Lesson No. 1 – Glenn Branca (1980)


Lesson No. 1 was Glenn Branca‘s first release as a composer. Originally issued as a 12″ EP, or mini-album, it featured two tracks, the beautiful and accessible title track — composed as a response to listening to Joy Division‘s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart,’ and the frenetically assaultive ‘Dissonance,’ which has lost none of its power. The players on this date were organist Anthony Coleman, drummer Stephen Wischerth, F.L.Schroder on bass, Branca and Michael Gross on guitars and, on the latter track, Harry Spitz on Sledgehammer. This compact disc reissue on Acute contains ‘Bad Smells,’ an unreleased track from the Ascension sessions that came two years later. The band here features five guitarists: Branca, David Rosenbloom, Ned Sublette, Lee Ranaldo, and Thurston Moore, as well as bassist Jeffrey Glenn and Wischerth. There is also a QuickTime video movie of “Symphony No. 5” included. One of the most compelling things about this release is how fully developed Branca‘s ideas were even at this early juncture. His micro- and over-tonal notions as overlooked visceral elements in rock & roll prove worthy mettle here, and even on ‘Dissonance’ with its catharsis and knotty harmonics, rock & roll is never far from the fore in his method. ‘Bad Smells’ has a different, more complex dynamic, especially from the outset, but the sense of urgency is there, along with the shimmering, barely hidden melodic frames that keep the entire thing evolving on the axis of its pulse. Guitarist Alan Licht provides a fine critical history and appreciation in his liner notes, making for a historically relevant package. But in spite of its obvious contribution not only to vanguard music, but to Sonic Youth‘s sound, the music here is actually pleasant and compelling to listen to, and does not sound like a relic out of time and space, or a curiosity piece from long ago. Lesson No. 1 is a powerful, wrenching, transcendent piece of rock guitar classicism that, if there is any justice, will get a wider and more appreciative hearing in the new century.”
allmusic
W – Lesson No. 1
Pitchfork
iTunes
YouTube: Lesson No. 1 Full EP

Tom Johnson – The Voice of New Music: New York 1972-1982


“The ten years, from 1972-1982, during which Tom Johnson closely followed the developments in the new music in New York and reported his experiences in the Village Voice, constitute the most innovative and experimental period of recent musical history. A considerable number of his articles and reviews has been brought together in this collection. Together they provide a lively impression of the genesis and the exciting adventure of the new music, of the diversity of utterances that were part of it from the very start, and of the circumstances and opinions which prompted it. Johnson recorded the emergence of a generation of composers and musicians which has set out to probe once more all conventions of the Western musical tradition and to remove the barriers between different cultures and various artistic disciplines. That process is still in full swing. Therefore it is of interest today to read how that process was triggered.”
Mediamatic
W – Tom Johnson
[PDF] The Voice of New Music: New York 1972-1982

No New York – Brian Eno (1978)


No New York is a compilation album released in 1978 by record label Antilles under the curation of producer Brian Eno. Although it only contained songs by four different artists, it is considered by many to be the definitive single album documenting New York City’s late-1970s no wave movement. Early in 1978, New York‘s Artists’ Space hosted an underground rock festival with several local bands. The final two days of the show featured DNA and the Contortions on Friday, followed by Mars and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks on Saturday. English musician/producer Brian Eno, who had originally come to New York to produce the second Talking Heads album More Songs About Buildings and Food, was in the audience. Impressed by what he saw and heard, Eno was convinced that this movement should be documented and proposed the idea of a compilation album with himself as a producer. When Eno recorded No New York, some of the sessions were done without much of the stylized production he was known for on other artists’ albums. James Chance stated that the Contortions tracks were ‘done totally live in the studio, no separation between the instruments, no overdubs, just like a document.’ …”
Wikipedia
Pitchfork
YouTube: No New York – Full CD 43:57

Glenn Branca – The Ascension (1981)


