The Next Track, Episode #66 – Minimalist Pianist R. Andrew Lee

The Next Track Blue Flat Button2 400pxPianist R. Andrew Lee joins us to discuss the minimal, and often very long, works of music he performs and records.

Listen to The Next Track: Episode #66 — Minimalist Pianist R. Andrew Lee.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at The Next Track website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @NextTrackCast, to keep up to date with new episodes, and new articles from the website.

The Next Track, Episode #46 – Percussionist Colin Currie on Performing and Recording Steve Reich’s Drumming

The Next Track Blue Flat Button2 400pxWe talk with percussionist Colin Currie, who discusses performing and recording Steve Reich’s seminal minimalist work Drumming.

Listen to The Next Track: Episode #46 – Percussionist Colin Currie on Performing and Recording Steve Reich’s Drumming.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at The Next Track website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @NextTrackCast, to keep up to date with new episodes, and new articles from the website.

Coming Soon: Box Set of Philip Glass’s Complete Sony Recordings

I’m a big fan of minimalism, and have been since I first discovered Steve Reich’s music back in the late 1970s. I like much of Reich’s music, and am a bit less enamored of Philip Glass’s compositions, but I like a lot of his early music. Sony is releasing a 24-CD box set of Philip Glass’s complete recordings with that label. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

Glass box set

The set contains Glassworks, the disc that found early popularity, works like Einstein on the Beach (the original recording), The Photographer, his wonderful Solo Piano album, and Koyannisqatsi, the soundtrack for the documentary that sealed his reputation as a skilled composer of movie soundtracks.

Glass later discovered that repetition not only within works but from work to work was a viable alternative, and, founding his own label, Orange Mountain Music, went on to release dozens of CDs of his works. You can even get a box set of his ten symphonies, if you want to discover his later music. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

I’m not much of a fan of the later music, and I feel that by the late 1980s, Glass had said pretty much all he had to say. As such, this is an essential box set, and I’ll be picking it up.

Read what I’ve written about Einstein on the Beach: here, here, and here.

Oh, and if you want more Glass, the recent revival of Einstein on the Beach has just been released on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach Now Available on DVD and Blu-Ray

Einstein blu rayI’ve long liked Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach. I saw the 1984 revival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and was mesmerized by it. In 2014, the opera was revived again, and it toured a number of venues. Performances at the Théâtre du Châtelet, in Paris, were filmed, and, at the time, streamable on the internet. Now this film is available on DVD and Blu-Ray. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

It’s an important work in avant-garde theater and opera, and in music. Finally, we can see an excellent performance of this work at home.

Oh, and if you like Philip Glass, there’s a new box set of his Sony recordings.

Becoming a Human Metronome — R. Andrew Lee

Quarter note equals 59.225 beats per minute. That remains the oddest metronome marking I’ve encountered in my admittedly short career. The reason Tom Johnson used that tempo for An Hour for Piano is easy enough to deduce–he wrote a piece that was 3,553.5 beats long and wanted it to have a final duration of exactly one hour (3553.5 beats / 60 min = 59.225 bpm)–but to understand why the tempo remains unwavering and why an hour is important, we have to turn to the man himself.

Andy Lee on recording Tom Johnson’s An Hour for Piano, which should be exactly 60 minutes long. Fascinating stuff. It’s a wonderful piece of music too.

You can also read my interview with Andy Lee.

Source: Becoming a Human Metronome — R. Andrew Lee

New Music: Adrian Night, Obsessions, Performed by R. Andrew Lee

Knight obsessionsPianist R. Andrew Lee has carved out a unique space in contemporary music playing minimalist works, and especially some that are extremely long, such as Dennis Johnson’s nearly five-hour November. He also crowdfunded a project, back in 2014, called Music of a Considerable Duration, to fund the recording of some other very long works. (You can read an interview with R. Andrew Lee that I published in 2014.)

Andy has released his tenth album on the Irritable Hedgehog recording, featuring a 47-minute work by Adrian Knight called Obsessions. In the notes for this recording, Knight says:

“a summary of a bunch of different directions that I’ve been trying out, what I like to think of as a harmonic labyrinth. There’s an equal-weightedness to each harmony, there’s a kind of push and pull that happens. I’m curious about chords that could go a number of different ways, and have a number of different types of functionality.”

