Print Edition: October 17, 2012
Philip Glass is an icon. His library of works is extensive and eccentric, ranging from classical operas to purely vocal tracks to trance and back again. He’s extensively trained in harmony and counterpoint—the languages of music composition—and is arguably one of the greatest musical influences of our time. If you’re trying to figure out where you know the name from, here’s a few popular examples: he composed the tracks for Kundun, The Truman Show, The Hours and Notes on a Scandal, and his music has been featured in Battlestar Galactica, Watchmen and Grand Theft Auto IV.
REWORK was created in celebration of Glass’s 75th birthday. It is a compilation album, featuring re-imagined versions of Glass’s works by a rather eclectic group of artists. Beck, who spearheaded the album in its entirety, is present in the form of a 20-minute tribute entitled “NYC 73-78.” Given prior acquaintance with Glass, one might be able to discern the myriad tracks. They’re in minute-long snippets, and strung together with everything from wavering synthesizers to persistent clanging of gongs. It’s a gentle piece, in true Glassian form, more meditative than explosive. It wouldn’t be out of place in a yoga class or during a paper-writing session, but it has enough interest to keep you awake during savasana or that one paragraph that no one cares about but you feel compelled to include because the outline specifically mentions it.
“Knee 1” is one of the bigger departures included on the album. Created by Nosaj Thing, this track takes a song that originally consisted purely of vocal tracks chant-counting, and turns it into an instrumental version. The vocals are still there, but as an afterthought; their elusive presence is evocative of an echo. It’s an interesting move, historically speaking: western music has progressed from purely vocal to vocals with instrumental accompaniment to heavily instrumental with sparse vocals to the relatively median mix we enjoy today. The shifts followed the church – at one time, music was all secular. Words—sung—were tributes to God, and instruments were originally thought of as marring that tribute. During a time when music was predominately instrumental and vocals sparse, the remaining words served as a link to keep the music respectful. In Thing’s tribute, the words do the same thing. They’re present, an evasive link – but the true song is in instrumental melody, the capitulation of the original song.
Silver Alert’s contribution to the album was “Etolie Polaire: Little Dipper.” It begins with gentle percussion, quietly persistent like the rain we’ll be seeing for the next seven months. It shifts rather abruptly to abrasive sounds devoid of rhythmic niceties, sounds that wouldn’t be out of place at a Skrillex concert. To clarify, this isn’t to knock Skrillex – it’s an interesting juxtaposition and true to the remixer’s roots. The track progresses to a heavier focus on the original song’s vocals, but these are laid over a track from some sort of synthesized instrument. It sounds like a keytar, and let me tell you, they’re only awesome when you can see them in person. This aspect of the track was unexpected and jarring, but not in the good way.
Overall, this album is a great listen. The tracks are well-produced, and vary in their links to the original songs. Glass’s influence is ever-present, ensuring that the album in its entirety is eclectically beautiful. Allen Ginsberg—who was a friend of Glass—once wrote in a journal entry that “fortunately art is a community effort – a small but select community living in a spiritualized world endeavoring to interpret the wars and the solitudes of the flesh.” If you’re feeling the need to dissect some flesh, try listening to this album—this community effort—it’s pure poetry.