Confession time: I don’t normally find myself in the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York. And if I had ever planned to be there, I would not have expected for it to be for a crushingly loud and yet liberating program of music played by nine guitarists and a drummer. In fact, that was how I spent my Monday night: taking in a program featuring three symphonies written by composer Glenn Branca, as part of Red Bull Music Academy. The lineup included an array of acclaimed musicians from groups like No Age, Liturgy, and Circuit des Yeux, and the music itself was fundamentally stunning: at times brutally loud, at times utterly transcendent.
Among musicians associated with New York, Branca and his music occupy a strange place in my mental geography. His 13th Symphony, Hallucination City, is perhaps the most emblematic of this. A recording of it finally saw commercial release this month, through Atavistic Records, which has released an abundance of Branca’s music over the years. It’s no exaggeration to say that I’ve been waiting for a recording of this to be available for over a decade–though it’s not clear whether that was due to the difficulty of recording a piece with its particular arrangement (a hundred electric guitars) or Branca’s perfectionism (“I’m never happy with a piece when I’ve finished it,” he said in a recent interview with Noisey). The first performance of Hallucination City took place outside the World Trade Center in 2001, and as a work of art, it seems to bridge periods in the life of the city. Alternately: it seems intrinsically connected to a space that no longer exists, and its name seems all too apt to describe a mood that periodically descends upon the city.
Being in the hall in which the concert took place–lushly carpeted, with a wraparound balcony and surprisingly good acoustics–felt like another New York entirely. Walking past the building’s, you’d never expect that such a space might be found inside–much less up a couple of winding flights of stairs. And yet, there it was: something that seemed like a vision from a more opulent, hidden-away version of the city, as different from the now-archetypal downtown scene in which Branca got his start and the version of New York to which we all stepped after leaving the venue. It’s a city that, thankfully, still has its mysteries.
Image: Atavistic Records