My personal position was that I had wonderful parents. Really wonderful people. But my mother was a school teacher. My father had a small record shop in Baltimore. They had no money to support my career. I began working early. You’re too young to know this, but when you get your first Social Security check, you get a list of every place you’ve worked since you began working. It’s fantastic! I discovered that I was working from the time I was 15 and putting money into the Social Security system from that age onward. I thought it was much later. No, I was actually paying money that early.
The point is that I spent most of my life supporting myself. And I own the music. I never gave it away. I am the publisher of everything I’ve written except for a handful of film scores that the big studios paid. I said, “Yeah, you can own it. You can have it, but you have to pay for it.” They did pay for it. They were not gifts.
A lot in this interview resonates, including this:
It’s never been easy for painters, or writers, or poets to make a living. One of the reasons is that we, I mean a big “We,” deny them an income for their work. As a society we do. Yet, these are the same people who supposedly we can’t live without. It’s curious, isn’t it?
And this bit about making work vs performing (italics mine):
What happens, is that the artists are in a position where they can no longer live on their work. They have to worry about that. They need to become performers. That’s another kind of work we do. I go out and play music. The big boom in performances is partly because of streaming, isn’t it? We know, for example, that there are big rock and roll bands that will give their records away free. You just have to buy the ticket to the concert. The cost of the record is rather small compared to the price of the ticket. It’s shifted around a little bit; they’re still paying, but they’re paying at the box office rather than at the record store. The money still will find its way.
Then you have to be the kind of person who goes out and plays, and some people don’t.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the economics of writing online. Making a comfortable living only by writing is tough and very few independents are able to do it. More successful are those who are able to get away from writing online by speaking at conferences, writing books, starting podcasts, selling merchandise,1 post sponsored tweets and Instagram photos, building apps, consulting for big companies, etc. This stuff is the equivalent of the band that tours, sells merch, composes music for TV commercials, etc. But as Glass said, what about those who just want to write? (And I count myself among that number.) How can we support those people? Anyway, more on this very soon (I hope).
Photo is of a Chuck Close painting of Philip Glass taken by me at The Whitney.
Just this morning, a friend texted me a photo of The Pioneer Woman’s line of products on the shelf at Walmart.↩
The series of Marvel movies — X-Men, Avengers, Spider-Man, etc. — is the highest grossing film series of all time but the films’ music is largely forgettable and bland in a way that it isn’t in Star Wars, James Bond, or Harry Potter. In this video, the Every Frame a Painting gang explores why that is: partially a trend toward movie music not designed to be noticed and also the use by directors of temporary music that unduly influences the final score. All the Marvel movies run together for me (aside from Guardians of the Galaxy, which had distinctive music in it, I can’t recall a single scene from any one of the more recent films) and perhaps the music is one reason.
There’s a follow-up video to the one above composed of clips of movies played with their temp music followed by the same clips with the final music, which is nearly identical.
They’ve also started a Twitter account highlighting the influence of temp music on final scores.
It’s his ability to make music that compliments a scene rather than eclipse it that has made him an invaluable creative partner to filmmakers who work in such intense melodramatic registers, and Burwell is emphatic that his scores aren’t responsible for all of the emotional heavy-lifting. “As a listener, I do not like being instructed,” he says, emphatically. “It riles me when the music tells me something before I can figure it out for myself. In fact, I enjoy the discomfort of not being sure how to take something.” It’s the reason why he loathes listening to the temp music that directors often attach to rough cuts in order to point composers in the right direction.
Update: In a video response, Dan Golding shows how temp music is not a recent Hollywood obsession…even the famous Star Wars theme was greatly influenced by temp music:
He questions that the pull of temp music by contemporary directors and composers is sufficient to explain why movie music is now so uninspiring:
Film music is an embrace of rampant unoriginality, and to think about how film music works, we need to think of new ways to talk about these questions, rather than just saying, “it’s a copy”.
Golding pins the blame primarily on technology but also on composers and filmmakers drawing from fewer and less diverse sources. Interestingly, this latter point was also made by Every Frame a Painting’s Tony Zhou in a recent chat with Anil Dash, albeit about originality in video essays. A lightly edited excerpt:
My advice to people has always been: copy old shit. For instance, the style of Every Frame a Painting is NOT original at all. I am blatantly ripping off two sources: the editing style of F for Fake, and the critical work of David Bordwell/Kristin Thompson, who wrote the introductory text on filmmaking called Film Art. I’ve run into quite a few video essays that are trying to be “like Every Frame a Painting” and I always tell people, please don’t do that because I’m ripping of someone else. You should go to the source. When any art form or medium becomes primarily about people imitating the dominant form, we get stifling art.
If you look at all of the great filmmakers, they’re all ripping someone off but it was someone 50 years ago. It rejuvenated the field to be reminded of the history of our medium. And I sincerely wish more video essayists would rip off the other great film essayists: Chris Marker, Godard, Agnès Varda, Thom Andersen. Or even rip off non-video essayists. I would kill to see someone make video essays the way Pauline Kael wrote criticism. That would be my jam!
ps. Also! Hans Zimmer — composer of film scores for Gladiator, Interstellar, Inception, The Dark Knight, etc. — was the keyboard player in the Buggles’ Video Killed the Radio Star music video. WHAT?!
I thought I’d posted about Philip Glass’ new memoir, Words Without Music, when it came out back in April, but I can’t find anything in the archives, so let’s do it right now. I was reminded of it after reading this review by Dan Wang, which pushed Glass’ book to the top of my queue.
