“The Aztec Indians always included a dog with the corpse of the sacrificed god
so that the spirit could swim on the dog’s back over the water of the dead.”
Perle Epstein, The Private Labyrinth Of Malcolm Lowry.
In the post-Fire Music era, the music of Die Like A Dog worked as a bulwark against the soporific muddying and enfeebling mystification of the music and message of Albert Ayler. Ayler himself did much to propagate this kind of easy reading, the psychedelic sleeves, the image of the seal of God on his forehead, the vision of the expectant soul in search of Spiritual Unity. For Peter Brötzmann the key lies in another reading of the legend, one that winds up at the bottom of the East River as unceremoniously as the consul at the end of Malcolm Lowry’s Under The Volcano is thrown head-first into the abyss and a dead dog thrown after him. He has used himself up, or more properly he has fulfilled his own prophecy. Brötzmann reads Ayler’s formula as healing force, with the emphasis on physical energy, on power. His whole life then seems less like a sentimental morality play, an Icarus who flew too close to the sun (tales of Ayler plastered in suntan lotion and dressed in a fur coat and sunglasses in Times Square) and more like a life lived, a deal made in certainty. It underlines the magical reality of Ayler’s gambit; that the price of prophecy is sacrifice and that sacrifice itself is an exchange of energy.
Brötzmann plays energy music, forbidding in its liberation. But like Ayler he sees himself as extending rather than exploding a particular tradition. As early as the Machine Gun sessions Brötzmann was bracketing his martial assaults with raucous big band vamps that had a connection to the tradition that went beyond mere quotation. Whereas much contemporary Improvised Music came out of jazz but quickly annexed itself in a form of Art Praxis that was self-consciously Post, Brötzmann has always worked at the vanguard of tradition, lacking the self-abnegating fundamentalism of the less confident improvisers who remain vigilant against the slightest taste of prior tongue. By animating voices from out of the past, by incorporating aspects of ‘primitive’ music (for which read, as Charles Olson insisted, ‘primary’) - blues and gospel, Middle Eastern and African modes – Brötzmann’s music sounds simultaneously ancient and futuristic.
Despite the provenance of the name, Die Like A Dog were anything but a straightforward Fire Music quartet. The presence of bassist William Parker and percussionist Hamid Drake connected Brötzmann’s music to more rhythmic and less industrial concepts of time. Toshinori Kondo was a wildcard. He often worked to counter, or let’s say leaven, the rolling unselfconscious style of the bass and drums, his electric trumpet cutting through the sound like a searchlight in the dark. The very presence of electricity marks Die Like A Dog out as lacking in reverence while refusing any Luddite notions of raw or authentic, even if Brötzmann’s music is still talked about in terms that would make him out to be some kind of bullish savant. But Kondo’s hallucinatory sound, that weird bubble that he’s able to generate around himself, has inevitable echoes of electric Miles, of the endless grooves of Live Evil and On The Corner and Agharta. From this perspective it feels like Die Like A Dog were the central projective point for traditions from the past on their way to the future.
This recording is taken from a performance at the Total Music Meeting at Podewil in Berlin on November 16th 1994. It’ a tour-de-force of the group’s various strategies. Drake’s hand-drums bring out Brötzmann and Kondo’s lunar side. At moments they get so high, twining around each other across phantom registers, that it sounds like the very DNA of the music is unravelling. The group has a voice, or voices. From Parker’s weeping arco through Brötzmann’s wounded tone and Kondo’s chattering echo, the emphasis is on speech, on the natural line. To get there the group submit to a process of temperance and adjustment through the cultivation and release of energy. The music becomes essential, reduced to primal musical gesture while inflating accidentals, split tones, vocalised screams, to the status of the building blocks of a new language. And though there’s little room for sentiment there’s plenty of emotion. This is a music that feels, that communicates the experience of feeling - of being - in a language that is sourced from deep inside the body and that is as physical as it is spiritual. The real price of prophecy, Brötzmann intimates, is a corpse like a dog in the river. Energy requires constant sacrifice. Little birds have fast hearts. All mysticism aside, it’s as serious as your life.