The music of Philip Glass

“Openings and closings, beginnings and endings. Everything in between passes as quickly as the blink of an eye. An eternity precedes the opening and another, if not the same, follows the closing. Somehow everything that lies in between seems for a moment more vivid. What is real to us becomes forgotten, and what we don’t understand will be forgotten, too.” – Philip Glass, Words Without Music: A Memoir.

As someone who is greatly influenced by music, it is natural that a preference for a certain type is developed over time. While this helps one filter out the irrelevant pieces at that moment, in the longer run it limits you. A preference is a trap because it holds you tight within what you already know. Then, it is only by chance that you might discover something new, if at all. I have seen people take a stand with one kind of music, alter their personality to represent it and in time become that kind of music.

Why? There is so much, so much out there that we cannot possibly explore everything in one lifetime. We have access to all the information in the world today. What’s our excuse for being a frog in a well?

Being pre-disposed to rock/alternative/indie genres, instrumental music is something I have never had much understanding of or knowledge about. For me, instrumental was mostly string quartets covering famous songs. I liked the soundtracks and background scores used in movies, but I never really considered that kind of music a complete concept in itself. I explored classical music, but honestly, it lulled me to sleep. Every single time.  I liked a few pieces, but that was that.

My first major trip in this category was Hans Zimmer. Searching for the score of Pirates of the Caribbean, I found the vast repository of music Zimmer had made. It might have been the effect of always experiencing the music in movies, but Zimmer’s music always evoked a visual in my brain. To my ears, all his music was cinema.  So where was the music-music stuff, not composed for any specific use? I looked and I looked. I listened to every promising composer Google told me about. But none other struck home.

Then, tucked in a Youtube comment thread, I found Philip Glass.

Now I don’t know how big a deal he is. I can only guess pretty big, going by his Wikipedia page, which says that Hans Zimmer considers him an influence! I don’t know where he stands viz-a-viz other prominent composers/musicians around the world. I don’t know if he is overrated or underrated or a legend or a phoney. I don’t know if the critics love him or if they hate him. I don’t know if he is “good” or not.

All I know is that his music is sheer bliss. It has a striking quality of not sounding like something unfamiliar. It feels like something you already know and I kid you not, it affects the listener physically. Your heartbeat will quicken, or slow down. Your brain will relax, or break a sprint. It WILL make you smile at one point. Maybe break into a little dance when nobody is watching. It’s a little piece of divine mayhem.  This is something worth drowning in.

I am still is the process of exploring his complete works, but I can make out right now that his earlier albums are slightly more “listener-friendly” (as he himself says). Best among those, I feel, is Glassworks.  I am sure this is not the only masterpiece he has created in his 50-year career. With good luck, I will find another soon.

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