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Philip Glass: My problem is people don’t believe I write symphonies (2017) (theguardian.com)
259 points by tintinnabula on Dec 8, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 178 comments

Never commented on the internet before, but I just started to learn playing the Intro Theme to Candyman on piano [0] yesterday and then saw this. Weird coincidence...

The movie Candyman itself and the rest of the songs in the score are also fantastic.

Heard about that song from the sample in Travis Scott's The Prayer [1].

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7FFEu7Har0

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iOH8V0KTVI

> Weird coincidence...

Nothing weird at all. After I learned horse riding (focus: dressage) I started seeing horse-related stuff everywhere - horse carrying trailers on roads, shops, etc.

The "secret" is not some deep universe related mystery but your perception. Those horse-related things were there all along - I just never paid attention, my mind filtered it without any of it ever reaching my consciousness. Your mind filters out lots and lots of headlines when you scroll through the news or HN, your brain reacts when something is relevant.

That there has to be something relevant even if it's niche once in a while is not exactly shocking when HN goes through several dozens of headlines every single day. The site shows you so many diverse topics, it would be strange if you never have this experience.

It's also called frequency illusion or Baader–Meinhof phenomenon.


Once you learn about the Baader-Meinhoff Phenomenon you start noticing examples of it everywhere

Meta :-)

Oh god, the 'secret'..

You are making me think when my mom was obsessed with it, and she started to actively think of toasters (for whatever reason). There was an old school screensaver on probably a windows 2000ish computer that had the flying toasters she never noticed.

She was CONVINCED the universe changed on her and made that screensaver out of thin air, instead of the simple notion that she was now consciously trying to make herself aware of toasters, which is why she never really noticed it before. Sigh.

Perhaps Amiga’s flying toaster?


When I read a new word somewhere, and think to myself, "that's a weird word; surely nobody uses it real life", soon I'll see someone using that word on a random forum.

This happens to me on HN very often. I know I sound like a conspiracy theorist but I sometimes feel we are all in a big machine-learning experiment :)

(I realise you're joking, but...) it's most likely a form of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. In this case, of course the <insert obscure subject> is not an everyday topic on HN, but we all have enough of these running concurrently in our lives that sooner or later, they coincide with HN. And due to the perceived, impossibly low odds, people tend to really focus on it when it happens.

Spoiling the fun with facts ;-P

Another example of this effect: since taking a passing interest in the fairly niche Forth and Ada programming languages, I see them crop up on HN with surprising frequency.

I most certainly am spoiling it. This new gestalt AI overlord is going to swear how like one uses punctuation. It and I will be the best of friends.

I had no idea he wrote that, very interesting! I need to look into other film scores he's written.

My first introduction to Philip Glass was his Book of Longing collaboration with Leonard Cohen. If anyone hasn't heard this, I'd recommend you check it out on Spotify.


> Never commented on the internet before

Really surprised nobody commented on this. Specifically, the magnitude of what he/she is saying - not just first comment on HN (43 month old account), but first on the internet.

It was a 'Holy cow' moment for me.

Hope you found it fruitful, pdevalla!

First time hearing The Prayer, wow.

Just threw on my headphones and listened to it 5 times.

I would have never guessed that he wrote this theme, sounds more like something Danny Elfman would write. Very cool!

>Yes, after Einstein on the Beach I went back to driving a New York cab. I didn’t mind that. It was interesting work. I didn’t have an agent. I ran all the business side of it and the box office myself. I enjoyed it.

Interesting, I had no idea.

He also worked as a plumber.

> Throughout this period, Glass supported himself as a New York cabbie and as a plumber, occupations that often led to unusual encounters. “I had gone to install a dishwasher in a loft in SoHo,” he says. “While working, I suddenly heard a noise and looked up to find Robert Hughes, the art critic of Time magazine, staring at me in disbelief. ‘But you’re Philip Glass! What are you doing here?’ It was obvious that I was installing his dishwasher and I told him I would soon be finished. ‘But you are an artist,’ he protested. I explained that I was an artist but that I was sometimes a plumber as well and that he should go away and let me finish.


File under art imitates life: the episode of Portlandia where Fred and Carrie hire Aimee Mann and Sarah McLachlan as house cleaners

IMO the sign of a true artist. She/He lives for her/his art, but does not expect from it to provide for her/him.

Man, that's just great. Movie-like scene.

There are a couple of great anecdotes about Glass working at other jobs while starting out as a composer, one involving the art critic of Time magazine and another about driving a taxi.


'Glass understood that he had finally arrived as a composer when a woman tapped on the side of his cab and told him “you have the same name as a very famous composer.”

He was also roommates with the Viking of 6th Avenue, Moondog

And cousin(?) of Ira Glass.

I first herd Einstein on the Beach after a particularly manic period in undergrad. My advisor wasn't familiar with it, and I may have spooked her a bit try to explain it. I think to this day its great background music for programming work, but to me more because it can illicit that sense of young focus and drive that I find increasingly fleeting. Perhaps not unlike how music can "wake up" dementia patients. It elicits a deep base response.

