Mad Rush

2014-02-23 03:28:31 by Phonometrologist

Currently I have a wedding gig to prepare for for a friend. So I've been just anxious to getting back to composing, but it has to wait.  Meanwhile, if one would like to make the time, I would like to explain a little why I've always enjoyed the music of Philip Glass.  Reading some of the debates about his music were always a joy to read, and I remember handing sheet music over to a certain scholar of music only to come back the following week for them to admittedly say, "I just don't get it."


To understand Philip Glass’s music, we must go back to the start of his studies under Ravi Shankar in 1964 where his revelation came of his music:

    I was hired to be Ravi Shankar’s assistant on a film.  I didn’t know anything about Indian music...And I had to notate his music and I had to do it on the spot with 16 musicians waiting for the parts... I was writing down the music and I would play it back and he said, ‘No. The accents are wrong.’ And he kept saying, ‘All the beats are the same.’ ... I realized that if I looked at them in a certain way I could see that everything added up to 16.  Every phrase is 16.  Let me have a bar line... [at the beginning and end]... I got rid of all the other bar lines.  And then I played it for him, and he said, ‘Yes. That’s right.’  It was a moment when I understood what I was interested in.  I saw this was a door into another world of music.  I knew there was a music there to be written that had to do with combining two different languages–an intersection of Eastern and Western music that could become extremely productive. (Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts)

What Philip Glass was talking about was the difference between Western and Eastern music in rhythmic structure:

    In Western music we divide time.  In Indian music, you take small units, or ‘beats,’ and string them together to make up larger time values... Indian music was organized in large rhythmic cycles.  The interaction of melodic invention– or improvisation– with the rhythmic cycle provides the tension in Indian music, much as that between melody and harmony provides it in Western music. (Philip Glass, Pages 17-18)

After studying in Paris, Philip moved back to New York in 1967, and he put together an ensemble.  Within nine years of his return, he was at the Metropolitan Opera with Einstein on the Beach (Glass: A Portrait...).  The opera brought Glass immediate fame, and it preceded for him to be a successful career in theatre, film, and dance music (Edward Stickland).  Einstein on the Beach was the epitome of additive process and cyclic structures.  These two techniques allowed Philip Glass to shift the accents in his music:

    Additive process involves the expansion and contraction of tiny musical modules; a grouping of five notes might be played several times, followed by a group of six notes, similarly repeated, then by seven notes, and so on.  Thus a simple figure  can maintain the same general melodic configuration while taking on a very different rhythmic shape... Rhythmic cycles [is] the simultaneous repetition of two  or more different rhythmic patterns, which, depending on the length of the  pattern, will eventually arrive together back at the starting points, making for one complete cycle. (Tim Page)   

With this piece of work, Philip Glass would begin to gain the recognition from a distinct characteristic in his music that couldn’t be mistaken to have been written by anyone else.  With amusement Philip Glass said, “the result was I had the ability to write music that was so radical that I could be mistaken for an idiot.  And I was often.  I still am to this day” (Glass: A Portrait...). 

Works Cited

Edward Strickland. "Glass, Philip." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. 1 May 2012

Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts. Dir. Scott Hicks. Koch Lorber, 2007. DVD.

Philip Glass. Music by Philip Glass. 1987. New York, USA: Da Capo Press, 1995. Print 

Tim Page. "Einstein on the Beach." The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Ed. Stanley Sadie. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. 1 May. 2012 


Okay well, after all that explaining on how his music came about, does that really help to explain why so many people, including myself, enjoy listening to this repetitive and bland style of writing? Of course it goes much deeper than that, but for now I can only give a personal analysis of one of his pieces.

Upon listening to Mad Rush–– the music of Philip Glass knows a fleeting life.  This is the theme which underlies his writing.  The music tries to slow the perception of time to make it feel as if it will never end, but the tone is conscious of its pathetic attempt as it is aware that time does eventually come to a halt.  And so it lives only in the moment.  It does not elaborate in melody, but rather plays with time through rhythm.  There is no sense of a progression towards a single climax.  It only progresses toward the silence of the end, and so it savors every moment as it fights for continuance.  This is the music that one would hear as their life flashes before their eyes!  Every moment replayed and seen only through a couple of minutes-- it is a supra-consciousness.  In lasting only minutes, I experience eternity.  It is music that dreams of being forever.

