Philip Glass - The New Frontier in The Age of Aquarius
By: Brad Kronen
And now, South Park Elementary presents the happy, non-offensive, non-denominational Christmas Play, with music and lyrics by New York minimalist composer, Philip Glass!
[Philip Glass moves into position and begins playing his keyboards. The curtains draw back, and the kids look out at the audience. They begin to move around]
Voice-over: As I turn and look into the sun, the rays burn my eyes [a track saying "Happy Happy Happy, Everybody Happy" is added, along with an arpeggio. Members of the audience look confused] How like a turtle the sun looks.
Sheila Broflovski: What the hell is this??? [The kids just keep moving and turning] This is horrible!!!
Priest: This is the most God-awful piece of crap I've ever seen!!
ar⋅peg⋅gi⋅o - noun
1. the sounding of the notes of a chord in rapid succession instead of simultaneously.
2. a chord thus sounded.
Also called: BROKEN CHORD.
The Simpsons – Episode “A Milhouse Divided”
Gripped by the fear that his marriage may be as ill fated as his newly divorced neighbors, The Milhouses, Homer pulls out every stop to show Marge that their matrimonial bonds are still strong....even if it means pretending to be cultural.
Homer: “Look Marge! “An Evening with Philip Glass”
Just an evening?”
No cultured person should leave home without being able to reference something from an extensive and ever growing body of work from the man considered to be the contemporary world’s “greatest living composer.”
Even though I had a career as an opera singer, my exposure to any kind of non-mainstream music was by self exploration. And when I first began my trek of foraging into that vast, unchartered frontier that IS classical music, nothing would make me run for cover faster than hearing the words “Philip Glass”.
While exploring any kind of unfamiliar frontier, should something be spotted within the peripheral vision that is deemed to be threatening, the male species of explorer will quickly attempt to cover his insecurity, lack of knowledge, or fear by loudly stating his false dominance of the area to all creatures within the sound of his voice:
“Philip Glass? I’m sorry, but I like listening to music.”
“O, so just because a bunch of people who wear a lot of black and call themselves “minimalists” deem that Glass guy’s stuff as “Art” automatically means I should too? I don’t think so.”
Even after doing a quick roundabout of this wild and foreign frontier by hearing a snippet of music from “Einstein on the Beach” or giving a short Glassian piano concerto a full listen through, I still felt the need to place myself in a superior position that was impervious to any kind of modern musical sphere of influence whenever I would smugly sum up Glass’ entire lexicon of work by calling him “The Arpeggio King”.
Well folks, I’m here to tell you that not only does “The Arpeggio King” rule the new frontier of where classical music is headed in the 21st century, but that Philip Glass IS the new frontier!
True brilliance, be it artistic, scientific, philosophical, or otherwise is usually comprised of thoughts which have never been thought of before (Inventiveness) or are created WAY ahead of their time (Futurism). And all of these qualities; Mental Brilliance, Inventive Genius, and Futuristic Foresight are under the domain of that most decidedly different of planets - Uranus.
With that in mind, how could Philip Glass be born under ANY other sign other than that which is Uranian to the core – Aquarius?
Could it be that anything hinting of futurism produces a human knee jerk reaction of dread filled caution, simply because “the unknown” will most likely have to be addressed? Upon my decision to make Philip Glass the focal theme of a writing piece dedicated to the influences of the planet Uranus and the sign it rules over, Aquarius, I was quite surprised to find myself in a delusional quandary over not knowing where to start looking for reference material, since this most esteemed of contemporary composers was so prolific, there would be the strong liklihood that reams of his music would emerge of which I had yet to even hear, let alone become acquainted with…….
Remembering Uranus to be the planet of "out of the blue" events, I swallowed my irrational fear of the musical unknown and decided to look into whichever interview my wandering finger should land upon after printing a long list of interviews with the composer, closing my eyes, and randomly pointing. The interview my finger stumbled upon not only turned out to be a gold mine of all things Uranian and Aquarian, but lo! the Uranian artform known as Astrology itself was also crammed into a 59 minute interview from April of 2009 with Pulitzer Prize music critic, Tim Page.
I planned on taking notes or referencing direct quotes from that interview which pertained only to Uranian themes. A mere 4 minutes would pass before realizing I was pretty much transcribing every word.
Here are the main Uranian highlights from this most far thinking of Aquarians:
Glass: “Very early on, (1963) I got interested in what we call “global” or “world” music.”
