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R.I.P. Glenn Branca, avant-garde composer and guitarist

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As reported by Billboard, influential composer and musician Glenn Branca, best known for his contributions to the experimental music and no wave scene in the ‘70s and ‘80s, has died. His death was confirmed by longtime collaborator Reg Bloor, who revealed that he died in his sleep last night after a battle with throat cancer. In the statement, which was posted on Facebook, Bloor said that Branca’s “influence on the music world is incalculable,” adding that he was “a deeply caring and fiercely loyal man” despite his “gruff exterior.” The post also noted that he “live a very full life and had no regrets.” He was 69.


Born in Pennsylvania in 1948, Branca learned how to play guitar as a teenager and played in various short-lived bands and experimental theater groups. He moved to New York in the ‘70s to work in experimental theater, eventually meeting musician Jeffrey Lohn and forming no wave band Theoretical Girls instead of starting a theater group. Branca released his debut EP, Lesson No. 1, in 1980, with the record becoming an influential part of the no wave movement despite only selling a few copies. He released a full album of experimental electric guitar compositions titled The Ascension in 1981, and while it received critical acclaim at the time (and has grown more and more acclaimed in the years since), a New York Times review from 1981 said that Branca’s live performances “may be too grand and loud ever to be captured on disk.”

Branca also worked on Sonic Youth’s first two albums, and more recently, he has written and performed symphonies with both traditional orchestras and more experimental ensembles—including a symphony written for 100 electric guitars that has been performed all over the world. As Pitchfork notes, Branca also wrote a handful of opinion pieces for the New York Times.