Tyondai Braxton With The Wordless Music Orchestra performs at the Library of Congress. (Josh Sisk/For The Washington Post)

The conductor, Caleb Burhans, wore black fingernail polish. There were adventurous hairdos and giant amplifiers. Kazoos buzzed and a laptop belched sine-waves. But for all of the wild gestures, it was the tiny, unintentionally audible, click-clack of guitar pedals that spoke most directly to Braxton's far-out vision of orchestral music.

Before he had a 30-piece backing band, Braxton relied heavily on guitar pedals -- loop-boxes, mainly -- to generate an orchestra's worth of sound on his own. But rather than stacking static melodies, Braxton used the technology to generate off-kilter rhythms and topsy-turvy harmonies.


It's a singular style, one that Braxton has worked hard to cultivate. He studied music at the University of Hartford's Hartt School and, until last year, performed in the post-rock supergroup Battles. Part of it might just be in his DNA, though. He's also the son of composer/improviser Anthony Braxton.

But Braxton's music has little in common with his father's. For all the weirdness, he's a pop guy at heart. And his real talent is for synthesis--he's highly adept at melding disparate genres. The evening's centerpiece, the ten-minute "Platinum Rows," took nods from Debussy, but also contemporary underground noise-nicks like Black Dice.


Caleb Burhans conducts The Wordless Music Orchestra performs at the Library of Congress. (Josh Sisk/For The Washington Post)