Anyhow, I didn't know that either about his life. Very fascinating.

As an aside I believe I discovered Einstein on the Beach after listening to Hydrogen Jukebox. I wonder how others come about listening to it for the first time. Especially those in their 30s like myself who were born a decade after its success.

I'm a massive fan of Einstein On the Beach. It continues to be one of my favorite pieces of music, since first hearing it 12 years ago. There's a vitality and a sense of energy to it that keeps me coming back. It's also large enough in scope that I've been able to spend a long time chewing it over and digesting all of it's movements.

I think a unique quality of it is the contrast between it's simplistic harmonic content and it's constantly modulating structure. The simplicity of the tonality (one key center, very slow chord changes, non-florid counterpoint) allows the listener to focus on the modulating phrase lengths and the texture of the stacked rhythms.

This is an interesting inversion of something like, say, a classic bebop tune, which might be melodically and rhythmically complex or divergent, but keep it's structure predictable with 4 bar, 8 bar, or 32 bar chunks of time.

I think the effect in it's fast movements is like being in the middle of a massive rush of water. It's uniform in texture, but it has an intensity and sense of turbulence that is overwhelming as it passes you.

Here is a live performance. Interesting to see how it is being sung.


I discovered Einstein on the Beach this year, also in my 30s, and was nearly brought to tears. I played classical piano for most of my youth and had a deep appreciation for it but stopped exploring new composers during years of depression.

It’s a wonderful experience with a nice pair of headphones. Something about the way the repetition lasts just long enough to produce a sense of anticipation and delight.

I think his soundtrack to Scorsese's Kundun is also excellent programming background music, I've listened to that soundtrack from beginning to end countless times.

Music in 12 Parts is one of my favourites for coding.

Ha. I was once on a street corner playing a copy of his 'Passages' record (with Ravi Shankar) when a stranger walked up to me and fondly recounted spending an entire summer digging holes with a crew to that record.

It seems that there may be a quality to his music that makes it well-suited to working.

While I love the opera, I've always found Einstein on the Beach really difficult to program to because of the distracting dominance of the spoken word parts (at least on some recordings) 'Oh these are the days my friend, and these are the days'. For me the Koyaanisqatsi score is the perfect stimulation for getting in the zone.

Discovered his "The Photographer" when it came out (I am older than 30).


For me, via a mashup with a fellow New York legend: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQmjmR3DLig

He recounts being nearly mugged while driving a taxi, and other stories, in this Fresh Air episode with Terry Gross,https://freshairarchive.org/segments/philip-glass-legacy-fut...

I discovered Philip Glass' music through the movie Koyaanisqatsi, which I heartily recommend. If you haven't seen it, go into it without expectations of what a movie is supposed to be like; it's weird.

IMHO Baraka and Samsara are much more realized versions of the idea behind Koyaanisqatsi.

Have to disagree - personally found those films to be too heavy-handed with their "message". Koyaanisqatsi maintains a certain ambiguity throughout, conveying both awe and fear at modern civilization.

Ron Fricke, the man behind Baraka and Samsara, was the director of photography (and writer, editor) for Koyaanisqatsi. I would keep in mind how novel Koyaanisqatsi was for its time, and that Baraka and Samsara are mere evolutions on a revolutionary film.

The photography and cinematography in Samara were far beyond what Koyaanisqatsi accomplished. I can easily conjure up the images from Samsara in my mind only have watched it twice.

A little too realized if you ask me. And with worse music.

I love the urban hell of Pruit Igoe [1].

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nq_SpRBXRmE

Also used in Watchmen (2009) to great effect

Me too. Haven't heard it in over a year so thanks for re-lighting those neurons.

For me it was The Truman Show, which uses several of his pieces from other works along with some specifically made for the film.

I remember the name Philip Glass only due to watching the movie "Hamburger Hill", which started with an opening theme [1] that seemed so unusual that I looked up the composer on wikipdia.

[1] https://youtu.be/YeD4b2L1iNU

I discovered Koyaanisqatsi and Glass after hearing a 10 second bit played on an episode a Scrubs! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sM2VZk560_g

Koyaanisqatsi is an anthropological study of Earth made by aliens. They watch it before deciding "Not Yet" to the question of whether to invite Earth to join the Galactic Federation.

I think Koyaanisqatsi would have intrigued aliens. Powaqqatsi , being an endless loop of extraction and planetary rape would send them running for another galaxy.

Also Kundun, which appeared yesteryear in Lasagna Cat[0]


This is how I discovered his music as well. I probably saw it for the first time 15 years ago and I still listen to the soundtrack regularly. Incredibly powerful, both film and music.

I'd listened to Philip Glass quite a bit through studying music in high school (including some exposure from the drum and bugle corps scene), but hilariously enough it's his composition for Kundun that stuck with me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAh9oLs67Cw

All I knew going into it, was that it was a movie about society. A quite apt description

Don't forget to mention his most transcendent movie scoring, in Powaqqatsi! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNVTmWRcUbY

While I'd listened to some of his music previously, Spotify highlighted his score for Tales from the Loop with their end of year "Missed Hits" and it is excellent. Been listening to it the last few days.

hey me too, I saw this movie back in the early 90s when I was discovering international films and experimental music. I was a big fan of El Topo too.

