Watch “Geometry of Circles,” the Abstract Sesame Street Animation Scored by Philip Glass (1979)

Look into the child­hood of any high­ly inno­v­a­tive Amer­i­can artist of the past cou­ple gen­er­a­tions, and you’ll prob­a­bly find at least a trace of Sesame Street. The long-run­ning chil­dren’s pub­lic tele­vi­sion series, though wide­ly regard­ed as a sound source of enter­tain­ment and edu­ca­tion for the coun­try’s young­sters, has also done more than its part to expose its quite lit­er­al­ly grow­ing audi­ence to the vast pos­si­bil­i­ties of cre­ation. This has proven espe­cial­ly so in the realm of music, where the show’s per­form­ing guests have includ­ed Her­bie Han­cock, Nina Simone, and Grace Slick — to name just three of the ones we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here.

But Sesame Street, known in its hey­day for a stead­fast refusal to talk down to its view­ers, no mat­ter how small, has also demon­strat­ed a reach far out­side rock, pop, and soul. In 1979 it aired “Geom­e­try of Cir­cles,” a series of four ani­ma­tions with music by min­i­mal­ist, “repet­i­tive structure”-oriented com­pos­er Philip Glass, who turns 80 years old today. Pro­duc­er Cathryn Aison, accord­ing to the Mup­pet Wiki, com­mis­sioned Glass to score her visu­al work, whose sto­ry­boards had already got­ten the go-ahead from Chil­dren’s Tele­vi­sion Work­shop.

The music she received from Glass to accom­pa­ny this show of shape, line, and col­or “under­scores the ani­ma­tion in a style that close­ly resem­bles the ‘Dance’ num­bers and the North Star vignettes writ­ten dur­ing the same time peri­od as his Ein­stein on the Beach opera.”

“Glass has writ­ten scores to The Tru­man Show and Notes on a Scan­dal and his style is much imi­tat­ed,” writes Tele­graph “opera novice” Sameer Rahim by way of back­ground on the com­poser’s wide range of oth­er work in a review of his five-hour for­mal­ist col­lab­o­ra­tion with exper­i­men­tal the­ater direc­tor Robert Wil­son. “Any­one, like me, born in 1981 has absorbed his musi­cal gram­mar with­out real­is­ing.” Though a few years too young to have caught “Geom­e­try of Cir­cles” in its first run (and hav­ing grown up in the wrong coun­try in any case), the will­ing­ness of cre­ators like Glass to work in all kinds of set­tings, and the will­ing­ness of venues like Sesame Street to have them, plant­ed the seeds for count­less careers, both today’s and tomor­row’s, in art, in math­e­mat­ics, and no doubt even in exper­i­men­tal opera.

Below you can lis­ten to an 47-track col­lec­tion of Glass’ work. The Spo­ti­fy playlist is sim­ply called, “This is: Philip Glass.” If you need Spo­ti­fy’s free soft­ware, down­load it here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Min­i­mal Glimpse of Philip Glass

Watch Philip Glass Remix His Own Music—Then Try it Your­self With a New App

‘The Bal­lad of the Skele­tons’: Allen Ginsberg’s 1996 Col­lab­o­ra­tion with Philip Glass and Paul McCart­ney

Watch Jazzy Spies: 1969 Psy­che­del­ic Sesame Street Ani­ma­tion, Fea­tur­ing Grace Slick, Teach­es Kids to Count

Watch Nina Simone Sing the Black Pride Anthem, “To Be Young, Gift­ed and Black,” on Sesame Street (1972)

Watch Her­bie Han­cock Rock Out on an Ear­ly Syn­the­siz­er on Sesame Street (1983)


Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Gregory DeWayne Freeman says:

    Great arti­cle full of unknowns.This pulls my thoughts,feelings and emo­tions deeply towards the yes­ter­day that will come no more.It’s amaz­ing to know that as a child that we were being exs­posed to art with­in art,within learning,witin teach­ing on a basic lev­el for any age.Oh,how I wish the chil­dren of today were raised on the orig­i­nal Sesame Street,Electric Company,Zoom,and Let­ter Peo­ple Land instead of the vio­lence of tv,movies,and an unfil­tered social media.

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