More than 20 years of No Wave inventiveness have secured Glenn Branca's place at the roots of the guitar noise family tree, establishing him as an impressive figure in contemporary orchestral composition. The guitar's capacity for attack has driven Branca to build ensembles in which baritone, alto, tenor and soprano guitars have multiple strings tuned to an assigned note, resulting in such grand projects as Hallucination City: Symphony for 100 Guitars, performed at the World Trade Center in the summer of 2001.
Before he began composing on his own in the '80s, Branca took part in the formation of the bands Theoretical Girls and The Static. In later years, Branca broadened his experimentalism, often stepping back from guitar work to compose symphony orchestras, exploring the range of timbres available through the combination of acoustic instruments. Fascinated by the mathematical structures of tuning systems, some of Branca's symphonies experiment with the harmonic series while maintaining an impressive compositional control. He has played with Rhys Chattam and Sonic Youth members Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore, written pieces for theater and dance, and received commissions from the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Twyla Tharp Company and Bang on a Can Festival.
Even without the acoustic subtleties of his later orchestral work, Branca's older pieces are still striking. In the past, the recording process has done his music little justice, but Acute's release of The Ascension (originally released on 99 Records in 1981), digitally re-mastered by Weasel Walter of The Flying Luttenbachers, swells with enough caustic splendor to inflict goosebumps. Branca's valiant crescendos support the minimal yet elaborately constructed pieces with an abrasive discord that hints at his work to come. While sometimes instruments are craftily muddied beneath their companions, it is the unexpected metallic clarity generated by the confluence of guitars that gives this music the cacophonous yet unswerving voice needed to articulate the claustrophobia of urban life.