Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Philip Glass ‎– Glass Box - A Nonesuch Retrospective (2008)

Style: Contemporary, Serial
Format: Box Set / CD
Label: Nonesuch

Early Works (1969-1970)

01.   Music In Contrary Motion
02.   Music With Changing Parts
03.   Music In Similar Motion

From Music In Twelve Parts
01.   Part VII
02.   Part VIII
03.   Part IX
04.   Part X

From Einstein On The Beach
01.   Knee Play 1
02.   Train 1 (Edited)
03.   Knee Play 2
04.   Knee Play 3
05.   Trial 2/Prison: "Prematurely Air-Conditioned Supermarket" (Edited)
06.   Knee Play 4
07.   Bed/Prelude
08.   Spaceship
09.   Knee Play 5


01.   Opening
02.   Façades
03.   Floe '87
04.   Closing (Live)
05.   Etoile Polaire
06.   River Run
07.   Are Years What? (For Marianne Moore)
08.   Ange Des Orages
09.   Ave
10.   Montage
11.   Dressed Like An Egg: Part IV
12.   Dressed Like An Egg: Part V
13.   Mad Rush For Organ

From Satyagraha

01.   Act I: Tolstoj - Scene 1: The Kuru Field Of Justice
02.   Act I: Tolstoj - Scene 2:Tolstoj Farm (1910)
03.   Act II: Tagore - Scene 1: Confrontation And Rescue (1896)
04.   Act II: Tagore - Scene 3: Protest (1908)
05.   Act III King - Scene 1: Newcastle March (1913) - Part 3: Evening Song

From Koyaanisqatsi And Powaqqatsi

01.   Koyaanisqatsi
02.   Organic
03.   Clouscape
04.   Resource
05.   Vessels
06.   The Grid
07.   Serra Pelada
08.   Train To Sao Paulo
09.   Video Dream
10.   New Cities In Ancient Lands, China
11.   New Cities In Ancient Lands, Africa
12.   New Cities In Ancient Lands, India
13.   Mr. Suso #2 With Reflection
14.   Powaqqatsi

String Quartets And Piano Etudes (1984-94)

01.   String Quartet No. 2 ("Company") - Movement I
02.   String Quartet No. 2 ("Company") - Movement II
03.   String Quartet No. 2 ("Company") - Movement III
04.   String Quartet No. 2 ("Company") - Movement IV
05.   Etude For Piano No.2 (1994)
06.   Etude For Piano No.9 (1994)
07.   String Quartet No. 5 - Movement I
08.   String Quartet No. 5 - Movement II
09.   String Quartet No. 5 - Movement III
10.   String Quartet No. 5 - Movement IV
11.   String Quartet No. 5 - Movement V
12.   Etude For Piano No.5
13.   Etude For Piano No.3
14.   String Quartet No.4 ("Buczak") - Movement I
15.   String Quartet No.4 ("Buczak") - Movement II
16.   String Quartet No.4 ("Buczak") - Movement III

From The Civil WarS, Hydrogen Jukebox, Symphony No. 5 And Akhnaten

01.   Prologue
02.   Song#3: From Iron Horse
03.   Song#2: Jaweh And Allah Battle
04.   Song#11: From The Green Automobile
05.   Song#9: From Nagasaki Days (Numbers In Red Notebook)
06.   Song#10: Aunt Rose
07.   Song#6: From Wichita Vortex Sutra
08.   VII. Suffering (Edited)
09.   Act I, Scene 1: Funeral Of Amenhotep III
10.   Act I, Scene 3: The Window Of Appearances (Edited)
11.   Act III, Scene 4: Epilogue

Symphonies Nos. 3 & 8

01.   Symphony No. 3 - Movement I
02.   Symphony No. 3 - Movement II
03.   Symphony No. 3 - Movement III
04.   Symphony No. 3 - Movement IV
05.   Symphony No. 8 - Movement I
06.   Symphony No. 8 - Movement II
07.   Symphony No. 8 - Movement III

Filmworks (1984-2002)

