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Glenn Branca performing at Hallwalls in the 1980's

Glenn Branca (born October 6, 1948 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvaniamarker) is a highly influential avant-garde composer and guitarist known for his use of volume, alternative guitar tunings, repetition, droning, and the harmonic series.

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 Collegemarker in Bostonmarker in the early 1970s. In 1973 he moved from Bostonmarker to Londonmarker 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 Mass. Ave. 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.

He moved to New Yorkmarker 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, 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. In the early '90s, 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 Centermarker in New York Citymarker in June 2001. He is currently writing his 14th Symphony, entitled "The Harmonic Series", which is performed by a traditional orchestra. The first movement of this symphony, named "2,000,000,000 Light Years From Home" premiered in St. Louis on November 13, 2008.

In September 1996, The Glenn Branca Ensemble played at the opening ceremony for the Aarhus Festival in Denmark. The ceremony took place in the Musikhuset Opera House, and in the audience were the Queen of Denmarkmarker, the mayor of Aarhusmarker and other dignitaries. Branca's music has finally begun to receive academic attention. Some scholars, most prominently Kyle Gann, consider him (and Rhys Chatham) to be a member of the totalist school of post-minimalism.

In 2008, he was awarded a grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award.


  1. Lesson No. 1 (99 Records, 1980)
  2. The Ascension (99 Records, 1981)
  3. Indeterminate Activity of Resultant Masses, (Atavistic, 1981/2007)
  4. Bad Smells from Who Are You Staring At? with John Giorno (GPS, 1982)
  5. Chicago 82 - A Dip In The Lake (Crepuscule, 1983)
  6. Symphony No.3 (Gloria) (Atavistic, 1983)
  7. Symphony No.1 (Tonal Plexus) (ROIR, 1983)
  8. The Belly of an Architect (Crepuscule, 1987)
  9. Symphony No.6 (Devil Choirs At The Gates Of Heaven) (Atavistic, 1989)
  10. Symphony No.2 (The Peak of the Sacred) (Atavistic, 1992)
  11. The World Upside Down (Crepuscule, 1992)
  12. The Mysteries (Symphonies Nos.8 & 10) (Atavistic, 1994)
  13. Les Honneurs Du Pied from Century XXI USA 2-Electric/Acoustic (various) (New Tone, 1994)
  14. Symphony No.9 (l'eve future) (Point, 1995)
  15. Faspeedelaybop from Just Another Asshole (various) (Atavistic, 1995)
  16. Songs '77-'79 (Atavistic, 1996)
  17. Symphony No.5 (Describing Planes Of An Expanding Hypersphere) (Atavistic, 1999)
  18. Empty Blue (In Between, 2000)
  19. Movement Within from Renegade Heaven by Bang On A Can (Cantaloupe, 2000)
  20. The Mothman Prophecies [Soundtrack] (contributed 1-minute "Collage")(Lakeshore Records, 2002)


See also


  • Marc Masters, (2007) "No Wave", Black Dog Publishing, London
  • Paul Hegarty, Noise/Music: A History (2007) Continuum International Publishing Group
  • RoseLee Goldberg, Performance: Live Art Since 1960 (1998) Harry N. Abrams, NY NY

Further reading

  • Branca, Glenn (November 1979). New New York: Rhys Chatham. New York Rocker, 16.
  • Cole Gagne: "Glenn Branca", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (Accessed January 1, 2006), (subscription access)
  • John Rockwell: "All American Music" (Knopf, 1983)
  • John Schaeffer: "New Sounds" (Harper and Row, 1987)
  • Tom Johnson: "The Voice Of New Music" (Het Apollohuis, 1989)
  • Cole Gagne: "Sonic Transports" (De Falco, 1990)
  • Cole Gagne: "Soundpieces II" (Scarecrow Press, 1992)
  • Alec Foege: "Confusion is Next" (St. Martins, 1994)
  • Geoff Smith and Nicola Walker: "New Voices" (Amadeus Press, 1995)
  • William Duckworth: "Talking Music" (Schirmer, 1995)
  • Bart Hopkin: "Musical Instrument Design" (See Sharp Press, 1996)
  • Kyle Gann: "American Music in The 20th Century" (Schirmer, 1997)
  • Bill Milkowski: "Rockers, Jazzbos and Visionaries" (Billboard Books, 1998)
  • Roni Sarig: "The Secret History Of Rock" (Billboard Books, 1998)
  • Bill Martin: "Avant Rock" (Open Court, 2002)

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