Philip Glass: Music in Eight Parts
Lisa Bielawa (voice), Peter Hess (tenor and soprano saxophones), Michael Riesman (keyboard), Mick Rossi (keyboard), Andrew Sterman (soprano saxophone)
Recording: Studio D, New York (April 2020) – 22’
Orange Mountain Music
A fascinating, timely story lies behind this premiere recording of Philip Glass’ Music in Eight Parts. A lost manuscript, an auction, rediscovered archival audio, and the COVID-19 outbreak all play a part in this important glimpse into the early, purist minimalism that would, soon after this work’s composition, blossom into a “mature” Philip Glass, of Einstein on the Beach and Music in 12 Parts.
Like other iconic works of late 1960s/early 1970s minimalism (think Terry Riley’s In C, Steve Reich’s Piano Phase), Music in Eight Parts is monolithic, unrelenting in its 22-minute expanse, and mesmerizing through and through. A steady, mostly monophonic stream of notes fills the time, with a few dramatic changes in the piece's progress—a tempo change about one-third of the way in, the addition of a lower octave about midway through. These aren’t particular structural markers, and the piece, in true minimalist fashion, is not goal oriented in any traditional way.
Many questions enter my mind when listening to such works. What is the pattern? What is the process? Are these lines meandering or strictly organized? A glance at the recovered manuscript of Music in Eight Parts shows the meticulous organization, the true logic behind the sound.
The unconventional sound and performance discipline of Glass’ music caused him, like several of his colleagues, to found his own ensemble, the Philip Glass Ensemble, in 1968. That ensemble has persisted and five of its performers are engaged for the current release. Each musician recorded their parts separately, and keyboardist Michael Riesman mixed and mastered it all. The process makes a perfectly polished rendition of the piece, each part perfectly balanced. The result sounds “of an era,” the bright sawtooth waves of the keyboards popping out here and there from Lisa Bielawa’s ultra-precise solfège.
This is a niche recording, for sure. Those interested in early minimalism, and especially Glass’ unmistakable voice, will not be disappointed by this addition the vast catalogue of superb recordings of the composer’s works. The dedication of all involved is admirable and one hopes future live performances of this work, by these performers and others, will be possible sooner rather than later.
Marcus Karl Maroney