I went to see Dracula the other night, the 1931 film starring Bela Lugosi, with a live soundtrack by Philip Glass. It was performed by the man himself, along with Michael Riesman and the Kronos Quartet. It was a dressup event, a crazy midnight screening/performance to a packed hall. There was much excitement in the crowd, a real sense that we were witnessing something truly unique and original.
I was looking around at the crowd and thinking to myself, “Who are you people? Why are you here? What attracted you to this performance in the first instance? Do you listen to the music of Philip Glass at home? Or do you listen to it only in situ, when it’s a theatrical event or a film soundtrack?” So many questions.
Listening closely to the Dracula soundtrack, much of it is what my producers at the ABC would call “approachable contemporary”. That is, consonant harmonies, driving pulsing meter, arguably inspired by popular music textures. But every now and then, there’s something in the soundtrack that’s a little more adventurous, for want of a better word. Glass plays some interesting little games with syncopation and tonality that are a well timed contrast, perfectly appropriate to the action in the film.
It got me thinking however, were this simply a chamber music concert, would this same audience respond so positively to that musical material? Or would they struggle to understand it? Would it be enough for them to be listening to something that carries Mr Glass’s name? Dare I ask… Are they, in fact, really listening to the music at all? Or is there some kind of kudos in attending this event? Would they attend a chamber music recital at all?
I’ve a dear friend, an amateur musician, who is very supportive of my little project. He is full of words of praise for Philip Glass. He’s always telling me that Glass is “totally amazing”, always telling me about how he went to hear Philip Glass perform here and speak there and how amazing he was. He regularly sends me very lovely messages of support in regards to my album. Interestingly, he never speaks about Glass’s music in any detail. I have no doubt that he loves the music, and has an intuitive understanding of it but I suspect he lacks the vocabulary to describe how it works and why he likes it, and maybe he feels a little embarrassed about that. If that is the case, I wish he wouldn’t feel embarrassed. I’ve come to realise that people like him… they’re my crowd! i.e. intelligent people who may or may not have had the opportunity to make much music themselves in their lives, but really appreciate stuff that’s not too mainstream.
So… here’s my plan; after my album has been the raging success I’ve decided that it’s going to be, I’ll be able to record some followup albums of other contemporary classical music that I think these people would love if only they were exposed to it! I’m thinking initially of composers whose work came about as a result of the path that was forged by Philip Glass and his contemporaries, composers like Michael Nyman, for example, perhaps followed by John Adams and even Louis Andriessen. Closer to home, I’m thinking of composers Matthew Hindson, Stuart Greenbaum and Nigel Westlake. I think there is much scope for the dissemination of a whole lot more interesting music to many more intelligent listeners of the world.
“Music has no subject beyond the combinations of notes we hear, for music speaks not only by means of sounds, it speaks nothing but sound.”
Absolute Music vs. Program Music. No, I’m not going to get into the debate, as they are both wonderful things. I am, however, going to make the quiet observation that much of Philip Glass’s music works very well either way.
A few Christmases ago, my lovely older brother gave me a box set of cds of the film music of Philip Glass. Koyaanisqatsi, Dracula and La Belle et La Bete (Beauty and the Beast), plus many others. When I first listened to it, I made a conscious decision not to look at the titles. I was interested in what emotions it would evoke without the external emotional stimulus of the film itself, or even the title of the film. Didn’t work very well with Koyaanisqatsi, as the singers repeatedly state the title of the film in the music. Ahahaha.
Anyway, the point is this; an emotional journey was indeed more than evident in the music itself, without external stimulus. Of course I did not find any specific imagery (a musical impossibility), but I certainly felt moved by the patterns of tension and release. And when things were repeated in typical Philip Glass fashion, I was changed with each listening…. see my earlier post on “the spiral path” http://sillywhatwell.tumblr.com/post/1395848819/m-a-n-m-u-s-i-c-m-a-c-h-i-n-e-people-are
I’m very excited about going to see Philip Glass and Kronos Quartet perform the soundtrack for the silent film “Dracula” (with Bela Lugosi in the title role). But I’d be equally happy to just sit down and listen to them play it without the film. Just saying.