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Philip Glass - Music In Contrary Motion


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Music In Contrary Motion is a piece of music composed for solo organ in 1969 by Philip Glass.

 

After hearing so many genres and styles of music throughout my life, I have reason to believe that this is my all-time favourite piece of music. Previously, I have posted about this composition as a track that describes myself:

 

For me, this track represents the violent clashing of two powerful, opposing forces: good and evil, black and white, love and fear, yin and yang. I have Manic Depression, and before I was treated, I used to have mood swings, switching from high to low, and anywhere in between. I know what it's like to live with that juxtaposition, to feel so many different states at once. This track embodies the duality of my life and, to some extent, everyone's.

 

The piece is in A minor, and has two melodic layers that form a symmetrical counterpoint. The layers weave back and forth across the notes A to E in a way that becomes increasingly complex. The first bar is just three and a half seconds long. This length increases exponentially as the piece progresses.

 

Contrary Motion was written in what Glass calls "open form" — it never really ends, it just stops. The expanding figures upon which it is constructed could, theoretically, continue augmenting forever. Should an interpreter care to take it that far, a performance lasting hours, even days, would be possible.

 

haskinsex3.jpg

 

After studying sheet music for the first 22 bars of Contrary Motion, I have created an SWF application that can generate the piece for as long as one wishes to hear it. I have just spent three and a half hours listening to the first 76 bars.

 

I don't understand how something so relentlessly energetic can be so relaxing and hypnotic. How can something so austere be so rich in diversity? How does the bass line, consisting of two notes, express so much emotion? How can the very construction of a piece of music express genuine irony in the way that this piece does so perfectly?

 

Here is the SWF file, as a post attachment. I hope you can enjoy it as much as me. It uses an organ synth which I designed myself, but I invite you to create a better sounding version. You will be credited of course.

contrary motion.swf

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After carefully studying the score for this piece of music (I'm talking bars 100 and above, beyond what any human musician would be willing to perform) I have discovered that, after a while, the music starts to show unmistakable signs of two very beautiful mathematical patterns.

 

The Thue-Morse Sequence begins to emerge at bar 39, and as the piece progresses, it extends into infinity. The wave motif, which can play in two different ways, display the two figures of the sequence.

 

The ABACABADABACABA sequence, fully emerging at bar 37 and growing thereon, is represented by the step motif (which forms the basis of the recursive nature of this piece). Each instance of the wave motif is connected by a certain number of step motifs, and this number follows the pattern of the ABACABA sequence, like so:

 

A B A C A B A D A B A C A B A E A B A C A B A

1 2 1 3 1 2 1 4 1 2 1 3 1 2 1 5 1 2 1 3 1 2 1...

 

The letter Z appears at bar 469.

 

 

Since I started this thread, ten people have downloaded my Contrary Motion generator, yet no-one has actually bothered to leave a reply. If any of you enjoyed the music, feel free to discuss it. And if you didn't, why not? Tell us why.

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And if you didn't, why not? Tell us why.

 

There is absolutely nothing of value in this music. Mathematical patterns have been much more creatively used by superior composers like Per Norgard (whose infinity series might interest you). Simplicity isn't something to be sniffed at in modern music, but an A Minor scale moving through various simple patterns with an oscillating tonic/dominant bassline really says nothing of interest and highlights this particular composer's complete lack of harmonic, rhythmic and melodic sophistication.

 

In my opinion.

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Reminds me of someone practising the World In Action theme tune for eternity (a theme which always scared me as a kid) -

 

 

The thing with Philip Glass (and Steve Reich) tracks is that when you like them you go into a nice aural bubble that you want to last forever, but when you don't they're like a seemingly everlasting nauseous fever...

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And if you didn't, why not? Tell us why.

 

There is absolutely nothing of value in this music. Mathematical patterns have been much more creatively used by superior composers like Per Norgard (whose infinity series might interest you). Simplicity isn't something to be sniffed at in modern music, but an A Minor scale moving through various simple patterns with an oscillating tonic/dominant bassline really says nothing of interest and highlights this particular composer's complete lack of harmonic, rhythmic and melodic sophistication.

 

In my opinion.

 

lol chill. neither glass nor nørgård are god's gift to man. We all know that. And also music in contrary motion isn't ABOUT using a mathematical pattern, or about having harmonic, rhythmic and melodic sophistication either. Do you feel similarly about music in 12 parts? I'm no glass fan but come on it's hard not to appreciate that one.