I saw Glass at a performing arts center in my hometown. The PAC has a lot of season ticket holders, and Glass' music triggered an older attendee to march to the front of the auditorium and yell, "this isn't music". He was quickly ushered out by his wife, but Glass was noticeably smirking, and the whole thing really added to the avant garde vibe of the performance. Amazing concert BTW. One of my favorite artists.

Steve Reich mentioned a similar anecdote in which an audience member came up to the stage and banged on it with his shoe demanding that the playing be stopped.

Imagine being so arrogant as to demand a performance be stopped rather than just leaving.

Similar things have happened to me when me and my previous punk band used to play at unsuspecting bars hahaha. I love Glass and Reich even more now!

I saw the same thing happen 2002-ish.

Have to admit I was a little disappointed to find that wasn't part of the show.

There was a Skandalkonzert conducted by Schönberg in the Viennese Musikverein which lead to a slap and a lawsuit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skandalkonzert

The label "avant-garde" is surprising to see used to describe Philip Glass's works. What performance were you attending?

A performance at the University of Florida Performing Arts center here in Gainesville. This was back in the nineties.

Philip Glass is constantly described as avant-garde. You may take issue with that label, but I hardly see how it can be surprising.

It's a ridiculous label to apply to Philip Glass. He would likely reject it himself.

The word "avant-garde" comes up not once in Philip Glass's Wikipedia article [0]. The only uses of the word "experimental" are in reference to his early interest in experimental theater.

Philip Glass is easily the most popular, mainstream living music composer. His music is extremely "listenable," and inoffensive to the casual listener. Calling him avant-garde is a complete disservice to what he has actually accomplished in his career. It's more avant-garde to call Philip Glass avant-garde than his music is avant-garde.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Glass

> It's a ridiculous label to apply to Philip Glass.

I disagree.

>The word "avant-garde" comes up not once in Philip Glass's Wikipedia article The only uses of the word "experimental" are in reference to his early interest in experimental theater.

What's that meant to show? I opened the first four references on that Wikipedia article and all contained the phrase 'avant-garde':


>Philip Glass is an Oscar-nominated avant-garde composer whose notable works include 'Einstein on the Beach,' 'The Hours' and 'Notes on a Scandal.'


>Took the avant-garde mainstream, offering hope and inspiration to countless composer-followers.


>The project that would propel Glass from downtown New York notoriety to international stardom came in 1976 - an avant-garde music theatre collaboration with theatre visionary Robert Wilson"


OK, this one doesn't use the phrase in reference to Glass.

That's nice, but none of those references speak to the idea that Philip Glass is avant-garde. They simply (and inaccurately) apply this label to him, mainly because they're mainstream sources that do not actually cover Western art music.

What’s up with the gate keeping dude? Philip is an experimental musician, avant-garde has an experimental aspect to it, so people like calling him that. Why fuss over a word?

And fwiw, things change, language is emergent, words acquire and lose meaning based on how people use it, not the other way around.

Personally, I'd be happy to be convinced that he's not an avant-garde composer. There might be some aspect to the term I'm not aware of. But "the word doesn't occur in the Wikipedia article" certainly isn't a very convincing point.

What aspects of music does Glass experiment with, in the 21st century?

In 1968, it was fair to call him an experimental composer and musician. In 2021, not so much, certainly no more than any composer who is alive and still trying to write new work.

I'm interested; what's the definition of avant-garde as defined by the Western art music world?

It really depends what time period you're referring to. Maybe broadly we could say that it's music that is either notably ahead of it's contemporaries in terms of innovation or that intentionally breaks out of stylistic models of its time to do something new.

So in those terms, Beethoven was at one point "avant-garde" in that his some of his compositions were so strikingly progressive compared to those of his contemporaries that they stood out. They were "at the front" of musical innovation in that sense.

John Cage started to compose music that intentionally and radically diverted from the trajectory of traditional western art music, so that was considered "avant-garde," although it was so influential, that I'd say much of it has become "canonized" in a way that performing it isn't really innovative of "edgy" in the way it was at it's original reception.

Today I think it's hard to pin down because there aren't really any established traditions that composers are breaking away from like they were at the cusp between the 19th and 20th centuries. I've seen and performed pieces for amplified fluorescent light bulbs, 4 screaming men in loin clothes, and for a solo performer articulating gestures in ASL to a pre-recorded musical track. None of it was scandalous, and some of it was quite good.

Avant-garde does not precisely mean “unlistenable.” There’s plenty of music that’s listenable but still way “out there.”

Glass’s music is maybe not consistently on the edge, but his avant-garde reputation comes from works like the “opera” Einstein On the Beach, which is a formidable listening and performing experience, even if it’s heavily diatonic and based on familiar major/minor modalities. It is a sui generis approach to musical structure and musical theater.

