Friday, November 1, 2013

U DIG IT?: Adam Hirsch digitizes Anthony Braxton's 1970 recording For Alto

The James R. and Susan Neumann Jazz Collection presents

the neUmann DIGITization project
Beginning in fall 2013, we’re giving interested students the chance to choose an LP to digitize from the ca. 50,000 jazz-related recordings currently in the Neumann Jazz Collection and then to answer a few brief questions about their experience.  If you’d like to be a part of the project, you can find out more information here. Today our post is by Adam Hirsch (OC ’14), who chose the 1970 album For Alto by Anthony Braxton (Delmark DS-420).

Why in general did you want to be a part of this project?
I personally collect a lot of vinyl recordings and convert them to a digital format at home; so having the chance to apply that love of records and knowledge of the relevant technology to a collection this comprehensive is a really special opportunity. It feels like I’m working with the materials of an entire history, and helping to preserve that history in a very small way.

Why did you choose this particular record?
I’m also a saxophone player, and I have a very specific interest in the ways in which the instrument has been used in experimental music and the avant-garde. Anthony Braxton is a hero in this field: he was one of the first players to experiment with a lot of the extended techniques you hear on For Alto, and it’s hard to find another saxophonist who so fluidly merges these new techniques and free improvisation with a refined sense of lyricism and composition. Braxton continually inspires me to listen in new ways and to find new approaches to my own playing.

How was this experience different from simply locating an existing digital version of the LP on YouTube or Spotify?
This is an original pressing of this record from 1970. That means that within months of the time Braxton played this music and recorded it onto tape, Delmark Records pressed the waveforms into a slab of vinyl, engraving the music into a physical record of history. That slab of sound is now in front of me, which is pretty incredible. I think that is something we can often lose with having such immediate access to digital files online—having the sense of the physical record of the music, and the fact that we really need to earn the experience of listening to it.

What musically stood out to you on the recording?
Despite the fact that Braxton is at all times the only musician on the record, he achieves an incredible range of dynamics. His playing is by turns mellow, chaotic, slow, anxious, organized, entropic, and melodic. He moves between these different musical feelings with a lot of patience and consideration: repeating phrases, slowly connecting ideas, throwing in sudden bursts of energy, and so on. As a solo musician, he has managed to overcome the enormous challenge of keeping the music engaging and sustaining his focus for long periods of time without the aid of other instruments or players.

Can other students listen to the LP now that it’s been digitized?
Yes, just click here and, when prompted, enter your ObieID and password. If you’re off campus, you’ll need to authenticate using Oberlin’s VPN.