Glenn Branca, No-Wave Pioneer And Avant-Garde Composer Dies At 69

His dissonant, guitar-based music would not only become a key figure on the No Wave scene, but provided the basis for much of Sonic Youth’s early music.

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Glenn Branca photo by Frans Schellekens and Redferns
Photo: Frans Schellekens/Redferns

The pioneering avant-garde composer and guitarist Glenn Branca who helped shaped New York’s No Wave scene in the 70s and 80s has passed away from throat cancer at aged 69, reports Billboard.

Branca’s wife, experimental guitarist, composer and solo artist Reg Bloor shared this statement on her Facebook page:

“Glenn Branca passed away in his sleep last night from throat cancer.

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. His musical output was a fraction of the ideas he had in a given day. His influence on the music world is incalculable.

Despite his gruff exterior, he was a deeply caring and fiercely loyal man. We lived in our own little world together. I love him so much. I’m absolutely devastated.

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.

As per his wishes, there will not be a formal memorial service.”

Branca, whose dissonant, guitar-based music would not only become a key figure on the No Wave scene, but provided the basis for much of Sonic Youth’s early music. In a recent interview, Thurston Moore formerly of Sonic Youth told The Quietus:

“From Glenn I learned that focus and dedication can result in a stunning new sound world. Glenn came out of a radical theatre group (Bastard Theater) from Boston, Massachusetts and presented himself in a somewhat wild, performative manner, some kind speed freak contrarian maestro. It was very exciting and unlike anyone else’s work.”

Glenn Branca interview | 2011 | The Drone

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Born on 6 October 1948, Branca grew up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania before relocating to Boston to attend Emerson College. He first began experimenting with sound with the experimental theatre group Bastard Theatre in 1975 before moving to New York and eventually transitioning from theatre to music, forming the art rock group Theoretical Girls with Jeffrey Lohn. By the time the 80s came around, Branca had launched his own record label Neutral Records, which released early records from Sonic Youth and Swans.

While Branca’s early history is tied up into the heady days of CBGB, he would go on to become a prolific composer and symphonic auteur. With his guitar orchestra The Glenn Branca Ensemble, he amassed over 100 musicians that counted Moore and fellow Sonic Youth alum Lee Ranaldo as members and he had penned 16 different symphonies. Branca was also instrumental in making guitar-centric orchestras respected in the classical world and most recently had released his 2016 effort Symphony No. 13 (Hallucination City) for 100 Guitars.

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