Einstein On The Beach is definitely on the extreme end. On the other hand, Itaipu (my personal favorite) and many of his symphonies are about as close to mainstream as modern "classical music" usually gets.

Bwahahahah. You think EotB is "on the extreme end". You've never heard "Music in Similar Motion", I assume?

I'll add that to my playlist, but I'd argue that the difference between 12 minutes and 5 hours counts for a lot! (Although I guess maybe opera audiences are primed for sitting in place for that long? I just don't have the attention span for anything longer than Figaro.)

Scratch that then. Try out "Music in 12 Parts", which is about 4 hours long :)

Glass' early minimalism makes EotB seem almost conventional by comparison, at least to me.

I agree with Glass in that I don't think minimalism is the best term for what Glass does. Call it postmodern, maybe.

>is easily the most popular, mainstream living music composer

But, this isn't an article about Danny Elfman....

I would have gone with John Williams, but I got a chuckle out of this.

Congrats you discovered discovered minimal music.

Clearly looking at his age he is already an elder. Nevertheless he definitely qualifies as avant- Garde. You can compose listenable pieces and be avant- garde

Minimalism was "avant-garde" when it was explored as a response to Serialism. Its history is comprised of works that would be considered unlistenable to most audiences.

Calling any modern regurgitation of Glass's very-listenable minimalism "avant-garde" is misleading and shuts out the contemporary listener to an entire world of avant-garde music - much of it, very listenable.

>Calling any modern regurgitation of Glass's very-listenable minimalism "avant-garde" is misleading and shuts out the contemporary listener to an entire world of avant-garde music - much of it, very listenable.

I'm not convinced that someone simply using the word "avant-garde" shuts anyone out of anything.

For example, if I type "Taylor Swift is avant-garde" did this suddenly shut out listeners from an entire world of pop music?

> Calling any modern regurgitation of Glass's very-listenable minimalism "avant-garde" is misleading and shuts out the contemporary listener to an entire world of avant-garde music - much of it, very listenable.

I think that's reinforced by the anecdote from the original poster, though.

There's still a significant fraction of the audience who dismisses his work out of hand. Yes, they're shut out of even more stuff, but they aren't even open to him, yet.

I could see my mother being the upset person in the first story...

Unrelated anecdote, but I once went to a 3 hour John Cage concert. Genuinely awful, and about as thought provoking as a piece of cardboard.

That was avant-garde, apparently.

One should always be wary of going to a concert with music only by a single composer that one doesn't know. :P I try to check there's some variety on the programme, that way I can with high confidence expect to enjoy at least 5 minutes per hour (and so long as I get that I'm happy).

Yes, John Cage is probably the most well-known "avant-garde" composer.

Calling music by this term communicates a powerful judgment about its place in musical history. And it is simply, unavoidably incorrect. It has nothing to do with the music itself - it has to do with his musical process and how it jives with the basic musical environment of his time.

If the whole musical world were like John Cage, Philip Glass's works would definitely be avant-garde. But because the musical world is a lot more like Philip Glass, using the word "avant-garde" to describe his contributions is simply untrue.

Yes indeed. A lady playing a cactus was the point at which we decided to take our leave, around the 3 hour mark.

I struggled and read a lot to understand the foundations of modern art. I found a lot of the intellectual constructions very unconvincing contrivances. I imagine I'd feel the same way about such compositions; an area in which I am certainly a neophyte

maybe you've come across it, but Silverman's biography does a good job tracing how Cage came to a lot of his compositional convictions.

I don't think it would convince you to enjoy his work, but I found it to be a really good read, regardless!


May I ask, how does one play a cactus?

Put a microphone in/close to it. Either a contact microphone or a regular one. Strike the thorns (spines?), bow it with a violin bow, drag your fingers on it. Apply electronic effects to taste.

Here's an Unplugged version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QVjwEmzxy_w

I agree. He was required reading in several of my music degree courses

I wonder if there is any chance that's stagepersonship.

I think I trust Phillip Glass a bit more than that.

Paid actor.

You mean stagemanship?

You mean venueentityvessel?

Philip Glass is my hero and inspired me to learn playing piano.

Personal anecdote: I've managed to get invited to a small Einstein on the Beach play at The Greene Space NYC - I've been flying to NYC for business and this alone made my whole trip so much nicer. I remember him sitting 2 chairs away from me and the play was beautiful.

If you're curious, I strongly suggest watching Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts documentary about his life and career. What a man.

> Have the old divisions between musical styles – a source of surprisingly bitter contention in the last decades of the 20th century – now healed? Do people now accept your chosen path of tonal harmony, melody, repetitive structures?

> No no no no no. Those divisions never healed. Those people just died! The people who don’t want you don’t change their minds. You outlive them, if you’re lucky. They’re all dead now, the older guys. The battle was never won or lost. The army just went away. What can I tell you? Isn’t that the truth? It’s biology. Nothing more than that. They’ve just gone away… and we carry on playing.

