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Philip Glass

Playlist: 5 Modern Composers Worth Listening to

July 28, 2008
by Christopher Coats
Defining the role of “composer” or “classical music” these days is far from an easy task. With technology that has allowed the sound of hundreds of people to come from a single performer, and production that allows musicians to leave cavernous recording studios behind, one would assume that composing has become more accessible—a universal art form available to anyone with any number of multi-track computer programs.

The Art of Composition

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To compose requires much more than simply layering sounds one upon another. It requires both an understanding of the history of classical music and the creativity and courage to make it one’s own.

So unsurprisingly, this playlist may not include composers you immediately recognize by name, but ones who have reimaged the style of music in their own image, opening the door to influences far removed from the refined concert halls of Vienna and Budapest to create something truly original.

Everywhere Man: Philip Glass

One of America’s most well-known and prolific composers, Philip Glass has carved out a niche of his own in classical compositions, combining opera, collaborations with everyone from David Bowie to Allen Ginsburg and a certain repetitive nature to become the “founding father of minimalism.” Decried early in his career for what some called “masochistic,” Glass’s career truly took hold with the production of “Einstein on the Beach” in 1976.
A favorite of filmmakers—documentarian Errol Morris calling his work “the ideal music for creating emotion”—Glass has created several original soundtracks. From art-house pieces to Oscar-winning hits, all are immediately recognizable as Glass. Recently, the composer was the subject of his own film; “Glass: A Portrait in Twelve Parts.”

Otherworldly: Lisa Gerrard

Known as much for her hauntingly beautiful voice as her actual compositions, Lisa Gerrard began her career as a founding member of the gothic rock group Dead Can Dance, before they disbanded in 1998. However, even before heading out on her own, Gerrard’s style leant itself to a grander scale, as evidenced by her frequent contributions in the film soundtracks of Ridley Scott. That voice hitting a dramatic crescendo when all seems lost—that’s Gerrard. Since leaving the band, Gerrard has focused on composing film scores, melding a host of influences into classical styles for a distinctly otherworldly sound.

When a Guitar Is Not Enough: Jonny Greenwood

Best known as the virtuoso guitarist for the band Radiohead, Jonny Greenwood first ventured into classical composition as a child, studying violin and creating short pieces of his own. Swept up in the touring schedule of Radiohead shortly after arriving at Oxford Brookes University to study music and psychology, Greenwood left classical music behind. However, his love of composition would occasionally emerge in Radiohead recordings as he provided orchestral landscapes for the band’s rock sound. A documentary score in 2003 and a BBC composer-in-residence in 2005 was topped by an invitation to score Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood."
Filled with sprawling, often intense pieces to match the film’s epic vistas of turn-of-the-century Texas and California, Greenwood’s celebrated score was ultimately disqualified for an Oscar because it included elements from a composition he completed in 2003.

The Foundation: Steve Reich

Reportedly having grown up in a home with no music recorded in the 20th century, Steve Reich received a true jolt of inspiration when he first heard jazz. Combining the free-form approach of jazz with his strict classical upbringing and a deep love and appreciation for drums, Reich discovered a style that has gone on to influence musicians from every genre. Active to this day, Reich’s sound laid the groundwork for ambient and minimalist composers from Brian Eno to Philip Glass.

The Next Step: Björk

Truly bridging the gap between sprawling compositions and popular music, Iceland’s Björk began her recording career singing folk songs at the age of 11. First emerging in the world of pop, Björk has steadily moved towards producing increasingly larger and more cinematic sounds with each release. Using everything from one-of-a-kind instruments to digitally altered human voices to create her works, Björk has carved out a niche all her own with a truly innovative and forward-thinking sound. Recently, she has begun to collaborate with her partner, artist Matthew Barney, to create film projects.
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