Music on trial: a master’s works reworked

Much of the driving, repetitive music we listen to today can be traced back to the pioneering efforts of minimalist composer Philip Glass. Glass’s highly influential career spans over 40 years and includes works for a variety of musical ventures: chamber ensembles, solo instruments, orchestra, even operas and film scores, among others.

I now bring him up to highlight an upcoming album release in celebration of his 75th birthday, REWORK_Philip Glass Remixed out Oct. 23 on Orange Mountain Music/Ernest Jenning/The Kora Records. It is a collection of various Glass works re-envisioned by many musicians – Dan Deacon, Beck and Tyondai Braxton, just to name a few. Each composer remains true to Glass’s original compositions, yet masterfully displays the changes that have come about in the past 40-50 years and the influence he has had on every one of them.

The album opens with a re-working of Glass’s 1974 work “12 Parts-Part 1” by electronic music duo My Great Ghost. Through heavy use of electronics, this piece brings forth and showcases the more joyous elements of the original work so that it becomes upbeat and dance-like, far from its original format. The biting quality of the music places it more in the present, rather than a pure reflection of the past.

In contrast, Nosaj Things’s vision of “Knee I,” a piece from Glass’s pivotal 1975 opera Einstein on the Beach, is peaceful and reflecting. It employs synthesized strings and samples of the original vocal parts amidst its foggy texture. Unlike the fierce quality of its predecessor, this reworking is hypnotic and detached, highlighting the nostalgic aspects of the project.

Dan Deacon’s cover of “Alright Spiral Snip” is an effective example of how Glass continues to influence today’s up-and-coming composers. Deacon does not stray from his own distinctive style, yet uses instrumentation that recalls early Philip Glass – synthesized wind instruments and strings. His take on this piece feels everlasting because of the dissonance that constantly invades the music and finally gives way to a lush wash of sound at its end.

Another highlight of the album is Tyondai Braxton’s reworking of “Rubric.” This track is especially intriguing because of its heavy club beat supporting the twinkle of bells and percussion on top. Glass’s minimalist work has, since its beginnings, influenced the progression of dance music and we can hear it on occasional Saturday nights in the Pause.

Beck contributes the most monumental piece to the record: a 20 minute weaving-together of more than 20 Glass works, titled “NYC: 73-78.” His goal in this was to display the continuum of the composer’s ideas and the progression of his genre. Listening to this work, I was amazed at how fresh it sounded. It is as though Beck himself wrote the music and intends to release it on his own forthcoming album, although much of it has been public for 40 years. His patchwork project comes off seamlessly. The result is coherent and fluid from one sample to another, reflecting the graceful evolution and timelessness of Glass’s music.

Although the songs from this album will likely not be featured on popular radio or come up in daily conversation, I felt it important to draw attention to the release. Philip Glass paved the path for many of his followers and genres, as evidenced in this celebration of his 75 years.