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I hadn't seen the thread before, but I actually just got done listening to Glassworks before I saw this.. so interesting timing.

 

Wow, very, very cool program. Visualizing and coding it must have been fairly difficult, just when you think its hitting some repetition a note is sustained..

 

As someone who appreciates glass more for his textural/dynamic qualities, I don't find this piece as moving. Then again, I haven't given a good full listen, and every part of Glassworks grew on me greatly

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Reminds me of someone practising the World In Action theme tune for eternity (a theme which always scared me as a kid) -

 

 

The thing with Philip Glass (and Steve Reich) tracks is that when you like them you go into a nice aural bubble that you want to last forever, but when you don't they're like a seemingly everlasting nauseous fever...

 

hahaha :) I agree there.

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And if you didn't, why not? Tell us why.

 

There is absolutely nothing of value in this music. Mathematical patterns have been much more creatively used by superior composers like Per Norgard (whose infinity series might interest you). Simplicity isn't something to be sniffed at in modern music, but an A Minor scale moving through various simple patterns with an oscillating tonic/dominant bassline really says nothing of interest and highlights this particular composer's complete lack of harmonic, rhythmic and melodic sophistication.

 

In my opinion.

 

lol chill. neither glass nor nørgård are god's gift to man. We all know that. And also music in contrary motion isn't ABOUT using a mathematical pattern, or about having harmonic, rhythmic and melodic sophistication either. Do you feel similarly about music in 12 parts? I'm no glass fan but come on it's hard not to appreciate that one.

 

Ha, I am chilled. I'm not a massive Norgard fan but his infinity series popped into my head as relevant. I don't think it's really good enough to say that his music isn't "about" any of those things: if not, what is it about? By the way to avoid confusion, I'm not saying that simplicity and sophistication are in any way incompatible, certainly the opposite is often true... in fact sophistication was probably the wrong word to use, "competence" is better.

I feel similarly, to varying degrees, about all of his music. The guy is very lucky to have made successful career as a composer, taking advantage of a time and a place where his utter lack of musical talent could slip under the radar as the minimalist movement flourished. He's a good businessman, nothing more.

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And if you didn't, why not? Tell us why.

 

There is absolutely nothing of value in this music. Mathematical patterns have been much more creatively used by superior composers like Per Norgard (whose infinity series might interest you). Simplicity isn't something to be sniffed at in modern music, but an A Minor scale moving through various simple patterns with an oscillating tonic/dominant bassline really says nothing of interest and highlights this particular composer's complete lack of harmonic, rhythmic and melodic sophistication.

 

In my opinion.

 

This post is characteristic of someone who simply does not understand how the early music of Philip Glass is meant to be enjoyed. Many, limited people, see them as nothing more than failed attempts at producing music with 'pretty melodies' or 'nice rhythms' or whatever people listen to pop music for, when it fact, the intentions of the composer have been completely misinterpreted. When Philip Glass composed Music In Contrary Motion, he was clearly attempting to produce a piece of music that could be enjoyed for its additive progression of patterns with intrinsic mathematical beauty. It can be enjoyed consciously, by openly listening to each augmentation of its expanding figures, or it can be enjoyed subconsciously, simply by relaxing and absorbing the mysterious, hypnotic atmosphere expressed by the richly fertile progression of notes.

 

How can you say that this piece "says nothing of interest" when it has the ability to produce such a profound effect on someone's emotion? Whether you're being entertained by the pattern process or getting lost in a hypnotic trance, this piece of music couldn't be more valuable.

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This post is characteristic of someone who simply does not understand how the early music of Philip Glass is meant to be enjoyed. Many, limited people, see them as nothing more than failed attempts at producing music with 'pretty melodies' or 'nice rhythms' or whatever people listen to pop music for, when it fact, the intentions of the composer have been completely misinterpreted. When Philip Glass composed Music In Contrary Motion, he was clearly attempting to produce a piece of music that could be enjoyed for its additive progression of patterns with intrinsic mathematical beauty. It can be enjoyed consciously, by openly listening to each augmentation of its expanding figures, or it can be enjoyed subconsciously, simply by relaxing and absorbing the mysterious, hypnotic atmosphere expressed by the richly fertile progression of notes.

 

How can you say that this piece "says nothing of interest" when it has the ability to produce such a profound effect on someone's emotion? Whether you're being entertained by the pattern process or getting lost in a hypnotic trance, this piece of music couldn't be more valuable.

