GLENN BRANCA – Symphony No.13 (Hallucination City) For 100 Guitars


I must admit a measure of surprise when the news broke about this performance of Hallucination City (Rome, 2008 – and yes, “Old Bones” Ricci was in attendance) being published on CD. The year before, the staging of this opus had been miserably aborted thanks to a series of holes in the Italian organization, incapable of recruiting the necessary amount of players in due time after having agreed a date with the artist. And even when the concert finally took place (and trust me, it was fantastic) I vividly remember Glenn Branca’s disgruntled expression – in relation to something that we never learnt – at the end of the adventure.

Anyhow, the listeners of this release should not read too much in the above preamble. As of today, Branca is perhaps the lone orchestral composer whose music can literally depict violent natural events via enlivening acoustic assaults. The four movements help understanding this simple concept; just check the titles while consciously accepting the impending aural shock. Thousands of clashing harmonics generated by a huge number of strings, tuned according to mathematical ratios closer to a celestial vision than anything else. An unremitting humongous pulse defined by dissonant majesty; crescendos that rumble and roar like a raging ocean against resigned rocks. Oh, and the inevitable sardonic smile of the reviewer when thinking that certain contemporary rockstars brandishing modified guitars would be selling ice creams nowadays, had Branca not given them a serious push in the days of yore.

During that evening, yours truly was often unable to discern the harmonic courses. The loudness was amazing, a vibrational impact so strong that I was expecting to see the roof explode at one point. The shoulders were shaking, the muscles charged by a mass of uncontrollable energy osmotically transmitted through the feet. The disc played at home cannot replicate the live experience, but is still an excellent reminder. Borrowing a phrase from a Branca interview: we don’t know who the fuck we are, we don’t know why the fuck we’re here. Yet, somehow, we retrieve a few reasons to keep going when this man’s attempts to unmask nonexistent gods remove the bad smell of spiritual cheapness from our clothes.

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