This historic collaboration brings full circle a process which began when promising young American musician Philip Glass met Indian master Ravi Shankar in Paris in 1965. That week Glass, studying with the great Nadia Bulanger, was earning pocket money doing notation and conducting a recording session for the soundtrack of Conrad Rook's film "Chappacqua." The score's composer, Ravi Shankar, was directing his ensemble from the sitar.
Ravi recalls, "From the very first moment I saw such interest from him -he was a young man then— and he started asking me questions about ragas and talas and started writing down the whole score, and for the seven days he asked me so many questions. And seeing how interested he was I told him everything I could in that short time."
"It was possible to graduate from a major Western conservatory, in my case Juilliard, " remembers Glass, "without exposure to music from outside the Western tradition. World music was completely unknown in the mid-60's."
"What the young Glass heard which lay beyond his conservatory hermeticity was RHYTHM, long out of fashion in the world of American academic post-Webernism, with its almost exclusive concern for harmonic organization. Indian music is based on melody, which would get you laughed at Princeton or Columbia, and rhythm, which, despite Stravinsky's efforts in works like "Le Sacre du Printemps" or "Les Noces" was considered "incidental" to constructing 12-tone rows and other serious contrapuntal matters.
So for someone to play for the budding composer an expressive, vital, respect-worthy music — based on 4,000 years of refining the interaction between the two forgotten elements of Western music— must have been mildly astonishing at the very least. He realized that one could construct music on a rhythmic, as opposed to a harmonic, base.
Also, unlike most of the composers Glass had met up till that time, Ravi Shankar was a player, a composer/performer, whose authority arose from intimate hands-on contact with the music itself, and the other musicians, with whom he regularly shared a vibrating column of air. Glass became a student of Shankar's, Philip Glass today acknowledges "I owe a lot to Ravi; he was one of my teachers. "
The movement Philip Glass helped to create was called "Minimalism," and the founding Minimalists are all fine performers. Whatever differences they may have had in the mid-60's, what they had in common was the dynamic re-assertion of the primacy of rhythm.
They chose different sources: Steve Reich was drawn by African drumming and Balinese gamelan (as well as Be-bop); Terry Riley by Northern Indian vocal techniques under the guidance of the legendary Pandit Pran Nath, as well as blues and jazz improvisation; and in the next generation, John Adams points to rock and roll as well as the early Minimalists, as his seminal influences.
Pandit Ravi Shankar went to collaborations with Sir Yehudi Menuhin, Jean-Pierre Rampal and the much-publicized master/pupil relationship with Beatle George Harrison that served to introduce Indian music (and its inherent spirituality) to a generation of rock fans. Film scores such as the legendary Apu trilogy, "Charly" and "Gandhi" as well as additional cross-cultural excursions into other musical traditions, have enriched his palette, all the while he has remained pre-eminent in the classical Indian music which traces its history to at least 2,000 B.C.
Philip Glass, in part through re-emphasizing the role of rhythm in his music (influenced by non-Western forms including Indian Raga) has created a uniquely affective music for opera [Einstein on the Beach (1976), Satyagraha (1982), Akhnaten (1984), The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 (1988) and Hydrogen Jukebox based on the poetry of Allen Ginsberg (1990)], film (Koyaanisqatsi, Mishima and The Thin Blue Line), ballet and concert hall.
Peter Baumann, founder of Private Music, (who had been a member of the Minimalist / Rock band Tangerine Dream and an admirer of all of the above) responded enthusiastically when the record company's President/CEO, Ron Goldstein, suggested in the summer of 1989, that they bring the now-famous Philip Glass back into musical contact with the ever expanding world of Ravi Shankar.Like what you hear, buy it! And support the artists that really need it.