Philip Glass

Philip Glass: North Star

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After releasing Music for Fifths on his own label, Chatham Square, Glass found his entry into a major art pop label with his first film score, for a 1975 documentary about the assemblage artist Mark di Suvero. In fact, "Victor's Lament" is named for a steel I-beam structure created by di Suvero for the Muhlenberg College campus in 1970. But unlike the movie music to come, these brief tunes are nothing to make out or meditate to. After the Ensemble's developing virtuosity with the minimalist structures doesn't overlook the ability of a trashy organ sound to fray the edges of a fugue: check out the see-sawing chromatic runs and pumped organ chords of "Ange Des Orages." The vocalists, led by Joan LaBarbara, are a reminder that the minimalist strain has its choral component, even though synthesizers and orchestras dominate the genre. In one example, "Ave" sets a tricky LaBarbara figure against a chorus chanting a three-note "Dolce Vina" (or something like that) against yet another back chant. It sounds like a spoof of a madrigal, only funnier. North Star stands in sharp contrast with Virgin's British art rock bands of the '70s. Where National Health and Matching Mole displayed principled mock jazzy expansion, Glass' brevity cuts his cyclical arpeggios and ostinatos at their peak of intensity. And if you insist that Glass' main contribution to keyboard art was raising the cell phone ringer to symphonic scale, give the Ensemble's reedmen some credit. "Are Years What? (For Marianne Moore)" is a rare Glass woodwind feature, a beautiful tumble of voicings in thirds, fifths, whatever, that suggest a vocal drone but contain none.

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