Tyondai Braxton has been at the forefront of American experimental music for over the past decade. Braxton is best known for playing with the post-rock/math-rock band Battles from 2002 – 2010. Tyondai left Battles while the band was making their follow-up to their critically acclaimed 2007 album Mirrored to concentrate on his solo musical endeavors, which are even more experimental than the music of Battles.
Braxton’s latest creative project is HIVE, a multi-media live performance that is part art installation and part live band. HIVE debuted last year with a performance at the Guggenheim Museum Rotunda in New York City, and since then Braxton has brought HIVE to the Sydney Opera House as well as the MONA FOMA Festival in Tasmania. HIVE will be making its UK debut on May 20, with a one-off performance at the Oval Space in London, as part of Nonesuch Records 50th anniversary. Though Nonesuch Records was originally started as a classical label, they have released some of the best experimental, alternative, jazz, and new music albums over the past 5 decades, with an artist roster ranging from Steve Reich to David Byrne to Johnny Greenwood. Tyondai Braxton’s HIVE is a fitting musical performance for the event.
The music of HIVE shows creative growth of Braxton as a composer as well as a performer. HIVE consists of 5 performers, who instead of performing on a conventional stage sit cross-legged on top of oval pods specifically designed and created for Braxton by Danish architect Uffe Surland Van Tams. The pods make the performers look like they are playing on top of some kind of outer-space musical altars, and would fit easily into the design of an Alien movie. Each pod is programmed to complete the sonic mood of the piece with ever-changing LED light emitting through its perforated wooden walls. The music the 5 performer, including Braxton, play is a mix of written and improvised music, where some of the performers may be playing written arrangements while other members of the group are improvising and it creates interesting sonic landscapes and textures. The instruments used in the performance are a combination of acoustic percussion instruments along with electronic programming and synthesizers.
The mix of electronic and acoustic instruments is not new for Braxton as the basis of Battles is acoustic drums combined with synthesizers and modulated guitars, but presenting it in a way of semi-improvised written material with a non-conventional stage performance is a forward thinking musical idea that is taking Braxton into a new realm of experimental instrumental music that makes his work in Battles seem like pop music in comparison. The 5 member configuration of HIVE challenges what the definition of a band really is. HIVE may not be the post-rock and math-rock music Braxton is best known for, but it is progressive in a different kind of way, and it is a forward-thinking musical project that presents a new kind of experimental neo-classical music mixed with ambient and avant-garde electronic elements.
By William Covert
William Covert is the drummer of Chicago post-rock bands An Aesthetic Anaesthetic and Space Blood, and is an advocate for researching urban planning’s effect on the creative environment in post-industrial cities. You can find him on facebook or reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org