Fragmented Frequencies 31st of May 09


Scott Hicks has a fetish for eccentric and obsessive classical pianists. If fictionalising the life of David Helfgott wasn’t enough, the award winning Shine director recently spent two years stalking minimalist legend Philip Glass. The resulting film, Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts (Madman) has just been released on DVD. (Note the sly reference to his seminal four hour work ‘Music in Twelve Parts.’ I suppose we should just be glad it wasn’t titled something like ‘Through the Looking Glass’ or ‘Those in Glass Houses…’). Glass is equal parts renowned, revered and loathed for his endlessly swirling highly repetitive scores in theatre, opera and film including the ultimate stoner film Koyaanisqatsi and the Errol Morris’ crime doco Thin Blue Line (here Morris drops the nugget that Glass does ‘existential dread better than anyone else’). Hicks presents Glass as equal parts a laid-back family man, an obsessively driven workaholic composer and an intelligent enquiring soul with a yen for the spiritual. The level of intimacy here is astounding, apparently for most of the film it was just Hick’s and a sound recordist blending in with the furniture, and it doesn’t ever feel like Glass or his family are putting up a facade. In fact the film manages to capture one deeply intimate and quite personal event in Glass’ life, which when Hick’s zooms in vulture like feels quite intrusive.

Yet let’s not forget the music. We literally sit next to Glass as he writes his scores, attends rehearsals, and drops in to discuss his film music with Woody Allen. We even attend a solo piano performance in Melbourne. “For me writing is listening to music,” he offers from his getaway cabin in Nova Scotia, I don’t think of it, it’s already there.” As a way of analogy he speaks of a country field in the morning. At first it’s thick with fog and you can’t see anything, then in time you see a vague outline of a tree, then perhaps after more time passes a building and maybe in time the fog will clear and you will see everything. “I hear something,” he says a little earlier, “something very little, and I’ve trained myself to follow the sound of it.” Perhaps most unexpected is that music theory matters little to him, as its engaging a different part of his brain, the thinking part, and that just gets in the way. “I’ve become content to see music as a mystery,” he offers with the kind of contentment that you can only achieve via rigorous at times potentially life threatening sessions with his Buddhist and American Indian teachers. “Tell me about the time he buried you,” instructs Hicks. “I don’t like to talk about that,” comes the stern reply.

With interviews with everyone from Martin Scorcese to Laurie Anderson, as well a second disc of extras with full performances of Einstein on the Beach and the Kronos Quartet playing Dracula amongst others, it’s a unique insight into the life of a heavily revered working artist. And as a portrait of Glass perhaps it might change, or at the very least challenge some of our assumptions about the man and his music.

Sabbatical Records is a local label releasing dark experimental music in limited (200 hand numbered copies) runs. Many of their 13 odd releases up to this point have tapped into the dark dangerous electroacoustic world utilisng experimental and often improvised techniques. The music is often quite extreme such as Absoluten Calfeutrail & Blarke Bayer’s Resolution Seminar, a sort of noise self help blast from artists better known in their day jobs in Whitehorse and My Disco. Yet the label also features some delicately nuanced drone work that becomes quite hallucinatory from Green Beret, a trio of Justin Fuller, Arek Gulbenkoglu and Henry Krips. In fact the entire label is comprised of some of the more interesting risk taking artists in the Melbourne experimental scene, often playing in new or unfamiliar contexts. They’ve just released Joe Talia and James Rushford’s duo Palisades and are looking forward to PIVXKI an Anthony Pateras Max Kohanne collaboration in the next couple of months. Check for more details.

And if you’re looking out for some Pateras action (and rounding off our discussion on eccentric obsessive pianists) he’ll be premiering a couple of new pieces under the banner of Percussion Portrait at the Melbourne Recital Centre on the 13th and 14th of June. Check for more details.