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The Essential… Philip Glass

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  • A guide to the work of the world's most feted living composer, and its impact on Eno, Aphex Twin and others.
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    27 Mar 2012
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    The Essential...
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Though he’s not without his detractors, it’s impossible to deny Philip Glass‘s gigantic presence in, and inestimable impact upon, 20th century music.

We approach Glass’s oeuvre here today principally for our interest in the ways it has influenced, and been influenced by, electronic music. The impression his work made on Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream and later Aphex Twin is already well-documented, but its reach extends further forward into time. Just this week we reported on Oneohtrix Point Never’s new remix of Glass’s Koyaanisqatsi title theme, commissioned – but ultimately rejected – for a forthcoming remix project celebrating the composer’s 75th birthday. Curated by Beck Hansen, the compilation features contributions from the likes of Tim Hecker, Amon Tobin and Tyondai Braxton, and highlights the esteem in which Glass is held by yet another generation of younger artists. One suspects that in another 25 years his stature and perceived relevance will be undiminished, perhaps even increased.

Born in Baltimore in 1937, Glass is indelibly associated with New York City, where he has been based since the mid-50s, and in whose downtown ferment of interdisciplinary art and performance he first rose to prominence. He was alive from the off to the liberating possibilities of overdubs and looping strategies, and of electronic music technology in general – being an early adopter and advocate of portable Farfisa organs, polyphonic synthesisers, Midi computer systems, keyboard controllers and samplers.

Over the following pages we see how Glass’s considered embrace of the new – not least his cellular, cyclical approach to composition, which was informed by his work with Ravi Shankar and would come to completely revolutionise Western music – has manifested itself on record. We also learn how his iconic status can be at least partly attributed to the skill, and flair, with which he’s marketed his music and himself.


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