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Angus Maclaurin

Glass Music

(Bubblecore; US: 3 Oct 2000)

Glass Music is possibly the most apt title I’ve ever heard, and it’s also one of the simplest. No, this isn’t a collection of Philip Glass recordings, though to me it’s just as significant. For this collection, musician Angus Maclaurin went into a basement in a log cabin in Portland, Maine and recorded himself playing finely tuned glasses (as in drinking glasses), all carefully placed in association with the mics. Then he combined them into the eight tracks that make up the bulk of Glass Music (there’s also a bonus remix of one track, done by Ranphorynchus).

Before hearing this CD, it sounded like it might be one of those experiments that is intellectually interesting but not that fun to listen to. I also expected the tracks to pretty much sound the same, considering that a glass doesn’t seem like the most versatile instrument. On both accounts, I was entirely wrong. This is a gorgeous, varied musical experience, one that is aesthetically pleasing and intellectually stimulating.

Each piece on Glass Music sounds entirely different from the others. The CD opens with “Fugue,” which, as the classically associated title indicates, sounds like an intricate arrangement of church bells, with patterns and movements throughout. The next two tracks, “4th of July parts I and II,” make up an ambient mood piece, while the fourth, “Drunken Nightmare,” is a spooky, ghostly song that would be a perfect haunted house backing track or soundtrack to a scary movie. The four-part piece “Ghost Ship” is just as spooky; it combines ephemeral sounds with low, gutteral noises, at times sounding like someone quietly crying or shrieking (especially during the second part, “Talking Fish”).

The entire CD is uniquely compelling. Truth be told, a few other instruments (theremin, kalimba and bass guitar) do make brief appearances on two tracks, yet at the center throughout is glass, glass, glass. It’s as easy to lose oneself in the sound and forget what instruments are being played as it is to listen in rapt wonder at the seamless way that such “ordinary” objects can be utilized to create such beautiful music.

Dave Heaton has been writing about music on a regular basis since 1993, first for unofficial college-town newspapers and DIY fanzines and now mostly on the Internet. In 2000, the same year he started writing for PopMatters, he founded the online arts magazine, still around but often in flux. He writes music reviews for the print magazine The Big Takeover. He is a music obsessive through and through. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

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