Thursday, November 13, 2008

Glenn Branca's Symphony No. 13 (Hallucination City) and 100 Guitars: An Insider's Look, Part Two

Posted By on Thu, Nov 13, 2008 at 12:39 PM

Tonight at the Pageant, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and an army of 100 volunteer guitarists will be performing composer Glenn Branca's Symphony No. 13 (Hallucination City). Writer Ryan Wasoba is participating in the performance, and offered to write about his experience for A to Z. Here's part two. Read more about the concert here and see below for an interview with Branca himself. -- Annie Zaleski

I've had my share of guitar-related injuries before, be it cut-up cuticles on my right fingers from missed strums or the recurring case of tendonitis in my left arm. But never have I woken up with this extreme of pain in my right shoulder. The swift mile-a-minute "double-strumming" technique that is frequently used in Symphony No. 13 (Hallucination City) has defeated me. In order to pick up and down quickly enough to make a constant stream of sound as required by the piece caused me to tense up my shoulders. After one rehearsal, I'm feeling it pretty hard. Damn you, Glenn Branca.

Thankfully, yesterday's rehearsal was lighter and theoretically (almost literally) painless. The 100 Guitars group, which is actually about 68 guitars, reconvened at Powell Symphony Hall at 5 p.m. With the formalities of first-day introductions out of the way, I was able to further familiarize myself with the other players. Who I thought was Steve from New York is actually named James, and the Jew-fro'd guy in my section is Jeremy.

James is an interesting fellow who has more cred than I can even comprehend; dude has played free-jazz gigs with Nels Cline and Bjork's insane drummer Chris Corsano, used to be in a band in Toronto with members of Do Make Say Think, and played the trumpet solo on the Morgan Geist remix of The Rapture's "House of Jealous Lovers." I also learned that many local and touring noise artists are involved in the group, including This Is My Condition from Lawrence, Brooklyn duo Neg-Fi [ed. note: these two are apparently playing at the City Museum Saturday], a 4 piece whose name I didn't catch from Dallas, local artist Karthik and RFT Best Noise Artist nominee .e.

Rehearsal began with another brief soundcheck. Almost everybody was asked to turn their amps up, as if the previous settings weren't ear-bleeding enough. We played a small section of a piece and then conductor John Myers asked if anybody couldn't hear the drums. About a dozen people raised their hands, including the kid sitting with his ear in front of the kick drum. I wanted to stab him with my whammy bar.

The group began rehearsing the first movement around 6:15 p.m. Glenn Branca made some last minute changes to parts and then paced around the auditorium while Myers conducted the group. I realized today exactly how well Branca has perfected his mad scientist schtick. With a long coat on and frazzled hair, he looks like an exact mix of Lewis Black and Phil Spector. We would absorb ourselves into the music and lose track of where Branca was in the hall, only to hear him yell a request at the conductor from the upper balcony during silent moments.

As the final notes of the first movement faded out, Glenn clapped slowly and then grabbed the microphone from Myers. "Wow, thank you. You guys are pulling every bit of music out of this piece and it's exactly how I want it to sound. Your playing is" - he moved the microphone away from his mouth while he mouthed the phrase - "fucking awesome."

His compliments weren't inappropriate; the music, as chaotic as it is, made a million times more sense than it did in the previous day. Syncopations between sections were more apparent and the movements were more dramatic. The drumming, which I kind of dissed in my previous entry, was more interesting and raucous. The pieces are atonal and generally lacking in the melody department, but there are ample high fives. Most music strives on the principles of tension and release, but Hallucination City is all about tension, tension and more tension. Syncopated rhythms and shrill, violin-esque alto guitars build and build and build into violent tornados of sound. I can't believe the chandeliers haven't fallen from the ceiling of the Powell Symphony Hall.

Tonight is the performance at The Pageant, and I think we're as ready as we can be. We will bring the noise, and we may bring the funk in a very very abstract way. But mainly, we WILL bring the noise.

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