Sunday, January 2, 2011
Philip Glass - Music With Changing Parts (1971)
Philip Glass is the man most people immediately think of when they hear the term "minimalist music," and while he was neither the first nor the most minimal of this school of composers, he was the most commercially successful and to the victor go the spoils. In recent years, he has been halfheartedly tossing off film scores while presumably rolling around in his piles of money, but back in the seventies he created some truly innovative and amazing music.
"Music With Changing Parts" is probably my favorite Glass piece from this period. It's an hour long, semi-improvisatory composition for his usual ensemble of woodwinds and keyboard instruments. It has since been dismissed by the composer as "too spacy" but personally, I think it's just spacy enough. It begins with a repetitive figure on a lone electric organ which is then quickly joined by other instruments. What I like about this piece is that it evolves so slowly that unless you are paying very close attention, you will not even notice that anything is changing. If you exerpt any given thrity seconds from the piece, it will sound like the same phrase repeared over and over again, but at the end of five or ten minutes, the music will sound nothing like it did in the beginning.
Although there is constant motion througout its length, the repetition gives the piece a drone like quality and it's easy to be swept away by it. Fans of psychedelia will probably find much to enjoy here. Indeed, the motion of Glass's music is not unlike that of a lava lamp.
The concepts explored here would be further developed on the marathon three-disc set of "Music in Twelve Parts," the principle difference being that that work is divided into twelve distinct sections of approximately twenty minutes each whereas this maintains its continuity for over an hour. Both are essential additions to any collection of minimalist music.