This is nowhere near perfect, but I’m okay with that. I got bored earlier, and was plinking around with a new tuning on my acoustic. I realized that it lent itself fairly well to playing Passion Pit’s “Moth’s Wings”, and, in honor of the impending trip that Brian and I are making to see them/Phoenix (Amanda, did you get tickets too?), I decided to record an impromptu cover of it. Like I said, it’s not perfect, but it isn’t supposed to be. Enjoy your weekends!
Philip Glass -Einstein On The Beach - Act IV. Scene I - Building
This is dated, a bit absurd. It is not unlike the rest of Einstein on the Beach, which, if I opt to consider critically, can seem a bit ridiculous and even gimmicky. Besides the fact its libretto, excepting a few pieces, is mostly solfège left in place from the composition of the music, there is the endlessness of it. About the briefer Glass opera Satyagraha, critic Henry Heidt said:
“…it is well named, as a deeply felt commitment to passive nonviolence on the part of the audience is required to sit through a full performance.”
Indeed, Chris’ wife Alexi told me her mother broke up with a boyfriend who took her to see Einstein on the Beach, the five-hour exercise in mathematical-musical intricacies and trance-inducing acoustic manipulation evidently not working on her.
That said: I really like it anyway, even the saxophone that glides over the scrum of this piece. It might be my age -synth and sax tones aren’t necessarily ironic to me- or it might be that I feel a certain kind of cerebral hyperstimulation when I listen to it, my mind unified in attention but fragmented in chasing down disconnected harmonic tangents, and this piece in particular adds an odd element with the overarching melody moving between modes.
It often makes me think of scales and spaces: the vacuity of the atomic world and the vacuity of the universe and the teeming, vibrating density of the human perceptual world, nicely in the middle.
Thank goodness for Philip Glass is all I can really say.
I’ve encountered similar moments of doubt with my mother, in which she discredits all real jazz because it sounds like “everyones just warming up” to her. She also said Broken Social Scene sounded like “whales dying”, so I don’t think she’d be too excited to learn of my interest in modern classical music. There’s a difference between complete chaos and this music though, a difference which enabled both of those styles of music to completely change the way the world considered music. I love the layering, the scales, repetition, and the overall momentum of Philip Glass’s music. I love the word “atonal” now even, because music that is atonal can be so surprisingly pleasing. This being said, seeing a live performance of works by Philip Glass, Nico Muhly, or Steve Reich is one of my top to do priorities in the next year. I think seeing something like that come together live at the hands of an orchestra really allows one to understand the detail and complexity.
While I couldn’t agree more with Amanda's contentions in the latter half of this quote, I do take some issue with the post that precedes it. I don't want to start a blog war here, but I think that criticizing music of gradual process for being, well, gradual, accomplishes little beyond stating the facts.
I feel that there is very little ridiculous and gimmicky about one of the greatest works of music written post 1950 (certainly, with the exception of Robert Ashley’s Perfect Lives, the greatest American work of opera). That it is still regularly performed, despite its length and its difficulty (and, believe me, it is EXTREMELY difficult) is a testament to its enduring impact on contemporary art music. There are, admittedly, dated recordings of it, upon which the sounds are obviously going to be dated (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but that doesn’t negate what Adorno calls the “truth content” of the piece.
Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, why is it so off-putting that it’s long? There’s not a second wasted in it: Glass is many things, but a composer of indulgence he is not. That’s why he’s called a minimalist: he uses small ensembles and uncomplicated harmonic motives to investigate musical elements that are best explored through gradual, repetitive exposure. Additive rhythm? Timbre? You can’t get to the heart of these concepts quickly. If you’re listening to Glass expecting thematic development in a traditional sense, the way you would listen to Beethoven, you’re doing it wrong. Patience, a concept that’s sadly and sorely lacking in most of today’s musical listening, is rewarded here, just as it is in not only other contemporary art music, but art music in general. You wouldn’t cast the same critical eye on a Michael Bay movie that you would on a Truffaut, so why apply the same set of faulty and arbitrary critical constructions to Philip Glass that one would to pop music?
EDIT: Following some discussion with the gracious and well-spoken Mills, via e-mail, I felt the need to clarify/revise some of my points. My apologies to him for some undeserved and hyper-critical barbs, and my thanks for engaging in a well-reasoned and polite debate, even when I came off like a bit of a prick ;)
OH MY GOD I AM SO SORRY I HAVEN’T BLOGGED IN LIKE FOREVER
I am a real jerk, I know. School has just started (again) for me, for what feels like the umpteenth billion time (and, no, my mom has not stopped making me take pictures on the first day of school, or thereabouts, even though I almost 24 and ostensibly starting on a doctoral degree program). Stony Brook’s music program is pretty much the most awesome program in the whole world, though, so I don’t feel bad about it taking away from my blogging time. I have only two classes (and piano lessons, because I suck at piano, but those don’t really count). One class is a seminar in Medieval notation methods (not exactly what I would term thrilling, but it’s taking care of a big gap in my historical knowledge, so I’m a-ok with it). The other? A seminar in string quartets from 1990-2009.
That’s right: 1990-2009.
As in, George Crumb’s “Black Angels” is excluded for being TOO OLD. So, y’know, as far as contemporary music study goes, I feel pretty okay about this class. Actually, pretty okay is an understatement, because this class is basically the most badass class ever. My roommate is taking courses in analog electronic music and free improvisation, and, two days ago, had his first lesson on Stockhausen’s “Vibra-Elufa”, wherein the percussion professor affectionately referred to Stockhausen as “Stocky”.
We are in contemporary music wonderland, and we love the hell out of it.
Anyways, for your listening pleasure: John Zorn’s “Cat O’ Nine Tails”. This is another piece that we aren’t talking about in my string quartet seminar because it’s too old (1988, to be exact, but I think my professor will let me bend the rules to write about it for a term paper). This piece is awesome: highly recommended for fans of Mike Patton, Mr. Bungle, or really music in general. This is Kronos Quartet playing, btw. Enjoy!