Rediscovering Ambience and Minimalism

A little while ago, I wrote about rediscovering some of the electronic and ambient music I used to listen to I was in college. A friend recently mentioned that she is using some of Philip Glass’s music in a dance piece she’s working on, so I pulled Glassworks off the shelf and put on the turntable. It was Glass’s first attempt to create music for the popular realm, six short-form pieces that work very well together as an album-sized unit. I like his gentle solo piano work better than his intensely rhythmic compositions; after a period of fascination with Einstein On the Beach, I eventually found it too relentless to listen to all the way through. Glassworks has a few pieces along those lines but they flow out of, and back into, more thoughtful piano pieces. I also finally bought the soundtrack to The Hours, which I remember loving when I saw the movie.

So at Virgin last night, I bought Glassworks on CD, a new edition that includes as “bonus tracks” an entire other album of music he did for a Twyla Tharp dance piece. I also bought the two symphonies he wrote based on the music of Brian Eno and David Bowie, Low Symphony and “Heroes” Symphony. They’re all very good morning music. They are also part of a theme in my listening lately. I’ve been listening to a few albums that consist of reimagined versions of familiar work. Bang On a Can did a live version of Brian Eno’s Music For Airports a few years back, and while at the time I thought it was pointless, it showed up recently on eMusic and I downloaded it on a whim. It’s quite wonderful. So is Arturo Stalteri’s coolAugustMoon, chamber music versions of Eno compositions ranging from his ambient work to some of his rock tunes.

Which leads to some other thoughts on record stores. Or CD stores, or whatever you call a place like Virgin, which sells CDs and T-shirts and books and movies and random crap like leather wallets with chains attached and the AC/DC logo burned into them. Oh, and records too. The Virgin in Times Square is, I believe, already closed, and the one in Union Square is closing soon. On the one hand I won’t miss them; they’re overpriced, annoying and loud. On the other hand, on the way to a movie last night, I was able to stop in and look at his albums and buy not only the one I was looking for (Glassworks, which comes in several versions) but also a second which I’d thought about buying when it came out but had forgotten about. And I was able to have the increasingly rare experience of opening an album and reading the liner notes before being able to listen to it, and anticipating the music while reading about it. I do like being able to buy music online, but I would miss that experience, and I am glad that it seems we will still have the best big-box record store in the city: J&R.

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