Played by the Maestro himself. What a priceless experience, this video, this music, this mind.
As it turns out, “Mad Rush” (not the title that Philip Glass gave it) was written in honor of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s first address in his first visit to North America, in November 1979. Glass describes the piece as “a piece of indefinite length” which could be understood through reference to “the play of the wrathful and peaceful deities” in Tibetan tangkas. I did not know about this ostensibly “Buddhist” context when I first heard it: yet something inside was profoundly “spoken to” (as with most of Glass’s music), and felt deeply familiar with its themes and its voices and its interplay of its voices with its themes and with each other, and so on and so forth, as his music does. Most everything that I have heard of his music strikes the soul in the same way that “sacred music” impacts me: there is this immediate and very palpable sense of being lifted into a higher plane of awareness and heightened inspiration for subtler states of consciousness.
I had the great fortune to have a private one-hour conversation with Philip Glass in about 2010 or 2011, at Tibet House in New York City. Just one-to-one, in a hushed library room. We spoke about Buddhism, about Zen, about practice. I spoke with him about how he had come to make the music for Kundun. Needless to say, you can only sit there in total awe of him, this absolutely indescribable mind. I only had that same feeling when meeting with a few masters in the East — only three or four. He was like that: this vast, open, borderless consciousness without shape or edge. During the entire conversation, I had the overwhelming feeling that I did not belong in the same room with him, much less the same conversation. He was very very clear and just absolutely present. I was not really familiar with his music at the time: I had really only encountered his music first through a viewing of Koyaanisqatsi in a theater in the East Village back in the 80s (whereupon I immediately got a recording of that extraordinary soundtrack, and played it over and over again). I next encountered his music for Kundun and Mishima: both of them are among my favorite pieces of any kind of music, of anyone and anytime. I have listened to them countless times.
Yet this piece, and Metamorphoses, the Third Symphony, and that absolutely mind-blowing Violin Concerto No. 1 were as yet completely unknown to me at the time.
While looking for some things recently, I came across this version of Koyaanisqatsi. There is no substitute for seeing this filmic masterpiece on the big screen. But the film doesn’t really play anywhere, at least in the cities I’ve lived for the last 25 years. At least the opening of this, from Glass’s first organ notes… It is burned forever in the mind. It was like a dark spiritual experience.
If you have a few minutes, watch at least the first 5-10 minutes. It is a meditation — a truly dystopic meditation, to be sure. But Glass’s music is there, and he is Zen, and so that is okay.