01.   Mishima (1984)
02.   The Thin Blue Line (1988)
03.   Anima Mundi (1992)
04.   Candyman (1992)
05.   La Belle Et La Bete (1994)
06.   The Secret Agent (1996)
07.   Kundun (1997)
08.   The Truman Show (1998)
09.   Dracula (1999)
10.   The Fog Of War (2002)
11.   The Hours (2002)
Recent studies have proven that music is one of the few disciplines to utilize the entire brain—the left "analytical" side and the right "creative" side. There's no denying the creative aspect of music making, but equally there's a complexity inherent in certain aspects of composition—the determination, for example, that a rhythm in 5/4 and another in 7/4 will intersect every 35 beats—that require rational thinking—problem solving skills, even. The irrefutable logic of harmony makes it clear, even at its most subconscious, that there's an undeniable logic that coexists with the more intuitive and, at times, even random aspects of music.

The intersection of the creative and analytical may be harder to see in some cases, but the minimalism movement that emerged in the late 1960s to embody the music of divergent classical composers ranging from LaMont Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Philip Glass made it crystal clear.  A movement that embraced the idea of working with repetition and the interaction of brief musical fragments to create often long-form works that evolved in ways counter to the more conventional compositional approach of theme-based music, what's been perhaps most notable abut the movement is how those who founded the genre, at least to popular conception, have disavowed it. Glass has apparently suggested that the term be stamped out, his own preference being to describe his work as "music with repetitive structures." It's certainly an apt way to depict the music on Glass Box - A Nonesuch Retrospective, a whopping ten-CD set that examines Glass' work of the past forty years, going right back to early compositions like 1969's "Music in Contrary Motion," and covering significant extended works like "Music in Twelve Parts" (1971-74), as well as operas including "Einstein on the Beach" (1976) and "Akhnaten" (1983), string quartets, symphonies, film music and more.

When comparing the three composers most often brought together under the minimalism umbrella—Reich, Riley and Glass—the comprehensive Glass Box goes a long way toward identifying the major differences between Glass and his companions. Perhaps most significant is the formal and rigorous nature of Glass' music, which contrasts with the more improvisational characteristic of some of Riley's most well-known works and the pulse-driven nature of Reich classics like "Music for 18 Musicians" (1974). Riley's classic "In C" (1964) is based on 52 musical fragments that the musicians in the ensemble must play sequentially, but by giving each player the freedom to choose how long he/she plays any given phrase before moving on to the next, each and every performance of the piece is by definition different than any other. Glass, on the other hand, is all about structure and the explicit and planned interaction of the various segments that coalesce to form any of his compositions.

Philip GlassWhat's perhaps most remarkable—and what has clearly differentiated Glass from his contemporaries—is how he has embraced existing forms and found ways to fit his own repetitive structures into them. From opera to symphony, string quartet to piano etude, Glass is the composer who has most fully integrated his own vision within existing stylistic conventions—and, consequently, become one of the most well-known composers of the past half century. Reich and Riley are undeniably composers of equal (or greater) influence amongst musicians—from Soft Machine in the 1970s to more contemporary artists including Swiss pianist Nik Bartsch's "Ritual Groove Music" and Pat Metheny Group's epic The Way Up (Nonesuch, 2005). But by collaborating with everyone from Lou Reed and Paul Simon to creating a two-hour concert work based on the writings of Leonard Cohen, (Book of Longing (Orange Mountain Music, 2007)), Glass has generated the kind of visibility where he may not be a household name, but he's closer to it than any other contemporary classical composer, a clear indicator being a parody seen on the iconic The Simpsons television show.

Still, popularity does not a significant artist make. Glass has worked with the broadest possible sonic palette, writing music ranging from the small ensemble, multiple keyboard/sax/flute/trumpet/voice-based "Music With Changing Parts" (1970) to using all the instruments an orchestra has to offer on "Symphony No. 3" (1995) and "Symphony No. 8" (2005). Glass has also incorporated ethnic instruments from a variety of cultures, like the Australian didjeridoo, African kora and Indian tanpura on his soundtrack to Powaqqatsi (1987)—the second in director Godfrey Reggio's film trilogy, which included the ground-breaking Koyaanisqatsi (1982) and Naqoyqatsi (2003), all of which Glass scored, and which have collectively created the litmus test when it comes to seamless integration of sight and sound. He's worked with full opera choruses and orchestras on ambitious works like the opera "Satyagraha" (1980) and children's choirs on "Symphony No. 5" (1999), from which a brief edited movement, "Suffering" is included.