This seems true in so many things: politics, engineering approaches, even theology at times. Keep doing what you think is worthwhile, but don't expect to change the minds of the old guard: you "win" by having the newer generation accept your approach.

Science as well. There's the oft-quoted:

‘A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.’

- Max Planck

Also see this link, for a study that tried to test/quantify this: https://www.nber.org/digest/mar16/does-science-advance-one-f...

This is such a famous truism that there's even a paper that investigates whether or not science really advances one funeral at a time:


edit: heh, too slow - it was already posted in the few minutes I took to read the article

These days I would pick a movie to see based on who did or contributed to its soundtrack. Glass, Zimmer, Richter, and Preisnser, in particular.

Some of Glass' work transposes well to other instruments, but a real extra gift to the world would be if he wrote a guitar suite.

I've been hacking around with a classical guitar arrangement of Pärt's "Spiegel im Spiegel," and might see if Glass' new "The Teacher" is more amenable, as it's very much an homage about 1/3 the length and complexity.

> Some of Glass' work transposes well to other instruments

Here's one example which works very well IMHO.

Lavinia Meijer, Harp, Metamorphosis Four


Here is an excellent Violin => Soprano Sax transposition by Amy Dickson.


I thought the combination of Zimmer's score and Nolan's editing in Dunkirk basically turned it into an enormous minimalist composition - I mean that in the best possible way.

just in case you've been missing this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFc40M1g8kA

they have recorded 4 of his quartets arranged for guitar

Huge fan of these, and they were part of what inspired me to take up guitar again. Highly recommend. There is a fellow who does "Metamorphosis" as well, and it was one of the first pieces I learned.

edit: Thomas Csaba performing the complete Metamorphosis : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMyQM589Kbs

I would say Zimmer (and also Ramin Djawadi) have some very obvious Glass influence in a fair amount of their work.

Recently learned Hans Zimmer is in the Buggles' 1979 music video Video Killed the Radio Star.


(and incase you missed it, Hitler and Stalin deepfake lip-sync Video Killed the Radio Star https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DysigzGQvU )

Notably reposted by the President of El Salvador: https://www.instagram.com/p/CEu5daVg0Ko/.

Philip was awarded a Kennedy Center Honors in 2018 for lifetime achievement [1]. St Vincent performed one of his pieces from the Mishima film soundtrack on guitar [2], but it has since been removed from the web. If anyone can locate it, please post link.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kennedy_Center_Honors#2010s

[2] https://consequenceofsound.net/2018/12/st-vincent-tribute-ph...

The Philip Glass Mishima string quartets by the Smith Quartet are pretty nice if you havent heard them. From the soundstrack to a film about Mishima, who was also being discussed on HN the other week

String Quartet No.3: "Mishima": "Blood Oath"


String Quartet No.3: "Mishima": "1957: Award Montage"


Indeed, here is the Smith Quartet performance of 'Closing' from Mishima


I've seen all three of the "Portrait operas" live. The second two are definitely very different to Einstein on the Beach which feels more "modern" and experimental (but also really approachable - this is far from what many people expect of 20th Century avant-garde music)

Steve Reich seemed to want to also move towards more conventional narrative forms later in his career and seemed to sacrifice some of the elegance and purity to do so.

John Adams on the other hand came a generation later and those compromises always felt more natural and less forced for him.

(Terry Riley is the real maverick out of the original minimalists. He just does his own thing and damn everyone else. I had the pleasure of having a very brief chat with him after a concert and he was a lovely chap. I asked him about John Cale)

If you're a fan of Philip Glass but haven't explored the works of Steve Reich I highly recommend it

Reich is brilliant! “Come out” is a very affecting piece, and the history behind it is also quite interesting.

Also, judging from the name, OP is probably also a fan of Arvo Part. There is a moving “video etude” for the piece Healing of Arinushka that I would recommend if you’re feeling contemplative https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7exvD2nJG8

Steve Reichs work is brilliant. I also enjoy the Reich Remixed album (c 1999) which was (as I think of it) a modern take on modern music - interestingly, I’d say the “modern take” part has aged the worst, but it’s still all good fun.


The big problem I had with Reich Remixed is that all but one of the pieces completely ignore the meter of the originals and force them into 4/4. Call me a pedant or something, but I just found that unforgivable.

Huh - I didn’t notice that, but that’s something for me to now look for. “Pedantic” is not the word I’d use to describe your observation here re: Steve Reich, master of phasing and polyrhythms and rounds.

Haha I was going to mention Reich Remixed! I spent a lot of time programming to that music when I was a teen. Definitely fun!

My favorite track was probably Nobukazu Takemura’s remix of Proverb https://youtu.be/-ipSM8bwo4M

I was pleasantly surprised watching the tv show Devs when they made very effective use of "Come out"

Music for 18 Musicians is my favorite composition.

Some crazy post-grad at Rutgers convinced enough colleagues to make it her performance piece a few years ago, and it was free to boot, so I drove a couple hours with a friend to see it. It’s great on recordings, and much cooler to be in the room with it live.

