||Glenn Branca was born in Harrisburg, Pa. 1948 to John
and Dee Branca.
As a child his interests were acting at the Hbg. Community
Theater, reading, the Philadelphia Phillies and Broadway musicals. As
a teenager his interests extended to rock music. He started playing
the guitar at age 15. He also created a number of tape 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. From 1967-1971 he attended Emerson College in Boston,
majoring in Dramatic Arts: directing. His productions included: "Leonce
and Lena" by George Buchner, "Suddenly Last Summer" by
Tennessee Williams and "Escurial" by Michael de Ghelderode".
These productions where known for their prodigious and eclectic use
of music including: jazz, rock, contemporary-classical, ancient, “ethnic” and
on occasion original. After his junior year he was chosen as the only
undergraduate to take the graduate directing course. Also at Emerson
Branca worked with Dr. Tom Haas and Bob Ginn who were both important
influences. After college his interests extended to playwriting. His
first play, "Club Limbo" w/Thomas Joseph in 1972 was never
produced. In 1973 he moved from Boston to London with his then girlfriend
Meg English. His second play "Scratching The Surface" had
a two week run at The Boltons on Earl's Court produced by Gavin Douglas
and Moloch Productions with Meg in a leading role. Both of these plays
were absurdist farces.
THE BASTARD THEATER
After moving back to Boston in 1974 he met John Rehberger.
With common interests in music, theater and art they started
The 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.
The Phoenix described the music by saying that "it
makes John Cage sound like Victor Herbert". Branca
and Rehberger also wrote and performed as the new music
group The Dubious Music Ensemble out of the loft on Central
Square. Although their instruments were respectively guitar
and saxophone Branca and Rehberger wrote for a wide variety
of instrumentation including, acoustic, electric, electro-acoustic,
electronic and homemade. An instrument list for a given
production would usually number up to 25 or 26 different
THE ROCK BANDS
In 1976 Branca moved to NYC to continue The Bastard Theater
and produce his new solo piece "Shivering Tongue Fingers
Air". In 1977 he met Jeff Lohn and started working
with Jeff at his loft on Thompson St. in Soho. Jeff was
also a composer, playwright and artist. They were preparing
to create a theater space in the loft for the purpose of
housing The Bastard Theater and Jeff's "No Theater" when
they decided to start a rock band that would become Theoretical
Girls. They borrowed the N Dodo Band's drummer Mike for
their first gig at Franklin Furnace in November 1977 on
the program with a performance art piece by Dan Graham
who had invited the group to play as part of his show.
They quickly wrote a number of skewed punk songs and played
a couple loft shows but soon saw the potential to use the
band to develop some of their more serious ideas. In January
1978 they did their first show under the name Theoretical
Girls at the Experimental Intermedia Foundation. This was
the first concert of the final lineup that included Margaret
Dewys on bass and keys and Wharton Tiers on drums.
This experimental rock band would soon be labeled a No Wave
band and was considered by many to be the "5th" band
on Eno's No New York compilation.
Around this time Branca had started a relationship with visual
artist and musician Barbara Ess. In the spring he joined
her new band Daily Life as a side guitarist. But he continued
his full time work with the T-Girls as well. That summer
Jeff decided that he wanted to concentrate on his solo work
and wouldn't do T-Girls on a full time basis. Branca now
needed another outlet for his work. In the fall 1978 he premiered
his new band The Static (and the introduction of his 3 octave
guitar tuning) at Franklin Furnace. This show also included
the premiere of "Cognitive Dissonance" his 6th
and last play (with the exception of "Twisting In Space" which
went into development for Joe Papp's Public Theater in 1984
but was never produced). The Static, which featured only
Branca's music, came in the wake of the breakup of Daily
Life and included Barbara on bass and Christine Hahn on drums
as well as Chip Dyke on 2nd guitar. Soon after, Chip would
leave and the band continued on as a trio until the end of
1979 when Christine left for Berlin. With recording being
prohibitively expensive at that time both the T-Girls and
The Static never released more than one single each.
In the spring of 1979 Branca premiered his first multi-guitar
piece "Instrumental for Six Guitars" at Max's Kansas
City Easter Festival. The piece was an immediate success
and led to series of extended instrumental pieces written
over the next one and a half years: "The Spectacular
Commodity", "Dissonance", "Lesson No.
1", "The Ascension", "Light Field" and "Mambo
Diabolique", each piece defining a different approach
to writing for loud guitars. This music was
labeled by the press as "rock minimalism" and in
some cases "maximalism".
Branca would eventually form a band to tour and record this
music. Sometimes thought of as "The Ascension Band" the
group included: Lee Ranaldo, Ned Sublette, David Rosenbloom
and Branca on guitars, Jeffery Glenn on bass and Stephen
Wischerth on drums (later Thurston Moore would join on guitar).