As diverse as the contexts within which Glass works are, and as much as he's clearly evolved over the past 40 years, there are characteristics that make his music immediately recognizable. Early works like "Music in Twelve Parts" might be considered hypnotic, except that the relentless nature of Glass' various musical fragments interacting is often too aggressive to lull anyone into a trance-like state. The genius of Glass' approach is how a single pattern might form the basis of a piece like the 20-minute "Part VII," from "Music in Twelve Parts," but it's the constant ebb and flow of other parts along with it, moving from background to foreground—in sometimes imperceptible ways—which create the dynamic and dramatic shifts that keep the piece compelling for over 20 minutes. The frenetic pulse that drives "Part VIII" contrasts with its melody—long, whole tones that rest above the frenzied foundation to create a strange kind of tension-and-release where, while the ear is often drawn to one or the other, the best way to try to listen to the music is to absorb it as a whole.

Philip Glass An entire disc devoted to Glass' "Glassworks/Analog" (1977-81) show a more beautiful side to Glass and, with "Opening," a clear reference to classical romanticism. It's an early reference to more conventional form, while still applying the use of iteration. "Facades" is even more lyrical, with saxophonist Jack Kripl, a one-time member of the shrinking and expanding Philip Glass Ensemble, soaring over a series of haunting changes given forward motion through Glass' use of constantly moving intervals.

Voice has been a significant part of Glass' palette from the very beginning, from wordless, purely choral works like the title section to "Etoile Polaire" (1977) to the scripted, operatic score to "Satyagraha," where text, adapted from the Bhagavad-Gita is layered as simple melody over a symphonic score that uses counterpoint and polyrhythm to create a complex underpinning that remains accessible throughout. Albert de Ruiter's bass vocal on the opening movement to "Koyaanisqatsi" has become almost iconic, as Glass evolves a lengthy suite where dark-hued simplicity juxtaposes with high velocity on "The Grid," where the meaning of "Koyaanisqatsi"—Life Out of Balance—is made vivid without a single word being uttered.

Glass' longstanding collaboration with Kronos Quartet occupies most of Disc Seven, which features three string quartets broken up by four piano etudes, performed by Glass himself. The entire disc demonstrates Glass' clear allegiance to melody, even as it's contrasted with contrapuntal complexity that should be a challenge to the ears, but isn't. If anything, Glass has become more approachable, with the two symphonies on Disc Nine filled with memorable themes. As the drama builds and dissolves throughout a series of climaxes and brooding passages of ethereal beauty, Glass' mathematical approach to repetition should be the antithesis of resonance, but isn't.

The final disc, which comprises excerpts from films spanning the years 1984 through 2003, is perhaps the most revealing disc of all. Glass composes for string quartet on his soundtrack to Tod Browning's classic Dracula (1931) and Paul Schrader's Mishima (1984); scores a larger symphonic rewrite of Jean Cocteau's La Belle et la Bete (1946); evokes a spare piano etude turned choral anthem for Bernard Rose's Candyman (1992); and turns melancholy on "The Poet Acts," from Stephen Daldry's The Hours (2002), which also features pianist and longtime musical cohort Michael Riesman. Regardless of the context, Glass shapes his personal musical aesthetic into whatever form best serves each film, creating a 70-minute suite that may not have originally been conceived together, but here becomes a cohesive and unified listen that, when compared to the raw materials of Disc One's early works, highlights just how Glass has evolved them into a distinct and unique shape all its own.

Philip Glass With a discography as large as Glass' even the ten CDs of Glass Box only scratch the surface. Still, for those unfamiliar with the breadth of Glass' work, Glass Box - A Nonesuch Retrospective is a perfect primer that will lead to the discovery of even greater diversification in a discography of over fifty albums dedicated to Glass' writing alone, and countless more featuring his work alongside many of his contemporaries. For those familiar with Glass, Glass Box collects some of his best work into individual, theme-based collections, that not only point to the value of the complete recordings, but stand alone as compelling, self-contained anthologies. 
John Kelman / All About Jazz