Philip Glass - Early Keyboard

Philip Glass – “Early Keyboard Music”;
Contrary Motion” (1969) – “One+One” 1st version (1968) – “Mad Rush” (1979) – “One+One” 2nd version (1968) – “Two Pages” (1968)
Steffen Schleiermacher [electric organ, table]
Dabringhaus und Grimm MDG 613 1027-2. Duration: 73:10

Steffen Schleiermacher's homepage

To hear this new CD with the early keyboard works of Philip Glass intensely and intuitively interpreted by Steffen Schleiermacher awakens many feelings, many thoughts – and dreamy visions… It’s like having a second stroll through those halls of mirrors, those magic works of early repetitive, “minimalistic” works of illusions, like Steve Reich’s “Come Out” (1966), “Piano Phase” (1967), “Four Organs” (1970), “Phase Patterns” (1970) or the magnificent “Drumming” (1974) – or Terry Riley’s dream beyond comprehension; “Persian Surgery Dervishes” (1971 & 1972), and his gallant “A Rainbow In Curved Air” (1969) plus his eastern visions in just intonation on the album “Shri Camel” (1980). In short, we’re back in dreamy states of a time of masterminded innocence, of fruitful experimentation with hallucinatory perceptual phase shifts, of a seemingly endless journey through the nuances of timbre and rhythm and auditory frontier land.

Steffen Schleiermacher

Steffen Schleiermacher – very well known from his masterly recordings of the piano works of John Cage on the same label - Dabringhaus und Grimm – is apt and up to it on the organ too, and I doubt if the sound could have been more expertly recorded, as it fills the room with the deep vibrancy of the fleeting intervals of Philip Glass’ composition.
On listening to “
Contrary Motion” – track 1 on the CD – I am immediately struck by the perfect understanding that Schleiermacher apparently and obviously has of this tradition from the 1960s. His interpretation and the magnificent sound of the recording make me feel like I’m rediscovering a whole idiom of gone-by idioms and musical cross-references, in a full-fledged digitally enhanced and contoured interpretation of a contemporary who stops at nothing to hand us the ultimate version.

Contrary Motion” also gives me direct associations to Philip Glass’ wondrous music for the film “Koyaanisqatsi”, which I heard for the first time in a small movie theater in Stockholm in January of 1985. Some of the sub-murmurs, the infrasound – and the repetitive danger of “Koyaanisqatsi” (which interpreted a Hopi indian prophecy of the end of a stage, a period – maybe even of human history) spills over into Steffen Schleiermacher’s rendering of “Contrary Motion”, and in light of the dark and desperate passages in New York’s Manhattan these days, the scenes of collapsing societies in “Koyaanisqatsi” – seen on a backdrop of age-old Hopi prophecies and eons of time – take on a deeper significance, a darker hue, as I listen in a staggering feeling of ominous forebodings… as the organ’s repetitious warnings roll on in thick layers of sound, the compressed air devastating in its force of inherent inertia, unstoppable in its long ocean-like dunes, from which minute fractions of sounds glitter and reflect like the bliss of medieval convictions in a time of the great plague; scary, and very, very tempting… with fragrances and scents of erotism and death…

Another piece that offers up a somewhat similar – but maybe more optimistic, meditative – organ view is Steve Ingham’s spellbinding “
Forging”, which I heard in a broadcast from Oscarskyrkan (a church) in Stockholm in 1986. It really forges the music in a way that very well might bring resemblances of workers at a steel mill forging big sheets of steel, with the light from their welding mouthpieces casting flickering shadows way up on the mighty walls, while overhead traveling cranes move up under the ceiling like ancient beasts lurking - and this feeling hovers inside “Contrary Motion” too.

Mad Rush”, though also reminiscent of the works on the album “Koyaanisqatsi”, is maybe more in analogy with the period when Glass issued the album “North Star” (1977). It was originally written for His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s first public appearance in New York. This piece has a thinner, more spacious, transparent shroud than “Contrary Motion”, but it has a variational progression, with the more still, thinned out, meditative, reflecting tones of lighter pitches being relieved at times by the full force, hectic power of the electric organ.

Two Pages” is the longest of the pieces presented with its in excess of 27 minutes. It is one of those works wherein layers of music are drifting, shifting, causing non-existent timbres or rhythms to be “hallucinated” by the peculiarities of our perception. It is very cleverly done in Steffen Schleiermacher’s magic rendering, elevating you into states of weightless soaring above the mirror-like surface of the eye of the soul, carrying you ever inwards, as layer after layer of protective shields of disappointment and hurt are peeling off into a stillness of wooden icons in hid-away gray churches of Orthodox Russia, in a John Lennon-like nakedness of honesty…
You hear the silvery ring of little bells of bliss deep inside these layers of golden that spread the magical dust of fairies across your senses…

The two pieces that are called “
One+One” are performed from a Glass score, which sets two basic rhythmic cells with the instruction to beat them out in a fast basic tempo on a tabletop. It makes me think of Steve Reich’s “Clapping Music” (1972) – and of course the composers of the so-called minimalistic music were very interested in rhythms and patterns.

There are very learned essays by Steffen Schleiermacher – full of the insights of a musician and a thinker – in the CD booklet, to which I direct the audience for further study.

This CD with early repetitive organ pieces by one of the original composers in this idiom, brilliantly performed by Steffen Schleiermacher, has been a revelation to me, again focusing my attention on the inherent strength and soaring beauty that flourish and flower inside these scores.