The beauty of repetition is when it breaks out of repetition and spins into infinity. The beauty of seeing Philip Glass – master of repetition – is seeing how his endless patterning has lead him break into every sphere. His muse is everywhere; he hears “his sound” in all sorts of places. His open, radical ear has served him well: he has gone from avant-garde decades ago to some sort of beloved American master of American idiom.
There’s a sleight of hand there; Glass’s music has been pegged as “minimal,” and ur-modern, but in those repeating patterns I suddenly heard the essence of Baroque Bach. In pieces composed for violinist Tim Fain, aptly called “Chaconne from Partita,” Glass inhabits classical majesty with a kick. On the recent Glass-Fain duo tour which stopped in Providence for FirstWorks and continues internationally, Fain came onstage as a downtown pretty boy, with corkscrew curls falling to one side of his unwrinkled brow. He quickly took on the two masters. His virtuosity created a space of warmth, intimacy and personal struggle. I heard edge of Bach and the edge of rock.
Out of Glass’s patterns popped boogie-woogie and jazz. I heard the one-finger melodies that pop music loves and people love in pop music. The music sounded “popular.” Today’s popular can be yesterday’s difficult. His very structure is the link, the weaving of particles that feel like knitted shards of glass. What’s fascinating is how with those small shards Glass links up all of music.