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Tyondai Braxton

On Tuesday 9th October Tyondai Braxton will perform his album ‘Central Market‘ with the London Sinfonietta at Ether Festival 2012. In this interview we discuss the beginnings of his solo career, initial gigs in New York, signing to Warp and the evolution of the disc shaped platform he sits upon whilst performing. We also discuss his working relationship with orchestras and performing ‘Central Market’ with the London Sinfonietta. Tyondai also expands on the time he spent practicing and performing with Philip Glass at his apartment in New York ahead of their show at ATP. We also discuss future projects with Alarm Will Sound, his appreciation of Four Tet and admiration of modular analogue synthesis.

We’re offering a pair of tickets to see Tyondai Braxton perform Central Market with the London Sinfonietta at Ether Festival, to enter visit the Inverted Audio Facebook page.

Tell me about your involvement with Ether Festival 2012?

I’m really excited to be playing at Ether Festival, it’s a big deal to get to work with a group like that and I’m psyched to be doing ‘Central Market’ over there.

We did it with BBC Symphony Orchestra last year for Steve Reich’s Reverberations show but it was kind of clunked in with another group of acts, it was an incredible festival but this is the first chance that I’ve had to present Central Market in its own spotlight.

Central Market was released in 2009; I assume you were working on it for at least two years. When you started out on this project did you have a grand vision of how it would work out, or was it just a project to play around with?

I guess it was a little of both, it was a grand idea and it was something that I’d never tried before so I didn’t totally know what the scope was going to be. The fuel of it was just being in love with that kind of music, which I was drawing from. Predominantly large scale orchestral pieces from all different blocks of time, particularly throughout the 20th Century and trying to work within that universe and see what I could do. It was a complete experiment but it was also done with conviction in the feeling that it was something that I wanted to explore more. It had awakened something in me that I realized that I truly loved.

I think any musician can relate to the fact that the record you’re making, no matter what it is, you never know what it’s going to be, so you know as much as you can know about it and embark on it. When it’s done you then realise what you’ve achieved as opposed to churning out exactly what you want to do. I don’t think it ever works out like that.

Did you discuss the album with other record labels or were you totally committed to Warp Records?

At the time, when Battles signed to Warp, I also signed as a solo artist with the understanding that I was going to do my own solo music. When we did the album ‘Mirrored’, it was a very successful record and we toured the album a lot so that was the main focus. I’d already planned on doing something and Central Market is what that something was. I had been talking to Warp about it and as I started to generate more momentum in the writing process I talked to them about it and it just naturally took shape.

Did Warp have any say in what compositions you should release on the album?

The first time they heard the music was when it was mixed down and finished. I played it to them and was really nervous because if you look at their roster it’s not exactly the kind of music they release.

Was it a purely a solo project or did you work with others to make it happen?

Once I knew what this record was going to be instrumentation wise, I had to start thinking abut ensembles, who could I actually get to play this and not only play it but who could kill this and play it well.

Serendipitously my girlfriend went to go see the Wordless Music Orchestra in New York. Their aesthetic of working with modern composers and older composers really impressed me. I ended up emailing Ronin who was head of the Wordless Music Orchestra and asked him if they would be available to do something with me.  Everything snowballed from there and they worked the absolute perfect ensemble that I could have hoped for.

Being based in New York, how have you been working in tandem with the London Sinfonietta?

This is the great thing about working in this way, I was really scared about, as I was getting more serious about working with orchestra, because when you’ve been in a band for a while, you end up rehearsing for a month before a tour so you can make it really tight. When you have a world class orchestras to perform with they don’t need to rehearse like that, especially the London Sinfonietta. They’re world-renowned for their sight-reading; the UK has the best sight-reading orchestras in the world by far.

I send the scores over to them a couple of months in advance, I rehearse with my core musicians in New York, the guitars and electronics and all the people who I bring with me. We get it tight our end and then turn up and we’ll be rehearsing with the sinfonietta for the first time a day before the show.

It’s a scary thing to do, especially when you’re not used to doing it but I’ve got used to it and it’s really great, time saving as well when you’re working with such talented musicians. I can guarantee you that the first time we play together we’ll be able to get though all the pieces in our first try. But it’s not even about that; we’ll be fine tuning different sections.

What are you going to be doing during the performance?

I play in the guitar and effects section and do vocals for one of the pieces, but that’s it. I’m just a cog in a machine. You won’t see a spotlight on anything; I’m just going to be inside the orchestra playing.

How many people will be playing in the orchestra?

Something like thirty-five but only for one or two pieces. A lot of the pieces are much smaller so it doesn’t require everyone on stage, but when you see it you’ll notice when everyone is playing. It’s a very dynamic group of songs, which doesn’t require the whole orchestra all the time.

What other orchestras have you worked with in the past and are thinking about working with in the future?

I’m working on a commission with Alarm Will Sound next year, I’ll be doing a piece for them which isn’t finished yet but I’m excited to get a chance to work with them.

Will you be incorporating any visuals into your show?

