Glenn Branca


musical style: 

photograph of Glenn Branca

Glenn Branca (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, October 6, 1948 - May 13, 2018) was an American avant-garde composer and guitarist known for his use of volume, alternative guitar tunings, repetition, droning, and the harmonic series. Branca received a 2009 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award.

Branca studied theater at Emerson College in Boston in the early 1970s. While there, he began experimenting with sound as the founder of an experimental theater group called Bastard Theater. He moved to New York in 1976. His first encounter with the NYC music scene was with the N.Dodo Band whom he observed many times at their rehearsal space- Phil Demise's Gegenschein Vaudeville Placenter. This is where he first met Jeffrey Lohn who was playing electric violin with the N. Dodo Band. He then formed two bands in the late 1970s, first Theoretical Girls (in 1977 with composer/guitarist Jeffrey Lohn) and later The Static. He also performed in Rhys Chatham & His Guitar Trio All-Stars in 1977, an experience that was very important in the development of his compositional voice (Branca 1979).

In the early 1980s, he composed several medium-length compositions for electric guitar ensembles, including The Ascension (1981) and Indeterminate Activity of Resultant Masses (1981). He soon thereafter began composing symphonies for orchestras of electric guitars and percussion, which blended droning industrial cacophony and microtonality with quasi-mysticism and advanced mathematics. Starting with Symphony No. 3 (Gloria) (1983), he began to systematically compose for the harmonic series, which he considered to be the structure underlying not only all music but most human endeavors. In this project, Branca was initially influenced by the writings of Dane Rudhyar, Hermann von Helmholtz, and Harry Partch. He also built several electrically amplified instruments of his own invention, expanding his ensemble beyond the guitar. Early members of his group included Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, Page Hamilton of Helmet, and several members of Swans. Later on, on the early nineties David Baratier attempted to document Branca's teaching style in "They walked in line."

Beginning with Symphony No. 7, Branca began composing for traditional orchestra (although he never abandoned the electric guitar). Branca also plays duets for excessively amplified guitars with his wife, and conducted his 13th symphony for 100 electric guitars at the base of the World Trade Center in New York City in 2001.

His album The Ascension: The Sequel was released on February 27th, 2010- featuring a 4 guitar, bass, and drum lineup similar to the original Ascension, and conducted by Branca himself.

Branca's music has finally begun to receive academic attention. Some scholars, most prominently Kyle Gann, consider him (and Chatham) to be a member of the totalist school of post-minimalism.

In October 2014, Branca premiered Ascension Three, touring it with Glenn Branca Ensemble in Europe. In February 2015, Branca's second 100 electric guitars piece, "Symphony No. 16 (Orgasm)", was premiered at Cité de la Musique in Paris. The Light (for David) for four guitars, bass and drums, premiered in October 2016 at the Roulette in Brooklyn.

Glenn Branca died on May 13, 2018.
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