Glenn Branca (born October 6, 1948 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) is a highly influential avant-garde composer and guitarist known for his use of volume, alternative guitar tunings, repetition, droning, and the harmonic series. In 2008 he was awarded an unrestricted grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts.
Branca started playing the guitar at age 15. He also created a number of tape sound art collage pieces for his own amusement. After attending York College in 1966-1967 he started the short-lived cover band The Crystal Ship with Al Whiteside and Dave Speece in the summer of 1967. Branca studied theater at Emerson College in Boston in the early 1970s. In 1973 he moved from Boston to London with his then girlfriend Meg English. After moving back to Boston in 1974 he met John Rehberger. While there, he began experimenting with sound as the founder of an experimental theater group called Bastard Theater in 1975.
In the early 1980s he composed several medium-length compositions for electric guitar ensembles, including The Ascension (1981) and Indeterminate Activity of Resultant Masses (1981). Soon thereafter he began composing symphonies for orchestras of electric guitars and percussion, which blended droning industrial cacophony and microtonality with quasi-mysticism and advanced mathematics. Starting with Symphony No. 3 ("Gloria") (1983), he began to systematically compose for the harmonic series, which he considered to be the structure underlying not only all music but most human endeavors. In this project, Branca was initially influenced by the writings of Dane Rudhyar, Hermann von Helmholtz, and Harry Partch. He also built several electrically amplified instruments of his own invention, expanding his ensemble beyond the guitar. A few of these instruments were third bridge zithers he called "mallet guitars", because they were percussion instruments played with drumsticks, monotone electric cymbaloms with an additional third bridge on resonating positions. Early members of his group included Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, Page Hamilton of Helmet, and several members of Swans including Michael Gira and Dan Braun. In the early '90s, David Baratier attempted to document Branca's teaching style in They Walked in Line.
In September 1996, The Glenn Branca Ensemble played at the opening ceremony for the Aarhus Festival in Denmark. The ceremony took place in the Musikhuset Opera House, and in the audience were the Queen of Denmark, the mayor of Aarhus and other dignitaries. After receiving more than 25 major commissions since 1981 Branca's music has finally begun to receive academic attention. Some scholars, most prominently Kyle Gann, consider him (and Rhys Chatham) to be a member of the totalist school of post-minimalism.
In 2008, he was awarded a grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award as well as a Caps grant in 1983, an award from The National Endowment For The Arts in 1988 and a NYSCA grant in 1998, all for music composition.
- "Lesson No.2" (5:01)
- "The Spectacular Commodity (for Eiko and Koma)" (12:41)
- "Structure" (3:06)
- "Light Field (In Consonance)" (8:19)
- "The Ascension" (13:10)