Glenn Branca, the New York composer whose clangorous guitar compositions inspired a few generations of avant-garde music and underground rock, has died. Branca’s wife and collaborator Reg Bloor announced on Facebook that Branca died of throat cancer in his sleep last night. Branca was 69.
Branca, who was born in Harrisburg, studied theater at Boston’s Emerson College. In Boston, he founded an experimental theater group, and he composed experimental music for the group’s productions. In the late ’70s, Branca moved to New York, where he and his fellow experimental theater artist Jeffrey Lohn formed the no wave band Theoretical Girls, which only released one single but which stayed together until 1981. Branca also started the label Neutral Records, which released early work from Sonic Youth. And Branca also led noisy, experimental “guitar orchestras”; Sonic Youth members Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo both performed with him, as did Helmet’s Page Hamilton and Swans’ Michael Gira, Dan Braun, and Algis Kizys.
Branca continued to make droning, discordant, guitar-based experimental music for decades afterward. Eventually, he got academic attention for his work. In 2001, a few months before 9/11, he composed a symphony for 100 electric guitars at the base of the World Trade Center. (He also eventually began composing for traditional symphonies.) He was awarded a number of grants over the years, including a 2008 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award.
Below, watch a few videos of Branca at work.