NPR essays on Philip Glass at 80
January 28, 2017 3:04 PM   Subscribe

Editor's Note: On Jan. 31, Philip Glass turns 80. We're marking the event by asking a few of his collaborators and colleagues to write about him and his music. Errol Morris, Nico Muhly, David Lang, Paul Simon, Laurie Anderson
posted by hippybear (33 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
Glass is a one-trick pony like Mozart is. His mode and style of compositional expression are absolutely clear and completely distilled. Even if it's not your thing, the craft and skill are pretty evident.
posted by LooseFilter at 3:56 PM on January 28, 2017 [3 favorites]


Also, I conducted a performance of Hydrogen Jukebox fairly recently, and we interspersed performances by local slam poets in between each movement. It was an electric concert, and the music definitely connected with and impacted the audiences.
posted by LooseFilter at 3:59 PM on January 28, 2017


[Couple deleted; we don't need to start the thread off with "your favorite composer sucks."]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 4:00 PM on January 28, 2017 [9 favorites]


*shields jim in austin from ever hearing Music For 18 Musicians by Steve Reich*
posted by hippybear at 4:24 PM on January 28, 2017 [5 favorites]


*shields jim in austin from ever hearing Music For 18 Musicians by Steve Reich*

Heh! I've heard it. Well, not all of it. I had to stop after I started beating my head against the desk. But yeah, I get the minimalist, repetitive mutating stuff. It was cool and new decades ago. But one must move on. That is why I mentioned Terry Riley in my [deleted] post. His recent stuff is positively Baroque in comparison...
posted by jim in austin at 4:32 PM on January 28, 2017


one informed by over half a century with classical music.

It was cool and new decades ago. But one must move on.
________________________________________________

From Laurie Anderson:
I've played the piece with Phil several times now and I always find something new to focus on, a harmony I didn't know was there or a new
One of the things that struck me early on in my career when studying Glass was his use of harmony. His knowledge of theory is really quite sophisticated. Harmony (like this -- not harmony as in singers harmonizing with each other) is something that is pretty much lost on contemporary audiences -- most of our musics don't play with harmonic language like what we think of with classical composers. Glass's techniques (shared with the other Minimalists, of course) helps listeners who are lead through the journey using a slowly evolving process that nonetheless surprises at each turn and yet never feels jarring. This is actually quite difficult: to surprise yet not shock. For Glass this method has just become part of his soul and leads to his uniquely beautiful music.

Paul Simon:
or playing different time signatures (a three against two),
I only learned how to play three against two because of Glass.

Nico Muhly:
Each little cell gradually unfolds and folds up again — it isn't a simple process of getting longer or shorter each time. Each cell invites us to explore the possibilities of the simplest musical processes: one plus one, do plus re. The result is rapturous: mathematical, organic, familiar and achingly beautiful.
That sums it all up nicely. You can see the structures clearly and follow them and they make sense and yet arrive at a great beauty that you probably don't anticipate.

John Cage once described Morton Feldman's music as "erotic". Nico's description of Glass as "achingly beautiful" is as enigmatic but once you hear it you know it's true.

I say this and Minimalism, especially Glass's brand, is not really my favorite style of classical music. But I cannot deny the importance of the movement and especially Glass's contribution to it. And there are moments, just like this weird thing for Beethoven piano sonatas (otherwise I prefer to think that the 19th century never really happened), when I need Glass in my life. Thanks goodness he's there.

I will be celebrating his birthday all weekend. It's something beautiful in a time of ugliness.
posted by bfootdav at 5:11 PM on January 28, 2017 [11 favorites]


Happy Birthday, Mr. Glass! I enjoyed seeing Orphee more than maybe any other opera!
posted by Going To Maine at 5:43 PM on January 28, 2017


I'm not going to deprecate anyone's taste in music, and certainly not a composer's. But I will say my tastes run towards Classical and early to mid Romantic. It is understandable therefore that minimalists might be a bit difficult for me. In any case, happy birthday Phillip and many more...
posted by jim in austin at 6:18 PM on January 28, 2017


Nice post. Nice post. Nice post. Nice post. Nice post.
posted by davebush at 6:24 PM on January 28, 2017 [6 favorites]


