Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Philip Glass: Music Artist

London's bubbly cultural life has a precious jewel - the infamous opera by composer Philip Glass and director Robert Wilson, Einstein on the Beach. It was a very avant-garde tradition breaking piece when it happened in 1976.

Philip Glass and Robert Wilson (1976)

"He has created a musical language that is an acoustic door to the unknown." Godfrey Reggio, director

It's showing at the Barbican until the 13th May. This is a great opportunity to get in touch with Philip Glass's music artistry. His first concerts in the late 60s were in someone's loft, an art gallery or in the park to around a hundred people.

Usually the audience was sitting or laying on the floor kind of meditating while the musicians would sit in the centre with everyone around them and speakers in the periphery of the space.

"We performed in this huge sound field that involved us and the audience, everybody was part of the same sonic experience, that's why it was so intense." Kurt Munkacsi, music producer Philip Glass Ensemble

In those days, Philip Glass had day jobs in New York such as plumber and cab driver in order to support the ensemble and his family. But today 'he is one of the most influential and polarising composers of the last 50 years' as stated by BBC in the introduction to his interview on HardTalk.

You're probably already familiar with his work, the most visible to larger audiences is definitely on movies, having worked with different directors such as Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese.

"I began working in the theatre and I've learnt about the image of music, I've learnt how to make that work, I've been doing it since I was 20, the psychological distance between the image and the music is both subjective and precise." Philip Glass 

Sergei Eisenstein said that 'the epitome between the composer and the filmmaker is that one should end up to see the music and hear the image'.

Philip Glass acknowledged that his technique to continue growing is trough collaborations, not only with film directors but also with musicians from around the world such as Ravi Shankar, whom he met in the early 60s and one of his most revered teachers.

"His mind is always on the sound." Nico Muhly, music sequencer 

"Where does music comes from? My experience is that it's like an underground river, it's always there. And like an underground river you don't know where it comes from nor where it's going. The only difference is whether you listen to it or not." in Glass: a Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts directed by Scott Hicks.

"For me writing music is listening to music, I don't think of it. I listen to it. In other words it's already there, it's not something that has to be imagined. It has to be written down," he adds.

"Let's say you wake up in the morning and look down on a field and it's very foggy so you can't see very much, if you wait a little bit you start to see the outline of a tree and in time you see a building, and in time you may eventually be able to see everything that's in that field. That's the way listening is for me."

You cannot help but admiring him when he simply says "I became content to see music as a mystery and I leave it at that." His spirituality goes hand in hand with his life but he rejects any labels, practising Qi Gong with a Taoist spiritual adviser but also Buddhism with Gelek Rinpoche and the Toltec shamanic tradition.

"The connection with nature is one of the primal resources from which you learn. Looking for the otherness is looking for the completion of what we are. It doesn't mean you reject everyday consciousness or the everyday world. It empowers both sides and brings balance", says Victor Sanchez, author and holder of the Toltec tradition.

Scott Hicks documentary is an insightful glimpse into the world of Philip Glass, an extraordinary man. I find him fascinating, not only as a music genius but also as a human being, always willing to learn and to refine his artistry and himself with a disheartening humble attitude.

"Music is Philip's underlying passion for absolutely everything he does." Holly Critchlow, (ex-wife)

"I have a friend who's a writer and he says that his writing is an antidote to the chaos of the world around him. I think that's a good description. He retreats into that world, making the core of his life an act of imagination. Is it escape or liberation? I don't know."

"For him it's a resolution of his life, it makes his life solid and real. Without that, the world would overwhelm him with its chaos. So is it an escape to become sane?" Food for thought by Philip Glass...

Other related blog posts:
George Harrison by Scorsese
Out of Focus: Photography
Wild Swans