Posted on Oct 6th 2009 11:37 pm

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Tyondai Braxton is a member of supergroup Battles, one of the most celebrated bands of recent years. Their debut album, Mirrored, saw them join Warp on the back of two EPs and a single released in a matter of months throughout 2004. The son of legendary experimental jazz composer and saxophonist Anthony Braxton, Tyondai follows his debut solo album, released in 2002, with an extremely ambitious second record, Central Market on Warp, which combines experimental rock, electronics and full orchestral sections. We caught up with the man via email ahead of his performance, as part of Battles, for the Warp20 celebrations in New York to talk about how he made the transition from his earlier work to the vast expanses of Central Market and how he wants to take this even further.

You’re due to play with Battles for the Warp20 party in New York this Friday. What does Warp means to you? Were you a fan of the label before Battles were signed, and who are your favourite acts on the label?
I was a big fan of Warp long before we started working with them. I remember the first time a friend of mine showed me Squarepusher’s Music Is One Rotted Note and also Boards of Canada’s Music Has The Right To Children. Both of those records were revelations to me. Right now their roster is so expansive and with such quality that I don’t know where to begin really. Each artist really has their thing down and does it well. Can’t ask for more than that out of a label.

Central Market is your first solo album since History Has No Effect (2002). Have you missed working on your own music, and how did it feel to be fully in control of a whole record again?
It felt essential! Battles is a great band and I love working with them but I need to have my own music to develop and build. I couldn’t live without doing my own music.

How did the project start, and what was your vision of it before you started working on it?
I wanted to take the solo model that I had used to emulate a large amount of people playing and actually cross over and get others involved! I had been obsessed with composers throughout the last hundred years and felt that a lot of the forms and scope of what they were doing was so exciting and felt so new. I wanted to incorporate these ideas into my music.

The album is quite a massive step forward from History Has No Effect, especially since you’ve worked with an orchestra for the most part. Was it a daunting project to get your teeth in?
It was but you have to pace yourself. Rome wasn’t built in a day right? Bit by bit, suddenly some ideas actually reveals itself as music and not just another directionless experiment. This is why it was important to me to not abandon the solo setup as a composition tool, but to add to the palette of what was already there. Even the early process is fun though because you’re so excited by what it has the potential to be.

The press release describes the album as inspired by Igor Stravinsky, Bernard Hermann, Brian Eno, John Adams and Swans; quite a wide scope, and the result certainly reflect this, but how would you say have you worked these influences into the record?
That’s a hard question to answer. It’s the same as when someone asks you “what are your influences?” It’s an easier question to answer when you’re younger and your scope is more limited but as you get older it’s harder to answer because you’ve had so many different tastes over time. These influences manifest themselves in your art in so many different ways. Another thing time does though is allow your tastes to be blended with more subtlety so it’s harder to explicitly say “this texture is purely this or that”. Your approach gets convoluted by all the different influences that you’ve had over time.

You’ve worked with the Wordless Music Orchestra and the Young New York City Ensemble for this album. How did you get to work with them?
My girlfriend went to see them perform in NY while I was working on this music. She came back and was blown away by their performance and said I’d have to see them play. I found a contact for them and emailed Ronen Givoney asking when they were playing next and Ronen said they didn’t have anything just yet but were looking for projects… So then I said…. “oh reeeeaaaallllyyyy….”

Your music freely feeds from jazz, classical, rock but refuses to settle on one particular genre. Was it always your vision of what you wanted to achieve, or, if it came to you progressively, what has influenced you during your formative years?
I feel it did come to me progressively. Truthfully when I was younger I really loved rock, punk, hip hop, dance and pop music. What I learned from that music that wanted to merge with the interests I have now is the immediacy, the rawness and urgency of a lot of that music. Don’t get me wrong I like patience in music and elegance too but when there’s a climax section I’m looking more towards the violence of a more raw music.

You have spent the last few years recording and touring with Battles. How did it all start with the band?
We all met at a Yankees game. Dave (Konopka) was being thrown out for yelling at the Red Sox who the Yanks were playing. In protest I walked out with him and so did a couple other guys. Those others guys were Ian (Williams) and John (Stanier).

You are currently recording the follow up to Mirrored with Battles. What can we expect of this second album?
It’s still too early to tell at this point. Plus don’t you want to be surprised?

You play live very regularly with Battles, and as a band, you have built a reputation for incredibly strong live shows. Are you planning to tour Central Market, and if yes, will you be touring with an orchestra? What will the shows be like compared to the record?
I do plan on performing this music at some point, hopefully next year. Battles is writing full throttle at the moment so I don’t have the time to organize something like that for this year.

