“Symphony Nos. 8 & 10: Live at The Kitchen”: Remembering NYC avant-gardist Glenn Branca

By on May 14, 2018

Night Flight learned today that NYC No Wave instigator, contemporary classical composer, avant-gardist and guitarist Glenn Branca, age 69, passed away in his sleep last night (May 13, 2018) after a bout with throat cancer.

The sad occasion gives us the opportunity to remember the man and his signature sound —  loud, grandly-scaled contemporary classical works, typified by the assaultive force of powerful electric guitars — and how they played a key role in New York City’s nascent No Wave music scene in the ’70s and ’80s.

We’d also like share with his fans and Night Flight Plus subscribers one of his only available music video releases, a live 1995 performance of his Symphony Nos. 8 & 10: Live at The Kitchen. Watch it on Night Flight Plus.

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The news of Branca’s passing was revealed by Branca’s longtime collaborator and partner Reg Bloor, who wrote a statement on her Facebook page:

“I feel grateful to have been able to live and work with such an amazing source of ideas and creativity for the past 18 1/2 years. His musical output was a fraction of the ideas he had in a given day. His influence on the music world is incalculable.”

“Despite his gruff exterior, he was a deeply caring and fiercely loyal man. We lived in our own little world together. I love him so much. I’m absolutely devastated. He lived a very full life and had no regrets.”

“Thank you to all the fans and all of the musicians whose support made that possible. As per his wishes, there will not be a formal memorial service.”

Bloor — who moved to NYC in 1999, and had played in Branca’s ensemble for 17 years — had been married to the composer since 2000.

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Composed in 1992, Symphony No. 8 (The Mystery): First Movement (passion), Second Movement (Spiritual Anarchy) is a work in four movements for ten guitars, drums and conductor.

This work is accompanied by a performance of Symphony No. 10 (The Mystery Part 2), First Movement (the Final Problem), Second Movement (the Horror), composed in 1994; this particular performance is dedicated to Peter Lamborn Wilson.

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More recently Branca’s music had veered away from No Wave noise rock and towards experimental avant-garde contemporary classical performance, and over the past several decades he’d built up a catalog which also features conventional chamber and orchestral works.

His ensembles have performed at the Mudd Club, the Performing Garage, Danceteria and the aforementioned the Kitchen, among other venues in NYC.

Read more about Glenn Branca below.

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Glenn Branca (photo by Tom Caravaglia)

Here’s an excerpt from the bio that appears on Glenn Branca’s website, which apparently hasn’t been updated for a few years:

Glenn Branca was born in Harrisburg, Pa. in 1948. Starting in 1966 he lived in both Boston and London until 1976 when he moved to NYC where he still lives.

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In the last 40 years his work as a composer has included music for experimental rock bands, large ensemble instrumentals for electric guitars, 16 symphonies for both electric instrumentation and acoustic orchestras, chamber ensemble pieces for a wide variety of instrumentation (both electric and acoustic), an opera, a ballet, choral works and music for film, dance, theater and installation art. His ensemble has done hundreds of performances all over the world.

Fourteen full-length albums of his music have been commercially released as well as works included in a number of compilations. Many hundreds of extensive articles and interviews about his work have been published in major publications, books and music dictionaries worldwide.

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In addition, he has written five articles on music for The New York Times blog “The Score” and has appeared in at least ten commercial documentary films discussing music.

He is now considered by many to be one of the most influential living composers both in the fields of alternative and experimental rock as well as contemporary classical music. His work has inspired and influenced two generations of composers and musicians, including major rock stars to Academy Award winners to Pulitzer prize composers among many others, too many to name.

At age 67 he is still performing and touring although his main interest is in writing music. His animated style of conducting has recently begun to change perceptions about the role of the conductor in serious music performance.

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His personal interests outside of music are: literature, mathematics, modern philosophy, conceptual art, neo-surrealist painting, quantum physics, the harmonic series, and politics. All of which contribute to and influence the nature, content and structure of his music.

He is the inventor of The Harmonics Guitar and a theory of music based on the Harmonic Series as well as various tuning systems. He has designed and/or built many of the instruments used in a number of his pieces.

He is also a founder of The No Wave Movement that started in downtown NYC during the late 70’s that has now become, after many decades, an international movement in the underground music scene, extending as far as China and Japan.

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Glenn Branca Band, early ’80s: Glenn Branca, Lee Ranaldo, Ned Sublette

R.I.P. Glenn Branca

Also, check out Night Flight contributor Chris Morris‘s Tumblr blog post from the Los Angeles CityBeat about his symphony for 100 electric guitars when it was performed at the Disney Concert Hall in L.A. back in 2006.

Watch Symphony Nos. 8 & 10: Live at The Kitchen on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.