g l e n n b r a n c a

the ensemble
contact info
..... ....... ........ ........
  selected reviews

Diary of a Virgin by Lori Felker (Originally printed in Pipeline, Issue No.3)
American Pioneers: Glenn Branca Electric Guitar Swarm
Barbican Hall, London: Saturday 31 October 8pm

Bear with me- this is more than a review...because it was more than just a concert...

It all started out quite innocently - I emerged from a tube stop that was a bit too far from the Hall and had to walk alone, aimlessly, in the pouring rain. Despite this, I arrived at the Barbican Centre quite early to the sounds of Ben Neil and Page Hamilton- a FreeStage showing in the front lobby. It had a great sound- one that definitely and immediately put me in the mood for some New York energy. I didn't get to hear much, but I was quite impressed by Ben's "mutantrumpet" (3 trumpets played as one, or so it appeared) and the fact that it was Page Hamilton from Helmet, who I didn't realize was doing this sort of thing. Which brings me to the title of my review. For all intents and purposes, I was an experimental virgin. I had my time in the stage of fore-play, listening to Adam rant and rave about this scene, along with listening to his CDs and joining him at a Sonic Youth/Wharton Tiers/ Tom Verlaine & Jimmy Ripp show in Philadelphia. I certainly flirted with the music, and had a full-blown crush on it before I went to the London concert, but in all honesty, I was nowhere near experienced. And now I will make you privy to this very personal, yet universally applicable transpiration. After orienting myself I went backstage, as were my instructions from Adam, to meet John Myers. What a cool guy. He introduced me to some of the "stars," and gave me his camera to take pictures for him (I hope they came out). I felt very welcome behind the scenes, which made me all the hungrier for the actual concert.

Then it arrived, the main course of my evening. Johnathan Bepler opened the concert with his piece entitled "Primary Orifice: For You." This was one of my favorite pieces of the night- it really pulled all of my attention, clamed me down, and revved me up simultaneously. It began with most of the guitars using drumsticks to produce a sound not unlike an orchestra tuning up. Then, things started to gain momentum and goosebumps formed on my arms. I watched Myers and Tiers smiling at each other and having the time of their lives.

This made me realize how close I wanted to be to the music. I wanted to sit on stage and feel the vibrations...no, I wanted to help out- I wanted to take over that empty music stand and play along. Just watching Bepler with his Elvis Costello foot contortions, vigorously turning the pages to his music, I wondered, how could this have been written down? It feels so beyond the written musical language...but it's not...it is music- and that is something most people unfortunately deny. So, I became very excited in this first 18 minutes, finding myself breathing a bit heavier by the end of it. And there were still 6 other groups to go...

John Myers' Blastula took over the stage next, with one of the best introductory lines I've ever heard. "You shouldn't pay attention to this piece... The notes will come, the notes will go...Please do not pay attention to this piece." Well, I tried not to, but I think I did (sorry John). This piece was entitled "What Moves Beneath Awake," which I found to be a very appropriate title. There was a noticeable liquid motif to this song, echoing the allegorical link between the dreamworld, or "what moves beneath awake", and water imagery. I sensed growing, stretching, humming waves of motion that rocked the stage back and forth. Before the show John said that he was influenced by LaMonte Young, and I think, from what I know, that that is apparent in the illuminated beauty of the droning electric sound. But, the piece was a bit bipolar as well, it also gave forth the most piercing, time-consuming feedback I've heard to date, which made the older couple next to me stuff their ears with tissue. Overall, I bonded with the piece, finding it to be a very sci-fi, dream-like, Hitchcock-Vertigo, watery sort of pulsating wall of sound.

Now, onto Wharton Tiers...what can I say? I love Wharton. He takes rock n' roll and applies it to a new scene- a new level of raw energy that is not de-pendent upon words or rock stars, but pure electricity and muscle power. Just watching Wharton (dare I say) dance on the drums so forcefully that the platform was shaking and causing his tom to bounce away from him, is proof enough that music = energy. Performing "Cloud of Dust, "The Ninth," "The Honourable Craw Ling", "Twilight of the Computer Age," and Sheet Metal Workers," this ensemble emulated hardcore soul, riot grrl ruffage, twisting surf riffs, and the working class heroic symphony. You can just hear America screaming...which makes me question why this couldn't be top 40- it's adrenaline, it's fundamental ...but it has a saxophone instead of words, and confusion instead of answers...oh well, I don't mind keeping Wharton to myself. But I digress…

