Posted by: Necci – Oct 11, 2012
“More real, less known.” That was how Philip Glass summed up his approach to music, speaking to a woefully under-attended crowd at University of Richmond last Thursday night. Reinforced with a half century of international music experience and all the splendid tales that ensued, Glass elaborated on his own artistic processes as well as the plethora of collaborative relationships formed in everything leading up to his 75th year.
Collaboration and the Creative Process followed several other Glass-related events that occurred at University Of Richmond over the course of September and early October including screenings of a documentary of the artist and the increasingly relevant Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out Of Balance, at which I must also scold my generation for not having a bigger presence. (Not just for the environmental impact awareness, but for the film’s greater effectiveness on a big screen, which as a 1983 release, I imagine wasn’t experienced by 95% of my peers.) Between Thursday's discussion and Friday's performance with Tim Fain, Glass’ presence at UofR was certainly the culmination of this celebratory occasion.
Considering his output and impact in the world of music, Glass was imposing, but otherwise a cool yet friendly figure, from the audience perspective. However, the faculty member who began the talk was either nervous as hell, not happy about what she’d been given to ask him, or just ill-fitted entirely. Seemingly lost in his responses and appearing a bit too impatient to let him expound (didn’t we pay and attend this to hear him talk?!), her tense leg-crossing and superfluous questions proved no barrier for Glass’ sometimes rambling, albeit welcome, explanations.
He began his musical life in theater before moving to dance and then film. On several occasions throughout the evening, he told us of his early desire to be a part of music through dance, though he lacked the talent. Not one to back down, he tried dance lessons just to see if things could change; well, they didn’t. It was the ephemeral quality of both dance and poetry that drew him in; it’s there and then it’s gone. He remarked that the two were truly higher art forms, in that you are (supposed to be) changed by them.
His delight in the exotic and the unknown were the catalyst to incorporate so much of the world’s influence into his own music, and not just with the tangibles, such as particular native instruments. He eagerly described the thrill of having no more than sound and music itself with which to communicate with foreigners. In one story, Glass talked about working with an Algerian instrumentalist who played a primitive sort of harp, and after asking him to pluck his lowest string while tuning up to each other, he realized that the pitch was an A. So out of curiosity, he asks him what he calls that note. “That’s the first string." The next string/pitch up was B, although the Algerian simply knew it as “the next string.”
It was meeting and working with people like this that was most instrumental in developing his voice as a composer, according to Glass. It is this universality of sound that he seeks to employ and utilize in what he says he enjoys more than anything else: writing music. I suppose if you’re 25 years old and legendary Indian composer/sitar player Ravi Shankar just hired you to notate his music in all its incredible rhythmic complexity, as he did with a young Philip Glass, you probably do enjoy spending all day over staves and clefs.
To write an entirely new, fresh piece, as Glass puts it, one is required to invest a significant portion of one’s attention--so much, in fact, that all other attention is channeled into writing that piece. This loss of attention everywhere else includes, he added with a sage smile, the attention you spend watching yourself compose. Hours later, I was still reveling in this advice, at the same time as I thought of the paltry 8 to 10 hands I saw raised when he asked for a musician headcount. As one of those musicians, thinking about the next 75 years of music, I only wish there had been more young ears there for Glass' sonic wisdom to infect.
By Daryl Tankersley