Alongside the likes of John Cale, Christian Marclay, Mount Kimbie and iamamiwhoami, this year’s Ether Festival – one of the capital’s premier music, arts and technology events – at the Southbank Centre features a special performance by former Battles member Tyondai Braxton. Always a contemporary composer, and very much now an esteemed solo performer in his own right, Braxton is uniting with the London Sinfonietta – some of the finest avant-garde players in the country – for a recital of his 2009 album for Warp Records, Central Market. Initially recorded with the Wordless Music Orchestra, that album was a triumphant melding of the orchestral, minimal and rock worlds, and following a successful show at the Lincoln Center with the Wordless players, Braxton has brought his work to London town for a second time following a rendition at Steve Reich’s Reverberations in 2011.
We caught up with Tyondai to find out how this show came about, the acts he’s sharing the bill with, and also asked about his recent collaboration with the legendary Philip Glass.
Hello Tyondai, does this London performance of Central Market excite you or fill you with nerves?
I’m more excited because my core group and I know the music really well. Everyone is settled in a bit more and I’m excited to join forces with the London Sinfonietta.
How did you get involved with the London Sinfonietta?
It came about through Gillian Moore and Southbank. She was at the Barbican when we did Central Market with the BBC Symphony Orchestra for Steve Reich’s Reverberation festival last year. We got a chance to meet and talked about doing it at Ether this year.
Did you ever expect that when you recorded Central Market in 2009 that it would evolve like this, or was that all part of the plan?
I knew I wanted to do live performances of this music but how it would come together had yet to be determined when I completed the record. Wordless [Music Orchestra] and I talked about it during the process of recording and the opportunity revealed itself for the Lincoln Center show last year.
What are the difficulties in translating Central Market from record to a live setting? Have you had to change or drop anything?
I did have to re-orchestrate some elements in order for the pieces to be played, but not too much actually. I ended up adding some parts as my orchestrations ended up being lopsided in certain pieces.
What can you tell us about the other acts on the bill, are you an admirer of their work?
The other pieces on the program are all composers whose work I admire. The London Sinfonietta will be performing all of the works. I studied with Ingram Marshall when I was an undergrad studying music composition. His music is informed by minimalism in some ways, but he has a unique sensibility that is wholly him. Edgard Varese and Toru Takemitsu are very important to me and I have gone through long periods of obsessing over their music. Edgard Varese in particular I listen to constantly and it’s been like that for years. Bryce [Dessner] who is in the band The National is also a brilliant composer, whose work I’ve gotten a chance to know over the years. I’m excited to hear the re-orchestration of his piece Aheym for the Sinfonietta.
Someone like Bryce Dessner draws a few comparisons with you – he plays in “rock” bands but also finds time for the “avant-garde. Do you know him at all, is he a kindred spirit?
I’ve actually known Bryce for about 12 years. I met him when I wrote music for this dance troupe in 2000. I got to know his music from another project he’s been a part of for years called Clogs before I knew The National. I do appreciate his ability to work in a lot of different ways as seamlessly as he does. He works hard and does really great projects.
What can we expect visually? How is the recital set up – do you take centre stage?
No, I’ll just be performing in the electric guitar section, just another performer.
How many other players are there?
There’s something like 35 players in the orchestra.
Do you enjoy working with an orchestra?
I love working with orchestras. Each one is different and it’s always a great experience to see how each one operates.
How did you end up working with Philip Glass for your All Tomorrow’s Parties collaboration in New York?
Beck and Hector Castillo, a producer/engineer for Philip, asked me to do a remix for the remix record that’s coming out at the end of this month. I remixed his piece ‘Rubric’ from Glassworks, one of my favourite records of his. I guess they were into the remix and his management and mine orbited each other and they ended up reaching out to us asking if I’d do a duo for ATP. I jumped at the opportunity and it ended up being such an incredible experience. I’m grateful to Philip for his music and influence, but also for his character and kindness.
How did the ATP collaboration go, was it a success? Was it difficult to plan out and execute, or did you work well together?
I really loved our show at ATP. It sounded amazing on stage to me and the crowd seemed to be into it. Some people complained about sound issues in some reviews I read – yes I do read reviews sometimes – but it sounded great from where I was. We rehearsed a couple of times so it wasn’t straight up improvised, but there were elements of improvisation. It thought our universes connected in exciting ways. I’m very happy to have had a chance to experience that.
Is he someone your father [composer and multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton] knew or worked with? Did you discover his work separately from your dad or is this music you heard growing up?
I don’t think they ever played together. I heard his music growing up for sure but I couldn’t fully understand it and appreciate it until I got older.
Is Glass very much a “remixable” composer?
You’d be hard pressed to find a composer whose music lends itself more to being remixed than Philip Glass. This is a man who reinvented repetition and pulse, along with composers like Steve Reich, Terry Reilly and Lamonte Young and influenced what electronic music and dance music eventually grew out of.
Would you regard yourself as a composer, like Glass or Steve Reich?
I would say that I’m a composer but I can’t say I regard myself like Glass or Reich. They are in a class of their own.
Can I ask about your time in Battles? Do you feel more at home working as a solo artist?
I’m glad for my time in Battles. It got to a place where it wasn’t possible to continue. I think we did great work together and I’m glad to move on. It’s not that I feel more at home doing my own music… it’s more that I have to do my own music. I still believe in collaborations and I’m excited to do more.
What’s next for Tyondai Braxton?
I’m working on a new record and a new project for next year, that’s more electronic based. I’m also in the process of completing two commissions, one for the chamber orchestra Alarm Will Sound to premiere at Carnegie Hall next year and one for this ensemble from Brooklyn called Yarn/Wire. We’ll be bringing Central Market to LA as well, performing with the LA Philharmonic.
Tyondai Braxon and the London Sinfonietta will play at Central Market at part of the Southbank Centre’s Ether festival on 09 October. Tickets and more information are available here.