As the music world grows ever more niche, Tyondai Braxton is that rare musician who’s able to navigate between rock, electronic, and the avant-garde.
The son of renowned avant-garde jazz elder Anthony Braxton, Tyondai first came to attention as a member of the New York post-rock group Battles. Though Braxton left the band in 2010 (after performing with them twice in Japan), he says the experience was formative.
“It was a really beautiful time, but also a very complicated time,” he tells Metropolis from his home in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “We were able to bring great stuff out of each other. It allowed me to test out musical ideas within the context of a band, but I never thought of it as just a band; so I tried a lot of weird stuff out that you might not associate with rock.”
While Braxton answers no comment when asked whether he keeps in touch with the members of Battles, he expresses gratitude for the experience. It’s hard to imagine Braxton at his current level of artistic renown—he debuted his new work HIVE1 at the Guggenheim Museum—without the acclaim he garnered as a member of Battles.
The group’s 2007 Mirrored was a defining work of the decade, and hauled rock into unexplored terrain of instrumental complexity. Battles songs built layered loops on top of loops, culminating with a machine-like force that belied rock’s roots in rhythm and blues.
The precise, mathematical approach brought them fans in the world of electronic music, and with his 2009 solo debut Central Market, and HIVE1, Braxton has been performing at electronic festivals such as Montreal’s Mutek, as well as experimental venues like New York’s Kitchen.
HIVE1 is equal parts installation—the five musicians play synths and percussion atop glowing pods—and a work of music. “I always imagined it as both a performing project and a record separate from the installation,” Braxton relates. “This is my first project that wasn’t just about the music but also had a multimedia presence. It was a chance to explore the visual.”
Braxton says the term “hive” is meant to evoke the natural world. “There’s a lot of references to natural phenomena in the music,” he explains. “For example, in the second track ‘Boids,’ you have swirling chords that evoke flocks of birds creating patterns in the air.”
With its bleeps, bloops, clicks, and whirring, HIVE1 isn’t easy music. But it is evocative; one can imagine it would make the perfect accompaniment to an exhibition of contemporary art such as at the Guggenheim Museum. In Japan, however, Braxton is being paired with DJ Eye of the Boredoms for a gig at popular music venue Liquidroom.
“I’m very happy with what I’ve been offered so far and how I’ve been able to navigate my career,” he says of his varied styles. “You have to do the work and be creative in the way it’s presented so the work can get out. Between performing and commissions, it’s a combination of ways. The hope is to find your people in different places who appreciate you and allow you to do the things you love.”
After his youth as a Nirvana-imbibing rock rebel, and his 20s spent with a major touring rock group, has Braxton come full circle to his father’s avant-garde heritage?
“I guess so,” he muses. “You do find your way back to where you’re from, and the avant-garde has been part of my life since I was
young. It’s full circle, but you take the journey that you take to find who you are, and it’s
unique to you. I still love rock and electronic music, and I took that with me as I started doing more abstract music. Your past comes with you, and sometimes it reawakens you in
certain ways. The journey can’t be ignored, and you celebrate that journey.”
Liquidroom, Jul 2. www.tyondaibraxton.com