Normally when twelve Sony boomboxes (6 black and 6 white) are wheeled out on stage and a man wearing all casual black comes out and stands quietly behind them, one would think- as this audience seemed to- that the stage hands were confused and had brought out the wrong props for the concert. But this was Phil Kline commencing "Chant"- a solo effort conjuring the soul through machines. I'm not even sure how he was doing what he was doing, but the 12 boomboxes all had their part in the song as they were masterfully conducted by Kline himself. The sound managed to simultaneously haunt and thoroughly entertain me. The echo of "Woman...you need" (or so it sounded) had the auditory hypnotic pleasure of a boys choir, but also the deep beauty of a soulful city cry. The Great Mechanical Mother, and Kline, the father, really came together to create an amazing auditory child in "Chant." The feeling was there, the originality was outstanding, and the visual implications were un-avoidable (Just for the record- I could easily picture myself floating gently on a boat outside of a monastery high upon a cliff- before I even really considered the title...). Kline turned out to be someone who really begged further interest within me- I was left desiring more explanation and supplementary works for comparison.

As part of those supplementary works that I could consider, there was his following ensemble piece "Gardens of Divorce." Again, as with most of these pieces, I am surprised at how the music really fits the feeling and connotations of the title. Wonderful things were accomplished with harmonics and strong chords in this song, that somehow conjured the image of nature and gardens in my mind. The ensemble was tight as is passed through death-metal-esque riffs into the lifted arms at the very end symbolizing the finale and a bow to excellent direction. At this point in the show, I really felt as if everything began to make sense, no notes seemed random, and all sounds were for a purpose. This was cohesion- this was music. And I was watching it and grabbing onto it as if I was coming to terms with the plot of a grand eight-act play. I realized then that my notes were filled with adjectives and images, impressions and feelings. I wrote a lot- incoherent to the wandering eye, but right on target with how I was feeling. The diary was forming itself in the back of my mind…

The seventh act was Virgil Moorfield. He apologized for only having two guitars, for this piece also included a violin, a cello, a sax, and a synthesizer. There was something about the delicacy of this piece that gave it the appearance of probably being distinct every time it was played. Each instrument seemed like a different voice in a conversation, at times they all agreed and chatted amongst the tinkling backdrop of the synthesizer, but then there would be confrontation, division, and discord, with, in my opinion, the violin coming out the winner, the saxophone being the most sparkling conversationalist, and the guitar falling behind in its crass, rough, electricity.

The concert was certainly more than just a concert for me by now, it had turned into a literary compilation, a dance review, a film, and a normal day. So many images are allowed into the mind when music is limitless and fresh, as opposed to lyrics and standard riffs that form the pictures and sounds that allegorically make you feel one way or the other. This was pioneering in lyricism and imagery...and I was immersed in it.

Aside from the amps, the guitars, and the pure electricity reigning as the running star throughout this concert, Glenn Branca was the hero we all awaited. He was one of the creators, one of the painters, one of the influential conductors of this electricity that made all of this possible, and there was no need for an introduction. He came out and it began- the Swarm of sound. My heart began racing again and I leaned forward, even though that was completely un-necessary. The sound had become so thick in the room that only Glenn could move it. Everyone was stuck in its remarkable viscosity. It was so constant, so confrontational, that you wondered how they ever let this mad scientist into the world of music at all. But, fortunately, someone realized that mad scientist and brilliant composer are easily synonymous. And this piece was a fine product of that brilliance. Take your favorite moment of pure rock and roll. Add that sound to what you actually feel inside. Take that and multiply it by a hundred, a thou-sand just keep multiplying and you'll have this piece. It was pure and evil at the same time. I, simply, was filled with pleasure. This was my chance to experience what everybody had always been raving about.

So what have we learned? Well, I've learned that some people just can't and never will understand why this is done, or what it is. I've learned that music can be more than entertainment, more than art, and more than physics, it can be the inside of realms we cannot normally see. I've learned that if I ever go deaf, I want it to be Glenn Branca's fault. And, I've learned that I think I have a crush on Wharton Tiers.

Then I had to go home, as we all do at some point, and live with the aftershocks of my new experience.