Glenn Branca Ensemble
2019-20 MIT Sounding Series
Honoring a pioneer of the avant-garde
About the Performance
“When science fiction writers describe the ‘Music of the Future,’ one can imagine Branca’s music – shimmering and heavenly, and stark, physical, and austere.”
– Lynden Barber, Melody Maker
This concert honors legendary composer Glenn Branca (October 6, 1948 – May 13, 2018) and the continuing work of the Glenn Branca Ensemble to expand what is possible in contemporary music. Branca’s 45 years of work as a composer included music for experimental rock bands, large ensemble instrumentals for electric guitars, symphonies for both electric instrumentation and acoustic orchestras, chamber ensembles, an opera, a ballet, choral works, and music for film, dance, theater, and installation art. His impact is also felt in the influence he had on artists as diverse as Sonic Youth, David Bowie, Swans, and many other composers and sound artists. The Glenn Branca Ensemble, led by Reg Bloor, concertmaster and Branca’s right hand since 2000, will perform the soon-to-be-released The Third Ascension and Branca’s last composition, “The Light (For David)”. Also on the program will be two of Branca’s rarely performed orchestral works, Free Form and the first movement of Symphony No. 14: 2,000,000,000 Light Years from Home, performed by the Ambient Orchestra under the direction of Evan Ziporyn.
This performance is part of the 2019–20 MIT Sounding series, an annual concert series curated by Evan Ziporyn, faculty director of CAST and Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Music and Theater Arts, and presented by the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST) and MIT Music and Theater Arts.
Reg Bloor: Composer Forum
September 19, 2019 / 5:00pm
Lewis Music Library, Building 14
160 Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA
The Music of Glenn Branca Live: The Glenn Branca Ensemble/Ambient Orchestra
September 20, 2019 / 8:00pm
MIT Kresge Auditorium, W16
48 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA
Honoring legendary composer Glenn Branca (October 6, 1948 – May 13, 2018) and the continuing work of the Glenn Branca Ensemble to expand what is possible in contemporary music. Branca’s 45 years of work as a composer included music for experimental rock bands, large ensemble instrumentals for electric guitars, symphonies for both electric instrumentation and acoustic orchestras, chamber ensembles, an opera, a ballet, choral works, and music for film, dance, theater, and installation art. His impact is also felt in the influence he had on artists as diverse as Sonic Youth, David Bowie, Swans, and many other composers and sound artists. The Glenn Branca Ensemble, led by Reg Bloor, concertmaster and Branca’s right hand since 2000, will perform the soon-to-be-released The Third Ascension and Branca’s last composition, “The Light (For David)”. Also on the program will be two of Branca’s rarely performed orchestral works, Free Form and the first movement of Symphony No. 14: 2,000,000,000 Light Years from Home, performed by the Ambient Orchestra under the direction of Evan Ziporyn.
Collaborators at MIT
Evan Ziporyn, Kenan Sahin Professor of Music at MIT and Faculty Director of the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST)
About the Artists
Glenn Branca (October 6, 1948–May 13, 2018) was an American avant-garde composer and guitarist known for his use of volume, alternative guitar tunings, repetition, droning, and the harmonic series.
Branca was born in Harrisburg, PA. Starting in 1966, he lived in both Boston and London, until 1976 when he moved to New York City.
In the last 40 years, Branca’s work as a composer included music for experimental rock bands, large ensemble instrumentals for electric guitars, 16 symphonies for both electric instrumentation and acoustic orchestras, chamber ensemble pieces for a wide variety of instrumentation (both electric and acoustic), an opera, a ballet, and choral works. His music has been used in film, dance, theater, and installation art, and his ensemble has done hundreds of performances around the world.
Branca’s music has been commercially released on 14 full-length albums and has been included in a number of compilations. Many hundreds of extensive articles and interviews about his work have been published in major publications, books, and music dictionaries worldwide. He wrote five articles on music for The New York Times blog The Score and appeared in at least 10 commercial documentary films discussing music.
Branca is considered by many to have been one of the most influential composers both in the fields of alternative and experimental rock as well as contemporary classical music. His work has inspired and influenced two generations of composers and musicians, including major rock stars, Academy Award winners, and Pulitzer Prize composers.