 

I find it hilarious that someone who cites this piece as their favourite among "many styles and genres" can sound so supercilious. I understand fully what the piece is about, it really isn't very difficult. What you call a "richly fertile progession of notes" I call the first five degrees of an A minor scale used in the least interesting way I can possibly think of. Perhaps this piece has a profound effect on your emotions but it certainly doesn't have anything like that on mine, except that it annoys me.

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From the official website :

Contrary Motion was written in what Glass calls 'open form' - it never really ends. it just stops. The expanding figures upon which it is constructed could, theoretically, continue augmenting forever.

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From the official website :

Contrary Motion was written in what Glass calls 'open form' - it never really ends. it just stops. The expanding figures upon which it is constructed could, theoretically, continue augmenting forever.

 

Contrary Motion was written in what Glass calls "open form" — it never really ends, it just stops. The expanding figures upon which it is constructed could, theoretically, continue augmenting forever. Should an interpreter care to take it that far, a performance lasting hours, even days, would be possible.

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It's ironic that, in a thread about a piece of music by Philip Glass, the least valuable posts have been made by someone who actually uses the name 'Philip Glass'.

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Funny you should bring this piece up, as I'm going through a bit of a Philip Glass revival of late. I used to spend countless hours listening to early Philip Glass, including this song, but I hadn't heard it in years until your post inspired me to look it up.

 

I understand what you mean about the baseline tying it together, and I agree with mcbpete, who noted that getting into his early pieces is like getting lost in an aural bubble - this is exactly what happens to me with this one.

 

I'd say that a better starting point to his early music is Part 1 of Music in Twelve Parts (and nothing beats the original 1973 recording):

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Orrxqrq2U_0&feature=related

 

You might also try 6 Marimbas by Steve Reich, which is like a mellow counterpart to Contrary Motion:

 

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yes, philip glass is a completely incompetent composer whose international success is merely the result of keen business smarts and magic sorcery. beginning in his teens with the university of chicago, onto nadia boulanger's esteemed private schooling and ravi shankar's unenlightened musical practices he has completely fooled us all (except jim :sup:) you know all the basic components of music, like rhythm, harmony, etc? well, the guy knows nothing about this. you know how he's toured the world and put together hundreds of recordings? well, he's incompetent as fuck. you know how the minimalist movement flourished? well, he just went ahead and adopted a "minimalist" attitude in order to trick the foolish sheeple into buying tickets to his shows and stuff (which were naturally complete disasters as he knows nothing whatever about music and is entirely incompetent). come on guys, WAKE UP

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yes, philip glass is a completely incompetent composer whose international success is merely the result of keen business smarts and magic sorcery. beginning in his teens with the university of chicago, onto nadia boulanger's esteemed private schooling and ravi shankar's unenlightened musical practices he has completely fooled us all (except jim :sup:) you know all the basic components of music, like rhythm, harmony, etc? well, the guy knows nothing about this. you know how he's toured the world and put together hundreds of recordings? well, he's incompetent as fuck. you know how the minimalist movement flourished? well, he just went ahead and adopted a "minimalist" attitude in order to trick the foolish sheeple into buying tickets to his shows and stuff (which were naturally complete disasters as he knows nothing whatever about music and is entirely incompetent). come on guys, WAKE UP

 

Right, international success= quality, of course!

 

Perhaps you'd be better off educating yourself about 20th century and contemporary music a little instead of regurgitating the guy's CV from wikipedia...

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I'm with Rhombix here. The music of Philip Glass is my favorite of all the early minimalists, including Morton Feldman and possibly even John Cage. Much more sophisticated than Steve Reich, and Terry Riley obviously.

 

I'm saying this in defense of Glass, his music is often unfairly maligned. His early minimalist works are possibly the most essential of the genre, at least I believe them to be. I'm sure there are obscure picks I'm missing but the Music in Twelve Parts is just flawless. I look forward to hearing contrary motion eventually.

 

This is meditative music, you can hear the complexity outside of the meditation. You can zone into the quilt patterns, or you can fall back into the overarching structure. Every track is a new quilt, with different intricacies.

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the rhythmic shifts in Twelve Parts ETC are just flat out mindblowing. I don't mean to call them 'mindblowing' in the sense that it's like "WOAHHH MAN THIS IS WILD." More like, "I can never think about the time signatures in the same way again: everything is 1/1.

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Guest Wall Bird

All I know is that when I listen to Philip Glass' music I get a strong, positive, emotional response. One of euphoria. That's more than I could say about a lot of the other stuff I listen to.

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