“WHEN I FIRST MOVED to New York, I was playing all these shows where I would sit on the floor,” Tyondai Braxton said. “A guy came up to me one day and said, ‘Man, every time I come to see you, I can’t see you. People stand in front of me, and it’s just sounds. Someone should build you a platform.’ I did another show maybe a month later, and the same guy showed up. His name was Uffe. I extended my hand to shake his, and he handed me schematics for a pod.”
Soon thereafter, Braxton got a grant to have Uffe construct a pod, and he proceeded to perform his solo shows on it. Years later he assembled a five-person ensemble for an ongoing installation he calls HIVE. It incorporates three live percussionists and two on electronics, including Braxton himself—all of whom sit perched atop Uffe’s pods. The project premiered at the Guggenheim Museum in 2013, and Braxton refined the music over the next two years. First and foremost a live experience, the project also resulted in an album, HIVE1, released on Nonesuch Records in March 2015.
Braxton with sound technician Richie Clarke, setting up for HIVE at the Kitchen.
For most of his life, Braxton has straddled the line between classical and rock. As a kid, he played clarinet. As a teenager, he picked up the electric guitar. In college, he studied classical composition. He played in the experimental rock band Battles for almost a decade. In 2008, he returned to solo work with an orchestral album, Central Market.
“In orchestral music, you have a level of nuance that’s important and very exciting, but the scale, the spectrum of dynamic power and intensity, is a lot more subdued. I do really love nuance. I want the music to go almost to nothing sometimes. I want negative space, but it doesn’t need to be relentless. One thing rock music gave me is a sense of having real power.
“Probably the best performance I’ve seen in the last four or five years was the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra do a piece by Edgard Varèse at Carnegie Hall. Varèse is my man, I just love this guy. They did ‘Amériques’—it’s for a 120-person orchestra—and they played it like they were at fucking CBGB’s. It was the last piece on the bill, and it made everything else sound so polite and dainty and refined.”
ALTHOUGH HE IS BASED in Melbourne, Ambarchi spends most of his time bouncing around the world, performing composed or improvisational works alone or with an ever-changing roster of collaborators. “I’m traveling all the time,” he says. “I’m constantly going through security and customs, and carrying heavy stuff. It’s really exhausting, but it’s exhilarating, too. When I arrive in a new place and a different language, different cuisine, different people, I feel a new energy.
“And when I come home, I don’t know what to do with myself. On the one hand, I just want to become a hermit and be with my records and my family—be normal. But on the other hand, after a week or two, I feel like a fish out of water. I can’t sit still, I need to do something. So I end up recording all the time and making records. I want to keep creating and to keep that energy I have when I’m traveling. I get a lot of ideas on airplanes. From Australia to Europe, it’s thirty-five hours. So what are you going to do? I surrender to my situation.
“Once I was on a plane listening to Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’. I heard the string coda at the end. I was kind of falling asleep to it and thought, Why can’t I just hear this string coda for a long time? But then they’ll just fade the music away, at the moment you’re thinking, Why can’t that go on for half an hour? When I made the record Sagittarian Domain, the last section was totally inspired by that moment.”