Tyondai Braxton review – Oval Space, Tues 20th May

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My first visit to The Oval Space in Hackney, and the first thing you see are the massive gasometers that are adjacent, setting the scene for a slightly otherworldly evening. I’ve never seen gasometers this close up and they are impressively looming objects, and allowed me the opportunity to learn all about the differences between the water sealed system and the Wiggin’s dry-seal system. Almost more interesting that the music, I’m sorry to report.

We were a bit late for Luke Abbot’s set, but what we heard seemed like nicely ambient semi-mangled drones; distorted but harmonically pleasant. I noticed Kieren ‘Fourtet’ Hebden watching, so that’s probably a seal of approval.

After a half hour break, the Tyondai group mounted their five white podlike platforms, which they sat upon cross-legged, raised 5 foot in the air. Possbily the most uncomfortable were the percussionists who continually shifted to achieve some level of comfort. I’m not entirely convinced that performing cross-legged is the best position for such physical instruments, but it was pleasingly novel and conveyed an atmosphere of slight otherworldlyness.

The first track set the pattern for the rest of the evening; Tyondai and the chap to his left manipulated harsh bursts of distorted analogue synthery, whilst the three percussionists to his right played stacatto bursts of precise snare/shaker/bongos. Which gradually evolved into a more pulsed beat, locked down by a solid bass drum.

The subsequent tracks were pretty similar; precision drumming and distorto synths over the top. Musically, the percussionists were doing clever poly-rhythms and slicing up the meter in straight beats, and then triplets, etc. Which was all very clever and exceptionally well played – but just lacked a certain something to make it really engaging and interesting.

If they were working out some kind of evolution of the material it was a bit too subtle to figure out, and I’m afraid after about 20 minutes I was actively quite bored, waiting for something to really latch onto. The overall effect was kind of like Steve Reich’s ‘Drumming’, but without the minimalist approach of setting a pattern in motion and watching the effects play out. Notable was the fact that the percussion was being played from a score so it was very precisely trying to achieve that effect, but I still didn’t grasp it.

I wanted to like it, as it was an interesting concept, but struggled.

And then, almost as soon as it started it was over. I’m pretty sure the whole thing was only 40-45 minutes, which given the entry price seemed a little steep. But, on the other hand I was happy to go outside again and be overawed by the gasometers and their looming presence again.

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