By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
“Later, I moved to New York, and in 1977, a year after I arrived, I met Jeffrey Lohn, a composer, performance artist and musician — one of the more brilliant people I’d ever known. He had a 2,500-foot ground-floor loft in Soho. Now it’s a Japanese restaurant, but at the time we painted the whole thing black, and were going to form the Bastard Theater. That’s all we talked about and all we thought about. There was very little music.
“Then, one day, I just couldn’t hold back my desire to start a rock band. Both of us were over 30 at the time, so neither of us had any delusions. We weren’t interested in becoming rock stars. We liked the punk ideal. We would write anything we wanted to whether people liked it or not. It’s hard for people to understand now, but this was before hardcore. This was like the Rod Stewart era. Yet for some reason, the more absurd we became, the bigger our audience. At first we were just the local art band. There was a lot of interest in the young female conceptual artists — Sherrie Levine, Barbara Kruger — and when someone threw out the name The Theoretical Girls, that’s who we became. But I also loved the idea of being part of a movement, and in 1978, No Wave began. There were a bunch of exciting gigs, where all of these noise bands were on the same bill together: Mars, the Contortions, DNA.
“Then Brian Eno moved to New York. Very quickly he heard about this scene, and convinced Virgin to release a record. The problem was, he only picked four of the bands when, in fact, there were about 10. Bands like Teenage Jesus and the Jerks convinced him they were the real thing. They were East Village, we were the Soho art fags. That pretty much ended it. No Wave was done by ’79. For me, those two years were like 10. Every day there was something new — a new song, a new idea. I was out there presenting the most evil, vile stuff I could think of, and people were at the edge of the stage licking it up.”
ALL I WANT TO DO IS PUT LITTLE DOTS?ON LITTLE PIECES OF PAPER
“I lost interest in being in a rock band. I was having ideas for pieces three or four musicians couldn’t handle. I was invited to participate in a festival Max’s Kansas City had during Easter, and wrote a monster piece called Instrumentals for Six Guitars. During the first rehearsals, it sounded so gorgeous that I literally broke down and started to cry. Eventually I wrote The Ascension. The first time I played it at a rock club, there was utter silence. The place was packed to the gills, but there was no applause. The audience were shocked out of their fucking minds. People thought I was insane, but I realized this was the sound I had to work with.
“The first time I got to write a piece for an orchestra, I sat down over two months and learned how to write standard staff notation. I learned in three days. A quarter note here, a half note there. When I found out that people made such a big deal out of this thing . . . I mean, learning Spanish is harder than this!
“Since then, people have said I’ve disappeared or that I’m a hermit. I am an obsessive. I have invested massive amounts of time, and now know a lot more about the fundamentals of harmony than most people with doctorates in music. But the thing is, I’m not independently wealthy, and I’m not on a major label. If I don’t get commissioned, I can’t put things together. Why didn’t Wagner write any music for 16 years? It’s because no one was commissioning his music! If King Ludwig didn’t come along, you wouldn’t have your Ring series, your Parsifal. People say I’m re-emerging, but that’s not true. I’ve been on the computer and phone with every kind of producer, funder and businessman. All I ever do or want to do is sit in my room, put little dots on little pieces of paper with a pencil and write music.
“Hallucination City came about because my agent in Europe had an idea of doing a gig for 2,000 guitars for the year 2000. I told her, ‘Do you know how much money it takes to feed that many people?’ As each piece of the bureaucracy got their piece of the pie, the budget went up — from $250,000 to $500,000 to almost a million. Then the massive millennium celebrations turned into a big fart. No one gave a damn about the millennium. A performance didn’t come together until 2001, when I got a call from [public-art organization] Creative Time. They were curating this festival downtown, and wanted the theme to involve New York City. They liked the idea of 100 guitars.
“How do I describe the piece? Well, I wouldn’t talk in terms of dissonance but in terms of clusters — large, almost architectural blocks of sound that move around each other, inside of each other, on top of each other. In a way I almost see my music as a kind of structured collage. Collage got written off because of the way [John] Cage used it, but I like that sound. That’s what I liked about Mahler. I like the way music sucks you in, and takes you somewhere solely for the purpose of turning back on you, and hitting you in the head.”
Glenn Branca’sHallucination City, Symphony No. 13 for 100 Guitars, will be performed on Wednesday, March 29, at Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 850-2000. For this special performance, all seats will be priced at $10.