This quote indicates the Uranian sensibility of extending the domain of the Uranian ruled 11th house of “the group” and extending it to humanity at large. Ummm, Didn’t world music start around the time those global Benetton ads were big in the early 90’s?
For the rest of us… possibly. For the Uranian futurist, 30 years earlier.
Glass: “In my encounters with world music, I came to the conclusion that all music was actually ethnic music.”
The Uranian “Gestalt” perspective of taking diverse and unique parts and blending them into an equanimous whole known as Utopia. (and still way back and way before anyone else would catch on in 1963!)
Comments made by Glass regarding his reactionary work early in his composing career, "Music In Similar Motion", which rebelled against his Principles of Harmony Professor
Glass: “I began to write music that was the opposite. But of course being the opposite of course is being the same.”
The “Principle of Duality” - one of, if not the biggest source of mental stimulation for not just the Uranian personality and the sign of Aquarius, but for all of the Air signs at large (Gemini, Libra).
Glass: (Regarding “Music In Similar Motion”) I was taking another look at harmony. I began inventing a musical language.
Necessity may be the cause for the rest of us, but for the Uranian person, rebellion and genius are the mothers of invention, a term which is the essence of that planet, since an invention is a creation based on thoughts that had never been previously thought before.
Glass: “To break the rules rigorously is to follow them unfailingly.”
Duality in motion! It must be noted that Aquarius is the one sign who, in this country especially, will resolutely and fixedly choose to live outside of society’s parameters, resulting in the rest of us considering them outlaws and even anarchists, when, in reality, they are living within a structure of life rife with the most dogmatic of self imposed rules.
Mr. Page went on to ask Glass what music he was currently working on now. Glass replied, “I’m working on an opera based on the life of the ASTROLOGER, astronomer Kepler.”
Glass then expounded upon his choice of subject matter for his operas over the years:
Glass: “I’ve been very drawn to figures in science: there was, of course, Einstein, (his opera, Einstein on the Beach) there’s Galileo (his opera, Galileo Galile) and I did a score for a film about Stephen Hawking called “A Brief History of Time”, so now the Kepler.”
The highly analytical study of tangible facts called “Science” is, itself, under the domain of Uranus. The “Scientific Method” in actuality, is an exercise in Prediction, since it takes Uranus’ genius of the rational mind and combines it with Uranian futurism by having the scientist “predict” or deduct the future based on the overall analysis of his or her experimental methods.
Comments made by Glass regarding his opera, "Kepler"
Glass: “Then there’s a whole side of Kepler which is completely bonkers by scientific standards but yet from the side of the dreamer, the poet...”
Glass goes on to talk about a pivotal event in Kepler’s life regarding a thwarted invasion of the Turks on Austria due to Kepler’s astrological predictions:
Glass: “By luck, maybe it wasn’t luck, He managed to predict the invasion of the Turks across the Austrian border, the place and the date and he informed the government of that. And By God! The Turks showed up on the exact day and time that Kepler predicted!”
Glass then finishes Kepler’s tale by telling the audience what befell the astronomer after his application of Astrology with events that did indeed come to pass:
Glass: “His living was made for life. He did it through astrology, or so he says.”
And just when Brad thought he was safe....
Glass: “He had an astrological chart that predicted that. And from that moment on he (Kepler) could make his living doing charts, which he hated. He hated doing it but that’s how he made his living. That was his cab driving in those days.”
For those of you who don’t even know me from a hole in the wall, take a mental leap and try to picture my facial expression at this point of the interview..... By the way, the phrase “cab driving” is self referential. That was Glass’ “modus of torture” whilst surviving as a struggling composer in NYC in the late 60’s and 70’s
.….At least he didn’t get stuck with that chump job of doing charts.
Upon completion of random chortles and tittering coming from the audience in the overall scoffing of astrology, Glass intimates that after “Kepler”, he is practically confirmed on what the subject matter of his next opera will be.
An opera dealing with the end of the life of a person whom I myself have brought up on numerous occasions, personally bequeathing him “one of the most evil people in History.”
You guessed it! WALT DISNEY!
Here I must interject again by saying that at the time of the interview, Uranus was by transit in the sign of Pisces, the sign of fantasy and delusion. The genius of the Uranian mind is to mentally pick up the overall zeitgeist, or feeling of the times, since Uranus is the planet of rebellion with the goal of egalitarianism in mind. Back to the horror that is Disney:
Glass: “I was propositioned to write about Disney by the author of the latest book about him called “Walt Disney “The Perfect American” (Brad is frozen in a screeching silent scream) Disney is another one of these guys: feet in the mud, head in the clouds.
