Henry Brant

Sunday 27 April 2008

Just found out via ANABlog that radical composer Henry Brant has just died, aged 94. Brant was one of the pioneers of spatialised music, using ecelctic instrumentation playing in diverse genres. Kyle Gann has posted a brief appreciation of Brant:

He was a phenomenally creative figure, though one hard to wrap one’s ears around, because his specialty was spatial music; his works, often involving multiple ensembles separated by distance, were too enormous to stage often, and recordings hardly do them justice.

My one CD of Brant’s music includes his 1970 work Kingdom Come, for two orchestras. The sleeve notes suggest that the disc be played with the left speaker in front of you, the right speaker placed behind and above you, to simulate the experience of sitting in the stalls, with one orchestra playing on stage, the other in the balcony. I still haven’t heard Orbits, for 80 trombones, organ, and sopranino.
ANABlog has an mp3 of “Battles of Gods”, the opening movement of his 1985 epic Northern Lights Over the Twin Cities. The Other Minds Archive has a bunch of performances and interviews, including the massive Meteor Farm for two sopranos, three South Indian performers, two choruses, West African chorus, jazz band, gamelan, and two percussion ensembles – each group plays from a different physical location, playing music in their respective idiomatic style. A transcript and audio of a 2002 interview is on the American Mavericks site.

If you listen to engineers, they talk about surround sound and all this kind of stuff, but the space doesn’t record. The way I started out to attempt to do this in the early ’50s was I’d have four tape recorders. In those days the play back and the tape recorder were in one box all together. So I’d record separate tapes without trying to mix them. I’d feed one through each tape recorder, separate them in the room, and start one and the next one. It had to be lined up so that it can start 15 seconds later; rush from one to the other. I got a truer kind of spatial recording than the fancy stuff they do now with mixing and a 140 tracks all mixing the same thing. I don’t know how many speakers, but all the stuff was coming out of all of them. Well, that’s the most that recordings have been able to do.
Recordings are clearer now, but the recording of space is no further than it ever was.