Ultimate Philip Glass Fanboi

by Steve, April 10th, 2015

I’ve liked Philip Glass since I first got exposed to his work in college in the 80s (yes i’ve heard the knock-knock joke; no, I don’t think it’s funny). I think Ben had a record of Einstein on the Beach, and maybe the Kronos Quartet. But it was Godfrey Reggio’s 1983 film Koyaanisqatsi that really blew my mind and got me hooked. In more recent history, I’ve seen Portland Opera’s productions of Orphée (2009) and Galileo Galilei (2012), both brilliant, but not as brilliant as the Met’s televised production of Satyagraha (2012) which Nancy grudgingly admits she liked.

Anyway, Glass has written a memoir, and he’s hitting the airwaves and lecture circuit to promote it. I heard him with Terry Gross on her NPR show Fresh Air the other day. I have a real love/hate attitude toward Gross. She’s actually a really good interviewer, but it’s partly because she so unselfconsiously asks really stupid questions. (She’s famously bad at talking to black people.) Anyway, she plays a kind of clueless everywoman, with just enough book learnin’ to be dangerous. If her guest isn’t completely offended, it makes for pretty good radio. Like this exchange with Glass:

I always think of there being something obsessive about your music because of its repetitions and then variations on the repetitions and the speed of it and the precision of it, and I’m wondering if that’s fair to call… Like, do you think of your composing or your performances as having an obsessive quality to them?

You know, that’s a fair question and I’m wondering would people have said the same thing about Brahms or Chopin? ‘Why is he playing that strange music? Why do we hear those chords over and over again?’

You know why I think of it with you too, because I think, um, pattern is often a part of obsession? Like repeated patterns, shifts in patterns, and…

Well I certainly didn’t invent that, that’s been around for a long time.

Mm hm.

I think it may have been also, not just the music itself, but the way it was presented with the ensemble, you know with amplified music, it could be interpreted as being aggressive, though that would only be true if you didn’t know anything about popular music, and that most popular music was already much more heavily amplified than anything that we did.

So you’re telling me you’re not OCD. (laughs)

(laughs) I’m not saying that either.

Well are you? Are you?

I don’t think so.


But how would I know?


It’s actually a broad-ranging interview, worth listening to all the way through. Later on, Terry returns to her passive aggressive shading of Glass’ music:

Do you ever think, in spite of the body of work that I’m famous for, I feel today like writing a simple song with an easy-to-sing melody and some nice chords behind it?

(Laughter) I feel that all the time.

Do you write it?

I’m always trying to – I’m trying to. I’m writing an opera right now for the Washington Opera, and I’m always looking for clarity and simplicity. It doesn’t come easily to me.


Glass is speaking at the Newmark Theatre in Portland April 14. Admission includes a copy of his new book, Words Without Music.

Embedded quotes

by Steve, April 9th, 2015

Back in the 90s I wrote some skunkworks software for work. Since I find computer languages bland and inexpressive, I included some poetry (Pablo Neruda and Alan Chong Lau) and some quotes. We stopped using the software a few years back, but I found the source code is still out there on an old machine at the data center. Here are the quotes.

  • “The only people worthy of consideration in this world are the unusual ones. For
    the common folks are like the leaves of a tree, and live and die unnoticed.”

    -Scarecrow, The Land of Oz, L. Frank Baum

  • “Your knowledge of what is going on can only be superficial and relative.”

    -William Seward Burroughs

  • “We know only a single science, the science of history. One can look at history
    from two sides and divide it into the history of nature and the history of men.
    However, the two sides are not to be divided off; as long as men exist the
    history of nature and the history of men are mutually conditioned.”

    -Karl Marx

  • “In my life, I have prayed only one prayer in asking for divine favor: ‘O Lord,
    make my enemies ridiculous.’ And God granted it.”

    – Voltaire

  • “If there ever was in the history of humanity an enemy who was truly universal,
    an enemy whose acts and moves trouble the entire world, threaten the entire
    world, attack the entire world in any way or another, that real and really
    universal enemy is precisely Yankee imperialism.”

    -Fidel Castro

  • “Rationalists, like Euclidean geometers, based their case on a few ‘self-evident
    truths.’ But Einstein convinced the world that there was no such thing as a
    self-evident truth. A few things were self-evident all right; but they were not
    true. The shortest way between two points is not the straight line; Time and
    Length are not absolute notions. This seemed to be the death-knell of
    Rationalist philosophy. If there is no self-evident truth, there is no
    Rationalism. But Rationalism refused to lie down and die. Luckily, Rationalism
    was not quite as rational as all that.”

    –George Mikes

  • “A commodity appears at first sight an extremely obvious, trivial thing. But its
    analysis brings out that it is a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical
    subtleties and theological niceties.”

    -Karl Marx

  • “Everything you’ve learned in school as ‘obvious’ becomes less and less
    obvious as you begin to study the universe. For example, there are no
    solids in the universe. There’s not even a suggestion of a solid. There
    are no absolute continuums. There are no surfaces. There are no straight

    -R. Buckminster Fuller