These biographical details are manifestations of a quality I admire. Glass never needed much convincing to drop everything in his life to go on a risky venture. I’m not familiar with the many plot twists in his life, and found the book engaging because I had no idea what new adventure he was going to go on next. It’s astonishing how open-minded he is. Consider: His decision to go to India was based entirely on seeing a striking illustration in a random book he grabbed off a friend’s shelf. In addition, he never hesitated to go into personal debt, at times quite steep, because his music couldn’t wait. The book is filled with instances of him saying “sure, when?” to improbable proposals without dwelling on their costs.
He seemed uninterested in stabilizing his position with more regular income. He never took up an honorary conductor position. He never ensconced himself in a plush conservatory professorship. And he didn’t even apply for grants because he didn’t like that they imposed terms.
In 2011, the original creators of Einstein on the Beach brought the opera to life again for what will most likely be its last presentation in their lifetime. Einstein on the Beach is an opera like no other. Telling its story requires a documentary like no other.
We completed shooting and editing The Earth Moves and we are all working very hard to finish the film for upcoming film festivals this fall. Now we need your support to fulfill the costs of color correction, media licensing, and sound mixing. Time is of the essence and every contribution helps our mission to complete this film.
Any additional support beyond the goal will go towards expanding the distribution of the film through educational markets and independent theaters nationally.
Ahead of 20th Century Fox’s latest superhero reboot of The Fantastic Four, director Josh Trank has confirmed that composer Philip Glass will be scoring the forthcoming film with Marco Beltrami.
Trank, best known for his 2012 film Chronicle, spoke to Collider about his long time admiration for the composer, and said that he had been working with Glass for around a year on the film after contacting his manager.
Previous films scored by Glass include The Hours, Koyaanisqatsi, A Brief History of Time, and The Fog of War. But this actually isn’t too much of a surprising departure for Glass…he did the scores for both Candyman and Candyman II, horror films based on a short story by Clive Barker.
Also interesting is that Visitors is comprised of only 74 shots, which with a runtime of 87 minutes means the average shot lasts over a minute. According to a recent investigation by Adam Jameson, an ASL (average shot length) of more than a minute is unusual in contemporary film. Inception, for instance, has a ASL of just 3.1 seconds and even a film like Drive, with many long shots, has an ASL of 7 seconds. But as Jameson notes, Alfonso Cuarón’s upcoming Gravity contains only 156 shots, including a 17-minute-long shot that opens the film. But the Hollywood master of long-running shots? Hitchcock, I presume:
1. Rope (1948, Alfred Hitchcock), ASL = 433.9 [seconds]
OK, this isn’t a recent recent film, but it has to be noted, as it’s most likely the highest ASL in Hollywood. Hitchcock used only 10 shots in making it (the film’s Wikipedia page lists them). (As you probably know, Hitchcock designed those shots, then edited them such that the finished film appeared to be a single take.)
REWORK_ is an album of Philip Glass’s music remixed by the likes of Beck, Amon Tobin, and Nosaj Thing. There is also an interactive iOS app that lets you play around and remix your own Glass compositions.
REWORK_ features eleven “music visualizers” that take the remixed tracks and create interactive visuals that range from futuristic three-dimensional landscapes to shattered multicolored crystals, and vibrating sound waves. People can lean back and enjoy REWORK_ end to end, or they can touch and interact with the visualizers to create their own visual remixes.
In addition to the visualizers, the app includes the “Glass Machine” which lets people create music inspired by Philip Glass’ early work by simply sliding two discs around side-by-side, almost like turntables. People can select different instruments - from synthesizer to piano, and generate polyrhythmic counterpoints between the two melodies.
The app was made by Scott Snibbe’s studio…I fondly recall his Java applets. (BTW, “fondly recall his Java applets” is neither a euphemism nor something that anyone will understand 5-10 years from now.)
Occupy Wall Street went up to protest at Lincoln Center last night during a performance of Philip Glass’ opera Satyagraha. New Yorker music critic Alex Ross was there and captured the protest on video, which included Glass himself reading the closing lines from the opera, amplified to the crowd by the people’s mic. It is an amazing scene.
When the Satyagraha listeners emerged from the Met, police directed them to leave via side exits, but protesters began encouraging them to disregard the police, walk down the steps, and listen to Glass speak. Hesitantly at first, then in a wave, they did so. The composer proceeded to recite the closing lines of Satyagraha, which come from the Bhagavad-Gita (after 3:00 in the video above): “When righteousness withers away and evil rules the land, we come into being, age after age, and take visible shape, and move, a man among men, for the protection of good, thrusting back evil and setting virtue on her seat again.” True to form, he said it several times, with the “human microphone” repeating after him. Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson were in attendance, and at one point Reed helped someone crawl over the barricade that had been set up along the sidewalk.
KOYAANISQATSI, [Godfrey] Reggio’s debut as a film director and producer, is the first film of the QATSI trilogy. The title is a Hopi Indian word meaning “life out of balance.” Created between 1975 and 1982, the film is an apocalyptic vision of the collision of two different worlds — urban life and technology versus the environment. The musical score was composed by Philip Glass.
Lose yourself in Philip Glass’s powerful music for the 1982 Godfrey Reggio film Koyaanisqatsi: A Life Out Of Balance, performed live by the Philharmonic and the Philip Glass Ensemble, as the landmark film is projected on a huge screen above the Avery Fisher Hall stage.
There will be two performances, Nov 2 and Nov 3 at 7:30pm at Avery Fisher Hall. There are still tons of great seats available, but get ‘em while you can. Excited!