The Static

founded in 1977 by Glenn Branca, Barbara Ess, and Christine Hahn

Biography

Glenn Branca

born 1948 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; avant-garde composer and guitarist

Since 1977: Diverse band projects (Theoretical Girls, The Static, Glenn Branca Ensemble)

1981–2015: Composition of sixteen symphonies for up to 100 electric guitars; numerous record releases

1982–1987: Runs his own label, Neutral Records

2018: Dies in New York City

Barbara Ess

Barbara Ess is an artist living and working in NYC. She uses photography, video and sound to make her work which has been shown widely in the U.S. and Europe. She has performed and recorded music with a number of bands and is the organizer and editor of the multimedia collaborative project Just Another Asshole # 1–7. She is an Associate Professor of Photography at Bard College.

Christine Hahn

born 1955 in Lakewood, Ohio; lives in Maryland

1977–1979: Studies Graphic Design at Hunter College, New York City

1980–1984: Lives in Berlin

1989–1991: Studies at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, Ohio

1997–1999: Studies at Montgomery College, Maryland

1998–2002: New Media Specialist at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.

Visual Art

Visual Art

Downtown New York in the late 1970s: This was the artistic experimental laboratory in which the careers of Glenn Branca, Barbara Ess and Christine Hahn began. All three had different backgrounds, and all three had moved here from other cities: Branca from Boston, where he had been active with various bands, as well as in the experimental theatre scene; Ess, who had previously studied philosophy and literature in Ann Arbor and film in London; and Hahn, who had moved from Ohio and Texas to New York to study graphic design. They met in 1978, first by making music together, and then by pursuing their respective artistic careers (Branca moved into the field of avant-garde rock music, where he began to realize his in some cases symphonic compositions in 1980).

From the very beginning, Barbara Ess limited herself neither to music nor visual art alone. Between 1978 and 1987, for example, she launched seven issues of the publication Just Another Asshole, each of which appeared in a different format (magazine, book, LP, etc.) and is still one of the most representative compendia of the downtown scene of the time, covering all genres. At the same time, she worked in or with the medium of photography, and here in particular (from 1983 onwards) with a pinhole camera, the characteristic ‘low-fi’ shots of which, processed as if with a soft-focus, she produced primarily as monochrome, earth-coloured prints. Many of Ess’s enigmatic series, such as Have You Ever Experienced Ecstasy? (1982) or Food for the Moon (1986), seem – even before she began using the pinhole camera – as if they depicted a ghostly parallel world: full of shadows, distorted, deliberately out of focus. As if Ess, whose subjects were primarily nature, children, women, and her immediate surroundings, strove to ‘photograph what cannot be photographed’, as she once explained. More recent works deal with a range of themes including surveillance, border regimes and being trapped, always aiming at a fundamental ambivalence of the thresholds of perception – where does the perceiving ego end, where does the perceived other begin?

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Parallel to her career as a musician, Christine Hahn began working in various media – from painting and conceptual photography to drawing and printmaking. After meeting Martin Kippenberger in 1979, she sporadically collaborated with him, for example on the jointly published magazine Sehr gut/Very good (1979) and the band project Luxus. Later, in addition to longer phases as a graphic designer, she devoted herself to deliberately ‘deficient’ imaging practices, such as low-resolution digital photography, for example in the series Deliquesce (2000), in which photographs of the sky, water or light reflections reveal a ‘coarse-grained, dream-like texture’. Her series BlinkBlinkBlink (2005) is entirely committed to geometric abstraction, while the dark application of colour in the paintings of the series On Transcience (2007) evokes the ephemeral and the transitory. Immix Remix (2009) comprises a set of stream-of-consciousness collages made from newspaper and magazine clippings, which are compositionally highly charged with tension, while the installation Boxes (2011), which revolves around adolescence, demonstrates the medial resourcefulness and transdisciplinary versatility of her artistic work.

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Music

Music

Glenn Branca’s musical beginnings go back to the 1960s, when he was still a teenager and active in various cover bands. Parallel to his theatre studies in Boston, he developed what would later become his characteristic minimalist guitar playing, while at the same time repeatedly experimenting with sound art pieces. After moving to New York in 1976, he first founded a theatre group (together with Jeffrey Lohn); the following year, he formed his first band entirely dedicated to the No Wave idea, Theoretical Girls, and in 1978 The Static (together with Ess and Hahn). Following the more song-based approaches of these two groups, he devoted himself from 1980 onwards entirely to his solo career as a composer. His in some cases symphonic works – for up to 100 guitars – sounded out droning and the microtonality of long repeated chords. Branca, who also ran Neutral Records, an important label for the New York noise scene, composed for entire orchestras from the seventh to the sixteenth of his symphonies, only to return to his trademark, unorthodox, overtone-saturated guitar harmonies towards the end of his life.

