Philip Glass: Music in Similar Motion

Context

Composed in 1969, Philip Glass’ Music in Similar Motion is an open score that can be played by any group of instruments. As with the minimalist tradition, Music in Similar Motion is a collection of repeated figures all moving in the same direction, with Glass experimenting with textures and timbres. He writes this in the programme note:

 

“The real innovation in ‘Similar Motion’ is its sense of drama. The earlier pieces were meditative, steady-state that established a mood and stayed there. But ‘Similar Motion’ starts with one voice, then adds another playing a fourth above the original line, and then another playing below the original line, and finally a bass line kicks in to complete the sound. As each new voice enters, there is a dramatic change in the music.”

 

The Music

Starting with one voice the pattern is established. In the performance instructions Glass indicates that each figure should be repeated an indefinite number of times and that the leader of the group should nod once to indicate that the ensemble should repeat certain figures again. Glass suggests that the work should last between 12-25 minutes, depending on speed and the amount of repeats adhered to. In theory the piece could finish in 6 minutes with no repeats, or even go on eternally if nobody stopped!

The piece is marked forte throughout, and this does not waver. In fact, this adds to the intensity and drama of the piece, as with each new voice the texture gets richer. All manner of instruments can play this piece, however it is probably easiest for strings and keyboard to play it. As the different voices come into the mix, there is a shift in character in the music. Essentially, Glass is building sound from the ground up, ironically finishing with the bassline. The end of the piece is quite sudden and stops the ensemble dead in its tracks. 

 

Final Thoughts

Music in a Similar Motion experiments with textures and timbres in partnership with repetitive rhythmic cells to create this effective and intense piece. 

 

Happy Reading!

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