on 24 January 2008
Philip Glass is somewhat controversial as a composer. He produces much music that inspires both criticism and praise in more or less equal measures. This recording is Glass' second collaboration with Bowie and the king of ambient music Brian Eno.
It's an intriguing album not least because the music is inspired by, rather than the re-working of Bowie's original composition. As a style, it is minimalist, possibly utilitarian and at times repetitive. I find that it's an album I keep coming back to for some reason. I find the music intriguing and slightly challenging, albeit less so than some of Glass' other works. As a piece I would compare it to a Le Corbusier building, stark, slightly disturbing but fascinating for it's possibilities.
It's not an accessible album, and not something you would put on in the car. What I do find is if I sit down reading a book with this on, I gradually concentrate less on the book and get drawn into the music instead.
My one criticism is that it is, at times, slightly repetitive without actually going anywhere, hence, 4 stars instead of 5.
Celebrated minimalist composer Philip Glass here tackles Bowie & Eno for a second time, following up his Low Symphony with one based around the follow-up album "Heroes" (1978), otherwise known as the second part of the so-called Berlin Trilogy (a dodgy tag as much of Low was recorded in Switzerland, as a good portion of the not as great Lodger was recorded in New York. I concur with others who see the trilogy as really Station to Station-Low-"Heroes" alongside diversions like the two Iggy LPs & the Stage live-set!).
With the Low Symphony, Glass tackled just three tracks (including Some Are, which was a bonus track on the Sound+Vision reissue & later found a place on compilation All Saints, as did Abdulmajid here)- here he takes in six tracks- the outtake Abdulmajid, the title track, the SF-epic Sons of the Silent Age and two of the mindblowing instrumentals on the second side: Neukoln and V-2 Schneider (pity he didn't do Moss Garden, as listening to Glass' soundtrack to Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, it sounds ideally suited to his Eastern-framed minimalism post-Cage).
The "Heroes" symphony as the Low symphony is in many ways the ultimate Bowie cover version- to be thought of alongside the best Bowie-covers: BEF's The Secret Life of Arabia, Associates'Boys Keep Swinging, Nirvana's The Man Who Sold the World, Mott the Hooples' All the Young Dudes (I know he wrote that for them!), Black Box Recorder's Rock'N'Roll Suicide & The Langley Schools Music Projects' Space Oddity. "Heroes", along with Station to Station and Low, remains one of my fave Bowie records- fans of it should adore Glass' alternate take on Bowie & Eno's work. That Eno-bloke- you just can't avoid him; the Decay Music LP by Michael Nyman is not unrelated...
Reminds me of the piped sounds of those grey and white building monoliths bedecked with water fountains; upright jets spouting in green clipped surfaces = The Barbican.
Sterile, bleak, corporate shards of moderne decor, encased within concrete blocks of softly polished glass, replete with specks of granite hanging onto a metallic skelature.
So - Insert the card, and then enter this made to accompany a corporate ballet.
It works as background music, but, after a while gradually pulls you out of somnolence with its avid repetition. Initially miles away from the bleak 70's coldness of instrumental "Heroes," it trammels another path- echoing the 1990's, churning up another set of emotional dynamics based on ambiance.
"Abdulmajid" is an outtake from the original "Heroes" finally brought to life by the two composers and then given a cut Glass makeover.
"Sense of Doubt" remains faithful, pummeling the dynamics, but leaves out the ghostly unearthly cries. It travels up and down the grey pathways evoking the harsh uncompromising sterility of the modern age before shooting into - Berlin after the wall removed.
"Sons of the Silent Age" commences small, then builds with wind instrumentation. The best is "Neukoln" which rears up on the original to launch a gravitas lacking in the previous offerings.
"V2 Schneider" loses its motormekanik thrust and becomes a keyboard rework, almost an opening for a bank commercial.
Thankfully it sinks into something joyous, a transformation from the bleak rocket sounds of the late 70's. I prefer the original.
Not sure if this would appeal to the original owners of the albums. It feels too ambient, as if all the angst has been stripped, as only the shadow remains.
I tend to play it as background, as a light meal, a diversion, rather than dredging out the heavy beasts of the late 70's, because they have a real pulling power, whereas this skitters over the surface.