Glenn Branca, Avant-Garde Guitarist and Composer, Dead at 69

Glenn Branca passed away in his sleep last night, according to a Facebook post made today by his wife and fellow musician Reg Bloor. She cited throat cancer as the musician's cause of death. He was 69 years old.

Growing up, Branca was interested in sound experimentation, making various tape-based sound art pieces for fun. He started to play guitar at 15 and began studying experimental theater in college, which led him to composing original songs and music for a couple of experimental productions that ran in Boston in the '70s.

Glenn Branca performing at Hallwalls in the 1980s

Branca continued to work in experimental theater upon moving to New York City shortly thereafter, while also starting to write and perform with a new electric guitar ensemble project that included Lee Ranaldo. In 1981, the group played Noise Fest, sharing the bill with a then-mostly unknown Sonic Youth.

About Branca's group, Moore later said that it was "the most ferocious guitar band that I had ever seen in my life" and that seeing the performance inspired him and Gordon to recruit Ranaldo for Sonic Youth. In turn, Branca recruited Moore to play with his ensemble and signed Sonic Youth to his brand new record label, Neutral Records. The label would go on to put out the band's first eponymous EP and debut full-length, Confusion Is Sex.

In the late '80s, Branca began composing original orchestral symphonies—which he built around a wide range of concepts, such as microtonality, industrial noise drone music, and the harmonic structure that Branca felt was underlying all music and most human endeavors. Some of the compositions with his harmonic series even featured instruments—like third-bridge zithers he called "harmonic guitars"—that Branca designed and built himself.

The Glenn Branca Band - "Dissonance"

Less than three months before 9/11, Branca conducted his 13th symphony for 100 electric guitars at the base of the World Trade Center in New York City—a composition that has now been performed in cities all over the U.S. and Europe. His second symphony for 100 electric guitars, "Symphony No. 16 (Orgasm)," premiered in Paris in 2015 and his last composition, The Light (for David), premiered a year later in October of 2016 at the Roulette in Brooklyn.

"I feel grateful to have been able to live and work with such an amazing source of ideas and creativity for the past 18 1/2 years," Bloor's Facebook announcement post reads. "His musical output was a fraction of the ideas he had in a given day. His influence on the music world is incalculable... He lived a very full life and had no regrets. Thank you to all the fans and all of the musicians whose support made that possible."

The statement also reads that, per Branca's wishes, there will not be a formal memorial service for the late musician.


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