I’ve also recently come to love (especially the first half/performance of) Terry Riley’s Persian Surgery Dervishes. With just an organ and a delay pedal, he builds such a trancelike, subdued and dark yet pleasant mood.

Steve* Reich.

IMO, an excellent first listen would be Tehillim. [0]

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fiaTvR9sFX8

Steve* thanks fixed it. My intro was Different Trains. I think his 9/11 piece is the best art to come out of that tragic event.

Steve Reich - Different Trains (Part 1) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1E4Bjt_zVJc

Proverb https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5lgAUHVFC4

Steve Reich: WTC 9/11 I. 9/11 Kronos Quartet https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWhTkOMue70

Different Trains can be incredibly powerful live. A local to me collective of musicians put together somewhat recently (last year around this time, or perhaps the year before) a small show that involved both Different Trains and Terry Riley's In C with local compositions in between. It was a powerful evening for the small audience (myself included) that was there to appreciate it.

(ETA: Must have been two years ago as other memories flit in. That was an interesting year too because it was a year I saw two very different live versions of In C, which seems unusual to have occur twice in the same year.)

IMO, there's really no good first listen for Reich's work.

You might love or hate "Come Out" or "It's Gonna Rain", and hate or love "Different Trains". You might be entranced or utterly bored by "Six Marimbas" but be disinterested or engaged by "Music For Ensemble and Orchestra". etc. etc.

Best to plan on diving in about once a decade and see if you like what he was doing then. My suggestions would be:

  60s: Come out
  70s: Music for 18 Musicians
  80s: Tehillim
  90s: Different Trains
  00s: Double Sextet
  10s: Reich/Richter
Personally, I'm a huge fan of his phase-shifting work, so for me the keys works would be:

  Six Pianos / Six Marimbas
  Clapping Music
  Music For 18 Musicians
  Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ
There are also some very "pretty" ensemble orchestral works:

  Desert Music
and then ... so much more!

For the adventurous, also check out the album "Shift" by Chris Hughes: renderings of various early Reich works (or ideas) using totally different timbres.

While a fine piece, Tehillim is by Reich’s own admission not very representative of his work.

That's kind of why I recommend it. One's first experience with a composer should be their most accessible work, IMO.

Those who have not heard Reich have not heard a lot of western art music, most likely. I went with the piece that is closest in form and style to the popular music of our time.

I apologize to other users here, for not having made that more clear in my post.

If you want to see a hilariously awful documentary, watch "Glass: A Portrait of Philip In Twelve Parts". It's hard to say whether the director really intended to create a more subtle and wry Spinal Tap, or it just came out that way. (Not knocking Mr. Glass - you're welcome to enjoy his music as much as any other and I like some of it too)

I love some of Glass's works, but others I find annoying. If you experiment on the cutting edge, you will have clunkers and duds, but also break ground every now and then. Or invent something half-finished that a future composer will improve upon.

Works that transitioned from Baroque to Classical are often considered clunky by modern standards, but that's because they were trying new things. If those pioneers didn't experiment, we wouldn't have Mozart and Beethoven. (I do enjoy Baroque though.)

Keep experimenting, Mr. Glass!

I admit to having owned a Glass CD or two. Even so I once heard a joke that goes "Knock, knock. Who's there? Knock, knock. Who's there? Knock, knock. Who's there? Knock, knock. Who's there? Knock, knock. Who's there? Philip Glass." and felt that right or wrong adequately covered some of his work.

To be fair musical tastes change over time; I found myself bored and restless relistening to some old Tangerine Dream favorites.

In my experience - as both a player and listener - minimalism is really difficult to do well! It's a lot of work to avoid becoming repetitive white noise. But to be fair, even Mozart and Beethoven had their occasional duds.

I make electronic music. 7 years ago, in a very sad period of my life, I made a classical piece of music, (From midnight to 4am) which I am very proud of it today. It would make me really happy to get some feedback from you guys if you know a thing or two about music. It tells a very personal story and here is the link to it:


Sorry, I'm not a musician so I can't comment as anything more than a listener, but I enjoyed listening to it. Thanks for posting.

Thank you very much for listening and your encouraging feedback.

When I was in high school, my friend got the cassette tape of the first part of Satyagraha stuck in his car stereo. For some reason rather than digging it out, we just went around blasting it for months. We were even singing along in overly dramatic fashion by the end of it.

> Have the old divisions between musical styles – a source of surprisingly bitter contention in the last decades of the 20th century – now healed? Do people now accept your chosen path of tonal harmony, melody, repetitive structures?

> No no no no no. Those divisions never healed. Those people just died!

Ain't that the truth!

The cool thing about (most of) the assholes being dead is that they didn't need to be correct in their various ideologies for their work to be meaningful, even for composers who work outside of a particular aesthetic.

So today you can have composers still engaging with and drawing upon the work of the assholes without having to deal with any of the negative side effects of interacting with them (verbal abuse, professional ostracization, etc.).

