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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Fresh Hamm: Glenn Branca and Thurston Moore at BAM, 1983

While digging through the archives recently, we stumbled upon an exciting document: a photo of Glenn Branca’s ensemble performing his Symphony No. 3 (Gloria) at BAM in January 1983. In the late 70s and early 80s, Branca, one of the spearheads of the noisy (and often confrontational) No Wave scene, was developing his signature sound, characterized by the assaultive force of overdriven electric guitars. His ensembles played in all the hippest downtown venues of the day: the Mudd Club, the Kitchen, the Performing Garage, and Danceteria, among others.

In ‘83 it seems that Branca brought all his friends out to Brooklyn. In the photo Branca is conducting (we imagine him flailing about in his trademarked convulsions), and you can clearly spot a young Thurston Moore seated at a keyboard. While it’s hard to identify the others precisely, we do know that the ensemble also included such No Wave steadies as Michael Gira of Swans, Barbara Ess of Y Pants, Margaret DeWys of the Theoretical Girls, and Moore’s Sonic Youth band-mate Lee Ranaldo.

Photo: Tom Caravaglia

Here’s a tidbit about Branca’s controversial BAM engagement from a 1987 New York Magazine profile of BAM and Next Wave:
In 1982, [Tim] Carr was a programming consultant [at BAM], and on his recommendation, [Harvey] Lichtenstein included composer Glenn Branca’s Symphony No. 3 (Gloria) in the Next Wave series. In his earlier work, Branca had used electric guitars and drums, and, as one critic wrote, “the sheer, visceral onslaught was exhilarating.” For his Next Wave composition, though, he turned to homemade mallet guitars—electric guitar strings strung on wooden racks—tuned to play not the notes of the musical scale but their harmonics. The results, according to Times critic John Rockwell, were “deafeningly gluttonous.” And the composition, says Carr, “was not at all what we had bargained on.” During the performance, a quarter of the audience walked out. Afterward Carr, deeply upset, walked over to the darkened Opera House to be alone. A few minutes later, Harvey Lichtenstein sought him out. When Carr began to apologize, Lichtenstein stopped him. “He said, ‘I thought it was really good,’” says Carr. “And that this is what it’s all about: controversy, and people reaching for more than they can grasp.”  

Photo: Tom Caravaglia

1 comment:

  1. That is one thing that I've always admired about Harvey - the reaching, taking chances, putting on stage things that you can't see anywhere else. Sure, it's hit or miss, but the exhilaration of watching performers pushing themselves, and in turn the audience, is priceless, even if it's not my cup of tea.