Philip Glass: How do they play it so fast?

I am constantly in awe of real musicians. This clip (wait a mo while it winds forward to 44:20) is 'The Grid' from Koyaanisqatsi, which could be the greatest music video ever made - certainly the most copied. Anyway, listening to the score the other morning, wondering how it was played - it starts out slow, then gets absurdly fast (at 47:40), and carries on for about 16 minutes without drawing breath. In search of visual evidence, I found this awesome clip of Philip Glass rocking the Prophet 5 in 1982, and this college band playing something from Glassworks. I can't imagine being able to do that. Don't your fingers really hurt? Doesn't your brain melt?

The speed doesn't sound that hard to me, just repeated patterns. But the odd meter stuff sounds very hard to play.
The comments on the Glass YouTube (read them all) are hilarious. It's like a typical internet flamewar, except in this case, all the assholes involved happen to be educated and literate.

Hint: being articulate doesn't automatically make you emotionally mature. If a guy wants to say that he just plain likes something, then yes, that is all he needs to say.
@acousvnt Wow, the youtube comments really are hideous. It's amazing. Why do people feel the need to force their opinions on others? Are they so insecure that they can't handle the idea of someone liking something they don't?

I think Glass' music is wonderful. I wonder what his detractors would think of minimal techno?
if anyone's interested, there's a nice recording of Glass playing live on this record.

I don't have a financial interest in it or anything. I just like the record.........
If you ever saw Philip Glass' ensemble keyboard player Michael Riesmann live (I did so several times) you know he is really playing this all live. He got long fingers. And he only uses organ and synth keyboard to play like this for a long time. Playing a piano like keyboard would take too much power.
The longest high speed section for him is playing "Einstein on the Beach" live.
It's a brisk tempo, but not especially fast. I can play about 10 notes a second on wind instruments, and I'm absolutely nothing special.
I went to see Glass and his ensemble perform Koyaanisqatsi in Cardiff about a year ago, and it was truly amazing. The speed and odd meter is impressive, but what really impressed me was, as you say, that the musicians (who are all playing the arpeggios live, by the way) play the same sections for like quarter of an hour at a time.

Up until then, I had just imagined the arpeggios were all sequenced?

Truly spectacular. My favourite film.
I can leave at least 10 Youtube comments a second. I'm shocked that anyone would be impressed by blah blah boo booo boooooo
yep. saw philip glass performing Koyaanisqatsi 2 times at the barbican in london and agree with reader qwave about the mad keys/synth player working his hands like a mad-robot-gone-short-circuited. very impressive. have to say there also were a couple of ladies arched over some keys/synth who did an amazing job too.
Cool! But of course if this was being played by a guitarist it would be embarrasing as opposed to amazing.
"if this was being played by a guitarist it would be embarrasing as opposed to amazing"

I was thinking about that. Maybe this isn't the same as shredding because nobody is saying "hey, look at me!", they just happen to be playing quickly.

I'd heard the music dozens of times before I actually thought 'blimey, that's really fast'.
I'm with you totally there-- it's fast, but not really in a deeply exhibitionist way.

For another great series of Glass pieces, check out his Metamorphosis solo piano series (and especially Metamorphosis Two, which contrasts slow, deliberate playing with some quick arpeggios). Awesome stuff.
I'm kind of with that. Noone thinks a Bach cadenza is shredding for exactly that reason*, I guess.

*Even though back in the 18th century shredding - i.e. an excuse for the musician to show how damn fast he was - is precisely what cadenzas were about.
they used analog seq on these things..

no one cant play like this for real..
yes i saw koyaanisqatsi at the barbican too. amazing. but i also foolishly went to see the second film live, powaanisqatsi (??). truly one of the most boring things i have ever seen. 90 mins of a major chord building up and down, very very very very slowly over and over and over again. no amount of keyboard dexterity could save it. it was d-u-l-l. still pg's stuff - you know what youre getting.
Isn't the answer depressingly familiar: talent and eight hours of practise a day?

I'm less impressed with speed, which is hard but basically a mechanical skill, than I am with the feats of memorisation that classical players perform. I went to see the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra last week and they played two hours of relatively complex modern-ish music. This week they're doing another concert in the same series, and again next week. This means that the players will have to hold 6 hours of material in their heads. And they can't improvise their way out of trouble.

@timscience good call on bach. I'm getting this vision of bach in spandex now and it's all your fault. the first double hapsichord concerto is pretty damn close to shredding, and bach was allowed to improvise.
Initially I thought each musician was repeating a measure at their own tempo, the piece unfolding as tempos meshed and unmeshed.
Then I saw the careful page-turning of sheetmusic leading to a perfect halt on the sax duet... Maybe they all had to watch Glass' empassioned Headbanging for their cues?
P.S. LOL-Glass has the same hair as Sideshow Bob from the Simpsons!
Making of Koyaanisqatsi on google vids
"check out his Metamorphosis solo piano series"

I like his metamorphosis stuff for the exact opposite reason to Koyannisqatsi. It's SO easy to play (even I can play it on piano, roughly) but it's still wonderful. It's like pure songwriting, zero musicianship. Any hack or busker can play it and wring some emotion from it, whereas this stuff (Koyannisqatsi) has to have a chunk of weird robot musicianship.
Ha ha. Look at the last three tags on the video: naked sex porn. I guess people didn't like getting "Glass rolled."
If you look and listen carefully you can see what music groups often do on repeated passages like this. You take alternating measures or phrases. So the guy next to you might play that same arpeggio one or two times and then you do and back and forth.

Speed really isn't the hard part as much as tedium. You'll see the same thing happening in other classical works. It's customary to trade off the repetitive background parts in Bolero, for example.
Yes, the others here are correct -- it's not speed that's tough on you, it's endurance. I got to work with pianists from both the Glass and Reich ensembles (Marty Feldman and Ed Neimann) in college. Basically, it's endurance. It's like anything else. Good, consistent technique will get you there. I think it's actually toughest on the vocalists, because that's hard on your instrument. (You'll hear for that reason that they *have* to get some breaks somewhere.) And it's something a lot of people can't play, which is why these guys formed their own ensembles (ditto Meredith Monk); you need to build a skill set for this music, certainly the longer ensemble pieces.
It's not so impressive and fast in my opinion, there is much better that this.
Anonymous: Thanks for being the official "jump point" on this comment thread.
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