Weird for the Sake of Weird
The story behind Tyondai Braxton’s HIVE1 is as important as, or possibly even more important than, the actual music itself. The “album” (definitely not the right word for whatever this is), is comprised of eight tracks that were conceived as part of a multimedia performance experience, which premiered at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2013. Over the past two years, Braxton has been at work boiling down the music from this project into a standalone album. It definitely sounds ambitious and exciting, but does the music hold its own?
Short answer — no. The main problem with Braxton’s avant-garde musical adventure is that it doesn’t really do anything. It’s never rhythmic enough to be considered a possibility for any kind of dancing. It doesn’t have any sense of melody or song structure to make it suitable for casual listening. It tries to stand up on its avant-garde qualities, often utilizing discord, broken rhythm, and even silence in unusual ways, but unfortunately it’s never interesting enough for the kind of introspective sonic exploration that it seems to be striving for.
Opening track “Gracka” is a three-minute pastiche of stilted arpeggios and syncopated rhythms that actually end up being the high point of the whole experience. The long and wandering “Boids” fails to make a splash at any point. It runs on a backbone of naturalistic percussion that has a kind of chopped-up field recording quality, with waves of synthesizer chords washing over it at irregular intervals. “Outpost” and “Amlochey” have a similar naturalistic quality, utilizing sounds reminiscent of cricket chirps and cicada songs as their foundation. The former of these pieces, however, is broken into a dozen miniature tracks which all cut to silent moments before they get up to speed. Braxton includes a couple of shorter intermission tracks to break up the rhythm, but these don’t just verge on annoying cacophony — they plunge headlong into it.
By the time “Scout 1” rolls around, HIVE1 has lost any hope of being a worthwhile listen as a whole. And though the over nine-minute finale promises to be epic solely on the merits of being over nine minutes long and a final track, and actually delivers some interesting musical dynamism, it still can’t come close to salvaging this record. Avant-garde music is meant to challenge notions of what music can be, and HIVE1 certainly does so, but it never provides any good argument for its place in that debate.