It was with this music that Branca introduced his newest
octave and unison tunings in which the guitars were divided
into soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass. By the start
of 1980 Branca was desperate to release a recording of his
new extended instrumental work. Singles were no longer possible
with pieces running from 8 to 12 minutes.
He approached Ed Bahlman who had a small record store in
the Village and suggested that he consider starting a record
company with Branca's music as the first record. Drawing
from Branca's experience with producing,
manufacturing and distributing records Balhman started 99
Records. The EP LESSON NO. 1 came out soon after, with the
album THE ASCENSION following a year later.
During these years after college Branca worked at a wide
variety of subsistence jobs including: dishwasher and busboy,
furniture mover, xeroxer, chicken cook, wall painter, sales
clerk (various), plumber's assistant (to Jeff Lohn), janitor,
carpenter, warehouse clerk and posterer (for the Kitchen).
But since 1981 Branca has made his living solely as a musician
There is some question about Branca's involvement with Rhys
Chatham during this time. Glenn first worked with Rhys in
1978 when Jeff invited Rhys to play bass on one of his songs
for Theoretical Girls. Rhys agreed and played in one or two
shows with the band. Sometime later, as a courtesy to Rhys,
Glenn agreed to play guitar in two concerts of his "Guitar
Trio" as a last minute substitute. When after these
concerts Rhys invited Glenn to be a member of his band Glenn
Then later In 1979 Rhys offered to make a good recording
of some Static songs with the equipment available to him
at the Kitchen. The recording was made but never released.
That same year Glenn wrote a short article about Rhys' music
for NY Rocker. It appeared on the same page as a piece about
The Static and was written as a favor to Rhys. In January
1980 Rhys returned the favor by playing guitar in a performance
at the Kitchen of Branca's "Instrumental for Six Guitars".
This constitutes the complete history of any working relationship
that existed between them. Any other account that may be
in circulation is pure fiction. It should be noted that Chatham's
work ethic at the time was somewhat questionable. As John
Rockwell described it in a Times review of Rhys' one chord "Guitar
Trio": during his concert at Max's "Mr. Chatham
had some difficulty maintaining a vertical position."
THE EARLY SYMPHONIES
In early 1981 on a plane returning from a European tour Branca
conceived the idea of writing a full evening length piece
of music as a musical analog for a full- length theater
piece. Being a serious fan of Mahler and Bruckner the idea
of calling it a symphony was obvious if risky.
Symphony No. 1 (Tonal Plexus) premiered at the Performing
Garage that summer. It was Branca's largest piece yet employing
16 musicians including, horn, trumpet, sax, keyboards and
in one movement a large oil drum played with a 2x4, as well
as some guitars strung with untempered steel wire from a
hardware store, and Branca's usual complement of octave tuned
guitars sometimes stroked with drumsticks. The crude sound
of the piece was thought of as a kind of punk rock noise
music. Just two months later he would premiere another new
piece "Indeterminate Activity of Resultant Masses" at
Art on the Beach in lower Manhattan. This piece, for 10 guitars
and drums, would become one of his most controversial when
performed at The New Music America Festival 1982 in Chicago.
Although the 35 minute piece had been a success John Cage
had intensely disliked it and created a furor at the festival
and in the press. A recording of Cage's inflammatory remarks
has been released on Atavistic along with the first recording
of the piece (which had gone unreleased for 25 years).
Branca's next symphony was "The Peak Of The Sacred",
a longer and more ambitious piece than the first. Branca's
desire to work with a new sound he had developed caused him
to design and build most of the instruments for the piece.
Calling them "mallet guitars" he had created a
dulcimer like instrument which when played resonated with
a sustained fluid timbre.
Although the instruments used guitar strings and guitar pickups
the only actual conventional guitar used in the piece was
a bass. Luckily Branca's musicians were willing to learn
how to play these "guitars" which sat on tables
and were played with sticks. This was also one of the few
pieces in which Branca also used tape electronics. Although
the piece had a rich resonant sound it was difficult to capture
in a recording, a problem that Branca has had throughout
his career. A studio recording was never made and the only
document that exists is a crude live recording. This had
also been the case with Symphony No. 1. Although Branca's
audience had grown quite large by this time record labels
saw no commercial potential for this sort of thing. And the
cost of professionally recording these larger pieces would
have been beyond the scope of what a small label could hope
to recoup. By this time the music could no longer be seen
as rock at the same time that it couldn't be embraced as
classical music. And after having been rejected by Cage even "new
music" was no longer an entirely safe haven. Luckily
it happened that the music did appeal to modern dancers and
in 1982 Branca got his first major commission from the Twyla
Tharp Co. This would be one of many in a string of commissions
from dance and later experimental theater companies.
Throughout these early years Glenn had never received a single
grant or even a credit card and all of the work was done
with little or no money. His reliance on cheap used guitars
had been a matter of necessity not choice.
By the way the pronunciation of Glenn's name is "Brang-ka" not "Bron-ka".