Edit: clarification

His style of minimlaist music is certainly attractive to the HN demographics, I'd say that it helps a certain type of focused flow given its apparent lack of melody or traditional chord progressions.

Take for example his "Opening" from Glassworks (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2vRbNehGB0) is not that difficult to play once you get the hang of the polyrhythm, but it's difficult to understand why it works the way it works.

What is the first minute of his symphony no. 11 if not minimal music? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xU_uBDujLAE

The theme that starts at 2:18 is just so typical for him (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xU_uBDujLAE&feature=youtu.be...). I do believe that he composes symphonies, they are just not so different from his other works.

I miss the documentary about Glass that used to be available on streaming. It's one of the few discs I plan to actually buy.

I don't understand the business model of small films that withdraw from streaming completely, especially documentaries. Surely that can't be more profitable? I think about this question a lot while going through the dreck on Netflix and Amazon Prime. I think about all that work and knowledge and art just going silent and no one ever finding it or watching it again.

Why do you assume it's the owners of the small films that withdraw, and not the streaming services that drop them in order to redeploy funds to other content?

Hmm I never thought of that I guess. I wish it was like the Spotify model where everyone wants their film on the service and they are paid each time someone watches it.

Or to intentionally "vault" subsets of their catalogs for given periods so that when it shows back up in the catalog it is "new content" for some of the audience to discover?

>I’ve written 26 operas, 20 ballets, I don’t know how many film scores. I write theatre music. I write concert and symphonies too. I’m working on a new film score right now.

By "concert," I presume he meant "concerti." And indeed among my favorite pieces by him is his little-aclaimed first violin concerto. [0]

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lGNtPXcA04

I almost drove my college roommate insane by playing Terry Riley's "In C"[1] over and over again. The novelty of Minimalism wore off rather quickly though. Some practitioners adapted and others didn't...

[1]: https://youtu.be/tbTn79x-mrI

I didn't think I liked Glass when exposed to Koyaanisqatsi, but then I found "The Hours" soundtrack and realized I shouldn't dismiss him. I'm now a fan.

He is a big hero in my home town of Stuttgart, I went to see his operas there many times, one of them I think was funded and had its premiere there.

Seems that there was a lot of controversy around his work earlier on. But I don't get about what.

Such a strange comment to make. I do not believe anyone disputes his right to choose whatever title he desires for his compositions. On the other hand, those pieces are not equivalent to works with that title, say, written in the 19th century. He seems to want to create precisely that conflation.


Criticizing the work is one thing. Trying to bully people for finding beauty where you can't is kinda childish.

Many people do not realize that they do not "listen" to music. They simply put it on for background ambiance, to do other things. And before anyone feels further offended, please see this [0] post from 30 minutes ago on HN that completely proves my point made in the previous post.

> I think to this day its great background music for programming work

Philip Glass wrote his music to be heard in the concert hall. Very few people responding to this article have ever heard any of his works performed live. If people were to actually sit there and listen to his music as intended, the reaction to my post would be very different.

Sitting still and listening carefully is a dying practice. I would challenge anyone reading this to seriously ponder, "when was the last time I sat in silence and intently listened to a long-form musical work?"

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25345602

I saw two performances of Einstein on the Beach during its revival. Glass intended it to be like Indian classical theater where you can get up and walk around whenever you want. I stayed except for a bathroom break, while friends left to smoke. I think Glass was trying to make a state of mind, not just have people hanging onto every note.

Even during Mozart’s time, opera was such a social event that people complained you could hardly hear the music.

I’m all for careful listening, but we shouldn’t invalidate people who listen to Glass the way he intended.

I really understood early Glass a lot more when I got the chance to visit a Richard Serra sculpture in LA. Literally walking in the piece helped me understand this idea you're talking about - when I listen to that music now it's a helpful framework to think of exploring a sonic space, rather than tracking linear music like I would with other composers.

I saw that too if it's the one that was at the Ohio State University in 1986 or 1987. I was just a kid who had never heard of either of those guys, but I still remember it thirty-some years later.

Interestingly that used to be the custom for opera in Europe too. Opera wasn't some kind of reverent Church-like experience, it was the TV on in the background at the bar.

It's strange to believe that you know what people undergo during something as subjective as a sensory experiment. No matter your expertise, you can never really know how another person is perceiving their reality.

We're all given a set of senses and a brain to explore the world in our own way. It will not be the same from one individual to the next. If some people are looking to be soothed by music, while others are looking to be stimulated, does that give one group an authority on taste over the other?

> does that give one group an authority on taste

What the hell? I never made any such comment on the subjective experiences of listeners.

You can enjoy music and know it's "junk food." I like listening to plenty of bad music. I don't judge anyone for what they enjoy.

To call Philip Glass a master of his domain, a rightfully-celebrated contributor to Western art music, or any of this other crap - that's what I take issue with. Enjoy his music all you want - it's all available and in print, and his various corporate music labels make sure of that. Just don't mislead others who may actually take HN users at their word.

> What the hell? I never made any such comment on the subjective experiences of listeners.

