Glenn Branca
Symphony No. 1 (Tonal Plexus)


5.0
classic

Review

by Runeii USER (2 Reviews)
December 25th, 2008 | 25 replies


Release Date: 1983 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Branca deserves that applause you hear at the end of this.

"A symphony to me is a full-length, large-scale piece with a variety of instrumentation and orchestral range. I've never dealt with any kind of sonata form. But in the density of texture, the sense of slow movement and the development of thematic ideas, I think of my music as symphonic."
-Gleen Branca, to Steven Holden of the New York Times.


Prior to this contrastingly beautiful and abrasive first symphony, Glenn Branca was playing in bands that were primarily involved with the no-wave scene that was overtaking poverty-ridden New York. There wasn’t any sort of eye-winking teaser that showcased Branca’s future skill as a fiercely innovative composer, despite being having a performing arts degree and a reasonably adept understanding of minimalist mavericks such as Steve Reich. However, while playing in a no-wave band of his creation named Theoretical Girls, Branca managed to finally put his long-dormant ideas to record, easily creating a sort of minimalist heavy metal with groundbreaking works like The Ascension and Lesson No. 1. Branca quickly became a sort of poster boy for this quirkily eccentric and experimental type of music coming out of the fringes of New York, and built important friendships with band members from Sonic Youth and the Swans.

Two years passed after he created what is arguably his best work with The Ascension, in 1981, before he unleashed a monster with as equal as fervor as that ferocious beast. Titled Symphony No. 1 (Tonal Plexus), Branca’s first actual symphony and his first work in two years is just as and mostly even more impressive than The Ascension, and features all of Branca’s usual hallmarks: heavily abrasive guitars, repetitive structures that can get to the point of being overwhelming, and spine-tingling build-ups that are far more monstrous and jaw-dropping than anything modern post-rock has ever given us. Everything on this first symphony seems to be on a greater and more grand scale than The Ascension, including longer, more developed songs (every song on here extends past the ten minute mark, with two exceeding fifteen minutes) and the inclusion of various instruments. Of course, guitars are still the primary focus of these compositions, but instruments like keyboards, trumpets, and various percussion instruments flesh songs like this symphony’s highly repetitive second composition out. These instruments finger-paint streaks of red and gold over the second movement’s rather spotty and simplistic rhythm; without this more ambitious (for Branca, anyways) instrumentation, the movement would be a rather dull and primitive one. The same goes for the seventeen-long third movement, which often resembles nothing more than a directionless drone. It’s a testament to Branca’s genius that he never lets the song become too aimless, whether he’s injected the fireball of noise with throbbing and rhythmic percussion or softening things up a bit with (what I swear sounds like) a few seconds of keyboard lines, only to be thrust right back into the drone’s thrall again. These modern touches make Symphony No. 1 more engaging than you would initially believe.

Symphony No. 1 (Tonal Plexus) truly is excellent throughout its entire hour-long length, staying fresh despite the repetitive nature of its songs, and it comes together as a rather triumphant listen when digested whole. However, the last movement of this symphony manages to stand tall as the obvious highlight. Opening with a thunderous and rhythmic trapping of deep percussion and throbbing and noisy guitars, the track repeats this thunderous rhythm in a variety of ways for the next few minutes, leaving a tiny pause in between each blast to dull the explosion. After a few minutes, just as you are starting to get used to these heartthrobs of noise and are even starting to perversely enjoy them, the track segues into one long drone; a drone that’s more raging and deafening in its freaky droneiness than anything else you’ll probably ever hear this side of the Boredoms. Then other instruments, like some horns, enter into the fray: the whole thing ends up sounding like a twisted choir of the devil. The movement ends in a wash of feedback and random drumming: it’s the perfect way to cap off such a perfect symphony.

Perfect isn’t a word that should be thrown around a lot, but I find it truly applies when talking about Branca’s first symphony. His later works--of which are all labeled as symphonies; he found it made him and his music seem more professional--ended up becoming more and more ambitious and even slightly less abrasive, but they never reached the same high as this. It’s a shame that The Ascension is more often looked at as his most defining work: that record, while excellent, pales in comparison to this. Be sure to check out this completely defining masterpiece that’s sadly ignored by too many today.


user ratings (39)
3.9
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
Meatplow
December 28th 2009


5523 Comments


Possibly one of the worst albums I've ever heard


I lol'd considering the summary.

Still, the worst? It's by no means that bad.

zaruyache
February 4th 2016


27531 Comments


I just started listening to this and it's kinda eerie how much it feels like Godspeed was influenced by stuff like this.

BMDrummer
February 4th 2016


15154 Comments


nice to see this bumped, branca is king

MillionDead
October 31st 2016


5366 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I've been really into this and stuff like it, the past few months. Branca, Sonic Youth, etc. Japanese artists like Keiji Haino, Les Rallizes Denudes, and Otomo Yoshide. It's all really inspiring and makes you look at guitar composition a different way. The skillful inclusion of dissonance and noise brings it all together in a way that still feels so fresh and uncharted.

SandwichBubble
October 31st 2016


13797 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

▲ perfect summation really





▼ again, accurate

DoofusWainwright
October 31st 2016


19991 Comments


This man is a genius

TVC15
April 28th 2017


11374 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

[2]

GhandhiLion
July 4th 2017


17650 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Why do I avoid these things.

GhandhiLion
July 4th 2017


17650 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Loving the terry Riley and Steve Reich influence on the 2nd movement. The gamlan percussion is incredible.

GhandhiLion
July 4th 2017


17650 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

wowwwwwwww

BMDrummer
July 4th 2017


15154 Comments


nice av

SandwichBubble
November 3rd 2018


13797 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Finally own this, feeling pretty goooooood

jimkiely
October 4th 2019


1 Comments


Not knowing that anything is ever perfect, I still like this reviewer's take on Symphony No. 1. I heard Branca's music performed live for the first time at an MIT performance of the composer's string and electric music, which was one of the best concerts I've attended in 40 years. Among the symphonic elements that Branca nailed is progression through movements: developing a theme (and counter-theme) to a climax, which in this case does not include resolution. The second movement's opening featuring a gamelan, which eventually couples with cymbals and brass, is forceful in an non-affronting way, a rich percussive parallel to the first movement's million-guitar sound. It's like having multiple marching bands pass by me at once. Suffice it to say, this recording requires an open mind, attention and a love of texture to appreciate. If that's you, then give it a listen.

calmrose
December 25th 2019


6875 Comments


I can see where Godspeed got some major influence from, this is superb

parksungjoon
January 17th 2022


47234 Comments


wait this runeii isnt cyg

parksungjoon
April 21st 2023


47234 Comments


wait this runeii isnt cyg [2]

parksungjoon
July 16th 2023


47234 Comments


>I can see where Godspeed got some major influence from, this is superb

tis

Cygnatti
July 16th 2023


36101 Comments


Glenn Branca's music is hard to listen to. Not saying it's bad just that it's kinda disorienting in a not very pleasant way. I think the production and composition is so dense it's offputting.

parksungjoon
July 16th 2023


47234 Comments


i like it but then again i like sy and gybe both so

why arent u this runeii

Cygnatti
July 16th 2023


36101 Comments


Sry, I can't be him...



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