Glass Half Full

Observations on Phlip Glass and Tyondai Braxton's collaboration at ATP's IBYM in New York City.


Words by: Zara Wladawsky

Philip Glass’s collaborative performance with Tyondai Braxton was one of the main talking points leading up to the New York City version of ATP Festival’s I’ll Be Your Mirror event. The giant of 20th century composition and the former leader of Battles started working together through a remix which the latter did on a project to celebrate Glass’s 75th birthday this year. Playing before Frank Ocean, the majority of the crowd seemed to be there for the latter but remained open-minded and quiet throughout the three Philip Glass Études that the duo specially reworked for the evening. Everyone laughed as one over-zealous fan shouted “You’re Philip Glass!”, and below are some observations on this remarkable 30 minute mini-concert.

• The first of the Études performed, numbers 1 (below) and 2, saw Philip Glass on grand piano while Ty Braxton ran his guitar through a series of pedals and processors. There was tangible excitement between the two, especially from Braxton as he looked as happy as most anyone would be getting to perform with such a venerable composer. There was also an immediate sense of great musical interplay between the two as tempos, loudness, and motifs were traded with a natural fluidity that could only come from great musicianship and extensive rehearsing.

• What did suffer, especially in the vast expanse of the pier, was definition in the guitar and many of his parts seemed to be swallowed up in uncontrolled swells of bass that overtook the room everytime the lower reaches of the guitar were played. The first Étude, whose quiet motifs rely on dramatic phrasing that ebbs and flows to nothing, was especially plagued by these nebulous low-end rumbles. The second Étude thankfully relied more on grandiose, pedaled notes on the piano’s left hand that were much more congruous with Braxton’s guitar. This time the bass seemed to rise in time with Glass’s phrases, as if the earth was groaning in tectonic time with the music.

• For the last piece, which was Étude no. 10, Braxton switched from guitar to a staccato lead synth and their playing instantly came together as the intricacies of their parts, and the way that they traded the piece’s seemingly-haphazard melody between each other, finally shone through with complete clarity. Just as quickly as it finally came together, it was gone and the two hugged and walked off to thunderous applause.

Although initially fraught with frustrating sound issues, everything came together by the end and I was left wanting more. It would be fantastic to hear soundboard quality recordings of these reworks, or to see them again in a different space where the acoustics are more suitable. Thank you to ATP Festival for once again bringing something unique and interesting to the stage that was an overall success.

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