Glenn Branca

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Glenn Branca (born October 6, 1948 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) is a highly influential avant-garde composer and guitarist known for his use of volume, alternative guitar tunings, repetition, droning, and the harmonic series. In 2008 he was awarded an unrestricted grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts.


Life and work

Branca started playing the guitar at age 15. He also created a number of tape sound art collage pieces for his own amusement. After attending York College in 1966-1967 he started the short-lived cover band The Crystal Ship with Al Whiteside and Dave Speece in the summer of 1967. Branca studied theater at Emerson College in Boston in the early 1970s. In 1973 he moved from Boston to London with his then girlfriend Meg English. After moving back to Boston in 1974 he met John Rehberger. While there, he began experimenting with sound as the founder of an experimental theater group called Bastard Theater in 1975.

Working out of a loft on Massachusetts Avenue they wrote and produced the music/theater piece "Anthropophagoi" for a 2 week run. The lead actor John Keiser was chosen in The Boston Phoenix as one of the best performances of the year. In 1976 The Bastard Theater's second production was "What Actually Happened" at a new loft in Central Square, Cambridge and later at The Boston Arts Group. Considering the unconventional and sometimes confrontational nature of the productions, the shows still received interested reviews from the Phoenix and The Boston Globe. All music for Bastard Theater productions were original compositions by Branca or Rehberger and were performed live by the actor/musicians.[1]

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: Theoretical Girls in 1977 with composer/guitarist Jeffrey Lohn, and later The Static. He also performed with Rhys Chatham's Guitar Trio in 1977,[2] a noise music 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). Soon thereafter he 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. A few of these instruments were third bridge zithers he called "mallet guitars", because they were percussion instruments played with drumsticks, monotone electric cymbaloms with an additional third bridge on resonating positions. Early members of his group included Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, Page Hamilton of Helmet, and several members of Swans including Michael Gira and Dan Braun.[3]

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