In late 1977, Barbara Ess and Christine Hahn began playing together in the formation Daily Life, which initially included Glenn Branca and the artist Paul McMahon. After they broke up, the trio continued parallel to Branca’s band Theoretical Girls under the name The Static. With Ess on bass and Hahn on drums, the group recorded the single ‘My Relationship/Don’t Let Me Stop You’ in 1979 and in the same year recorded an instrumental session at a performance by Dan Graham in London, which was subsequently released on cassette.

This is where the paths of the individual musicians’ careers branch out: In 1980, Ess began playing in the well-known feminist No-Wave trio Y Pants. Partly with toy instruments and a penchant for unruly urgency, the group recorded cover versions of Jagger/Richards that ran against the grain, set Bertolt Brecht and Emily Dickinson to music and formed one of those early eighties post-punk bands that propagated a new female self-image. Traditional (heteronormative) relationships came under fire primarily from Y Pants: ‘Got this feeling for you – beat it down!’ and ‘Love’s a disease, a viral infection’, as their songs aptly put it. Later, Ess, who in the 1980s also recorded several radio plays revolving around female characters for the sound art cassette magazine Tellus, continued her feminist approach to music with the band Ultra Vulva and, in 2001, together with the artist Peggy Ahwesh, in the project Radio Guitar.

Christine Hahn, who was part of the trio CKM (together with Kim Gordon and Stanton Miranda), as well as The Static, met Martin Kippenberger in 1979, which resulted in the joint project Luxus (with Eric Mitchell). Their double single, which is still sought after today, is the epitome of rude, dilettante artist music. Hahn subsequently moved to Berlin, where she recorded cool minimalist synth odes with Tangerine Dream and the Iggy Pop drummer Klaus Krüger (featured on the LPs One Is One and Zwischenmischung). Her work with the all-female new wave band Malaria! became incomparably more successful and continues to exert a lasting stylistic influence to this day. From the beginning of 1981, they set new standards in the German-speaking music context and landed smaller hits like ‘Your Turn to Run’ and ‘Kaltes klares Wasser’, which were also played in New York’s trendy clubs. After Malaria! broke up in 1983, Hahn stayed away from making music for a while, only to return in 2017, together with her Malaria! colleague Bettina Köster, in the latter’s minimal synth epic Kolonel Silvertop.

In the Exhibition

In the Exhibition

The Static

From: 135 Grand Street, New York City, 1979, with Barbara Ess (bass guit.), Christine Hahn (dr.), Glenn Branca (guit.), 4:00 min.
Film: Ericka Beckman, Courtesy: Ericka Beckman

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Private lofts played an important role in the New York downtown scene of the 1970s (and already in the 1960s). This was also the case with the long and narrow living and working space of the two artists Paul McMahon and Nancy Chunn at 135 Grand Street, where not only McMahon’s A Band rehearsed regularly, but also musician friends and artist colleagues were also frequent guests. One evening in August 1979, a kind of battle of various No Wave bands was organised, which – after the celebrated release of Brian Eno’s No New York compilation – offered a self-defined cross-section of the scene. The Rotterdam broadcaster VPRO Television, which had heard about the project, commissioned the artist Ericka Beckman to document the performances. Beckman’s Super 8 films and audio tapes (originally recorded separately) were subsequently archived, until the artist took them out again for the exhibition The Pictures Generation at The Metropolitan Museum in New York in 2009 and re-edited them into a 55-minute film.

Ten acts, some with several pieces, are included in this rare contemporary document. In the film, The Static – the ambiguous name refers to that which is disturbing, rustling, as well as inert, standing still – perform the track ‘The Spectacular Commodity’: Branca, all in black, and Ess, in a red tank top, on the two guitars, with Hahn, in a black tank top, on the blue drums. The track – Branca later recorded it again in an extended formation for his debut LP The Ascension (1981) – begins with a simple basic motif, in which six notes are repeated in a call-and-response manner. This is followed by a series of choppy, staccato-like chords, to which Beckman assembled images of sparking fireworks. The basic theme returns, after which the piece slowly picks up speed, with the percussion intensified, and gradually begins to take off in the direction of a minimalist rock instrumental. The high-frequency flight increases steadily, with the drums hacking ever new rhythmic corridors into the thunderstorm of sound, until the track ends in a precisely set final chord. In any event, a ‘spectacular’ triad, although in a completely different sense than the track’s title, which is formulated with understatement.

Author:

Christian Höller