Avant-garde is an appropriately ambiguous term that begs to be used here; composer-conductor Glenn Branca's "conducting" more closely resembles the spazzing of an upright holy roller — perhaps there's no better mannerism when it comes to gesturally chain-whipping your ensemble of eight electric guitarists, bassist and drummer. That's "avant-garde." Iterant chainsaw strumming and machinelike drumming propelling "Symphonies" of two movements each with assigned (fixed) octave parameters for multiple axes — that's "avant-garde." And while subtitles like "The Passion" and "Spiritual Anarchy" evoke nuances of doctrinal catharsis — with as many as nine right hands flapping violently in unison, risking future brushes with CTS, I'm more inclined to think of a spiritual enema! Oh, yeah: that's "avant-garde."
This isn't for everybody —as if! Performed live eight years ago and presented here for the first time on DVD, Symphony Nos. 8 & 10 are full-tilt, structurally nontraditional, uniformly static expressions that bore into your skull with an effect akin to trepanation: all four movements plow ahead at their prescribed tempi like plunging warplanes, with only a rare instance of letup. No soloing, either. These are movements, damnit! For a little more insight into what Glenn's about, the following (directly from his web site) describes the specific guitar tunings the ensemble uses:
"Each guitar is strung with two pairs of three strings, tuned an octave apart. (The soprano guitar is tuned to B, the tenor guitar to E, and the alto guitar to G.) ...Symphonies Nos.8 & 10 featured an octave guitar tuned to E, but covering 3 octaves, with 2 pairs of strings per octave. The bass guitars are in standard tuning, except on 'The Final Problem,' where all guitars use a microtonal variation of Glenn's normal tuning."
No. 10's "Second Movement (The Horror)" differs in that its prologue and epilogue consist of brief, quasi-metallic riffing and lots & lots of feedback (with one guy's instrument ending up facedown on the stage floor). Its tempo is noticeably the fastest, but again, there's isn't much in the way of thematic variance or melody—which clearly was never on the platter to begin with. There's a freakishly pleasant air to all of this, whether its noteworthy that Branca's Reichian compositions require as many players as they do (this is not quiet music, either) or if it all just sounds cool as background music.
Symphony No. 8 (The Mystery) – composed in 1992
1. First Movement (The Passion)
2. Second Movement (Spiritual Anarchy)
Symphony No. 10 (The Mystery, Pt. 2) – composed in 1994
1. First Movement (The Final Problem)
2. Second Movement (The Horror)
Total Running Time: Approx. 70 minutes