On May 14, the world lost one of the chief architects of no-wave/noise rock as Glenn Branca passed away in his sleep after a battle with throat cancer. Vital part of downtown NYC scene, Branca recorded and produced music for over three decades and was instrumental in putting the likes of Swans and Sonic Youth on the map.
Now our writer Nick Panagakos is paying the tribute to the man and his vision:
In a time of pop darlings and shadow talk, we bid farewell to a pioneer. There are sounds that make us giddy, sounds that make us mush, and sounds that make us question everything we’ve learned. Branca was the antithesis of sentimentality. In 1975, when The Carpenters and The Eagles ruled the airwaves, Branca was setting up the Bastard Theater in a loft on Massachusetts Avenue. Experimenting primarily in dissonance and repetition, Branca was chucking all conventional music theory out the goddamn window. Born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Branca picked up the guitar at fifteen. He would invent his own chords and drive his mother crazy with the droning, cacophonous buzzing violence that came out from his fingertips.
After moving to New York City in 1977, Branca linked up with Rhys Chatham’s avant-garde group Guitar Trio. These would be formative years in how he would later approach compositions like Hallucination City for 100 Guitars. And yes, there really were 100 guitars. Forming his own orchestra with members like Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo (during the baby stages of Sonic Youth) Michael Gira, Dan Braun, and Algis Kizys (Swans) Branca would then help to formulate much of the future generations of No Wave that would come from his influence. These orchestrations produced a sound that would retain no real popular attention, but would instead run rampant among the underground art scene in New York during the early 80’s. Finding more interest in his work from Europe, Branca spread his word internationally like a mad prophet; standing on his own street corner, wherever he was.
Branca was also keen on making his own instruments. Primarily creating a combination of string and percussive guitars, he made his own Zithers with multiple bridges for alternatively resonating harmonics. He was also making what he called “mallet guitars” whose sole purpose was to be hit with drumsticks or other little hammers. These would help him to create a sound all his own to present to the world. If the world wouldn’t listen, they would sure as Hell hear the damn thing.
Too young at 69, but cancer doesn’t discriminate. My final hope for Glenn Branca is that if he does make it to heaven, if there is a heaven, he’ll be around the corner when they call his name. Hopefully he’ll be pissing in an alley.