This work is redolent of Morton Feldman, notably such later piano works as Triadic Memories. The first half of the work is a sort of see-saw between two or three chords, exploring the spaces between two different chords. As in Feldman’s music, there is a hint of dissonance, but the work is essentially tonal. About halfway through the piece, the tone changes, and instead of simple chords, there are more runs and short melodies that add to the music; the apparent simplicity of the harmonies becomes richer and more complex. And in the final section, the work offers a melodic series of chords that seem to form a brief, repeating narrative.

As with Lee’s other recordings, this one has impeccable sound, with the piano sounding as though it was closely miked, yet with excellent clarity. You can buy it by download or on CD from Irritable Hedgehog, and Lee’s other albums – this is his tenth – are on sale for the next month. If you’re a fan of this type of minimalist music, you will like this album. And if you haven’t discovered Lee’s recordings, this is a good chance to hear some music you probably haven’t encountered before.

Max Richter’s 8-Hour Composition, Sleep, Available by Download

Richter sleepComposer Max Richter has recorded an 8-hour composition called Sleep, which is intended to be, as the composer says, “actually and genuinely intended to send the listener to sleep.” It’s a long lullaby, designed to sleep through.

At least that’s the hook to get people talking about it. It’s actually an attractive ambient composition for piano, strings, electronics, and vocals.

I haven’t heard the full version yet; you can get the one-hour version on CD (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), or stream it on Apple Music, and it’s very nice.

But if you want the full version, you can get that too, but only by download from the iTunes Store. It’s $35, which is a fair price for an 8+ hour piece of music.

At that length, it might be a bit redundant, but I’m a sucker for long works of music, such as the many long works by Morton Feldman, or piano works like the 4-hour November, by Dennis Johnson. So the idea of a long work intrigues me. Note that it’s not one single uninterrupted piece; it’s a number of short pieces that run together. So you may not like it all, but there may be a lot that you do enjoy.

In any case, if you want a nice, long recording of ambient music, check out Sleep.

CD Notes: Music in Twelve Parts, by Philip Glass

Musit in twelve partsReading Philip Glass's memoir Words Without Music, recently, I realized that I didn't have a recording of his seminal Music in Twelve Parts, a work Glass composed between 1971 and 1974. This music was written in a style similar to that of much of Einstein on the Beach, which is the Philip Glass music I like best (along with his solo piano pieces). So I bought the 2006 live recording that Glass made for his own label, Orange Mountain Music. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) This set is on four discs, and runs for 3:24.

When Glass wrote this work, it was just the first part, and the title referred to the twelve lines of counterpoint in the piece. But someone he played it for asked him where the other eleven parts were, and he decided to writ them. Glass has said, about this work, "It was a breakthrough for me and contains many of the structural and harmonic ideas that would be fleshed out in my later works. It is a modular work, one of the first such compositions, with twelve distinct parts which can be performed separately, in one long sequence, or in any combination or variation."

The piece is scored for three electric organs, two flutes, four saxophones (two soprano, one alto, one tenor) and one female voice. Only the organ is heard throughout; each "part" uses a different combination of instruments, with seven musicians playing, and one engineer doing the live sound mix.

It's a fascinating work, which shows the range of what Glass's minimalism was like in the early 1970s. Each of the parts is different, yet they share the same rhythm. Like all of this music, it's not for everyone; and you might find that some of the parts aren't to your liking. When I listen to Einstein on the Beach, there are parts I don't care for, and skip: the ones with the really loud, harsh organ. There's not much of that here, but there are a couple of parts with a similar sound.

In any case, if you like minimalist music, and aren't familiar with this work, it's one to hear.

Watch a Video of Philip Glass Discussing His Memoir, Words Without Music

I’ve just started reading Philip Glass’s memoir, Words Without Music. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) It’s quite timely that Google has posted a video of him giving a talk at Google about the book, and his life. So far, the book is interesting, but Glass is not a very good writer, and the prose is a bit turgid. But he’s got lots of interesting tales to tell.