Can anybody guess what that common characteristic is that links all music together?  That one trait that is in every song?


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2014-02-27 05:54:41

I am both excited and fearful to get into music theory with you. I imagine myself listening and learning more than discussing.

Phonometrologist responds:

Ah what a pleasant surprise as I didn’t expect a reply really from anyone. My intention to write this was for my own sake with a slight chance that maybe someone else would find it interesting.

No fear necessary and I think we could discuss many things in regards to theory. Theory in itself explains the “how,” so I’m also highly interested in the philosophy of music to help clarify the “why” aspect as well. I’m also interested in the thinking, and I wish I could dedicate more time in studying music cognition. To see why some people enjoy a particular work while others do not, moreover, what a particular chord and a chord progression does inside an individual’s mind. I imagine it be similar to poetry in a way where words are carefully chosen to project an image. The web image that is attached to a word when you hear it can be unique to an individual in a way. For example: a child learns the meaning of the word “wet” and “dry” when playing in a bathtub or water-sprinkler.

I mentioned the art of words because I see a commonality in music.
What’s important is how effective the message is to which the music speaks to you. And I’m sure some wouldn’t accept this simple explanation of what is music, but Philip Glass and I are in agreement that music is a form of elegant speech.
I also love hearing other people’s own interpretation on the music they listen to. And I would like to leave open for discussion what that trait is that’s in every piece of music ever written. There’s not a definitive answer really, but it is in the perspective of the listener that makes it interesting. And there certainly is an answer.

“The true voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”- Marcel Proust


2014-03-11 02:10:25

W000t, another Glass fan. Absolutely love his minimal works. Good post, good post!

Phonometrologist responds:

If you haven’t already, check out the movie “Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts.” Very enjoyable.


2014-04-16 14:52:08

Wow, I clicked on your page and there is philip glass, I suppose it was a proper comparison then. Anyways, I love Glass!

(Updated ) Phonometrologist responds:

I listen to a lot of music from all sorts of styles, and as for a personal preference, Beethoven and Philip Glass are my two favorite composers as musicians but also as people. Your comparison is proper but I find it interesting as well because I didn't hear it at first. I'm curious if you have a particular piece of his in mind.
Edit: the more I think about it, I hear the violin part in Philip Glass-Dance 8 to be somewhat similar in a way, but I'm not sure if that is the piece that came to mind while listening.


2014-08-11 10:33:46

The one trait in every song is that it is sound and silence -- that it is pleasing, or disconcerting to the ears: it's bound to make someone react, regardless of the manner and form. I may be wrong, or mistaken, but at least this is what I perceive: that whether it be old Roman chant, or plainchant, or a piece from kabuki theatre, or a traditional lullaby, or something off the mountains of Shaolin, it's bound to make someone feel something, or not feel something. Music is action, and with it comes a reaction.

As strange as this may sound, I still listen to Eastern music with Western ears (despite being of Eastern descent). Simply for a manner of understanding, even if at the end of the day, no matter what school of learning you have, the manner of playing an instrument has to be fluid and natural. In the East you have units; in the West you have syncopation -- and I tend to look at units in the context of syncopation.

(Updated ) Phonometrologist responds:

You're not wrong. That question is more about recognizing in a philosophical sense, maybe even in a subconscious level, about how we ourselves "treat" music and what we focus on whether it is through composing or what we tend to enjoy solely as a listener.
Music IS action, and music IS bound to make someone feel something or the lack thereof for a particular emotion. I particularly like what you said that it is sound AND silence. I don't necessarily think only in the terms of music alone, but rather to symbolically apply it to life itself. All that you said does apply.

"Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world." Martin Luther
It is of no coincidence that the book of Psalms have always been a particular favorite for those to go to in times of sorrow as they are meant to be sung. We just don't have the music/notes documented that went with them, but I'm digressing a bit.

The point is in our perspective, and what music we listen to and write is a reflection in how we approach to live our lives. I don't know how obvious it is that my music tends to share a common theme that is death. I think about it quite often.
So this is my revelation when it comes to music:
If humanity were put in a box, you would get different perspectives, depending upon which side the individual sees. Humanity is a lot of things such as beautiful, and beauty is measured by subconsciously knowing that all things evaporate eventually. And that repetitious trait in every song is its ending.