Absolutely love Philip Glass. His piano études manage to do so much with so little, something I'm always striving to echo a pale imitation of in my own music. Compare this to the contained tension and bombast of Itaipu, for example - it is so wholly different to me that I refuse to accept Glass as a one-trick pony. He has a whole repertoire of tricks, even if they all share some common element. But then whose tricks don't?
posted by Dysk at 6:27 PM on January 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


If you haven't read Love Goes to Building on Fire, you must. There's some great material on Philip Glass's years as a cabdriver (!).
posted by pxe2000 at 7:07 PM on January 28, 2017 [3 favorites]


One of my favorite musical experiences ever was going to see Glass play his soundtrack for Koyaanisqatsi live in front of the movie.
posted by octothorpe at 8:11 PM on January 28, 2017 [3 favorites]


Loaf of bread?
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:36 PM on January 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


octothorpe: One of my favorite musical experiences ever was going to see Glass play his soundtrack for Koyaanisqatsi live in front of the movie.

I am still SO MAD that I missed him play Koyaanisqatsi in San Francisco a few years ago. It's something I've wanted to see for years and years, it happened, I could have gone, but I never found out it was happening until like a year later.
posted by zsazsa at 9:22 PM on January 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


Laurie Anderson on the nose, and Glass's melodic patterns are part of how I peg him as a Pop artist. Maybe that's a subtext that chafes some people? I think he came up with an incredible framework imposed on an old and well-used set of notes, and successfully to my ear.
posted by rhizome at 10:36 PM on January 28, 2017


I was lucky enough to see the most recent revival of Einstein On The Beach that did a world tour. It had been a bit of an obsession of mine since it first came out (I was a nerdy classical music kid), and the fact that I got to see it with the original team mounting the production is one of those things that slipped through to this reality from a more perfect one. I will treasure that, always.
posted by hippybear at 10:37 PM on January 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


You can always tell it's Philip Glass due to the twiddles.

do do do DO do do do do do DO do do
posted by dephlogisticated at 11:37 PM on January 28, 2017


Ooh, yes, I also have a Glassy set of sound-words: say "boodaLEEda" five times fast.
posted by rhizome at 12:12 AM on January 29, 2017 [1 favorite]


I feel like you mean "broccoli broccoli broccoli broccoli."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:35 AM on January 29, 2017


Back in the trawling random websites for whatever mp3s I could get my hands on days, I found a blog that had mp3 links in the sidebar, one of which was Gradus by Philip Glass. I liked Koyaanisquatsi, never got into Einstein on the Beach or any of the really big, grand stuff, but this was so stark and hypnotic. I branched out to a lot of other early stuff, like Piece in the Shape of a Square and eventually onto Reich, Riley etc. I still love the more stripped down minimalist stuff - I even sampled Gradus for a song I did.
posted by kersplunk at 5:09 AM on January 29, 2017


Vikingur Olafsson just released a new album on 1/27/2017 called "Phillip Glass: Piano Works." It available in various streaming formats here and is available as a high rez 96KHz/24 bit download (for purchase) here. Listening to it as I type this. It's a really beautiful / moving interpretation of "Glassworks - Opening" and some of the "Etudes." Highly recommend.
posted by Dean358 at 6:37 AM on January 29, 2017 [3 favorites]


I feel like you mean "broccoli broccoli broccoli broccoli."

Rhizome says boodaLEEda boodaLEEda, you say broccoli broccoli broccoli, and I chant a deep heeee HA, heeee HA underneath. Now we're cooking with Glass.

Somehow I heard The Photographer when I was still a kid and I remember being completely shocked by the "Whose baby is this?" part. (Not the implication of infidelity, obviously, that went completely over my head—the effect in the context of the music.) But this was before the Internet (and I was in suburban Australia) so for many years I could only nurse the memory like a dream, knowing nothing about where those sounds had come from or what they meant.
posted by No-sword at 7:17 AM on January 29, 2017 [2 favorites]


(Slightly) humorous update: my wife walked in as I was listening to Vikingur Olafsson's "Philip Glass: Piano Works." She said, and I'm quoting exactly, "Wow. This is really beautiful. What is it? A new Max Richter?"
posted by Dean358 at 7:43 AM on January 29, 2017 [2 favorites]


I saw Satyagraha at BAM in 1981. In the stairwell with the rest of the departing crowd, with the rising notes of the final aria still ringing in my (and everyone else's) ears, I suddenly remembered some alternate lyrics.
posted by How the runs scored at 9:01 AM on January 29, 2017


(Thanks for the Vikingur Olafsson album tip. That just became my yoga music for today!)
posted by dnash at 11:33 AM on January 29, 2017 [1 favorite]


> I only learned how to play three against two because of Glass.

