In concert: Tyondai Braxton and Wordless Music Orchestra at Library of Congress
Tyondai Braxton is a bit of an anomaly -- a musician whose work sounds as good at the Barbican as it does at a punk-rock basement show. Thursday night at the Library of Congress the New York City-based composer, joined by the Wordless Music Orchestra, performed a series of works drawn from his 2009 album, "Central Market."
The conductor, Caleb Burhans, wore black fingernail polish. There were adventurous hairdos and giant amplifiers. Kazoos buzzed and a laptop belched sine-waves. But for all of the wild gestures, it was the tiny, unintentionally audible, click-clack of guitar pedals that spoke most directly to Braxton's far-out vision of orchestral music.
Before he had a 30-piece backing band, Braxton relied heavily on guitar pedals -- loop-boxes, mainly -- to generate an orchestra's worth of sound on his own. But rather than stacking static melodies, Braxton used the technology to generate off-kilter rhythms and topsy-turvy harmonies.
On "Central Market" the loop pedals, at least, are gone. But the herky-jerky style he stumbled onto is still present in compositions like "Uffe's Woodshop" and "The Duck and the Butcher."
It's a singular style, one that Braxton has worked hard to cultivate. He studied music at the University of Hartford's Hartt School and, until last year, performed in the post-rock supergroup Battles. Part of it might just be in his DNA, though. He's also the son of composer/improviser Anthony Braxton.
But Braxton's music has little in common with his father's. For all the weirdness, he's a pop guy at heart. And his real talent is for synthesis--he's highly adept at melding disparate genres. The evening's centerpiece, the ten-minute "Platinum Rows," took nods from Debussy, but also contemporary underground noise-nicks like Black Dice.
The program -- which also included a performance of John Adam's "Road Movies," Burhan's "In a Distant Place,", and Workers Union, by Louis Andriessen -- was meant to convey the scope of Braxton's influences. The first two were relatively delicate. The latter, bludgeoning and dissonant. Somewhere in between, you get "Central Market."