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Symphony No. 6 (Devil Choirs At the Gates of Heaven)

Glenn Branca

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Album Review

Glenn Branca's Symphony No. 6 is as dense, edgy, and dramatic as listeners have come to expect. Symphony No. 6 isn't a symphony in the stuffy classical sense — it's not written for a traditional orchestra, and it doesn't obviously adhere to symphonic form. Still, the use of the term "symphony" is appropriate here, since it aptly describes the grandiosity of Branca's work. This particular symphony is scored for drums, bass, keyboard, and between eight and ten guitars. The guitars are used exclusively for texture and noise, however, not melody; the guitarists use a variety of unorthodox tunings and coax unusual sounds from their instruments. The piece's five movements typically begin rather quietly, then grow into massive noise squalls, accompanied by insistent, pounding drums. Symphony No. 6, like many of Branca's works, has one foot in the late-'70s New York no wave scene that inspired Sonic Youth, and the other in the experimentalism of late-20th century composers like Iannis Xenakis. This recording may frustrate listeners who wish Branca would just join one camp or the other, but that doesn't make his work any less powerful or evocative. Branca is one of the few avant-garde composers with the nerve to subtitle his work "Devil Choirs at the Gates of Heaven," and one of even fewer whose music is discordant, engrossing, and scary enough to make the listener take such a subtitle seriously.

Biography

Born: 06 October 1948 in Harrisburg, PA

Genre: Classical

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Glenn Branca's compositions center around multiple guitars — four or more, heavily amplified — augmented by a rock-based rhythm section of drums and bass. In later works, the composer began adding other instruments, including mallet guitar, keyboards, and occasionally a second drummer. Branca's minimalist compositions frequently require unusual guitar tunings — more recent works have them strung with two sets of three strings tuned an octave apart. Many of downtown New York City's...
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