Philip Glass Finishes His David Bowie Trilogy, Debuting His Lodger Symphony

Some­times I feel
The need to move on
So I pack a bag
And move on
Move on

–David Bowie, “Move On”

We might have been call­ing it the Lake Gene­va Tril­o­gy, giv­en David Bowie’s recu­per­a­tive sojourn in Switzer­land after the empti­ness he felt in L.A. The first album in the Berlin Tril­o­gy, Low, was most­ly record­ed in France, and the last album of the tril­o­gy, Lodger, in Mon­treaux in 1979. But they were almost all writ­ten in, around, and about Berlin, where Bowie found what he was look­ing for—a more rar­i­fied form of isolation—or as he puts it, “vir­tu­al anonymi­ty…. For some rea­son Berlin­ers just didn’t care. Well, not about an Eng­lish rock singer, any­way.”

Bowie’s wife Angela remem­bers that “he chose to live in a sec­tion of the city as bleak, anony­mous, and cul­tur­al­ly lost as pos­si­ble…. He took an apart­ment above an auto parts store and ate at the local workingman’s café. Talk about alien­ation.” The feel­ing per­vades all three albums to dif­fer­ent effect, but Lodger takes things in a far edgi­er, more cacoph­o­nous direc­tion. Removed from Bowie’s time of soak­ing up krautrock and pro­duc­ing his room­mate Iggy Pop’s solo albums, record­ed as his mar­riage dis­solved, it is the sound of jad­ed cul­tur­al and rela­tion­al dis­lo­ca­tion.

“A lot more chaos was intend­ed” on Lodger says Tony Vis­con­ti, and it is on these rocks that com­pos­er Philip Glass foundered for 23 years. In the 90s, he began his own tril­o­gy, of sym­phonies based on the renowned Bowie/Eno/Visconti col­lab­o­ra­tions. Lodger hung him up because it “didn’t inter­est me at all,” he tells the Los Ange­les Times. Despite its wild exper­i­men­tal­ism, he heard “no orig­i­nal ideas on that record.”

Glass grav­i­tat­ed towards the melodies of the first two albums, releas­ing his Low sym­pho­ny in 1993 and the equal­ly inspired Heroes in ’96. Final­ly, just this week, he pre­miered Lodger, with ven­er­a­ble Amer­i­can com­pos­er John Adams con­duct­ing, in Los Ange­les on what would have been Bowie’s birth­day, Jan­u­ary 8th.

Though Glass nev­er shared his thoughts about Lodger with Bowie, he may not have need­ed to. Bowie him­self felt that “Tony [Vis­con­ti] lost heart a lit­tle” dur­ing the record­ing “because it nev­er came togeth­er as eas­i­ly as both Low and “Heroes” had. This had a lot to do with my being dis­tract­ed by per­son­al events in my life,” he says, though “I would still main­tain thought that there are a num­ber of real­ly impor­tant ideas on Lodger.” It is on the ideas that Glass seized. “The writ­ing was remark­able. It was some­one who had cre­at­ed a polit­i­cal lan­guage for them­selves.”

While Glass’s oth­er Bowie sym­phonies drew direct­ly from the albums’ music (the Low sym­pho­ny opens with the cin­e­mat­ic theme from “Sub­ter­raneans”), “What I was going to do on Lodger,” says Glass, “had noth­ing to do with the music that was on the record.” He real­ized that he had been giv­en “a whole piece by a very accom­plished writer and artist who had a vision of the world” in the lyrics. Employ­ing the unique voice of singer Angélique Kid­jo, Glass made what he calls “a song sym­pho­ny” using sev­en of the “texts” (he left off “Look Back in Anger,” “D.J.” and “Red Mon­ey”).

Glass takes these “poems” as he calls them and weaves them into his own musi­cal fab­ric. He’s “uncon­cerned,” writes Ran­dal Roberts at the L.A. Times “with what Bowie would have thought of his method,” but he remem­bers Bowie was most struck in his oth­er sym­phonies by “the parts that didn’t sound very much like the orig­i­nal.” At the top of the post, hear “Warsza­wa” from Glass’s Low sym­pho­ny and lis­ten to his oth­er Bowie-inspired pieces on Spo­ti­fy. The Lodger sym­pho­ny will make its Euro­pean pre­mier at the South­bank Cen­tre in Lon­don in May of this year, and we should hope to see a record­ing released soon.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The “David Bowie Is” Exhi­bi­tion Is Now Avail­able as an Aug­ment­ed Real­i­ty Mobile App That’s Nar­rat­ed by Gary Old­man: For David Bowie’s Birth­day Today

Stream David Bowie’s Com­plete Discog­ra­phy in a 19-Hour Playlist: From His Very First Record­ings to His Last

David Bowie’s Top 100 Books

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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