Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Quantity is the problem: Glass writes faster than most of us can listen. . . . But it’s worth taking the trouble to discover first-rate pieces amid the reams of pretty good ones. Certainly, no one can deny that Glass possesses an instantly recognizable signature sound; the question now is whether that signature is being produced by automatic pen. -- Alex Ross on Philip Glass in The New Yorker

wouldn’t it be
if the whole
thing were
like the good part
-- from “Understanding Art: or the power of the memorable,” Ken Mikolowski

At my college reunion a couple of weeks ago I saw my poetry teacher, Ken Mikolowski, and I thought of his wonderful lines when I read Alex Ross’s piece on Philip Glass. By admitting that lots of Glass’s music sounds rote, Alex gives us permission to excerpt them ourselves -- as most of us do with pop CDs. I like this movement, I don’t like that; I like this song, not that.

Excerpting longer works has a long tradition in classical. Hit arias from operas; overtures detached from longer pieces; even favorite movements detached from suites or cantatas or, less often, symphonies or sonatas.

Bach Super Hits is one of the all-time great albums by anybody ever. In addition to his prodigious gifts in counterpoint, the man could write a catchy tune, and this collection focuses on them. Orchestral and keyboard work -- the album leaves aside the vocal music -- with stellar performers like Glenn Gould (who performs 4 of the 13 tracks), Eugene Ormandy, and E. Power Biggs, the only organist whose name makes him sound like an industrialist in a Jay Ward cartoon. And, as Alex implies we should do with Glass, the pieces are ripped from their larger contexts and put into a lovely mix-tape format.

If I love a particular style, I don’t need to listen only to the most wonderful examples of it. Any example will do, depending on my mood. Other styles, I want to hear only my favorites. I suspect most listeners are like that, but I could be wrong.

At my college reunion there was an open-mic poetry reading in honor of Ken and another long-time creative writing teacher. Without having planned to I recited two of Ken’s short -- very short! -- poems from memory at the reading. I was happy to be able to do it.

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