Gerard Cousins’ guitar elaborations of Philip Glass’s music on #neuguitars #blog

If I think of Philip Glass, the excess and hyper-acceleration of modern life expressed in the 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi immediately comes to mind. That film, made by Geoffrey Reggio, would like to be a critical representation of a sick society (the title means “Unbalanced life” in Hopi language) through the images of streets and skylines of metropolises teeming with life like anthills, accelerated in time-lapse. Glass manages to endow these fascinating images with an undulating, sublime and choral soundtrack, capable of creating a sort of sensory acceleration of the subliminal contents explored by the film, making it a fascinating experience.

I have often found an experience bordering on trance in his music, such as in these guitar arrangements made by the talented Welsh guitarist Gerard Cousins. I dealt with Cousins a few years ago, interviewing and reviewing two of his records: “The Gift” (2008), entirely dedicated to contemporary music by Japanese, Cuban and English composers, and “The First Beat is the Last Sound” (2014) , with twelve pieces, many of which are homages to other guitarists and composers. Two of them are dedicated to Steve Reich and two to Philip Glass. At the time I had already noticed a certain propensity by this guitarist towards minimalist music, a propensity confirmed by this new “Escape” (2020) entirely dedicated to the music of Glass.

Glass belongs to that series of composers who, unlike for example Steve Reich, have never shown a particular sensitivity towards the guitar and solo instruments, apart from some compositions for piano, violin, saxophone and organ. Much of his production concerns larger works, such as symphonies, concerts, operas and soundtracks. A feature that distinguishes him from his colleague Reich, who has always shown little interest in these forms, preferring an ensemble or solo works. The guitarist looking for some form of contemporary music, alien to the atonality and melodic setting, only has to work on transcriptions. Gerard Cousins has chosen some of his more accessible works. The first piece we listen to is in fact a transcription of “Opening”, taken from the collection created for CBS in 1982, entitled “Glassworks”, one of his greatest commercial successes, often seen as a fault by specialized critics (as if a composer were to necessarily go hungry or poor), a work that expresses a linear rhythmic richness and a casual sophistication.

The title of three pieces, “Metamorphosis”, was inspired by the 1915 Franz Kafka’s novel The Metamorphosis, together with four other pieces with the same title, featured on the 1989 CD “Solo piano”, were written in 1988, some for a staging of Metamorphosis, while others for the 1988 documentary film “The Thin Blue Line” directed by Errol Morris. “Knee Play Two” was born from an arrangement of a piece in the 1976 opera “Einstein on the Beach”, a landmark of 20th century theater. Glass defines a “Knee Play” as an interlude between acts, as the knee performs the function of an anatomical junction.

More about Philip Glass on

“Escape!” comes from the Academy Award-nominated soundtrack, “The Hours” and “Truman Sleeps” from the Golden Globe-winning soundtrack for the film “The Truman Show”.
It seems that Cousins preferred to opt for a series of works, mainly for piano, characterized by greater artistic “unity” and better catchiness. We are a bit far from the more experimental works such as “Music for changing parts” and “Music for twelve parts” and his early minimalist forms. In any case, his arrangements are effective and do not distort Glass’s music, they manage to maintain that inspired complexity by combining it with greater accessibility. They sound alluring and even soothing, even if they don’t require much listening effort. From this point of view Cousins really did a good job: he created his own project and carried it forward, managing to have the cd produced by Orange Mountains Music, the record company of Glass himself, which therefore, I think, appreciated his efforts. I would suggest this CD as a first attempt for those who, guitarist or simple music lover, would like to start breathing a different air from ordinary classical music.