I was once told to count it by chanting "EAT shit AND die YOUNG" and once you hear it, you'll never unhear it.
posted by ardgedee at 12:02 PM on January 29, 2017


Nice! I had the great pleasure of seeing Philip Glass and the Ensemble perform Music in Twelve Parts last year in a refurbished ship dockyard in Helsingør. There will, hopefully — it's been a bit delayed, be a documentary about Einstein on the Beach out later this year.
posted by bouvin at 12:07 PM on January 29, 2017


I was once told to count it by chanting "EAT shit AND die YOUNG" and once you hear it, you'll never unhear it.

I don't quite hear it. But the method I used -- passed on to me by my percussion playing composition teacher -- was to find the least common multiple of 2 and 3 which would be 6. Then you figure out how to play each of those while counting to six. So the 2 would be:

1 2 3 4 5 6 | 1 2 3 4 5 6

[The beats you play are embolded: 1 and 4]

and the 3:

1 2 3 4 5 6 | 1 2 3 4 5 6

[The beats you are play are embolded: 1, 3, 5]

Put it together:

1 2 3 4 5 6 | 1 2 3 4 5 6

[The beats you are play are 1, 3, 4, 5 where both rhythms play the bold italic 1].

Just practice one in one hand and the other in the other hand after a while you'll be able to feel it instead of counting it out. And if you do different sounds with your hands (eg, hitting the counter vs hitting your lap) you can hear how they come together and when they are apart.
posted by bfootdav at 1:52 PM on January 29, 2017 [2 favorites]


I should have included this in my previous comment but oh well. Here is Glass's Openings for piano which features the 3 against 2 throughout. (I have no idea how good this performance is since I have limited bandwidth and cannot listen to it.) This is the piece that prompted me to study Glass and learn the 3 v 2. The left hand is playing the duplets and the right hand the triplets. But notice how the right hand is alternating just two notes in each beat -- that adds a bit of complexity to the overall pattern.
posted by bfootdav at 2:04 PM on January 29, 2017 [2 favorites]


If you haven't read Love Goes to Building on Fire, you must. There's some great material on Philip Glass's years as a cabdriver (!).

Glass has his own memoir, 'Words Without Music', with more details about those odd jobs he slogged in the many long years before he quit his day job.

That said, 'Love Goes to Building on Fire' is a swell book about a crazy place and time, and also pretty cool about covering different genres.
posted by ovvl at 4:47 PM on January 29, 2017


Thanks for posting! I've loved Philip Glass ever since I stage managed "Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread" and wondered who is this guy who mistakes a woman for a rowboat? From there I learned quite a bit more and have been lucky enough to see several pieces live. I normally get antsy at performances but I was riveted by Einstein.

Glass's Metamorphosis pieces are perfect for times when I feel pensive, like all of 2017 and beyond probably.
posted by ferret branca at 7:34 PM on January 29, 2017


Somehow I heard The Photographer yt when I was still a kid and I remember being completely shocked by the "Whose baby is this?" part. (Not the implication of infidelity, obviously, that went completely over my head—the effect in the context of the music.) But this was before the Internet (and I was in suburban Australia) so for many years I could only nurse the memory like a dream, knowing nothing about where those sounds had come from or what they meant.

Gotta be some chunk of this involved.
posted by rhizome at 7:39 PM on January 29, 2017


Glass's Metamorphosis pieces are perfect for times when I feel pensive, like all of 2017 and beyond probably.

Those are my favorite of all I think. Just so perfect for that pensive mood.
posted by LizBoBiz at 5:44 AM on January 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


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