Glenn Branca (1948–2018)

Glenn Branca performing The Ascension at Bonds International Casino, New York City, in 1981. Left to right: Glenn Branca, Lee Ranaldo, Ned Sublette, Jeffrey Glenn, David Rosenbloom, Stefan Wischerth. Photo: Paula Court.

MY CLOSEST MALE FRIENDS have always been musicians, and often Libras. Examples include Steve Reich and Glenn Branca. When I first met Glenn, we discovered we had a shared love for the Kinks and the novels of Philip K. Dick. I had the most fun with Glenn in quickly improvised collaborations. My first collaboration with him was when I asked him to score the 1981 Cologne exhibition “Westkunst.” The show's curator, Kasper König, asked me to do a short documentary segment that was for German TV. Kasper wanted me to do a section about the '70s that would feature my Homes for America photos. The film's director, Michael Shamberg, devised a tracking shot for a sequence that would feature the facades of suburban houses. I chose an area of Staten Island with houses with “fake Tudor” facades. The movie camera was placed on the hood of a car, and, as it rode down the street, shot a sequence of suburban homes. For the soundtrack, I asked Glenn to compose music that would combine the feeling of the Arcadian/pastoral with the carsickness I felt whenever my family took a Sunday drive through suburbia into the surrounding countryside. Glenn got it just right!

Like me, Glenn was self-taught, and perhaps our art and music is a product of having a somewhat incomplete understanding of popular vernacular art forms. As for influences, Glenn once told me that first he loved the work of Anton Bruckner, which he had first encountered in soundtracks for 1950s Hollywood films. He also told me that a big influence was first seeing the Boston-based rock group Aerosmith, whose massed electric guitars produced both a kind of ecstasy and great rock ‘n’ roll. Finally, I have to mention that a key inspiration for my Rock My Religion video was hearing Glenn's pseudoreligious, overdramatic piece The Ascension, 1981, which was first performed at St. Mark's in the Bouwerie Church, where Patti Smith's poetry-turned-into-rock music was first performed. I think both Glenn Branca's music and my work were shaped by early appreciations of science fiction and rock. These influences allowed us to create hybrid forms of art and music. Glenn's work was a fusion of rock and experimental “classical” music, whereas I see my work as a hybrid between literature, art, architecture, and design.

Another quickly improvised project was when Glenn did a music performance for which I designed a two-way mirror and time-delay stage set. This was for the opening of my 1983 Bern Kunsthalle retrospective. Three musicians were seated on the left, the audience on the right. They both faced the two-way mirror and could view the time-delayed image of themselves as a video camera was aimed through the two-way mirror to show both the audience and the musicians. My idea was for Glenn to compose a piece improvising the composition of the work in relation to the time-delayed images that the musicians saw of themselves performing. The audience's gaze would interact with the gazes of the performers, having to see each other and the time-delayed video as guides to the performance's composition. I don't know if my idea really worked—maybe it was just part of an idea—but I do know that Glenn and his group produced great music.

Dan Graham is a Nolita-based artist whose work encompasses music collaborations, as well as a rock critic whose criticism has been collected in Rock/Music Writings, published by Primary Information.

Electronic Arts Intermix and Greene Naftali will host a screening of Dan Graham and Glenn Branca's collaborations on June 9 at EAI in New York.