It was impossible to read your post as anything other than "I am a learned connoisseur and the unwashed masses are all fools".

Half laughing at the comments, but on the other hand, you always have to appreciate such passion towards any subject matter.

post-Cage I think it's gotten a bit hard to pin down what it means to be a significant contributor to "Western art music." How do you define that? Has Glass been influential (yes), popular (yes), and tried things compositionally that others hadn't (arguable). Is Steve Reich's music "better"? I think so, both as a listener and a performer, but Glass being potentially more popular doesn't really do any harm to anything. It just is what it is.

But I've had as many (and honestly, more) arguments with "anti-contemporary music/art" folks about Berio and Feldman, for example. What is late Feldman doing compositionally? Just shifting around simple chords surrounded by loads of silence while stuffy audiences in turtlenecks nod sagely and compose tweets in their mind for later about how "serene and haunting" this performance was? (I love Feldman, for the record)


Step back and listen to yourself. You are shitting on other people's preferences all over the comments and it's distasteful. If you want to advocate for carefully listening to western art music, you could hardly do it in a worse way.

I've seen Philip Glass in concert twice.

You have some bizarre chip on your shoulder, have given no reason for anyone to credit your critical opinions, and are generally showing bad taste and rude behaviour.

I did recently (in the before times) watch a simulcast of Akhnaten at a local theater, which I quite enjoyed. Does that count?

> Sitting still and listening carefully is a dying practice. I would challenge anyone reading this to seriously ponder, "when was the last time I sat in silence and intently listened to a long-form musical work?"

It's interesting how many people get pissed and come out of the woodwork when you mention this. Something deep within them is slighted or invalidated simply by the mere notion that they might be interacting with music sub-optimally ;)

You seem fun.

Is your goal with this comment to encourage people to give Berio, Feldman, Riley, and Reich a try, or is to try to convince others how much better at listening to music you are than them?

For anyone else who likes Glass's piano work, you might like some pieces by Yann Tiersen or Erik Satie.

> For anyone else who likes Glass's piano work, you might like some pieces by Yann Tiersen or Erik Satie.

And then go find yourself any of the multiple-piano music by the Dutch composer Simeon Ten Holt. "Canto Ostinato" is the famous one, but "Incantante IV" is probably my favorite.

That's a strange dichotomy of choices. Another post in this thread backs up entirely my point that this is music to be played in the background, not thoroughly consumed and heard. [0]

> I think to this day its great background music for programming work

This article was nothing more than sponsored content for a contemporary artist who already has all of the success, publicity, and fandom he could ever need. By leveling him to a tier much closer to reality, and throwing out the names of much more accomplished and more musically-important 20th century composers, I hope to provide a counter-point to The Guardian, which is neither an authority on music nor the broader culture.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25345602

> Another post in this thread backs up entirely my point that this is music to be played in the background, not thoroughly consumed and heard

Those two are not necessarily exclusive. I enjoy some kinds of songs as background music as well as by itself. Why would I listen to background music that I wouldn't like otherwise?

> I hope to provide a counter-point to The Guardian, which is neither an authority on music nor the broader culture.

Neither are you. Or anyone else except the individual person deciding what they want to listen to.

Is your point that the music is bad because it can function as background music and doesn’t require active listening to enjoy? Or that the music is good but the listeners are bad as they play it in the background?

Would your opinion of his music be any different if you were alive when it came out? He is so influential that when you listen all you hear is a tired old style, which would never exist without him.

I'm very interested in what minimalist tropes you would say Berio and Feldman explored in any of their work.

Feldman's second string quartet (https://youtu.be/QPMUHVza-KA) is very long, has lots of repetition, with occasional pulsating rhythms/drone notes. I quite like it when I'm in the mood. There's a lot in it, but it's so slowly developed so slowly moment to moment it has characteristics of minimalism.

This short article covers some of his work including the second quartet from this perspective in slightly more detail: https://www.nytimes.com/2002/02/17/arts/music-where-minimal-...

Well sure, most of Feldman's work could be described as "minimal" but saying it is part of the body of work that is typically referred to as "minimalism" is a little disingenuous, in my mind.

But maybe it just makes it more obvious that these categories aren't particularly useful. I think it's interesting to talk about those early works in the 70s and compare them to minimalist art, like Judd's or Serra's sculptures or paintings by Sol Lewitt, Stella, etc., but it's just a component of a much broader conversation that needs to be based in listening first.

It's interesting to me that Glass' early music didn't really click for me until I had stood inside of one of Richard Serra's Bands sculptures at LACMA. It gave me a different mental (and metal, haha) framework to engage with the music through. That's probably why the Berio/Feldman comparison was so surprising to me in the first place, because I feel like the music from those composers both demand different kinds of engagement to find them enjoyable that Glass' early music, both as a listener and a performer.

Indeed, much of Feldman's late period fits this description. I would also recommend Piano and String Quartet [0] [1] from Feldman as an extreme example of his interests in minimalism.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piano_and_String_Quartet_(Feld...

[1] https://vimeo.com/231496382

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