You are also involved with a variety of other projects and commissions, including scores for ensembles like the Kronos Quartet, multi-media installations or contemporary dance troupes. Can you tell us more about some of these, and how your approach differs for these types of projects compared to your own music?
I haven’t had much time to do projects outside of Battles and then this solo music. I had written for dance troops when I first came to New York at the end of 2000 and that was really exciting to me. I used my solo set up in some situations but I also wrote a piece for six voices and six rides cymbals and another piece for tape loops of vibraphone being manipulated in real time. More recently for Kronos Quartet I got the offer from Bryce Dessner who was running the MusicNow Fest in Cincinnati. At the time I was in the studio recording Central Market and didn’t have a lot of time to turn out a new piece so I asked David Harrington if they might be interested in doing a string quartet version of Uffe’s Woodshop from Central Market. That was great to be able to try my hand at reducing one of my pieces for string quartet to see if that could work. They are an incredible group. It was a real honor to have a piece played by them. I think it’s important to have to step out of your comfort zone in a try to apply the things your interested in into an unexpected context.

You have collaborated with a lot of musicians over the years, from Thurston Moore or Jim O’Rourke to Black Dice and Oval. Is that something you particularly enjoy, and how do you approach these collaborative works?
Collaboration can be very exciting. I haven’t had the time to do much of that in the past couple of years but I hope to be able to. Playing your own music is important because once you know who you are alone you can more easily bounce off of other people when you work with them. The more defined you are the clearer the ideas for collaboration can be. Battles is a collaboration and I think it’s important to have that.

Also with the people you mentioned above I never collaborated with those guys per se – we have all played shows together on the same bill. I have played with Hisham Bharoocha who was a founding member of Black Dice.

You also collaborated with Guillermo Scott Herren on a couple of projects, first with Prefuse on Surrounded By Silence, then again with his Savath & Savalas act on Golden Pollen. How did these happen, and how did you meet him?
I met Guillermo in… 2004? He had heard some of my solo music and some of the early Battles EPs and got in touch to ask me to throw down some things on his record Surrounded By Silence. I had his records before I met him and was a fan. We really clicked and became good friends. He’s one of my heroes man. I love Guillermo. He really backed me and Battles to the point where he demanded that we be able to tour with him even when his agents were saying it was a bad idea because at the time Battles was too new to rely on a draw. He insisted and was incredibly persistent with Warp telling them “you have to work with Battles and Tyondai”. He was heaven sent for me and I’ll always be grateful that he helped me/us the way he did.

In 2003, you released a split album with hardcore/noise collective Parts & Labor. How did this come about, and why did you choose the particular format of a split album? How did you and the band work on the album?
I’ve been friends with Dan Friel from Parts & Labor since college. We lived together in college. He was a year ahead of me and moved to NY a year before me. When I got there he had started his band and I was doing my solo music. The label Narnack approached us about doing a split 7” which was a series they had been doing. I had previously released my first record, History That Has No Effect, on a small label, JMZ Records, here in NY but it had little distribution so Narnack seemed like it could be a good next step. We decided instead of a split 7” why not a split LP? We worked completely independently of each other and just forced it together. Thus my first lesson in “context”. Parts & Labor are great and I like the pieces I put on but the split between us, predictably doesn’t make much sense. It’s cool though – it’s a rite of passage to have a split release with someone right?

With the album about to be released, and a new Battles album in the pipeline, do you already have an idea of what you’re going to work on next?
I have notes on new pieces that I plan to flesh out during and after the new Battles recording. I really had a great time working on Central Market. I want to keep working like that, try some things I didn’t try and master some things I didn’t master on Central Market.

Although you are a multi-instrumentist, you’re probably best known as a guitarist, but has writing for orchestral formations made you want to develop this further, and if yes, how do you think you might take this forward?
I feel like working like this I’ve gotten closer to what I’ve always wanted to be able to create. As I mentioned above I have a bunch of ideas that I’d like to flesh out and keep pushing this forward. I remember making previous records and feeling exhausted, like I’d put everything I could say into one thing but this time I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of what I want to be able to flesh out and that’s such an exciting feeling. I can’t wait to do another record.

If you had to take five albums, books or DVDs on tour with you, which ones would they be, and why?
I picked 5 records and they are:

1. Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra & Marin Alsop: Takemitsu: The Flock Decsends Into The Pentagonal Garden
Honestly I always take this piece and the score with me on tour everywhere I go. It’s one of my favorite pieces.

2. Fela Kuti: Underground System
This record is a force. Infectious.

3. Black Dice: Miles Of Smiles
One of my favourites from this band. The mood it creates is wholey it’s own.

4. Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Pierre Boulez: Boulez Conducts Varèse
Varese is where my head has been for the past couple of months. Amériques is such a mind boggling piece.

5. The Bulgarian State Radio & Television Choir: Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares 1&2
Another go-to old favorite. Stop what you’re doing and order this right now.

For DVDs, the complete Six Feet Under, The Wire and Entourage. Is any other network up to the challenge to even attempt to compete with an HBO series?


Donari Braxton: The Invisible Alphabet
New novel from my brother. It’s seriously amazing. He seems to have an inexhaustible amount of ideas and has such a great sense of control in his craft. I looked to him and his work when struggling to flesh out my own.

Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
Such an incredible book. Ross fed into my already glorified view of the 20th century composers and made them into the lead characters in one of the most compelling stories I’ve ever read.

John Adams: Hallelujah Junction
It’s great to hear a very down to earth narration of a composer who you respect.

Email interview September 2009

Icon: arrow Tyondai Braxton (MySpace) | Warp Records

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