Earlier today, experimental composer and musician Tyondai Braxton released the Oranged Out EP, the proceeds from which are being donated to Everytown for Gun Safety. (The EP’s title is inspired by Everytown’s “Wear Orange” campaign). The pieces continue the kind of work for which Braxton has become known, full of stuttering electronics, white-hot streaks of sound and warped, Martian-like percussion. But the decision to put the proceeds from the album toward a cause he believed in is something new for Braxton. We talked with him about the origins of Oranged Out, and why now was the right time for him to add a political component to his art.
I wanted to talk a little bit about the origins of Oranged Out. How did the idea to turn this EP into a fund-raiser for Everytown for Gun Safety develop?
It’s always a tricky thing. 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. I had the tracks for the EP, and I was planning on releasing it anyway. But after the event in Orlando, I just started to ask myself how I could get involved, what getting involved means, and how I could advocate for ideas that I feel are really important. It actually came together pretty quickly, between working with Everytown, who have been great, and with Bandcamp, who have been great. The thing that’s been really exciting is the way people are so willing to band together to do these kinds of things. It’s been an inspiring process.
Why did you decide to work with Everytown?
I worked closely with my manager, who has done stuff with other artists for Everytown. After the Orlando shooting occurred, I was talking with him about it, and I was wondering how we could do something. He actually suggested Everytown, as he’d already done some work with them. So he was the one who connected us.
I’ve been finding myself both exhausted and despondent by the aftermath of gun violence and the continued inaction by Congressional leaders for so long. It really feels like maybe a corner was turned with the Orlando tragedy. I’ve been following the sit-in, and it feels like people are finally refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer.
There’s a sea change. But as we’ve seen in the past, there’s a lot of passion at first. But slowly, as that fades away and these tragic events become more and more in the rearview, you start to hear less and less about it, and there’s less of a focus on doing something about gun control and gun safety. But I’m hopeful. I know that eventually something will happen. The question is, will this be the event, or is it going to take another who-knows-how-many events before somebody actually does something?
Because the dangerous thing there is you can get so easily lulled into this mindset of, ‘Well, that’s just the way things are. What a shame.’ Which is disturbing.
Especially after Sandy Hook. When you look at that event, you say to yourself, ‘If this doesn’t change something, then I guess we really are just accepting this as the new normal.’ You have Orlando, which is technically the worst shooting in U.S. history, and you think that could be enough to change things. With the sit-in happening and the amount of people who are focusing and organizing around making meaningful change in gun legislation happen—every event is just more over the top than the next, and I’m just hoping that, at some point, something’s gotta give.
You mentioned that you’ve been thinking a lot about how you can incorporate your politics into your art. What do you think the role of the artist should be when it comes to political advocacy?
I can’t say “can” or “should.” It’s such a personal decision to make. And it’s something not to be done lightly, either. If you have the ability within your art to be able to advocate for certain things you believe in, that’s great. But it’s difficult to do. I feel like if you have the ability to do that, important work can be done if you’re able to focus your efforts into something positive. Because I’m so new to doing something like this, I don’t yet have a fully-formed opinion on it. I’m kind of figuring my own way out.
What are the origins of the five songs on the EP?
The songs are a collection of pieces I did that are connected to the era of HIVE1. It’s still a part of that world. It was created in and around that time—some of them were recorded during the time, some a little bit after. I just had these tracks, and I had been wanting to put them out for a bit. I’m glad to be able to release this music.
We’ve talked a lot about politics, but I’d be curious to know what musical ideas you find yourself fascinated by lately.
I’m listening to a lot of electronic music and orchestral music. Those are still my first loves. I’m still interested in generative music, and I’m still really excited about large-scale orchestral music and I’m still interested in finding connections between those two ways of working, and those two means of creating music.
—J. Edward Keyes