, panning, and filtration;


4) Enabling the input and interaction of audience members and remote listeners from across the globe.


For example, local and remote audience members can log into the same webpage-based controller the musicians use and become a functioning participant in the EEMHM collage, expanding their role in the music. The controls embedded on this webpage represent three channels of a simplified version of the system. This example is designed to give a single person control over a small instance of the EEMHM sound collage and experiment with mixing compositions from different categories, changing volume levels, changing tempos, and fading compositions in and out of each other at different rates.

Many of the same joys the musicians get out of performing Braxton’s music can be experienced by playing with this mini-EEMHM system. The satisfaction of playing two GTM pieces at radically different tempos, or at very close tempos so that they go out of phase. The excitement of hearing three solo saxophones happening at once, or juxtaposing Trillium opera excerpts with Diamond Curtain Wall electronic explosions of sound. It turns out the Echo Echo Mirror House Music is a fascinating playground that serves as an excellent introduction to the system as a whole.


[Note: We highly recommend reading Anthony Braxton’s liner notes to the Firehouse 12 Records release 3 Compositions (EEMHM) 2011 for more details on EEMHM.]

Carl Testa (b. 1984, Chicago, IL) is a multi-instrumentalist and composer at the intersection of improvised, electronic, experimental music, and new media. As a performer/improviser, he is equally comfortable on string bass, electronics, lighting, and combinations thereof. As a composer, he has written acoustic and electronic music for configurations ranging from solo to chamber orchestra, including multimedia pieces that incorporate electronics, lighting, dance, and theater. His work has been performed throughout the US and Europe, and is documented on many recordings, most recently "Iris (for solo bass and electronics)" (Lockstep Records 2013), and "Sn (for prepared guitar and electronics)", a collaboration with guitarist Christopher Riggs (Gold Bolus Records 2015).


In addition to his work as a leader/collaborator, he performs regularly with composer Anthony Braxton's ensembles and bassist Mario Pavone's ensembles. He serves as the Director of Publishing and Creative Technology for Braxton's Tri-Centric Foundation where he manages all facets of the production of digital and print scores for the organization. He is the production manager for noted jazz venue and record label Firehouse 12. He has also organized The Uncertainty Music Series since 2007, which is an ongoing monthly concert series in New Haven, CT featuring improvised, electronic, and experimental music. He has received support from the New Haven Department of Cultural Affairs and from NewMusicUSA. He lives in New Haven with his wife, vocalist Anne Rhodes, and their son, Florian.