Who is American composer Tyondai Braxton?

Thursday, March 8, 2018 - 10:19

On 18 April, American composer and musician Tyondai Braxton comes to Southbank Centre to deliver the world premiere of TELEKINESIS, his new work for orchestra, electronics and choir. But who exactly is Tyondai Braxton?

He’s the product of a musical family

Tyondai’s father is free-jazz composer and multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton. An acclaimed and prolific musician Braxton Snr plays numerous instruments including many types of saxophone and clarinet, flute and piano, and has released more than 100 albums. So, no pressure.

He battled his way to the top

In late 2002 Braxton co-founded the group Battles with Ian Williams, performing as guitarist, keyboardist and singer with the experimental post-rock band, until choosing to step away in 2010. The group had huge critical success with their 2007 album Mirrored, which featured the track Atlas.

Battles - Atlas - Later With Jools Holland 2007

His solo sound is hard to pin down

Like the music of Battles, Braxton’s solo projects boast a distinct sound which brings together repetitive rhythms, delicate melodies and buzzing electronica. As such, comparisons of Braxton’s work span a broad spectrum, with his work likened by critics to anyone and everyone from electronic artists Amon Tobin and Aphex Twin, to classical composers Stravinsky and Stockhausen.

But that doesn’t stop his music travelling

Straddling the line between contemporary classical and post-rock electronica Braxton’s work reaches out to a wide audience and has cropped up in some unlikely and diverse environments. From performances at the Guggenheim in New York to an accompanying spot on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

His inspiration ranges from grunge to early modernists

Despite his experimental rock beginnings, which had their roots in Nirvana and Sonic Youth, Braxton these days tends to take his cues more from large orchestral work, which he considers his heart and soul. As he told The New York Times at the launch of his first solo album after leaving Battles, HIVE1 ‘My main influence that I’ve really been thinking a lot about is Edgard Varèse, the early modernist composer. He was the first composer to do a really serious piece for percussion ensemble.’

Edgard Varese: Ionisation (Full recording)

He’s prepared to use his musical powers for good

The tragic nightclub shooting in Orlando in June 2016 was the catalyst for Braxton to find a way to bring together his music and politics. The composer chose to donate the proceeds from his Oranged Out EP to Everytown for Gun Safety, an American anti-gun violence charity.

I’ve always separated my politics from my art. But I’ve been wondering lately if there were places where they could intersect, and I could start advocating for ideas that I believe in.
Tyondai Braxton, speaking to Bandcamp in 2016

But he’s not always that well received by airport security

Braxton’s fondness for experimental electronic sounds, may lead to brilliantly encapsulating compositions, but his choice of instruments doesn’t always make travelling to perform and record all that easy for the performer.

Arousing suspicion since 1978 #ohareairport

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Tyondai Braxton’s TELEKINESIS receives its world premiere with the BBC Concert Orchestra in our newly refurbished Queen Elizabeth Hall on Wednesday 18 April.

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