“If one chooses to categorize the music on this recording as ‘rock,’ this is surely one of the greatest rock albums ever made. But there’s the rub. While sporting many of the trappings of the genre — the instrumentation (electric guitars), the rhythms, the volume, and, most certainly, the attitude — there is much about The Ascension that doesn’t fit comfortably into the standard definition of the term. Not only does the structure of the compositions appear to owe more to certain classical traditions, including Romanticism, than the rock song form, but Branca‘s overarching concern is with the pure sound produced, particularly of the overtones created by massed, ‘out of tune,’ excited strings and the ecstatic quality that sound can engender in the listener. Though his prior performing experience was with post-punk, no-wave groups like the Static and Theoretical Girls, it could be argued that the true source of much of the music here lies in the sonic experimentation of deep-drone pioneers like La Monte Young and Phil Niblock. Happily, the music is accessible enough that one can jump right in, regardless of one’s direction of approach. Branca‘s band, unlike some of his later enormous ensembles, is relatively modest (four guitars, bass guitar, and drums), so the sound is comparatively clear and each member’s contributions may be easily discerned. The chiming notes that begin ‘The Spectacular Commodity’ are allowed to hover in the air, awash in overtones, before being subsumed into a rolling groove that picks up more and more intensity as guitar chords cascade one atop another, threatening to, but never succeeding in, toppling the whole affair. ‘Structure’ plays with sonic torque, whipsawing between two differently stressed voicings of the same theme, pulling them back and forth like taffy.  …”
allmusic (Audio)
W – The Ascension
Pitchfork
Discogs (Video)
Soundcloud: The Spectacular Commodity (Excerpt)
YouTube: The Ascension 1981 (Full LP) 42:11

No Wave Is Boring


“Can boredom be art? Can good art be boring? When a work of art is deemed boring, it’s usually an automatic, accepted pejorative. After all, who would want to be bored by art? Yet some artists have actually imagined positive, counterintuitive answers to those seemingly obvious questions. In some particularly vital cases, those answers themselves were inspired by boredom – by the creativity that can arise out of being bored, and desperately wanting to do something about it. The boredom that infected the intersecting music and film scenes called no wave was a distinct product of time and place. New York City in the late 1970s was empty, dangerous and practically cost-free – a bombed-out wasteland open to anyone fearless enough to squat in an abandoned building and siphon electricity from street lights. In their confrontational, rule-rejecting work, no wave artists reacted to the recent past – the bloating of rock music, the homogenization of cinema, the staid pretension of the art world – but also dealt with their numbing present. They faced a gaping hole created by the droves fleeing Manhattan, and a ‘blank generation’” that punk started but didn’t complete. It was up to no wave to blast away the remaining rubble. …”
Red Bull Music Academy Daily (Video)

Theoretical Girls – “U.S. Millie”/”You Got Me” (1978)


Theoretical Girls were a New York-based no wave band formed by Glenn Branca and Jeff Lohn (a conceptual artist and composer) that existed from 1977 to 1981. Theoretical Girls played only about 20 shows (three of which took place in Paris). It released one single (‘U.S. Millie’/’You Got Me’), which had some attention in England where it sold a few thousand copies. The band was never signed by a record company, but is well regarded as an early leading No Wave group that mixed classical modern ideas of composition with punk rock. This experimental music was mostly supported by the New York art world and minimal art music audience. … Theoretical Girls was formed after Branca and Lohn’s previous group the Static and performed its first show at the Experimental Intermedia Foundation. Artist Jeff Wall came up with the band’s name during a discussion of women making conceptual art. The Theoretical Girls were among the most enigmatic of the late 1970s no wave bands of the New York underground rock scene, famous not so much for their music, since they released only one single during their brief existence, but because the group launched the careers of two of New York’s best known experimental music figures, composer Glenn Branca and producer Wharton Tiers. The latter played drums, the former guitar in the quartet, which also featured keyboardist Margaret De Wys and vocalist/guitarist Jeffrey Lohn, a classically trained composer who, like Branca and so many others in the no wave scene, wasn’t interested in working with popular musical forms until inspired to do so by the explosion of punk rock. The group’s sound shared aesthetics with the other no wave bands working in Manhattan at the time, such as The Contortions and DNA. Always confrontational and often funny in an aggressive way, the band’s sound consistently displayed the influence of American minimalist composers, ranging from sparse, clattering rhythm pieces that sound like immediate forebears of early 1980s Sonic Youth, to abrasive slabs of art-punk noise music. …”
Wikipedia
Theoretical Girls
YouTube: US Millie, You Got Me