Atavistic

Thanks to Atavistic, an important historical document sees the light for the first time on record. After a performance of this piece at the New Music America Festival 1982, John Cage fired a verbal broadside at Glenn Branca’s music, calling it “fascist” (his full critique is contained in the second of this CD’s three tracks, “So That Each Person Is In Charge Of Himself”, a conversation between Cage and Wim Mertens recorded at the busy Navy Pier on Lake Michigan, and ironically full of extraneous noise). Cage later reconsidered his statements about Branca but – alea iacta est – the damage was already done. So much for all that Zen/I-Ching open-mindedness.
“Indeterminate Activity Of Resultant Masses” is scored for ten guitars (here Mark Bingham, Glenn Branca, Craig Bromberg, Barbara Ess, Jeffrey Glenn, Sue Hanel, Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, David Rosenbloom, and Ned Sublette), plus drums and tympani (Stephan Wischerth). It’s quintessential Branca, 31 minutes of resonance growing inexorably from picked-and-plucked call and response into an awesome maelstrom of clashing overtones. Impressive stuff, despite an excess of compression on the recording. Equally remarkable is the last track, “Harmonic Series Chords”, a seven-minute orchestral piece recorded in 1989 by the New York Chamber Sinfonia under Glen Cortese, on which the monumental chords are framed by a slowly moving piano structure that sounds like a hybrid of Bowie’s “Neuköln” and a horror movie soundtrack.
I don’t know what Cage had in mind 25 years ago, but if I prefer Glenn Branca to every version of 4’33” I’ve heard to date, does it make me an apologist for fascism? Sure, certain frequencies can’t be handled by certain brains and, accordingly, this music might be “harmful” to someone. Standing next to Niagara Falls for a long time won’t do your ears much good either. But Branca’s sound is a natural force just as powerful, and makes Cage’s objections seem all the more irrelevant.

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