Philip Glass: Music’s New Frontier in the Age of Aquarius

Philip Glass Word

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 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 a repeated 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!!

South Park, Season 1, Episode 9
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arpeggio – 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.
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The Simpsons, Episode # 159 – “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 their matrimonial bond is still strong….even if it means pretending to be cultural.

Homer: “Look Marge! An Evening with Philip Glass! Just an evening?”
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Philip Glass.

No cultured person should ever leave home without being able to reference something from the extensive and ever growing body of work from the man considered to be the world’s “greatest living composer.”

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”.

When dealing with anything deemed to be either unknown or unfamiliar, the male species of explorer will attempt to cover his insecurity, lack of knowledge, or  overall fear by declaring his false dominance to all within the sound of his voice:

“Philip Glass? I’m sorry, but I like listening to actual music.”

“So, just because some cutting edge types who wear all black and call themselves “minimalists” classify 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  from “Einstein on the Beach” or giving a Glassian piano concerto a full listen through, I still felt the need to write off any kind of classical music that was considered “modern”. I reinforced this false perception by smugly calling the most prolific composer of modern classical music as “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 ideas which have never been thought of before (Inventiveness) or are created WAY ahead of their time (Futuristic). And all of these qualities – mental brilliance, inventive genius, and futuristic foresight are housed beneath the domain of that most decidedly different of planets – Uranus.

With that in mind, how could the icon of modern classical music be born under ANY other sign than that which is Uranian to the core – Aquarius?

Even after deciding to write a piece about the master of modern classical music I found myself in a quandary over not knowing where to start looking for reference material. Determined to conquer my irrational fear of the musical unknown, I decided to randomly choose whatever my wandering finger should land upon after printing out 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 things both Uranian and Aquarian, and lo! the Uranus ruled ancient study otherwise known as Astrology itself was also included in a 59 minute discussion from February of 2009 (on the last day of Aquarius to be exact) where Philip Glass is interviewed by Pulitzer Prize winning critic, Tim Page.

My plan was to  take notes or reference direct quotes from the interview that specifically pertained 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 Aquarian 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, better known as Utopia. (and still way back before anyone else would catch on back 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 personality, rebellion and innovation are the mothers of invention, a process which mirrors the very essence of the futuristic planet, since an invention is a creation based on ideas that had never been dealt with previously.

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 choose to live outside of society’s parameters, resulting in the rest of us considering them outlaws and even anarchists, when in reality, they live within a structure with even more self imposed dogmatic rules than the government could ever hope to instill.

When asked what music he was currently working on at that point in time, Glass replied, “I’m working on an opera based on the life of the astrologer/astronomer Kepler.

The composer 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 Galilei) 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 the genius of the rational mind and combines it with Uranian futurism by having the scientist “predict” 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 indeed came 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.”

By the way, Mr. Glass’ use of the phrase “cab driving” is self referential. Driving a cab was his own “modus of torture” while 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 having to do astrological charts.

Upon completion of the random chortles and tittering coming from the audience while scoffing 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 prominent figure in Western culture – Walt Disney.

At the time of the interview, Uranus was transiting through Pisces, the sign of fantasy, delusion, and of cartoons, themselves. The genius of the Uranian mind is to mentally absorb the overall zeitgeist, or trend of the times, since Uranus is the planet of rebellion with the goal of egalitarianism in mind. Returning once more to the horror that is Walt Disney:

Glass: “I was propositioned to write about Disney by the author of the latest book about him called “Walt Disney, The Perfect American”. Disney is another one of these guys: feet in the mud, head in the clouds.

Glass theorized in Air signed dualistic fashion how fascinating it was that the man so deified for work that he essentially did not do was the same man who openly stated 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 summed up the overall zeitgeist of his planetary ruler’s positioning at that time in the sign of delusion, fantasy, cartoons, and film itself by making the following statement:

“Walt Disney is responsible for a global fantasy.”

White Raven

I attended a staged performance of the opera “White Raven” or “Corvo Branco” in Portuguese by Philip Glass at The Brooklyn Academy of Music.  The piece literally changed the way I experience music as well as altered my perception regarding the structure of opera, itself.  This particular piece touches upon discoveries made over the course of history, beginning with the expeditions of the Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama. The music I chose from this Glassian piece of musical innovation represents the  inventive dynamics of Uranian futurism which dualistically take place in the distant past.  When heard in a live venue, the performed scene created an atmosphere of electrical tension where all of one’s senses were put on vigilant guard.

The action takes place at the court of the King and Queen of Portugal (video below), 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 Ethiopia and the eastern coastline of Africa, and back again to Portugal.

Despite acts of violence and aggression taken by da Gama and his crew against both Muslims and Hindus, the voyage is a triumphant success, mainly from the looting and pillaging of goods from the victims they encountered. The explorer informs his Queen with great pomp and majesty of the various spices he came upon during his voyage that were hitherto unknown in the Western World such as cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg; food stuffs never before heard of by the names of walnuts and peppers; along with newly found land rich in vast deposits of silver, gold, rubies, sapphires, as well as coastline yielding pearls and other precious stones – all being claimed in the name of Portugal.

da Gama also relays to his Queen the suffering and tragedies he bore witness to over the course of his most recent odyssey such as the sick and dying conditions of many of the colonists on the island of Goa, the victims of Muslim attacks of jihad in Mozambique, and ominously “la ruina de costada”, the man made ruining of the Coast. The Queen commends da Gama and promises to relay the explorer’s findings to the King.

The music begins just after da Gama has taken his leave of the royal court as the Queen is about to approach King Manuel. Isabella repeats the new names of food and spices that da Gama has just enlightened her of, saying them in an almost suspended dream like state that hints of both fascination and trepidation. She then announces to her husband the list of jewels and precious stones that the explorer has brought back to Portugal. There is a very pregnant pause of 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, claiming them all in Portugal’s name.

The King doesn’t bother to even look toward his wife’s general direction. Instead, Manuel stands transfixed in a haze of gluttony and greed as he begins declaring the additions of royal title to his name, along with announcing the lands he now rules over as King of an ever expanding empire.

We sense 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 somnambular state of nervously fascinated wonder interwoven with grim foreboding as she takes leave of her husband, dreamily repeating the names of the spices that have just been added to her schemata of this brave and terrible New World.

Within this short range of performance time, Glass’ music moves the listener forward into the space/time continuum by creating a dynamic of mental energy awed by the discovery of that which is new and unknown, yet electrified with dread from the foreshadowing of heartache which has yet to befall both humanity and our planet at large.

To bring the space/time continuum back to full circle, I’ll end this piece by returning once more to my randomly chosen interview with a statement made by the incomparable Mr. Glass that serves as propulsion fuel for modern day society as we move forward into the unfolding future.  Towards the end of the conversation, the Aquarian composer looks the interviewer square in the eye and proclaims:

“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 foresees our future going forward as a global whole and is the voice of the newly reigned Age of Aquarius.

In Conversation: Philip Glass & Tim Page, April 2009

Canela e Clavo” in English “Cinnamon & Cloves“from Philip Glass’ opera “White Raven” sung by Ana Paula Russo as Queen Isabella and Yuri Batukov as King Manuel I of Portugal.

 

 

*Brad Kronen’s book “Love in the Stars” published by Llewellyn Worldwide, Inc.  is available for purchase at your local book seller or online at amazon.com at the link listed below.

Brad Kronen’s guide on Astrology and Relationships “Love in the Stars” for purchase on amazon.com

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