It’s All The Same

Ken at the steelbrassnwood blog has a nice piece on the Philip Glass/Ira Glass meetup, “Glass On Glass”:

Glass (Philip, that is) discusses his take on emotion in music:

So Ira asked the obvious question, the one many people ask about Glass’s music. If he creates it by establishing small, simple elements, and then varying them with almost algorithmic precision, how does he put emotion and feeling into his work? Where is the beauty in mathematical repetition of notes.

“It’s not hard to put emotion in,” he answered. “It’s impossible to take it out. It comes from the listener. The feeling comes anyway. It’s part of being human. I don’t have to worry about it.” Indeed, he said, he’s even tried — unsuccessfully — to take emotion out of music altogether.

“Why?” asked Ira, shocked. “Why would you do that?”

“Because if I could take it out,” Philip responded, “I could figure out what it was.” Spoken like a scientist. If you can’t identify something, take away everything you can identify and study the remainder. It sounds cold, perhaps, but only to someone who doesn’t understand science. This is how some of the world’s most magnificent mysteries have been explored.

It seems to me that music does certain visceral emotions well: mostly happy and sad. How much music is truly scary, though? I don’t mean in a heavy metal shocking sort of way, but truly scary like a good horror film? Most horror film soundtracks follow on Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho formula of scratchy strings and staccato stings. AC/DC’s Night Prowler freaks me out – I still can’t listen to it late at night. But other than that, I know of no songs that are genuinely frightening.

Horror film soundtracks have the advantage of (hopefully) horrific visuals to help the music, though it’s supposed to be the other way around. I have some sounds which I find disconcerting that will no doubt make their way into Der Golem. My goal has thus far been to give myself the chills while watching a movie that is, after 90 years, rather tame (despite the fascinating thematic content).

These comments from Mr. Glass (Philip, that is) make me want to think about that for a little bit first.

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