Thursday, February 23, 2006

Recent Listening: Glenn Branca

Many new sounds have been assailing my ears of late, but the guitar symphonies of Glenn Branca have been getting a lot of airplay. These are pieces that are certainly not for everyone—they take dissonance to a new realm of intensity, but once (or if) you adjust to Mr. Branca's soundworld, they're pretty cool. I've listened to Symphonies 3, 5, 6, 8 & 10, which seems like a good overview of his work. Symphony 6 seems to be the most interestingly organized and organically coherent, though they all have their strong points. Symphony 9 is actually for a regular symphony orchestra, and doesn't do as much for me as the ones for guitar ensemble. I have Symphonies 8 & 10 on a dvd, where you get to see Branca in action as a conductor. He seems to be the Downtown answer to Leonard Bernstein—passionate in gesture, though you wouldn't necessarily know exactly what he wanted at any particular moment. On the first pass, it became tiresome to watch, but I'll try it again on the big speakers and screen.

Branca became interested in pure tunings some years back and his pieces explore aspects of that realm in some way or another. They are also extremely loud, and probably need to be experienced that way in order to hear the overtone relationships that he manipulates. I suspect that the CDs hardly do justice to the concert experience, and I see that he's currently touring with a piece for 100 guitarists called Symphony 13: Hallucination City. I'd make a trip to hear that one, I think...

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