More at the artist’s website: Glenn Branca
Glenn Branca Ensemble
Glenn Branca Ensemble Concertmaster Reg Bloor was Branca’s right hand for all of his projects since 2000, including their duo Branca/Bloor, Symphonies No. 12 through 16, The Ascension: The Sequel, and The Third Ascension, and continues to run Systems Neutralizers, the record label that they founded together. In addition to her work with Branca, she founded the bands Twitcher and The Paranoid Critical Revolution, before going solo. Over the years, she has worked with David Bowie, Page Hamilton, Thurston Moore, John Patitucci, Annie Clark/St. Vincent, Mike Watt, Ty Braxton, tomandandy, visual artists Tony Ourlser, Lindo Sibio, and Olek, as well as on the soundtracks to the films The Mothman Prophesies and Terror Firmer. She can currently be seen playing intensely dissonant solo pieces from her latest release, Sensory Irritation Chamber, and in a cataclysmically unhinged duo with legendary Free Jazz drummer Marc Edwards.
More at the artist’s website: Reg Bloor
Arad Evans has performed and recorded with the Glenn Branca Ensemble since 1984. Branca’s electric guitar concerto The Smoke, a commissioned work, was written for Evans and premiered by him with the Ensemble in 2013. He is the leader and primary writer for the art rock band Heroes of Toolik. Evans has been heard on series such as BAM’s Next Wave Festival, Bang on a Can, San Francisco Symphony’s New and Unusual Music series, and Lincoln Center’s Serious Fun!, and with Ben Neill’s Mainspring, John Myers’s Blastula, the S.E.M. Ensemble, The New Music Consort, the Wharton Tiers Ensemble, Virgil Moorefield’s Ensemble, Rhys Chatham’s Merry Band, and many other groups. He has performed international premieres of works for solo guitar by Branca, Chatham, and John Bertles, and West Coast premieres of solo works for guitar by Babbitt and Elliott Carter. “Arad Evans. . . seems to have played with everyone of note in New York in the last few decades, [and] is a truly inventive and surprising guitar player.” (Rick Moody/The Rumpus)
Gregory James Elroy McMullen is a multi-instrumentalist based in Manhattan, NY. As primarily a guitarist and sideman, he prides himself on the ability to morph, adapt, and add unique color and texture to disparate musical situations. McMullen has performed with Chris Whitley, Meshell Ndegeocello, the Twilight Singers, Trixie Whitley, Reeves Gabrels, The Bentmen, and most recently contributed banjo to the score of the Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler film River of Fundament, as well as making an appearance in the film. McMullen can typically be found performing solo guitar pieces around New York City or happily stuck between a Telecaster and a pedal steel as a member of Los Angeles-based alt country band Speedbuggy USA, New York honky tonkers Wood, Wires & Whiskey, or soulful rockers Lizzie & the Makers. McMullen is currently working on a second collection of solo compositions and improvisations, which he hopes to release in 2019. His first performance with Glenn Branca was the premiere of Symphony #13 at the World Trade Center, New York City in 2001. He has been a member of the Glenn Branca Ensemble since 2006 with the premiere of Lesson #3 (Tribute To Steve Reich).
Libby Fab is a drummer, electroacoustic composer, and video artist based in New York City. She completed an MPhil in Music and Media Technologies at Trinity College Dublin in 2004. In 2005, Fab became a founding member of noise-punk duo The Paranoid Critical Revolution, in which she played drums until 2011. From 2006 to 2008, she was the technical director and rehearsal drummer for Glenn Branca’s Symphony 13: Hallucination City. In 2008, Fab played drums for the Glenn Branca Ensemble, performing The Ascension: The Sequel in the United States and Europe through 2013. Currently, she lives and works in New York City. Her electroacoustic compositions have recently been presented at the Mise En Bushwick Open Studios (2018) and the International Computer Music Conference / NYC Electroacoustic Music Festival (2019). Fab’s experimental video works have been included in festivals in Ireland, Cuba, and the U.S.
An ensemble member since 2014, Luke Schwartz is a New York City-based guitarist who produces music for film, concert halls, and everything in between. He has received multiple awards from ASCAP, in addition to New Music Forum, Queens Council of the Arts, the NYC Arts Studio Funding Grant, and the Grammy Foundation. Schwartz has been recognized for his experimental works that fuse improvisation with determinate music. He is the co-founder of Sawtooth, a NYC-based post-production music and sound company specializing in guitar-centric sound design.
