Bowie gave me my first introduction to Glass. Thanks to the world memory of the internet I can date it precisely: 20th May 1979. Bowie was hosting a Radio 1 programme, I am a DJ, presenting a selection of favourite and significant music. He played Danny Kaye's 'Inchworm' (a song he claims as a major influence, forming the template, for instance, for 'Ashes to Ashes'), commenting on the use of counting in a song, and then played an excerpt from Glass's score for the opera Einstein on the Beach, 'Trial/Prison', in which the narrator recites short text over a pulsing electronic organ while the ensemble counts off the beats.
The juxtaposition of the two pieces of music caught my attention, but I didn't really think of Glass's music again until I saw the film Koyaanisqatsi in Los Angeles, at Laemmle's Royal theatre on Santa Monica Boulevard, May 1983, and my mind was, as they say, blown. I mean, coming to Koyaanisqatsi without any preconceptions of what it was like was pretty much mind-blowing anyway, but I was also an alien living and working in Los Angeles and much of the imagery had a direct resonance. As did the pulsing score: I immediately bought a tape, and played it to death driving the freeways and surface streets of LA, and it's still one of my favourite pieces of music. The penultimate section, 'Prophesies', is prime Glass Pulse:
The same short cadence is repeated over and over, until suddenly (at about 08.46) there's a small but utterly devastating time change, a sudden shift of focus and emotional colour. It's a signature of his work: his Symphony No. 9 opens with yet another variation of the Pulse.
I've been writing and publishing for somewhat less than the interval between Koyaanisqatsi and Symphony No.9, but if I've learnt one thing it's that you develop signature themes, tropes and ideas, prose structures and story forms, that define your style. That's the palette you have; the palette you get to play with. Glass's music reminds me that isn't a trap; reminds me that simple and powerful ideas can contain infinite variations, if you look hard enough.