30 March 2010

1000 Airplanes On The Roof / Philip Glass

1000 Airplanes On The Roof is best described as a science fiction opera, with elements of drama but mostly music. Lots and lots of music, composed by Philip Glass. It's written for a chamber ensemble, rather than full orchestra, and features heavy use of synthesizer. The libretto is by David Henry Hwang.

As you might expect from Philip Glass, the music features repetition. I hesitate to write that the music is repetitive, however, as discernible patterns of difference are audible within what may have initially seemed to be a simple repetition, and the recurring themes are often altered and changed - perhaps mutated would be a better choice of word considering the theme. If you're a fan of Philip Glass, you know what to expect, and if you're not a fan then you've probably come across the old Philip Glass knock knock jokes, and must at least have some idea of what you might expect. (Expect. Of what you might expect. Expect. Expect of what you might of expect. Of what you might expect. Oh, okay - I'll behave.)

1000 Airplanes On The Roof concerns an encounter with extraterrestrials, recalled at length by the central character: 'M'. Through the narrative, we are exposed to the broken recollections of M, and are left to decide if this is an accurate depiction of actual events, a voyage through space, part of M's nightmares, perhaps drug-induced, or merely the beginning of a mental breakdown. Consulting the doctor (Track 12: 'Where Have You Been Asked The Doctor'), we end the opera with the final song, titled 'A Normal Man Running'. Whatever M's experience, he is normal... and running. The opera takes place on a three-dimensional, holographic set, images of which can be seen in the accompanying book, credited to Philip Glass, David Henry Hwang and Jerome Sirlin.

The piece premiered on the 5th of July, 1988 at the Vienna International Airport, in Hanger number 3. The soundtrack is available on CD, and if you've got five friends, two synths and at least six hands you can get the score from Chester Novello. Sadly, the CD is missing the voice-over, which makes the story more of an afterthought than an integral part of the opera. I'm afraid even a google image search doesn't come up with any pictures of the 'holographic' stage.

CD Tracklist

01 1000 Airplanes On The Roof
02 City Walk
03 Girlfriend
04 My Building Disappeared
04 Screens Of Memory
06 What Time Is Grey
07 Labyrinth
08 Return To The Hive
09 Three Truths
10 The Encounter
11 Grey Cloud Over New York
12 Where Have You Been Asked The Doctor
13 A Normal Man Running

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