"People want music, they need music. It will be there!"
As the third decade of the 21st century approaches, the influence of minimalist classical composers such as Terry Riley, Steve Reich or Phillip Glass on contemporary electronic composers is clear to all. The American pianist Bruce Brubaker however is one of the few musicians capable of not only interpreting these masters but of re-imagining them for our contemporary moment. While his primary instrument is the pianoforte, Brubaker’s love and respect for electronic music is evident, with 2018’s Codex accompanied by a second LP of versions and remixes, featuring both Olga Bell and Arandel, as well as his own synth based extemporisations.
Glassforms [Infine Music] featuring a number of interpretations of the 20th century giant Phillip Glass, in collaboration by Max Cooper, one of modern electronica’s most promising talents, who has to date released 4 LP’s on labels such as Fields and Mesh. Commissioned by and introduced at the Paris Philharmonie in 2019, Glassforms melds the acoustic concert grand piano with synths and cutting edge electronic production techniques to create a compelling album and a dynamic live experience. Uniting an audience of club goers, post-classical aficionados, and seasoned piano music lovers with shows at Cité de la Musique in Paris, London’s Barbican, and Sonar festival in Barcelona, Glassforms received high praise.
Since C19, has your way of working changed? Do you think of the future in another way?
Bruce: Our technologies continue to change what’s possible for music. It’s a very long story. And although we may miss some aspects of how things were before, we are always moving into the future. People want music, they need music. It will be there!
© Vincent Ballard
In your Glassforms album we can find this feeling of diversity and vulnerability. Does it have any connection with the mind we are experiencing? What did you want to transmit in your Glassforms?
Max: For me, working for the first time with Bruce and the music of Philip Glass, I find the whole experience to have a lot to do with internal reflection and a sort of hypnotic, meditative state. There aren't so many musicians who people will give the time to sit and listen to a 15 minute piece comprised of so few notes and structures, at first glance. But as I've worked with the music and delved deeper I've found endless richness and connection, and feelings which I tried to bring out to the fore with the electronic augmentations. There is magic hiding in there which isn't written in the scores or contained in any social media sound-byte, it's something about giving yourself to the full process and letting it wash over in its own time.
Bruce: The way that we perform Glassforms includes a large amount of uncertainty — the way the software and the synths react to the acoustic piano playing is different every time. It’s a situation that encourages us to be open to possibility and ready to make music in new ways, differently than we have before.
What do you admire most about Philip Glass?
Bruce: In so much music, Philip finds simple ways to connect with something deeply human and genuinely emotional. There is a purity in the music that touches many, many people
Did you work on this project thinking exclusively of doing it live?
Bruce: We knew from the beginning that there would be live shows and a recording. The live shows vary tremendously. Every performance is different. The recording is based on the live show given at the Philharmonie de Paris in 2019.
What do you admire most about Philip Glass's work?
Philip brought into Western Music new ways of experiencing time. There can be great beauty in a music that focuses our attention in the present moment, not a story
Do you think that Glass's work is timeless, it remains with the passage of time?
Bruce: What interests me the most is how very much music by Glass interests people in the world now.
What will be the future of the music? Glass himself has said that he doesn’t think about it.
Tell us more about the accompaniment. What software did you use for the album?
Max: We wanted the original Glass scores, and the human expression of how the scores are played with the piano, to yield directly, the synthesised elements. So, we worked with the software developer Alexander Randon on a Max for Live device to take midi note information from a midi-enabled grand piano, and allow Max to modulate that note information with his own keys and patterns. This is combined with granular processing of an audio feed from the piano, and internal synth patch and effect modulation to yield a programmable, but unpredictable link between the notes of the Glass scores and the notes and timbre of the synthesised audio. In effect, each different piece we play is a different electronic instrument which both of us have had to learn to play and interact with, together.
Bruce: Alexander Randon created software that is used in performing Glassforms.
Why did you want each piece to sound different each time?
Max: Having a partially generative and chaotic system for me, is like wielding life. Beautiful things happen, sometimes it all gets too much, I can battle and play with the music in the live environment and discover new things, all while not being able to play a single traditional instrument, and while staying true to both the Glass scores and the live expression of Bruce's playing. More predictability for me, would mean less room for expression, and the whole project was a commission from the Philharmonie de Paris for a live performance primarily, with the record coming from that.
Bruce: The reading and re-reading of texts is such a significant part of human culture, of religion. Although the written information may stay the same, our understanding continues to develop and evolve. New meanings arise as place and time change.
Can you tell us what your next projects will be?
Bruce: There’s going to be an extensive live tour of Glassforms. Right now I’m working a solo piano project that reimagines some music by Brian Eno.