For this show it’s not setup like a traditional orchestra. You’ll see a guitar sections, extra percussion, vocals going through effects and you’ll see effects all over the floor so visually it’s a pretty colorful thing. I also come from the band ethic that you can do something visually impressive on stage without using visual effects. Working with visuals is a completely different animal and in the future I’d really like to explore that more.

You recently played at ATP in New York with Philip Glass. Can you tell me about your working relationship with him?

It was one of the most significant times of my life. I’m really grateful to him, not just as a composer, I’ve been aware of his music for a long time, since I was young and to get a chance to rehearse with him, see how he thinks and plays, whilst trying to reconcile ways to perform together that made sense was a next level process. It was such a thrill and was so scary because I wanted to do a good job. He was so kind, it was one of the nicest situations that I’ve ever had with anyone and to top it all off he was Philip Glass.

Philip had all these great stories to share and we’d talk about all sorts of great subjects. I felt like a kid in a candy store just listening to all these amazing things he was saying and then getting a chance to play, then taking a break and talking more, it was an incredible experience.

Were you rehearsing at his?

Yeah we did three rehearsals, which was incredible that he allowed that to happen. It’s certainly not the norm for people of his stature to allow that kind of time to perform. He was very easy about it.

I went to his apartment in New York and rehearsed there each time and got to know when his family were around and his pupils and assistants were working, he’s doing multiple projects at a time in the next room orchestrating another piece for a recording, he’s just so busy. It was great to see how he works, lives and thinks. It was an eye opening experience.

What would you say was the most prominent thing you took away from your time spent with Philip Glass, which you will use in your future music?

That’s a hard question to answer. I think that he’s so comfortable musically in his skin and he’s so matter of fact about what he is and who he is, there’s purity in the way that he plays and the way that he thinks. Whereas with me I have my pedals set up and wires everywhere and he just sits there at his piano and just exists in this pure state and that’s something that I admire. It’s almost a simile to what I do. It seems so simple, but it’s not simple at all, it’s clear. He has a very pure and clear way of doing music that is wholly his own.

What about Steve Reich?

I haven’t had the same amount of time with Steve Reich. I didn’t really work with him. I met him one time when we did Central Market last year at the Barbican. He invited me to play as a part of his Reverberations Festival, so I got a chance to talk to him for a little bit. It’s amazing to be able to interact with these people who are responsible for a lot of excitement in your own craft and ideas. It’s a thrill to be able to interact with Philip Glass and Steve Reich.

What about the current electronic music landscape, what’s your critical perception of it?

Every year there’s something new that’s coming out and sure there’s stuff that comes out which isn’t interesting, but looking at it from the positive side of it I see a lot of evolution in electronic music and there’s a lot of artists that are exciting me. People show me stuff, which I think is great but I haven’t had my ear to the ground like I’ve had in the past.

I really like Four Tet. In a similar way to Philip Glass he’s found a way to exist in his purest form in a lot of ways. I’m still listening to a lot of orchestral music and still finding a lot of inspiration in that.

I’ve recently gotten involved with modular synthesis on a project that I’m working on, which I can’t say too much about but I’ve been getting deep into modular synths and I have my own setup now and am working with it. It’s really exciting. It really spins your head around in the way you think about music composition. If you’re not used to it seems like a very alien way to create music.

Who do you want to see at Ether Festival?

Well I wont be in London for a long time, but I’d like to see Julia Wolf’s Adventure in Sound, I love her compositions. There’s also John Cale and Christian Marclay. He’s is easily one of my favorite visual artists of all time. His new installation called ‘The Clock’ has been getting press all over the world is one of the most significant visual art installations ever. People are saying that it’s a real definitive work. I’m a huge fan of him.

Ether festival is great, it brings together a lot of different kinds of artists and it’s known for not only bridging the gap but also building a faculty. A lot of the classical crossovers can be so engrossed, in some cases bridges can’t be built with them, but I think Ether does that.

Tell me about the table you use in your solo shows, what’s the concept behind it?

The first time I moved to New York I was doing a bunch of these shows where I’d be sitting on the floor with a crescent of guitar pedals in front of me, doing looped based pieces, trying to emulate larger group playing setups. When I was doing these shows and as people started to come and see me a lot more not a lot of people could see me. They would just be standing over me whilst I was playing so anyone who was four rows back couldn’t see me.

This Danish architect called Uffe Surland Van Tams came up to me and said that he could never see me play when he came to my shows. He said to me that he should design me a table so people could see me. I was like Ok, sure fine.

The very next show that I did he came so I went up to him and shook his hand, he gave me these AutoCAD schematics of a foldable disc platform. I said what’s this and he said that this was the table that he wanted to build.

I ended up commissioning him to build me this table so I was able to sit or float above the stage. I could also put LEDs inside the structure so they could shine through the bottom.

It’s an amazing thing, when you see it in person it’s really incredible. The craftsmanship that he put into the table is incredible and we’re actually working on a new thing together right now for a new project, which isn’t for an orchestra but is more of an electronic piece. It’s still under construction and will hopefully surface sometime in 2013.

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