I have not been a fan of Glenn Branca since the beginning… but I have been a fan for a very long time. I discovered Glenn’s work in the late 80’s as an offshoot to my obsession with Sonic Youth… and I quickly realized how important Glenn’s work was not only to Sonic Youth but to so many other artists. I also instantly understood why. It was like meeting Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo’s Dad and realizing…“Oh, so that’s where they get it from.”
Glenn immediately influenced my approach to making music, and I found myself spending hours upon hours playing old, cheap, used and half broken guitars… experimenting with alternate tunings and string combinations… recording hours of drones and feedback… and creating delightfully noisy riffs… all because of Glenn. Music creation became less technical and less about the quality of the equipment you used or proper tuning or clear crisp sound… or any of the crap many musicians will feed your head with.
It became more about expression, and creating something primal that grabbed your soul with texture, emotion, the dance of consonance and dissonance creating soundscapes that were unique and exciting. I began to look at making music as art. And because of Glenn I realized was not a musician, but an artist. This revelation released me from the confines of “music” and allowed me to freely explore creating art with sound in an unrestricted way.
Years later while at a local Hammerhead show, I became aware of another sound artist by the name of Brannon Hungness. At the time Brannon was playing in Hammerhead, one of my favorite AM/REP Noise Rock bands as their guitarist. I also learned that Brannon had previously played in The Glenn Branca Ensemble during the Recording and World tours for Branca’s Symphony No. 8 and 10. He was the replacement for Helmet’s Page Hamilton. I also became aware that night that Brannon was living locally in Rochester N.Y., my hometown, as an unlikely transplant from outside of Fargo.
I instantly vowed to meet Brannon when he returned from being on tour with Hammerhead and I knew I needed to work with him. As luck would have it, later that year Brannon happened to be on a date with a friend’s sister and I ran into them at a local coffee house. I was introduced to Brannon, and we instantly hit it off discussing our influences and my love for Hammerhead and Branca. He invited me to get together and jam to see if we click musically. Well, we did and became close friends still collaborating 20 years later with no end in sight. In addition to our project Famous Breathers, Brannon and I have collaborated on many other projects and ensembles over the years.
Just as I can hear Glenn’s influence in the work of many who played with him, I can still hear Glenn’s influence in Brannon’s music to this day. Even his recent releases under the name Eavesdrop Cosmic are peppered with references to the visionary work of Glenn Branca. Listen for yourself at eavesdropcosmic.bandcamp.com and you will certainly hear the influence as well.
While I never played with Glenn Branca myself, I feel as though I was indirectly molded by Glenn through my years of collaboration with Brannon. This is one clear personal connection I feel to the music of Glenn Branca. The other personal connection is seeing the Glenn Branca 100 guitar Orchestra performing Symphony No. 13 – Hallucination City at the Frank Gehry designed Disney Music Hall in Los Angeles. A unique and beautifully designed venue known acoustically as one of the best halls in the World.
It was an out of body experience, and truly is the most memorable live experience of my life. The 100 guitar piece played in its glory in one of the best halls in the World for sound… the results were simply mind blowing. The aural hallucinations played their own symphony in your head throughout the piece, transporting you to another World of sound and state of reality. I literally felt my own energy buzzing within my soul in tune to the sound I was enveloped in… courtesy of Mr. Glenn Branca. It was an experience I will never forget.
I said this the day I heard of Glenn’s passing: “A lot of artists are called visionaries when they don’t deserve it… Glenn Branca was a fucking visionary. A downright, purebred, true fucking visionary.” And it’s a great way to sum up this piece. I will also finish up this piece by including a brief interview with Brannon Hungness discussing Glenn and his experience playing in the Branca Ensemble:
How did you meet Glenn Branca and end up playing in his Ensemble?
He came to Moorhead State University for an experimental electric guitar music festival. I had gone to that college the year before, and even though I was no longer going there, I was close to my music composition professor, Henry Gwiazda. He asked if I would like to perform in the ensemble playing a piece of Glenn’s. I was already a Branca fan so I said yes. While he was there, Glenn and I hung out a lot and I played him some of my music. He said I was a genius. Before he left Moorhead he asked me to join his ensemble as Page Hamilton was too busy with Helmet.
What stands out the most in your memory of playing in the Glenn Branca Ensemble?
The hallucinatory power of the ensemble.
In your experience with Glenn, what did you learn or what influenced you the most in your musical career and direction?
Don’t compromise. Do what you’re passionate about.
If you had to sum up Glenn Branca in one word what would it be?
And like a puff of Smoke, Glenn Branca has left us. But his sounds will forever exist and his influence will
continue to push others in the direction of his vision. RIP Glenn.