An ensemble member since 2016, Brendon Randall-Myers is a Brooklyn-based composer and guitarist whose work reflects a fascination with how sound is physically produced and perceived as well as a deep love of music’s function as a source of human connection. His music has been described as “endlessly compelling” (San Francisco Chronicle) and “massive in its impact” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune); has been performed by the Bang on a Can All-Stars, the Omaha Symphony, and Dither; and has received support from the Jerome Foundation, the New York State Council for the Arts, and the Foundation for Contemporary Arts. Randall-Myers is the co-founder of cinematic chamber-rock group Invisible Anatomy and avant-rock band Marateck, and has performed in clubs, concert halls, and basements around the world, including the Barbican Centre (London), the Kennedy Center (Washington, D.C.), and the Forbidden City Concert Hall (Beijing).
Scott Collins‘ first performance with Glenn Branca was the premiere of Symphony #13 in 2001, and he first played with The Glenn Branca Ensemble in 2013. The Upstate New York based guitarist’s playing on fretted and fretless instruments draws from a wide range of western and non-western music. Scott holds degrees from Berklee College of Music and California Institute of the Arts. In addition to various national and international tours, he has performed and recorded with numerous artists including Wadada Leo Smith, John “Drumbo” French, Vinny Golia, Carmina Escobar, Iranian tar virtuoso Sahba Mottallebi and Butoh dancer Don McLeod. In addition to providing live improvised accompaniment for more than a dozen silent films and multiple stage plays, Scott was a featured performer on the God of War II and Trials Evolution video games and played “stunt guitar” for the Cartoon Network 2017 Powerpuff Girls television episode, “Electric Buttercup”. He is a frequent interviewer for Guitar-Muse.com and has authored multiple pedagogical books for guitar. Scott currently performs with the Bentmen, Embe Esti, and I Come From The Mountains, an acoustic duo that incorporates Silk-Road sounds into original instrumental music. Outside of music, Scott has a deep passion for film and was the artistic director for Festival Cinema Invisible which brought unseen films from the Middle East to upstate New York.
More at the artist’s website: The Glenn Branca Ensemble
The Ambient Orchestra is the brainchild of Artistic Director Evan Ziporyn, who arranges for and conducts the ensemble. Ziporyn, who has created award-winning arrangements for Bang on a Can (Brian Eno’s Music for Airports), Yo-Yo Ma’s Silkroad Ensemble (the Grammy-award winning Sing Me Home and the soundtrack for Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s documentary The Vietnam War), and Maya Beiser (Uncovered), launched the orchestra in the wake of David Bowie’s untimely death in January 2016. Said Ziporyn, “We wanted to do something right away, in the moment, while everyone’s thoughts and feelings about David Bowie and what he represents were still highly present. It was both a way to express our collective grief and, in the spirit of Bowie’s endless creativity, channel it into something positive and beautiful.”
The debut performance, a benefit for cancer research held just two weeks after Bowie’s death, featured an 80-piece volunteer ensemble of the Boston-area’s top professional musicians in a performance of Philip Glass’s two Bowie-inspired Symphonies, Low and Heroes. One year later, in March 2017, the group re-assembled to premiere Ziporyn’s startling, evening-length arrangement of Bowie’s final album Blackstar, reconceived as a concerto for cello visionary Maya Beiser. Beiser and Ziporyn have since performed the Blackstar Concerto with the Barcelona Symphony and at New York’s Central Park SummerStage. In fall 2018, the Ambient Orchestra with Beiser as soloist embarked on their first U.S. tour, which concluded with a sold-out performance at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, featuring an immersive multimedia environment developed especially for the piece by Eran Egozy and Alex Rigopulos, the creators of Guitar Hero and Rock Band.
More at the artist’s website: Ambient Orchestra
In the Media
“In the right hall, with a tightly packed audience, the roar of his guitar symphonies could have an oddly unifying effect, as if the musicians, the room, and the audience were vibrating to the same pulse.”
— Alan Kozinn, The New York Times
“Branca helped define New York cool. Even among the many underground artists, musicians, and misfits who populated downtown Manhattan in the 1970s and ’80s, he stood out as one of the weirdest. His music – with its stark sheets of minimalism and overwhelming guitar-oriented symphonies – filtered into rock and noise, and it’s hard to imagine bands such as Sonic Youth and Swans without him.”
— Geeta Dayal, The Guardian
“Glenn is without a doubt the most intense and passionate musician I’ve ever been around.”
— Page Hamilton, lead singer and guitarist for Helmet, The New York Times
RollingStone: Thurston Moore: 5 Songs That Influenced Me Early On
The New York Times: Remembering Glenn Branca: Hear 10 of His Essential Works
NPR’s The Record: Composer And Leading Avant-Garde Guitarist Glenn Branca Has Died At 69
Pitchfork: Guitar King Glenn Branca Looks Back to Look Forward