Glenn Branca has been a staple of New York’s avant-garde music scene since the late ‘70s. For decades, he has created guitar symphonies that straddle the line between minimalist composers like Steve Reich and experimental rockers like Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, who got his start in Branca’s band.
This week, Branca will premiere his newest work, Symphony No. 15: Running Through The World Like An Open Razor (Music For Strange Orchestra) at Le Poisson Rouge. We spoke with him about it.
You conceived this symphony decades ago. Why did you wait until now to bring it out? The original piece was meant to be for a full orchestra, which would also include an incredible variety of non-orchestral instruments. But it was too big to get a commission for it. The owner of Le Poisson Rouge knows a guy who wanted to commission a piece from me, so I thought maybe I could do a reduced version of it.
What can you tell us about it? It has many of the elements that you hear on my recordings, but it’s also very different from things I would normally write because of the mixture of instrumentation. There are over 100 instruments, although there are 13 musicians playing them. There are seven movements, each very different. A couple are just for guitars. Others have no guitars at all.
What are some of the 100 instruments you’ll be using? There are 15 guitars, but I’m not using any conventional guitars in conventional tunings. There are a wide variety of drums. … A friend asked what instrumentation I was using and I said everything but the kitchen sink. Now I realize I’m using everything and the kitchen sink.
As a longtime New Yorker, what do you think of the local music scene today? For as long as I’ve lived here, most bands suck. Then there’s a few really good bands. Today, there’s such a glut of bands you don’t know who’s good. When I first moved here, there were 3-4 clubs in Manhattan. Now there’s hundreds of clubs and tens of thousands of bands. It’s in what I think of as a flux period. Every scene goes through periods where it seems like nothing’s happening, then something explodes out of it.
Glenn Branca performs at Le Poisson Rouge on Saturday and Sunday.
If you go…
It Might Get Loud: With 15 guitars and three concert bass drums onstage, fans should bring earplugs, although Branca promises quiet sections too.
Genre-Hoppers Unite: Branca’s ensemble includes rock, jazz and classical musicians. “In my mind, I never saw the difference,” he said. “I’d listen to Gustav Mahler one minute and The Who the next.”
Name that Instrument: Gear heads should have a field day gazing at the equipment onstage, which will include guitars Branca built and Indian instruments from a friend’s collection.
If You Want Vinyl: Branca and Le Poisson Rouge are asking fans to fund the creation of a limited-edition vinyl recording of the performance. To donate, visit Kickstarter.com.