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Deceptive Cadence

Errol Morris: The American Institution Of Philip Glass

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Director Errol Morris first collaborated with composer Philip Glass on the 1988 documentary <em>The Thin Blue Line</em>.
Carlo Allegri, Getty Images
Director Errol Morris first collaborated with composer Philip Glass on the 1988 documentary The Thin Blue Line.

Editor's Note: On Jan. 31, Philip Glass turns 80. We're marking the event by asking a few of his collaborators to talk about him and his music. Film director Errol Morris first worked with Glass on the 1988 documentary The Thin Blue Line. Look for essays to come this week from Paul Simon, Laurie Anderson, Nico Muhly and David Lang.

I am amused by the claim that Philip Glass' music is all the same – one ostinato repeated into infinity.

Simply not true.

He has written an extraordinary variety of music and is one of the greatest artistic collaborators in history. From Twyla Tharp to Allen Ginsberg, from Godfrey Reggio to Martin Scorsese, from Doris Lessing to Leonard Cohen and on and on.

I have been following him and his music since I attended a performance of Music in Twelve Parts, some 40 years ago. I was a fan then, and remain a fan.

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When Philip and I first started working together he seemed surprised that I was a musician. We would sit at his piano together and discuss the themes for my film The Thin Blue Line. I remember telling him, "The trouble with your music is that it's not repetitive enough." He looked at me without smiling and said, "That's a new one."

On the wall over the piano was a New Yorker cartoon. Two explorers with pith helmets in an African jungle. One is saying to the other, "The incessant pounding of the drums, the endless repetition of the rhythms..." The other interrupts and says, "It must be Philip Glass."

This was in the 1980s. If he wasn't then, he has become an American institution. He is a friend and a beloved co-conspirator, and I believe the best is ahead of both of us. Happy Birthday, Philip.

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