Pitchfork: Duo (DCWM) 2013

by, Seth Colter Walls
January 10, 2017

Saxophonist Anthony Braxton’s collaboration with koto player Miya Masaoka is simultaneously dramatic and dreamy, swinging between free improv and ambient passages.

The composer and instrumentalist Miya Masaoka was already well-versed in experimental practices when she showed up for a 2013 gig with saxophonist Anthony Braxton. As a specialist on the koto, a traditional Japanese string instrument, Masaoka had appeared alongside visionary artists like Pauline Oliveros, in addition to presenting her own pieces on an electronically modified koto. Yet Braxton’s electro-acoustic setup managed to impress her.

“When I entered the stage area, there were six small speakers on tripods that resembled human heads on a stick figure body,” she writes in the liner notes for Duo (DCWM) 2013. “The speakers were facing in seemingly random directions, almost like people facing every which way, as if the speakers were talking to each other at a cocktail party.” Over two ensuing sets (three “experiences”), the duo improvised alongside waves of electronic tones, programmed by Braxton on the interactive SuperCollider platform.

A two-channel mix of that show, newly released on the RogueArt label, narrows the concert’s omnidirectional sonics a bit. But the most striking qualities of that performance have no trouble asserting themselves on the stereo recording. Simultaneously dramatic and dreamy, the duo’s method of swinging between free-improv and more ambient styles follows the loose script of other performances in Braxton’s “Diamond Curtain Wall Music” system. (Or, per Braxton’s preferred album-titling scheme, “DCWM.”)