Out 1 2010, 12h28

This entry original appeared on my weblog on Monday, April 20 2009

I really like the music of the composers who were categorised as minimalists in the 70s, people such as Steve Reich, Terry Riley and La Monte Young.

Philip Glass’s music never did much for me, however, despite him being one of the most well-known composers of the latter half of the 20th century. I do own some recordings of his work and I have been listening to them again recently. The problem I have with Glass is that he basically stopped composing truly new music from roughly the early 80s. With “truly new”, I mean compositions like “[album]Einstein on the Beach[/album]” or “[album]Music in Twelve Parts[/album]”. Instead Glass seems to be content with a limited musical vocabulaire; as if the integral body of his later work is one big, integral minimalist composition utilising just a basic set of musical motifs.

It’s hard to describe what I mean exactly, you’d have to listen to some of his work. Listen to three pieces from his soundtrack for the movie “Koyaanisqatsi” (notably “Vessels”, “Pruit Igoe”, “The Grid”) and compare these with parts from “Glassworks”, for example. While the overall melody of these compositions might differ, the groundwork of all these pieces stems from an identical, almost hysterical, pulsating base motif which Glass uses eagerly in a lot of his work. I guess that’s what makes his work less appealing to me than the work of, say, fellow composer Reich, who is often in one breath with Glass.

Reich’s music also still explores themes which he started to use in the 70s – repetition, pulsating rhythms, voice vs. music, etc. – but he hasn’t stopped trying new things. Of course “Three Tales” can be seen as a continuation of his experiments with taped voices (“It’s Gonna Rain”, “Come Out”), but it’s still very different from his work in the 1960s and 70s. I think Reich will be regarded as more important than Glass by musical historians in the near future, despite, or even because of, his celebrity status and high production.



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