This collaboration with playwright David Henry Hwang and visual artist Jerome Sirlin premiered in a Viennese airport hangar in 1988, and it beats John Adams. Since Glass took to the stage and screen as his main career in the 1980s, he's repeated chord changes and arrangements to the point of hackwork. Even here, in fact, bits of dramatic musical emphasis are as fussy as his usual orchestral soundtrack work, some of them featuring Linda Ronstadt's high ooh-ing. Moments of pure schlock are crafted from the same old ostinatos, obbligatos, and harmonies once lit up by the electric Philip Glass Ensemble. But most of it works. For one thing, it contains more chord changes than the usual Glass stage or work. Another reason is that this is the last score Glass recorded exclusively with electric keyboards and woodwinds. The composer blends his numerous motifs into one galactic "Grey Cloud Over New York," rendered without a moment's hesitation by PGE vets Martin Goldray,Jack Kripl, Richard Peck, and Jon Gibson. They immediately reprise the nervous title overture into the relaxed schmaltz of "A Normal Man Running." With the sinister voice sampling in "Labyrinth" as a lone reminder that this is a piece for the stage, this it's one of Glass' superior stand-alone works.
All Music Guide
1000 Airplanes on the Roof, science fiction opera for actor, soprano & instruments
While Philip Glass has written music in all genres, his major successes have been in the domain of music theater. Einstein on the Beach (from 1976) was the first of a long series of operatic compositions and, while it was controversial, it also garnered acclaim and helped to establish his reputation. 1000 Airplanes on the Roof dates from 1988, and was a commission from the Donau Festival. The premiere took place in a provocative location: Hangar #3 at the Vienna International Airport.
This science fiction music drama was a collaborative work involving Glass, playwright David Henry Hwang, and visual artist Jerome Sirlin, who produced large-scale projections for the show. The story, an updated take on Schoenberg's Erwartung, centers on a single character who either loses his mind or is abducted by aliens - which is never made explicitly clear. The ambiguity between outward action and inward psychology is crucial to the work. A host of themes are present: individual alienation within post-industrial society, distorted perception through psychological disturbance, interest in and fear of alien beings, etc. The scenario - only loosely dramatic - follows the progression of the central character, who moves from a bucolic rural environment to the city, meets a girl, begins to lose contact with reality, is abducted by aliens (or experiences a mental breakdown), and returns to normal - or perhaps not.
The music for 1000 Airplanes on the Roof is in typical Glass style; repetitive rhythmic and melodic patterns are deployed in post-minimalist fashion. Due to the nature of the project, the material is more collage-like than a symphonic work would be. The ensemble is comprised of saxophones (doubling flutes), keyboards, and various synthesizers. A wordless female voice is added at times (on the commercial recording, this part was performed by Linda Ronstadt).
Glass sets each scene with contrasting music, although it remains for the listener to decide how well the evolving drama is served by his score. Certainly, his glossy, pop-art style suits the modernized context of the story as Schoenberg's intense, expressionist score for Erwartung suited the Freudian exploration of the subconscious that underpins that monodrama.
As with a number of Glass' works, the only way one is likely to come across 1000 Airplanes on the Roof is through its recording, which lacks the added visual element and a libretto. Since little of the text is intelligible, those interested in following the scenario might do well to find a seperate copy of the libretto (published, along with photos of Sirlin's projections, by Peregrine Smith).
- James Harley (www.allmusic.com)