Schnipper’s Slept On: Tyondai Braxton, Lincoln Center, Classical Problems

March 08, 2011

Each Tuesday, FADER editor Matthew Schnipper highlights an underappreciated release he thinks we need to know about. This week it’s Tyondai Braxton's Central Market. Watch an interview with Braxton about the piece, buy it and read Schnipper’s thoughts about the selection process after the jump.

Last night, Caleb Burhans, founder of the Wordless Music Orchestra, who has a pretty serious faux hawk, conducted Tyondai Braxton’s piece "Central Market" and no one on stage was wearing a tie. Even wearing flannel, I was better dressed than a good deal of the players. When one guitarist had a throaty cough into the crook of his arm mid-piece, I wondered if there was really no way he could have held it? The audience, too, was (I assume) atypical of Lincoln Center, many unruly beards and hooded sweatshirts. One woman had a Halloween orange sparkly dress, she turned around and it was Bjork. David Byrne was there, a number of Dirty Projectors and a lot of people who I assume really love Arthur Russell, plus a number of lifetime Lincoln Center season ticket holding folks who it is possible have never seen a guitar on a stage. A lovely, motley crew that whose frisky air unfortunately it seems is rare at Alice Tully Hall.

Eva Chien, a very sweet publicist at Lincoln Center, was really excited to hand me my free tickets to see the performance. “We never have stuff for you,” she said. I mention her excitement not to single her out or to call any special attention to the fairly mundane relationship between the media and publicists, but because her surprise and pleasure in my (or, more generally, FADER’s) attendance framed my listening. I am interested in, and FADER covers, all genres of music, but with rare exception does that include classical. Why?

Before Braxton’s piece was played in full after the intermission, three brief compositions were performed, my favorite being the first, “Road Movies,” by John Adams, a duet for piano and violin. A mostly calm, solemn piece, it is mostly without repetitive melody, but not without a great deal of easily identifiable beauty. Truly it was a joy to sit in a hall undoubtedly hallowed and listen to professionals play with skill and tenderness. As much as classical is an anomaly in my daily musical life, however voracious, its absence may not be only my fault. The logistics of moving a giant piano and comfortable seating can’t help. Patrons of the arts probably don’t want to see Light Asylum. Or do they? Is there something Diplo can do to help? I am sort of serious. Though I am much better versed in avant garde music than say African dance or shoegaze, I feel a more celestial kinship to those genres, their world of clubs and car speakers closer to mine than anything uptown. But Tyondai Braxton may be that bridge.

In one way or another, I have known Braxton’s music almost half my life, having serendipitously seen him play in the basement of a college dorm when I was a teenager. You had to get a student with a keycard to swipe you inside. When I opened the door to the rec room where the show was, some guy with a mini-afro was sitting cross-legged with a guitar on his lap and a host of peddles before him, making a mess of sound. It was crazy, I was 15. I’ve seen him perform on and off since then, both solo and as a member of Battles, the fairly popular rock band he left a few months ago. Though that loss must in some ways be his, it is mostly theirs and ours, his role as the band weirdo, his roboticized choruses and guitar theatrics heavily responsible for their push past the norm. “Central Market,” composed and released while he was still a member of the band, feels like a concerted effort to move past the boundaries of rock music, and, for that sake, classical as well. At its best moments, last night’s performance felt like a simultaneous performance of a film’s score and all of the moments recorded by its foley artist. There were kazoo players humming in earnest, a violinist who ripped up her bow’s horsehair, a guy playing some unidentified electronic something, and Braxton, too, in a blue windbreaker, occasionally oohing into a microphone, rambunctiously parading around his guitar strings. So much was happening. I have no idea how he made this music and that is exciting.

Maybe it’s that wonderment that’s leaving FADER from filling the seats at Lincon Center. “Classical,” by definition, isn’t fresh and, internet-driven, ours is a world routinely seeking the shock of the new. Maybe the old just needs to be repackaged. And, actually, maybe it has been. I’ll try to get word out.

From The Collection:

Slept On
Schnipper’s Slept On: Tyondai Braxton, Lincoln Center, Classical Problems