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Philip Glass: ‘Without terror, there’s no learning’ (EXCLUSIVE)

'In Hollywood I’m still considered an amateur'

Prominent musician and film composer Philip Glass celebrated his 77th birthday by giving a master class at Goteborg Film Festival on Friday. Variety had an exclusive talk with the artist, nominated for his score in “Kundun,” “The Hours” and “Notes on a Scandal,” and the winner of a Golden Globe for “The Truman Show.”

How important are the film scores considering your entire career?

I’ve done probably 40 films, a couple of them pretty good. But for professional standards that’s not considered much. In Hollywood I’m still considered an amateur film composer. But I began very late, in my forties. I then had a lot experience from theater, opera and dance. So a lot of the technique was very well-known to me, it was more a question of accommodating to how the industry worked.

And what is your relation to the film industry?

It would be a great mistake to underestimate the amount of talent that goes into filmmaking. Like opera it combines text and images, all the elements – earth, water, air and fire – are there, and it’s a marvelous place to work.

In terms of entertainment films they follow the trends of popular music, and I think that’s mostly good. But I’m also doing experimental films, and we have a lot of freedom in those films. And of course I have also done commercial films, “The Hours” was a very good one, “The Truman Show” another. I worked with these directors once, but they usually don’t want to work with me again. Even though they like the novelty to work with a composer who works that way, it doesn’t really fit into the way the industry works. However, I’ve done quite a few of those films too. Once I even did a slasher movie called “Candyman” (Bernard Rose, 1992). It has become a classic, so I still make money from that score, get checks every year.

What’s your ideal way of working?

I prefer filmmakers who include the composer from day one of the production, where I’m talking about the film, and I’m even writing music while they’re filming. The music can actually interact with the actors that are performing; that’s the ideal. That’s the way we work at the theater and at opera houses too, but it’s not the industry model. Though I’ve probably done fifteen movies like that.

Do you have any favorite directors?

I’ve worked with Woody Allen and I’ve worked with Martin Scorsese, two of the best filmmakers, I learned a lot working with them. In terms of working with me, they were the most generous; they allowed me to do what I wanted. The young directors who are just in the beginning always tell you what to do, because they don’t themselves know what to do. But the older ones, they just want you to do your best work.

Apart from a master class at Goteborg, you’re also giving a couple of performances with symphony orchestras in the city’s concert halls? Will you continue to perform as long as you’re capable?

Yes, I mean, we don’t sell records any more, everything is streamed, and everything is free. Everyone has to be out and play, because that’s the way to make a living those days. But also, music is all about transaction, it’s something that happens together with the listener, without the audience there’s no sound. Training is not enough; the music has to be heard.

I quote you from today’s master class: “Without terror there’s no learning.” Is it still like that for you?

Yeah, but the terror is under control. It’s more like a friendly guest, not an invader. But it’s there.

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