Sunday, November 21, 2010

#15, Branca:

Glenn Branca debuted his Symphony # 15 / Running Through the World Like an Open Razor at Le Poisson Rouge last night.  

Michele and I were there early and were seated front and center by the low stage. As it turned out I was less than two feet away from the back of Branca's black coattails as he conducted.  I had the pleasure of looking over his shoulder at the hand-penciled pages of the score and notes on the pedestal in front of him and at his feet. 

The stage was crowded with musicians, and even more so with the jumble of multiple instruments each would play during the piece.  Among the players was Reg Bloor (whose fantastic experimental group Paranoid Critical Revolution will perform at Kent Place this spring).

Each movement was a differently shaped large open field of sound.  The opening, cymbal-based section, like some of the later guitar-oriented ones, developed into a huge wave of mounting intensity.  These sections evolved with nuance and subtlety, but I never lost sight of the whole washing over me.  This was in keeping with my experience hearing Branca's guitar pieces in the past, a feeling of powerful insistent frontality, singularity and strong emotion.

Movements that incorporated strange and varied instruments and toys, especially when chance operations came into play (instrumentalists rolling dice or consulting the I-Ching before sounding a harmonica or rattling sticks), evoked a landscape flecked with countless colors, textures and little absurdities.  I pictured Bosch or Bruegel paintings, like Bruegel's 'Childrens Games', where there is a beauty and largeness of conception, a seemingly comprehensive world view, but populated and punctuated and by tiny playful acts of lovely futility.  

To me the whole sustained a fantastic tension: a forceful forward movement, an expansiveness, crucially kept at bay by a humor of sardonic negativity.

children's games, jan bruegel, 1560
click image to enlarge

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