Glass theorized in true Aquarian dualistic fashion how fascinating it was that the man so deified for work that he essentially did not do, was the same man who was openly proud that the only women allowed in his buildings were secretaries and the only African Americans allowed on the Disney Studio premises were there to trim the grass. The composer then captured the overall zeitgeist of his planetary ruler’s positioning at that time in the sign of delusion, deception, idealism, fantasy and of film itself by making this powerful statement:
“Walt Disney is responsible for a global fantasy.”
Kind of sums up the overall feel of Uranus transiting through the last of the water signs quite effectively, I must say.
I attended a staged performance of the opera “White Raven” by Philip Glass at The Brooklyn Academy of Music and it changed the way I actually “see” music. The opera touches upon discoveries throughout time, beginning with the expeditions of the Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama. The music I chose from this amazing work to represent the futuristic and inventive dynamics of the planet Uranus ironically takes place in the distant past, but upon hearing the music performed and especially seeing it in a live venue, the scene produces an atmosphere of electrical tension where all of one’s senses are on vigilant guard.
The scene takes place at the court of the King and Queen of Portugal, Manuel I and Isabella, in the year 1503. Vasco Da Gama has just returned from his 2nd momentous voyage where he daringly ventured around the Cape of Good Hope to the Indian Ocean over to Calcutta, down to Ethiopa and the eastern coastline of Africa, and back again to Portugal.
Despite da Gama’s horrific acts of violence and aggression against both Muslims and Hindus, his voyage is a triumphant success, mainly from the looting and pillaging of goods from the victims of his attacks. The discoverer tells his Queen with great pomp and majesty of the various spices he came upon that were never heard of before such as Cinnamon, Cloves, Ginger and Nutmeg; hitherto unbeknownst food stuffs such as Walnuts and Peppers; plus newly found land which bears vast deposits of silver, gold, rubies, sapphires, as well as coastline yielding pearls and other precious stones – all claimed for Portugal.
The discoverer also relays to his monarch the suffering and tragedies he bore witness to; such as the sick and dying conditions of most of the colonists on the island of Goa, the victims of the many Muslim attacks of jihad in Mozambique, the decay and disrepair of his fleet of ships from his first Expedition, and most ominously “La Ruina de Costada”, the man made ruining of the Coast. The Queen commends da Gama, and promises to relay his findings to the King.
The music begins just after da Gama has left the court and The Queen is approaching King Manuel. Isabella begins by repeating the new names of food and spices that da Gama has just enlightened her of, and she announces them in an almost suspended dream like state which hints of both fascination and trepidation. She then proclaims the list of jewels and precious stones that the explorer has brought back to Portugal with him. There is a very pregnant hesitation before the Queen informs the King that along with all these strange and new things, da Gama has come upon unchartered lands rich in natural deposits of silver and gold and has claimed them all in the name of Portugal.
King Manuel doesn't bother to even look in the Queen’s direction. Instead, the monarch stands transfixed in a haze of gluttony and sheer greed as he begins to state out loud the additions of royal titles to his name, as well as the names of the lands he now rules over as King of an ever expanding empire.
We sense that Isabella saw this coming all along as far as her husband’s one track focus on riches and power are concerned. She immediately speaks over Manuel’s musings of now being “Lord of Guinea and of all Navigation and Commerce" by attempting to relay the pain and sorrow da Gama has witnessed, but to no avail. The Queen reverts to her dreamlike state of nervously fascinated wonder and dread as when she first bore her tidings, and exits declaring the names of the spices that have barely just been added to her schemata of all that is part of this brave and terrible New World.
In this very short range of performance time, Glass’ music puts our minds into the motion of the space/time continuum by creating a dynamic of mental energy that is filled with both awed wonder with the discovery of all things new, as well as electrified dread from the foreshadowing of heartache that has yet to befall both humanity and the planet itself.
And speaking of continuums, I’ll end this piece by bringing us full circle back to my interview of random choice, with a statement made by Mr. Glass which moves us from the modern day forward into all that is futuristic. Towards the end of the evening's discourse, the Aquarian looked the interviewer square in the eye and proclaimed:
“I’ve discovered a new frontier. The new frontier for me is classical music.”
For the rest of us, the new frontier is Philip Glass, himself, since his music foretells of our future as a global whole, and is the voice of the newly reigned Age of Aquarius.
In honor of the Maestro's 76th birthday: January 31st, 1937 - January 31st, 2013
*Link to hear the April 16th, 2009 interview of “In Conversation: Philip Glass and Tim Page”