Glass as Romantic (1981-Style)

I’m back from the Einstein on the Beach festivities in Amsterdam, and Friday at 3 I’ll be giving a reading from my 4’33″ book at the National Academy Museum in New York City. [No, I won't stand there without saying anything. Ha-ha.]

UPDATE: You can ignore the following. Frank Oteri wants to put my Einstein analysis on New Music Box, where it will reach a wider audience. Going commercial, at whatever modest level, is always better than going academic when you have the chance, if you can do so without compromises. So I’ve pulled the article off my website, and will announce when it’s on NMBx.

As for my paper on Einstein, I decided for now not to blog it, but to put it up on my web site, so you’ll find “Intuition and Algorithm in Einstein on the Beach” there. I’ve seen a lot of scholars post scholarly articles on their web sites, and it strikes me that it carries just a touch more gravitas than doing it on one’s blog. It would be nice to have it in a journal somewhere and be an official Phil Glass scholar, but it’s kind of an empty credential to play off against the advantage of people finding it easily on Google. As I’ve said before, I’m all for peer-review in principle, but it’s kind of a double-edged sword. The purpose of peer review is to make everyone conform, meaning 1. making everyone conform to the facts, which is great, and I’m happy to be fact-checked and have typos caught; and 2. making everyone conform to the conventions of academic writing, which can be deadly awful. Depending what “peers” review me (and while thousands of people write as well as or better than I do, only a handful of them are musicologists), I am likely to be told not to be so breezy, casual, and journalistic, and that I ought to be more interpretive, and properly mention Deleuze, and throw in some critical theory, and all that crap. I really think that after one’s published a certain number of books from academic presses (let’s just say five, for the sake of argument) one should get a permanent free pass from peer-review, and have one’s writings accepted verbatim thereafter. But, that’s what the internet’s for, right? The masses will, in time, catch my miscalculations and typos. I can’t quite believe that no one else has yet compared the two Dances in Einstein, but I couldn’t find it elsewhere, and perhaps someone will bring such a case to my attention. If not, now it’s been done.

UPDATE: And I’ve been remiss in not thanking Juhani Nuorvala for the nice Tom Johnson quote, which I used prominently.


Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on RedditEmail this to someone


  1. says

    You’re welcome, Kyle – I’m glad that you found use for the quote in your excellent paper!
    I have two questions. First, you write about systems that “prevent the listener from gaining a firm sense of what the patterning is” or that “can be interpreted as probably following some pattern too complex to tease out by ear”. Doesn’t this come very close to your definition of post-minimalism, in connection with Duckworth et al? This would be in line with what Glass has always claimed, ie. that by the time he wrote Einstein, he’d already left Minimalism behind. Second, you’ve often written that the music of the Bed scene is especially appealing to you. As becomes clear from your paper, that’s precisely the “old school minimalist” section of Einstein. Could you share some light on this? Why was this music so important to you – is it the strict additive process? The chords? The soprano melody?

    KG replies: Second question’s easy: voice-leading, and the potential variety of such, among distantly-related chords. The faster sections can’t afford such nuanced variety of voice-leading, without becoming too impossible to perform. The rhythmic process has nothing to do with my attraction to it. And yes, that is one of my criteria for postminimalism, and it does lend credence to Glass’s claim. Good catch, and not something I wanted to address in that forum. But the edge between minimalism and postm- is kind of a slippery slope, I think.

  2. Bob Gilmore says

    Great article Kyle, just read it. I wish more people would write this comprehensibly. Made me fork out and buy the second recording of Einstein just to hear the differences….

  3. mclaren says

    What your describe as “recomposition” sounds more like quasiperiodicity generated by spontaneous symmetry-breaking, a process well known in materials science, quantum physics, dynamical systems, etc. It would prove fascinating to analyze Glass’s score from the point of view of broken symmetries. As Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogine discovered in the work that led to his prize, spontaneous symmetry breaking can generate complex structures. To quote from the wikipedia article:

    A dissipative structure is characterized by the spontaneous appearance of symmetry breaking (anisotropy) and the formation of complex, sometimes chaotic, structures where interacting particles exhibit long range correlations. The term dissipative structure was coined by Russian-Belgian physical chemist Ilya Prigogine, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1977 for his pioneering work on these structures. The dissipative structures considered by Prigogine have dynamical régimes that can be regarded as thermodynamically steady states, and sometimes at least can be described by suitable extremal principles in non-equilibrium thermodynamics.

    Broken symmetry leads naturally to group-theoretic considerations, and both approaches get touched on (although from a more densely mathematical perspective than seems ideal for musicians or the general public) in the article “Music: Broken Symmetry, Geometry, and Complexity,” by Gary W. Don, Karyn K. Muir, Gordon B. Volk and James Walker, Notices of the AMS, 57 (1), 2010.

    Alas, those of us outside academia have no access to scores such as Glass’ Einstein and thus cannot offer further insights on such an analysis. Pity.

    KG replies: Hey, I ordered Einstein through links on Phil’s website. It’s available from Hal Leonard, like every other piece of music in the US.

  4. says

    This is a cool paper, thanks for posting it. If you’ll forgive the shameless plug, Juhani Nuorvala may want to check out my paper “Process as Means and Ends in Minimalist and Postminimalist Music.” (Available through JSTOR here: You will recall that I make the argument that both “Einstein” and “Music for 18 Musicians” are early postminimalist pieces, and a big part of the argument is that for both Reich and Glass process has become a means to an aesthetic and stylistic end as much as something to be explored in itself.

    From that perspective, there’s a striking parallel between your paper and the chapter of Robert Fink’s book in which he analyzes “Music for 18 Musicians.” In that chapter, Fink spends a bunch of time analyzing places where Reich “broke” the apparent process rules he had set up for himself.

    Interestingly, Tom Johnson also invokes romanticism in his 1975 review of an early version of M18, making a comparison to Ravel and Mahler, and “wondering whether I like the idea of going back to some kind of romanticism.” In this case while he does comment on structure, he’s more focused on the “pall of lushness” that comes from the instrumentation and the harmonic content.