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13 February 2016

Philip Glass - 'Glassworks' (CBS)

I screwed up the chronology - this came before both soundtracks so now I either tackle it out of order, or I alter Blogspot's published-at time to make it look like I hit it before Koyaanisqatsi. The truth is, I've just put this on after listening to Powaqqatsi and it's a hell of a lot less interesting, though maybe more singular as what I tend to think of Philip Glass's music as sounding like. 'Floe' and 'Rubric' are two pieces that sound almost clichĂ© at this point, though I'm trying to put myself in the late 70s or early 80s when this was at the forefront of "new music" (a term I loathe). Those Michael Nyman soundtracks which we'll eventually get to are really similar, with the lush, romantic strings pulsing back and forth and the movement not as minimal as you think, but more romantic. 'Facades' is downright gentle, rolling along like a baby breathing, and with even some soloing, or at least with instruments taking the lead. It's a small collection of musicians here - Jack Kripl on winds, two French Horns, and Glass himself on the synthesiser.  I'm kinda lukewarm on Glassworks as a whole; I think the recording leaves a bit to be desired, sounding like a pretty straight modern classical studio session. Maybe the LP is dirty or something, but after just feeling those two Godfrey Reggio soundtracks exploding from my speakers, full of space and breath, this feels a bit claustrophobic and dead. The music isn't particularly icy - the sonorities are not really breaking away from a romantic/classic tradition - but it just feels a bit too tight. Maybe it's in the performances - you won't typically think of Philip Glass's music as a type which can really benefit from interpretation, but the dynamic shifts here, even say when the piano pulls back and slowly crescendos again, feel a bit robotic. The opening cut is actually probably my favourite one, a solo piano prelude composed by Glass but played by Michael Riesman. It doesn't get caught in its own motion, instead allowing some tonalities to slowly develop; sure, there's repetition, but it's not monotonous. And it returns, in the 'Finale', with the other musicians accompanying it, though it doesn't breathe so much with the bed of sound under it this time. The feeling is that we've taken some journey, but I'm not really sure what we learned during it. The back cover of my copy has the ink smearing slightly up from the letters, subtle enough you would almost think it's by design except there's no way it is. The music maybe reflects this rigidity - I wish there was just a little more smearing between the notes, in a way that some other minimalists (Terry Riley, for sure) built into their compositions.

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