The Reader‘s archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we’ll dig through and bring up some finds.
The avant-garde guitarist Glenn Branca died on Monday. Branca didn’t play Chicago much, though Reader music writers like to use him as an example of radical musical experimentation. Probably the weirdest time his name has been taken in vain was Miles Raymer’s account of the Plastic Crimewave Vision Celestial Guitarkestra, an event organized by Plastic Crimewave, aka the musician, illustrator, writer, and historian Steve Krakow, to “perform a sonic exorcism on the evil that rules this land.” Branca himself appears never to have organized mass acts of chaos magick, but he did get 100 guitarists to assemble and play together at the foot of the World Trade Center towers in 2001, just a few months before they fell.
Anyway. Raymer and about 5o other guitarists assembled at the Empty Bottle one night in March, armed with their instruments and their amps. There were also 150 spectators.
Raymer described the scene:
When we all plugged into our amps to check levels, it quickly turned into what a bystander described as “Guitar Center times 50″—a howling mass of unorchestrated wankery and feedback. Krakow shushed everybody from the stage and introduced the group, then directed everyone’s attention to a jagged geometric sigil on a poster-size sheet of paper hanging on the wall behind Criss. He told the crowd of about 150, “There’s an evil in this land.” During the set, performers and spectators alike were supposed to focus on the sigil, then cast the evil out of their minds. “Don’t think about it again,” Krakow said. After a few more words about chaos magick, we were on.
The only instruction Krakow gave the guitarists was to play in the key of E. There was chaos. Raymer wasn’t sure if it was magick, but he did experience something.
I didn’t so much hear our sound as feel it—it had crossed the line from an auditory phenomenon into something almost purely bodily. It was the loudest thing I’ve ever experienced, and I’ve seen Sunn 0))).
Half out of curiosity and half out of journalistic duty, I made an effort to participate in what I guessed might be a spiritual way—I let myself go and, as the hippies say, “got free” in the music’s flow. A weird buzz came over me, sort of like the exaggerated mind-body disconnect I’d only ever experienced after taking really decent hallucinogenic drugs. I came back to myself after what felt like half an hour but was probably more like a minute or two and went back to following the drums, which I could barely make out over the din.
The sigil was gone from the wall by the end of the performance, but Raymer wasn’t sure if it had fallen, if someone had removed it, or if it had vanished through more otherworldly means. In the end, he decided, maybe it didn’t matter: “Maybe just feeling like some magick might have happened isn’t too different from it actually happening.”
In ensuing years, the Guitarkestra reconvened from time to time. Which makes sense, because evil has still not been banished from this world. Maybe the next time it performs, Branca will be able to hear it from whichever celestial plane he’s landed on.