ALBUM (1982)

Glassworks - the album that set composer Philip Glass on path to renown

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 January, 2015, 11:47pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 January, 2015, 11:47pm

Philip Glass

Philip Glass, who turned 78 yesterday, is one of a loose-knit group of experimental composers who pioneered the minimalist style in the 1960s. The American has long since distanced himself from the label, preferring to describe himself as a composer of "music with repetitive structures".

While Glass' contemporaries La Monte Young, Terry Riley and Steve Reich all achieved varying levels of success and recognition, Glass is the most widely known, at least partly due to his willingness to cross over between what might be considered high- and low-brow art.

Over the decades, Glass has collaborated with contemporary artists as varied as Brian Eno, David Bowie, Paul Simon, Patti Smith and David Byrne. But he is perhaps best known for his soundtrack work, having composed scores for both low-budget and mainstream Hollywood films, including Martin Scorsese's Dalai Lama biopic Kundun (1997), for which Glass received his first of three Oscar nominations, plus The Truman Show (1998), The Hours (2002) and Notes on a Scandal (2006).

It could be argued that Glass' path to broader renown began with Glassworks, his first studio release on the CBS label and an album that was created to be accessible to modern audiences, whose usual purchase was pop music. " Glassworks was intended to introduce my music to a more general audience than had been familiar with it up to then," the composer has said. His early pieces were often epic in length, sometimes with a solitary, unwavering musical phrase stretched out. Glassworks, by contrast, is a chamber music work of six movements, and the longest, Island, lasts just seven minutes and 40 seconds.

What Glassworks lacks in length, it makes up for with mood, emotion and texture. The album opens with the hypnotic Opening, a solo piano piece that lulls the listener into a light trance before a churlish awakening by the harsh harmonics and racy rhythms of Floe.

Next comes Island, with its gentle layering of strings and repeated phrases providing a moment of calm before the storm of coarse saxophones and disruptive synthetic cacophony that is Rubric. Façades is a gentle, soothing counterpoint to the previous in-your-face drama, while Closing is an ensemble reprise of Opening and a satisfying conclusion to a neatly packaged time capsule of the Glass aesthetic.

It is likely that avid moviegoers who are unfamiliar (or mistakenly believe they are unfamiliar) with Glass' extensive body of work will - on listening to Glassworks for the first time - experience a profound sense of déjà vu.

The more ethereal and nuanced offerings on Glassworks hint at the high points of tenderness that Glass would achieve with his acclaimed scores to Kundun and The Hours.