Heart of Glass
PAC Presents "Philip On Film'
The joke goes like this:
And so on. Get it? Who else but American minimalist (not his term, but surely it fits) Philip Glass could be the object of what surely must be simultaneously the most hilarious and the most annoying knock-knock gag of all time?
Music in Twelve Parts, Einstein on the Beach, Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi: The music of American avant-garde composer Philip Glass is as much a part of the tonalities of the modern musical landscape as the background hum of electricity, and often just as inexplicably soothing. Much of the New York City-based composer's work over the years has revolved around composing for the filmic medium, encompassing such disparate works as the score for Errol Morris' A Brief History of Time and The Thin Blue Line to the genre films Candyman and Tod Browning's stark classic Dracula.
Often but not always marked by an insistent, repetitive series of bars that grow and spread and cascade over one another with fractal precision, the music of Philip Glass has achieved such an obvious prominence that it has been reduced to the simplicity of a knock-knock joke. In addition to that ubiquitous joke, Glass has also been parodied on The Simpsons -- a sure sign that an artist has made it.
The UT Performing Arts Center's upcoming "Philip on Film" program (Tuesday-Saturday, Oct. 2-6) brings together a large part of the composer's film scores to be performed live by the Philip Glass Ensemble. The program will highlight Glass' work in the celluloid medium, and includes four new short films (commissioned especially by Glass) from directors Atom Egoyan, Peter Greenaway, Shirin Neshat, and Michal Rovner, with original music by Glass.
"Linda Greenberg, who is the producer of this series, organized a series of viewings, and we just sat and looked at movies," explains Glass. "We looked at a lot of directors[' films], some of which were shorts and some of which were longer movies that I knew, and at the end of it I made a list of four directors who I would like to work with.
"I knew Shirin Neshat and Michal Rovner's work from installations in museums -- they are the two who are more involved with the art world -- and I knew Peter Greenaway's films from some time ago, and I didn't really know much about Atom Egoyan, although I had previously met him through Paul Schrader in Montreal some years ago."
Glass, whose own work to date has included such seemingly random experiments as the sublime Low Symphony -- an orchestral reimagining of the seminal Brian Eno/David Bowie album Low -- and a haunting score for Jean Cocteau's La Belle et La Bête (which screens October 4), has never been one to find satisfaction with the musical zeitgeist; once thought of as clinical and futuristic, his music now sounds shockingly natural. It's no coincidence that the four filmmakers he chose to create original short works for him to score are all too often overlooked by the cinematic mainstream.
"For one thing, they're all extremely different from each other," says Glass, "and then if you throw in Godfrey Reggio (Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi) in there it becomes a very broad array of sensibility and vision. Some of the films have stories while others don't. Greenaway's film is rather conceptual and very technical, almost.
"The really interesting part, though, was trying to figure out what order to put them in. We had a couple of evenings where we just played through the program in different ways and eventually came up with one that works very well. We think."
With a collection of artistic sensibilities as diverse as this, was there any clash of egos among the invited filmmakers?
"We were lucky in that regard," say Glass, "because I told them all that I didn't know what the final order of the films might be, and no one said, well, 'I have to be first.' The films have such a different dynamic to them, each one, that they needed to be positioned in a way that you could appreciate what its special qualities were. And we had to be careful to make sure that each film wouldn't be compromised by whatever might be coming before or after it. Certainly that was something we were thinking about, and the result has been very pleasing."